Friday, September 23, 2011

Realest Dream Ever

I've had dreams that felt real before. Many of them. Once, Bono acted like he was my friend and gave me a styrofoam cooler. Once I got that cooler loaded into the minivan I was driving, the whole thing blew up. Another time some woman I didn't even know converted me to Judaism on the side of a New York City subway platform just by touching me on the forehead.

Whether it was the allergy medication I was on, or the Ny-Quil I downed before bed to induce a good night's sleep (it didn't work, by the way; the allergies won out), last night's dream was easily the most serious and real I've had in a long while.

The exact details are a bit sketchy, but the gist of it goes like this: Matt Damon was my doctor. I must have been complaining about headaches or something, because I was in an exam room with Dr Damon and he was holding up x-rays of my head.

And in the most serious tone I've ever heard or seen from the Academy Award-winning actor, he says, "I wish I could say I have good news. What you've got is an inoperable brain tumor. I'd guess you've got about 10 more good years in you."

It hit me like a ton of bricks. There were other parts of the dream, like some random scene where members of my family (only they weren't my real family) were sorting through crystal glassware and deciding who gets it. (This may or may not have had anything to do with my terminal illness.)

But having to face my own mortality, even in the dream-addled haze of allergy medicine, was something else. It was, to say the least, quite the trip.

As far as I know - and apart from the allergies - I am in good health and should have more than "about 10 more good years" in me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Intro to the Project

Everyone has a story about how they came to the boards. I was in college, when Napster was booming and changing what most people thought about music, when I discovered the boards. In the time since, the boards have changed what I think about community and communication. Admittedly, I stumbled upon the boards because of being a fan of Dave Matthews Band(1), and perusing the boards allowed the opportunity to trade compact discs of live concerts. These days, Napster is gone, trading live shows through the mail is gone, and the board’s love of Dave Matthews Band is gone as well. 
The message board was a place for discussing specific and random topics, from current movies and television shows to what to grow in a backyard garden(2). There was a social element to the boards as well, with the casual participant picking up on circles of friends, people that knew each other from college or high school days(3).
My personal perception of what an Internet message board is changed in 2004. I was a college graduate and had to ride my bicycle to the local library for Internet access. I would casually participate on the boards, chiming in mostly in threads that dealt with the Detroit Tigers or philosophical arguments. I regularly visited two boards at that time: the flowery and hippie-ish (aka AMI) and the harsher, cynical, harder-edged I was posting regularly on the former and only reading on the latter. 
One day “The Bridge,” as it was called, disappeared. The site stopped working, and there was a small exodus of Bridge users to AMI. The story about the Bridge’s shutdown appeared in a thread on AMI.  The story involved two people who were romantically linked to each other and technologically linked to The Bridge. Once the two of them split up, petty arguments and the spread of incriminating digital photos led to The Bridge’s demise. It was a strange case of cross-pollination that shifted what I thought about that in which I was participating; the people involved became real. There was no longer that veil of anonymity that I assumed existed with any Internet website. The community abruptly closed for a short time(5).
Then The Bridge reopened under a new domain name. New people were put in charge, and in mid-2004, registration for new users at became public. I signed up in March of 2005. 
Now I approach UFCK (née The Bridge) from a different standpoint. My participation has increased from the days when I was only reading the thoughts of other people. I have developed my own online personality and have become “a voice” in the small community that loses members every month(6). My 10,000 posts over the course of the last six years(7) have covered everything from Tigers trades to this photography project. 
The project sprang from my interest in my board “colleagues” as well as growing notions that constructed personalities exist all over the Internet. Certainly, I know that I use different language and a different demeanor when I email my parents versus when I email an old college buddy. The same goes for in-person interactions. But there is something intriguing about the electronic barrier that is in place on a website like that permits people to speak as freely as they like about anything they like. 
In reality the interactions between boarders online and boarders offline is quite different. I have firsthand experience of that from the portrait sessions that have happened since. Cordial is not a nice enough word I use to express my gratitude towards the subjects in this project. I personally would have a hard time granting intimate access to someone I have never met just so they could take my picture(8).
Ultimately, what I am hoping to accomplish with this project is not to shed light on the physical appearances of people who possibly have remained secret on the Internet for a half decade or more(9). Instead, I hope the captured images will shed light instead on what it means to exist as a constructed personality both online and on film. Instead of illuminating viewers and exposing these UFCK subjects to the world, the photographs really perpetuate some of the mysteries behind the people with whom we interact with electronically everyday(10).

1. I will still admit to liking the DMB to this day. So don’t even start with the ridicule.
2. There are also plenty of threads that exist solely to bash someone within the community. Sometimes, it’s deserved, and the forum will gang up on a member that has been nothing but mean to other people. Other times, it’s to poke fun of someone because they posted a photo of themselves wearing archaic church gowns on Facebook.
3. See endnote number 2. It’s easier to get people together to make poke fun or harass another user when the person making the thread has several other friends that post regularly.
4. Both silly website names are derived from lyrics of Dave Matthews Band songs.
5. I was recently reminded by one of my photo subjects that there was a “crossover” board called Omeletteville. I had completely forgotten about that place, most likely because it required an invitation to register, and I didn't get one.
6. As of my writing this, there are a few users championing a sort of “End of Days” for the board, which may take place at the end of this calendar year. 
7. An average of 4.45 posts per day.
8. This is a terrible position for a photographer to take or, even more so, admit. To try to alleviate this aversion to my own photograph and make some sort of peace with my other subjects, I shot a self-portrait for the project and it will appear as anonymously in context with the others as I can personally make it. 
9. The web predecessor of both UFCK and The Bridge, DMBml, dates back to prior to 2001. 
10. Pick me up, love.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The (ongoing) UFCK Photo Project

I'm back in Oregon after a long trip to the east side of  the country. 2,300 miles later, I've come back with over 50 sheets of 4x5 film that need to be processed. In the meantime, and until I buy a dust mask capable of filtering out that much C-41 chemistry, I post here to give people some background and begin what is sure to be a complex journey through the photographs from the past two weeks.

Back in March, I posted images from shoots I did in Seattle. Those subjects were strangers who I only know from their presence on the Internet message board (More on the board, its origins, and my place in the community coming later.) This community of posters includes people of all ages and backgrounds. 

Several of these wonderful souls agreed to be photographed, and so I took off on a ten-day trip that yielded many great experiences. I am forever in debt to the people that I got to meet and photograph. 

It will be a while until the images are developed, scanned, and printed. The entire project will take up the better part of the next year, when I hope to embark on a shorter trip along the west coast to gather more portraits and stories. Everything will culminate in a book, which I will be sure to post about here.

Until then, the gallery of instant proofs is available for viewing here. Enjoy.