This photo was shot on a Saturday in Downtown Los Angeles at a YFSI jam. I was working from home and took a break to go see Augie after his most recent crash. I was still nursing a sprained thumb so I pedaled my road bike over with two cameras both loaded with fresh rolls of film. I was hyped to see a handful of homies that I wasn’t expecting to see there (Larry, Steve, Miles With Glasses and others). It all seemed like a usual jam with kids riding makeshift ramps, friends chilling and passersby watching in astonishment until a tow truck shows up with this mid-range Audi. I think it was already spray-painted a bit but all of the glass was intact when they parked it on the sidewalk. Two ramps were placed on either side and the once-luxury vehicle became a beater box jump. Some guys started wailing on it with a baseball bat and before long the fireworks show started. Watching Augie roll out these huge scrolls of blackcats and then lighting off hefty mortars I felt like I was shooting in the trenches of a war rather than a neighborhood BMX jam. I imagined a photo of Augie and shot like fifteen frames trying to make it happen but only mildly succeeded.
Down the block, the car had been moved and parked and subsequently erupted into flames, somewhat spontaneously. The natural inclination of the young crowd was to get very close to the large, combustible object and TikTok it. Some kid handed me a camera to shoot photos of him showing off his hoodie in front of it. Then, as if spiritually nominated by the entire congregation, the ever-photogenic Galactic Seabass, kitted out down to his pink pants, pedaled calmly and deliberately at the burning car, hopped up and rode across the hood. With camera A fresh out of film, I instinctively pointed the remaining camera at the action and pressed the button. Seabass landed and rode straight up to me to ask if I got the shot. I nervously laughed and assured him that I definitely shot it but also that I had no idea if or how it would come out. He offered to do it again but I summoned the common sense to advise against that.
By this time the blazing inferno had ignited the adjacent utility pole and police helicopters were zeroed in on the action. Not 90 seconds later a firetruck turns the corner and everyone scatters. Paralyzed by all the action and excitement, I sat on a stoop and watched the emergency workers clean up the mess. After the crowd dispersed entirely, I rode home without any more film to shoot. During the pedal I couldn’t help but lament about how a younger me would have gotten a lot closer to the action-in the spirit of the legendary war photographer Robert Capa who once said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”.
A few days later I got the film back and with a quick naked-eye inspection of the last frames of the negative strip I could see that the image was there but I wouldn’t know if it was in acceptable focus until I got home and scanned it (a slew of autofocus issues are known to plague some older point+shoot cameras). I texted Sebastian to let him know that we did, in fact, get the shot. After careful examination I concluded that If I had gotten any closer, the perspective would have been lost and the magnitude of the pluming smoke would have been diminished. Also worth nothing is that the war photographer that I referenced earlier was killed-in-action after stepping on a landmine. In the interest of full disclosure, I submitted like 76 images to be judged for the photo contest but this photo was by far one of the “easiest” to shoot-there were no flashes involved, there was no metering and no focus-finding. I literally pointed a camera and shot the photo, reflecting the ideas that A) half of photography is just being there and B) the best camera is the one you’re holding (in this case it was an Olympus Stylus Epic loaded with Kodak ColorPlus 200).