Paradisio and the Grands...

Last week a friend mentioned how he can turn heaven into hell just through the art of obsession.

Right now I'm sitting with my two lovely Grandparents in their nice home filled with art on a pretty hillside in a beautiful part of the world. And my head will still reel with non-stop banter of "What are you doing with your life???" and "You should be in NYC, LA, or London..."

It's ridiculous.

I first moved into this house when I was 14 years old. It wasn't that I hated hated it. I just felt painfully horribly uncomfortable with how comfortable and quiet everything was. My sister Margarite and I were fostered and adopted by different families at 13 and 14 years old. My foster parents were headed towards divorce before the adoption was even finalized and Margarite's new family moved her two states away as soon as the papers were signed, to keep her out of gang trouble. A year later I landed in the care of my adopted Grandparents.

Margarite and I are only a year apart and up until the foster homes at 10 and 11, she had always been with me. She had stepped up and parented me as we bounced around from caregiver to caregiver. Now we were states apart. There was some chunk of me that wouldn't allow myself to feel content or be happy in this house with these nice people because she wasn't here to enjoy it with me. It felt like if I appreciated it, I'd be somehow betraying my biological family and more importantly, my sister. No one ever said anything to suggest that that was the case, I just took it upon myself.

I spent years in my room staring out the window to the large twisted oak tree, talking on the phone, and waiting for nightfall so I could sneak out to go be with my friends. My adopted Grandparents were lovely people, but they weren't the ones who had signed up to parent me, which I reminded them regularly. I'd lock myself in my bedroom emerging only to eat dinner or get cookies from the cookie jar. (So Grandma met me where I was at and kept the cookie jar full at all times.)

When I'd do something disrespectful or abusive, they wouldn't punish me, they'd just firmly restate whatever original boundaries they'd set. 'Call if you won't be home for dinner', 'Curfew is midnight on weekends', 'We agreed you wouldn't drive your car into the city.' I would fall short and lie to weave my way around their rules, but they loved me regardless and let me spin out of control. Most importantly they were consistent. They are good parents.

I was judgmental of them for the most ridiculous things (like how their kids lived nearby...?), but one thing that made me feel better was that they both came from working class families- his parents were commercial artists and hers were farmers. They worked for everything they had and raised 4 children by selling pottery at crafts fairs and making commissioned pieces for architects. I also liked that his art was utilitarian; not some fluffery but real useful pieces of art.

At 19, still pretty thick with resistance, I realized that living with the Grandma for 5 years now made her my longest consistent caregiver next to my sister. Slowly my ability to let her parent me was seeping in. I moved away for a few years then came back, then moved away again, and moved back. Grandma let me know that this was my always home and I could leave and return as many times I wanted to.

Most recently I landed back here in October after two years of choppy traveling around the US/UK while working on my memoir (which morphed into trying, unconsciously and quite unsuccessfully, to find a person to make me feel whole). I came back home feeling defeated and irritated at myself and the Universe. But it was good to be home. Familiar ground, familiar air, familiar food, friends, and family.

Grandpa's Alzheimer's has accelerated in recent months and we spend our days talking about things that have nothing to do with everything and somehow or anyone. It's like a Rorschach test, but in conversation form. He starts a sentence and Grandma and I lead it in whichever direction we think he was heading, he giggles then says something else and we carry it in a new direction. Just like they let me be where I was at- an angry, defiant, cookie eating teen- I get an opportunity to be present for them where they are at. We take walks, Grandma is teaching me how to cook, and I get to hang out and pretend I'm retired while I try to finish the book [writing a memoir is way harder than I thought it'd be] and try consciously not to find a person to make me feel whole. I've been making art (and movies) going to meetings and being present.

I feel like for the first time I am kind of able to show up for them. For whatever reason, I no longer feel guilty being here. I feel okay. I feel like I am repaying them the gift they gave me of being present and loving. I feel grateful.

That's not to say my head doesn't pop up with occasional insane panic of impending doom and fear of failing as an artist... it does, but at least I know I won't regret being here with them.

Sparkles and Taxidermy

In Philadelphia I got to shoot Beth Beverly from Diamond Tooth Taxidermy along with performance artist Melissa Bang Bang Forgione.






Instagram and Self Portraits

It took a while for me to get into the idea of photo apps. Not because they aren't totally utterly awesome... but because they make anyone, I mean Anyone, look like a good photographer. But finally I came to the conclusion that I don't care. I like how they make my snapshots look too.


The reality is a great photographer is not defined by their ability to capture a nice shot but by their ability to recreate that shot again and again in various circumstances at a moments notice. I am certainly capable of doing that. And so, I've given myself permission to play with Instagram. <3

Fred Wahpepah- my vision quest and a great cause.

The first time I met Fred Wahpepah I was 15 years old. He came to my liberal Northern California high school to do a presentation on Native American culture, ceremonies and history. He brought a table full of traditional accouterments- an eagle head, eagle wings, a tortoise shell purse, handmade drums, rattles, and various other items that I can't remember. He talked about sweat lodge ceremony, teepee ceremony, sundance and vision quest. All of it fascinated me. What stuck in my mind was how pulled I felt to Native American culture. It was as if he was speaking directly to my core and my core responded with a resounding recognition of truth. I signed up to receive newsletters from his foundation Seven Circles.

Seven years later I had become very close friends with a girl I met at a truckstop at 3am off I-5 in the middle of nowhere who happened to also be an addict in recovery... named Kim.

"I am going on a vision quest- four days three nights up on a mountain with no food and no water- will you eat and drink for me? Just keep me in mind while you are eating. Especially meat. Hamburgers. Anything." This struck me as funny since she had just become a vegan. Not because she was asking me to eat for her energetically, which perhaps should have been the comical part. It turned out that she had been heavily involved with a Native American community in LA that was headed up by Wolf, one of Fred's sons. However this specific vision quest she was doing under the guidance of Fred himself.

A year or so after that my friend Podge called me and asked me to attend a sweat lodge ceremony with her. I jumped at the opportunity. It was held Sunday at 5pm in a residential area in Berkeley. We crept through the gate of someones house and found about a dozen people standing around a fire pit with Fred obviously in charge. This was my second time meeting him face to face. Fred is a funny, lighthearted man that egged-on participants to share inappropriate jokes. He talked about the importance of sharing his heritage with anyone who felt a calling to it, regardless of age, race, sex or any other factor we use to separate ourselves from each other. I began attending sweats on an inconsistent basis.

In 2010 I met my biological father and siblings. As it turned out my oldest sister Cheryl lives just north of Austin and works in Austin for the Air Force, so I've been given a chance to get to know her since moving here. For her birthday last May her co-workers organized a lovely lunch. On the way home Cheryl told me that I would really get along with her co-worker Jessica since we had similar family issues. I asked what nationality she was since she was obviously exotic looking. Cheryl said Native American and... something else... I'm not sure because I got stuck on the Native American part. I began to tell Cheryl that I was really pulled to that culture and when I lived in California I had been doing sweat lodges with this guy Fred Wahpepah... Cheryl interjected- "That's Jessica's last name!" It turns out Fred is Jessica's Great Uncle. So get this- the guy I had been doing sweats with for years has a great niece who had been working in the same room for years with my sister who I didn't know existed. Wild.

Last October I got hired to shoot a friends wedding in San Francisco and on a whim decided to buy a one way ticket. I hopped online to see if I couldn't find some other reason I should be in San Francisco- perhaps a writers conference or something. I didn't find a writers anything so I went to to see where the sweats were scheduled since they rotated between about four locations. It turned out that they were doing their fall vision quest in Mendocino starting the Wednesday after I arrived. My heart raced and picked up the phone to call Fred and ask if I could join them. It was late in the game, with less than a week to prepare but Fred said yes and told me to come see him as soon as I got in.

In a moment of panic I thought- What if I'm too white? Or what if this is wrong? I called up Nikki Scully who is a friend of my Aunt Jerilyn and does Shamanic Journeys for a living. My Aunt had been telling me to contact Nikki for years, any time I mentioned Shamanism or Native American anything. I called her and to my surprise she picked up.

"Hi Nikki, this is Frankie Brandelius, I am Jerilyn's neice. She had told me to call you a while back, but I am just getting around to it because I wanted to ask you a question. Do you think it's okay for me to go on a vision quest?"

"Frankie, hi. I usually don't pick up this phone after hours. You should be fine doing a vision quest as long as you are going with someone who knows what they are doing. Who are you going with, what community?"

"Fred Wahpepah of Seven Circles." Nikki let out a laugh.

"Fred took me on my first vision quest... what... 25 years ago... actually, 25 years this fall, right now. Fred is great, you will be fine. What are your fears? And how is your Aunt?" We talked for a bit longer and I felt affirmed. This was universal timing.

I got in to town I met up with Fred at his house in Richmond. He asked me why I wanted to go on vision quest and told me how the whole thing worked. I felt thrilled and nervous, convinced that I would somehow mess it up.

At the wedding the following day I told my friend Alecia about the vision quest. "Whapepah? That is my daughters doctors name. Ask him if is wife is a pediatrician! We love her." And indeed, of course, his wife is.

I met up with my Aunt while I was in San Francisco and she told me about Lit Quake- a writer's convention that was happening that week, that for some odd reason didn't pop up in my internet searches. I only made it to one of the panels where five new authors discussed what it takes to be in the industry. The next day, after much preparation for the ceremony that I'm not going to get into here- I arrived in Mendocino and met Joanna- she would be the woman cook in charge of the kitchen throughout the vision quest. "I recognize you- were you at Lit Quake?" She asked me. Wild. I also learned later that day that Fred had been on tour with Rolling Thunder who was a good friend of my Aunt as well. All of these elements affirmed that I was right where I was supposed to be.

So- why I am I blogging about this? Fred is 80 years old. His daughter- Kasha Wahpepah is 18 and has decided for her senior project to take a road trip with her dad from Richmond CA to Oklahoma where they will go to the reservation where he was raised. Kasha will be making art, taking photos and recording all that she can about her roots on this once in a lifetime trip to meet her family and see where she came from.

A part of the money is going to get Kasha the equipment she needs for the trip and for college- a camera, laptop etc. And did I mention she got admitted to Dartmouth? She is one smart cookie. This project sits close to my heart- everybody knows that my Grandparents are the world to me- I wish I could drive with them to where they were raised and record it all. Fred is like a father to so many people. He has opened up ceremony to everyone regardless of demographic and I hope we can all pull together to help them make this trip happen.


My bootie made the cut

Last week was SXSW in Austin. My sister flew down from Seattle to hang out. We saw Big Boi at the Austin Power Plant, Foo Fighters and TV on the Radio at Stubbs, and Wu Tang Clang with Erykah Badu at the Austin Music Hall.

I received a call a couple of weeks ago from a good friend Ben Kutchins asking if I knew anyone in Austin who does videography. I referred him to half a dozen local filmmakers, editors and videographers I've met in the last year. The job was for SPIN magazine for a SXSW feature. Although they didn't need a photographer, it felt really good to be able to pass on work to friends. The day before the shoot Ben called to let me know that their main photographer cancelled. They booked me for three days of portraits.

The shoot was set up in a side building/storage shed at Stubbs, a huge venue in downtown Austin. They turned the room into a country store sort of set up with a bar, rocking chairs, wooden barrels scattered about, and taxidermy and wagon wheels on the walls. Artist would come in, do an interview with the head of and then I would pull them to the side to shoot a quick portrait.

I am pretty lucky because I can never remember who anybody is. I don't remember quotes from movies, the names of bands, actors or celebrities. I can't remember what most famous people look like and I can't recall songs unless you sing them to me. This minimizes any starstruck-ness.

First up was two members from Explosions in the Sky. I pulled them aside after the interview and introduced myself. "I know you!" Munaf Rayani said. Turns out he is an Austin local and frequents the same coffee shop as me- where I just hung my photo show. He recognized my name and my bookmark. How cool is that?

Next up was Gayngs, The Bangles, Duran Duran (who gave a killer interview), Little Dragon (a Swedish band who has a member that I'm in luv with), Surfer Blood (whose lead singer acted like he was too good to answer questions that Duran Duran answered), and Chromeo (who I've danced naked to a dozen times).

The second day we shot Wild Flag (later I was told that one of the chicks was from Sleater-Kinney, who I would have totally girl-crush-gushed over... but I didn't recognize her), then Moby (who I thought was black... ¿ ... he's not), B.o.B., and Bob Geldof (who said I was a beautiful girl. I don't know who he is but I think I'm in love), and Cisco Adler... not thong song Cisco. My favorite quote of the day was from Cisco- "I came out of the vagina ready to rock some shows." awesome.

The third day we shot Panic at the Disco, Black Lips, Pentagram, Liz Phair (who was super rad to shoot and inspired additional creativity), Diplo (who is more intelligent than his twitter feed would let on to), and Theophilus London who presence seeps timeless class into the air. My bootie made the Thephilus London video. Holler.

You can watch the videos here.



New York Times

I got a call while I was in California from the New York Times asking me to scout some location shots for them in Vallejo. Of course I said yes... it's the New York Times...but I don't generally scout. Regardless, it's the New York Times.

He said he loved my landscapes (which I like to hear because I don't feel like it's my strongest arena, though I really enjoy doing it) and gave me a list of things they needed shot. Before we got off the phone I asked how he found me. He said from a photo assistant website, they looked at San Francisco based assistants and I popped up. I told him that was great, I don't generally scout and haven't assisted in a couple years, but was stoked that they found me and would love to do it.

Vallejo is a super cute little town. Though, I don't think they will use my images for the article since they probably already have a photographer hired, it is still really great to get my images in front of they NYT.

Two super talented photographer/artist friends Sean Franzen , and his lovely wife Jeremy live in Vallejo. We met for lunch then drove around Mare Island taking photos. We stopped at the One of a Kind Altered Barbie shop. Oh. My. God. I am in love with this woman Lavonne Salle. Her dolls are the kind of dark pop humour that I love. There was a separate room for all of the 'adult content' creations. Seriously incredibly creative and fun stuff. I guess christian residents got all up in arms because she painted nipples on the barbies... as if children don't know nipples exist.











And here is some of the shots from around Vallejo and Mare Island.







Rob was one of my awesome Kickstarter benefactors. We took these images out in west Marin, the Presidio and at his house. I am always so nervous about shooting in the rain (ruining my camera), but I loved it. It was totally fun and not half as scary as I imagined... of course it was just fog and drizzle. Rob is now traveling Brasil and South America. Soaking up the rays.