I was born in the Midwest, in St.
Louis at the outset of WW II. This was significant in that it kept my
father away from me until after the war finished. I have always been
grateful for those first few years, raised by my mother and doting grandparents.
As to my father, I have never been able to figure out if the war did
it or his childhood but he devolved into an awful drunk who beat his
wife and battered his son.
My mother saved me, got between
us and protected me as best she could. She had to take her lumps doing
it, too. She raised me a Catholic and I stayed a believer until I left
home and headed for New York City. I was a dreamy, mystical kid, given
to prayer, visions and guilt. But at eighteen, something happened. I
had decided that I wanted to be an artist, a photographer and figured
that the only way I could do it was to go to New York. I was also still
a virgin and wanted to shuck that load ASAP. I left home in the middle
of the night, slept in an alley until the next morning when I could get my money earned at
a grocery store out of the bank. I climbed on the greyhound bus
the next day hoping nobody would see me and haven't looked back since.
I lived in New York for close to
four years, dirt poor all the time but I loved it. I also met a woman
and loved her too. When the Vietnam War began to heat up, I decided
that I wouldn't duck it, as most of the men from my "class"
were doing. I joined the army and was sent to the Defense Language School
in Monterey, California as part of the Army Security Agency. I loved
that part of California and rode a bicycle along the ocean every day.
I also started hanging out on Cannery Row and ended up making contact
with Joan Baez and her School for Nonviolent Resistance which she had
at her house in Carmel Valley. I had been reading a lot on my own about
the history of Vietnam and nonviolence. The times were a changin' and
I felt trapped by being in the army.
That was no problem, I figured,
I'll simply split. I did and stayed gone for a little over a month,
hiding out around Monterey and Big Sur. I finally decided to go back
and face the army. If I stayed gone longer, the eventual charge would
be for desertion and not simple AWOL. I didn't want to have to keep
running for the rest of my life so I went back and fought my way to
Conscientious Objector's status. The army gave me the choice of going
to jail for the next several years or going to medic's training. I chose
Texas and the medics. After the basic course, they sent me on to Clinical
Specialist's school, another year in Texas. When my training was finished,
I was sent directly to Vietnam. Ironic- if I had stayed in Language
School I would probably have gone to Europe as I was learning Turkish.
So, a CO in Vietnam. I worked in
a Surgical Hospital in Cu Chi, famous for the tunnels the VC dug under
the camp. After about six months, I was transferred to the Americal
Division and sent north to Chu Lai on the coast above Da Nang. There
I worked in a company aid station and at a prisoner of war camp. I loved
the work I did in Vietnam. It was, aside from being scared green a good
bit of the time, one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.
That's me... personally. The politics of it are a whole other game.
After my discharge, I went back
to photography and to the San Francisco Art Institute. It was a wonderful
time to be there. Ralph Gibson was around, as was Larry Clark. Both
were just hitting the big time. I worked in the photo lab and helped
Larry Clark squeegee prints for a show of the "Tulsa" pictures.
There were many others, too: Linda Conner arrived fresh from grad school
to teach. Phil Perkis from New York. Aron Siskind from Chicago. Tony
Ray Jones from England. A wonderful time!
From there to Japan. I had won a
National Endowment for the Arts Grant back when they were still giving
them to individual artists and used the money to visit a place I had
been fascinated with most of my life. I stayed in Japan for four years, practicing Aikido, teaching English and doing photography.
With my wife, I returned to the States in 1980 and began teaching photography
in universities in St. Louis. For practical reasons, I went back to
grad school and then on to Baltimore where I taught for the next ten
years at the Maryland Institute College of Art. We moved
back to Japan in '96 where I taught in a Japanese university. My two sons finished their growing up there, went to an international school and then back to the States to finish their education. The oldest is in a PHD program at LSU in geology. He is also an avid mountain climber, bike rider and adrenalin junkie. The youngest is in NYC where he works for MTV doing production work on documentaries. My wife, Izumi, is also an artist and is now doing monoprints here in Singapore. Yes, we have moved again and are in south Asia. It is a great change for us. I am teaching at a big university here in a small art school that is part of it.Wonderful students...nice facilities. A good place.
Or, as my oldest son says, "hey, Pop,
it's all good." I've got to agree!