A (modest) Life in Photography


Photo of a Kodak Instamatic Camera

It was sometime in the year 1976. A glorious morning, in the glorious city of San Francisco. Corbett Avenue up on Twin Peaks — aka “The Swish Alps”. Snappy-san climbs into a beat up 1800 ES Volvo sports car. Seated behind the wheel, the owner, his hometown buddy, Rick Tabit. A week ago they were security guards. B of A corporate headquarters in the Financial District. But now they are free. Freed of their blue polyester pants, blazers, and walkie-talkies. Destination, San Diego. Destiny awaits. Bad food. Life without girlfriends. One funky apartment. New careers as parking garage attendants. First up? Yosemite National Park.

Rick and Snappy-san are launched onto their big and loopy adventure by close friends, fun-loving pranksters who shout “Good-Bye!” while dropping a water balloon from the top floor of a three-story apartment building onto the tiny Volvo, delivering a sonic boom inside the car so loud that Rick and Snappy-san suffer from hearing disorders for like, forever. “Good-Bye! Good luck!” yelled their friends. “See you later!” BOOM!!!!!

Picture of a Volvo Sports Car ca. 1976

Snappy-san is not yet Snappy-san, but simply, “Richie” and he wields a mean Instamatic. (How did Snappy-san get his name? I’m afraid you’ll just have to read on.) Why Yosemite? Memories. A younger Snappy-san hitchhiked across America. Alone. (Well, not exactly alone, he had a ponytail with him.) Visited Yosemite and the coastal highway. There were yearnings. Memories of a woman. And there had been a deeply satisfying stint as a camp counselor for the mentally handicapped, just south of Yosemite. There were vistas, waterfalls, meadows, and valleys. And, of course, there was Ansel. He wanted to go back and document it all. He wanted to snap it.

No one, not Zelig, not even Snappy-san himself, could have known that this small toehold on photography, these little artifacts, might foretell a Zelig-like story. A quiet, unassuming man picks up an Instamatic and years later meets the girl in the picture, Kim Phuc Phan Thi subject of one of the most famous photographs ever made. Snappy-san also meets the photographer who took this picture, undoubtedly one of the most shocking war photos ever. Snappy-san lives out a damn fascinating lifetime of picture taking, picture making, dead end jobs, chance encounters with famous people and accumulates boxes and boxes of pictures, some of them quite good. Along the way he is briefly represented by Getty Images, has a few shows, unearths valuable, but long forgotten Ansel Adams and Laura Gilpin portfolio’s of John Gaw Meem’s work in the Zimmerman library in Albuquerque, New Mexico, gets married a few times, falls in love with Robert Frank (and of course various women) and late in life comes to have a freezer full of 8 x 10 color negative film. How could all this have happened?

Read the next chapter>> | San Diego, a 35mm Olympus Camera and Experimentation

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