On January 1st, 2018 I packed up a moving truck, attached a trailer behind it to tow my Jeep Compass and started driving halfway across the USA from my residence in Wilmington, NC to Houston, TX. I wasn’t lonely, I had my three boys with me: Chip, Antilles & Kyber. The trip lasted longer than expected because of the limiter on the truck which kept me from driving at speeds I probably shouldn’t attempt anyway with a car in tow. But I was parked in front of my new bachelor pad by 10pm on the 2nd.
I had only experienced Houston twice prior to moving. Once was for a week of “training” on a new database system and the other was for a week roughly a month before moving to find a place to live. To say my knowledge of the city was non-existent would-be right-on target. To learn the city in my own way, I started exploring different parks around town. I would bring along a figure or two and take pictures in the park. The pictures gave me tangible reminders of where I went, and the figures gave me something to shoot as a subject that was different than taking a picture of a tree or body of water. I could take a picture of those with a figure to make it a more personalized experience.
It worked. I was learning the city because of the visual references I made along the way. I knew where things were in relation to the parks. I knew my way around Montrose and The Heights because I had driven to Buffalo Bayou Park from multiple starting points. I knew how to get to Rice University and the Museum District because I had visited Hermann Park. I tried going to a new park every other weekend to absorb Houston into my mainframe.
Once the pandemic hit, I found myself continuing to go to parks because I was tired of being cooped up in the house. I needed to get out and be free. I felt like I was dying and losing myself a little more each day. Although I’m somewhat introverted around people I don’t know, I still feed on the energy of being around people. That was gone once late Winter hit in 2020. Parks allowed me to refuel by continuing to take pictures while being around people albeit at a distance.
This year I saw that there was an art installation (Celebración de Vida / Celebration of Life) at Discovery Green which would lead up to Dia de los Muertos. I’ve always been attracted to opposites and in my mind going to a celebration of life during the day of the dead was close to perfection. In a nutshell, ten Mexican artists painted gigantic skulls to portray Mexican heritage. I’d been to Discovery Green for a few shoots, so I packed the new Ken Dia de los Muertos doll and a bunch of accessories and was off to experience the art and shoot my own memories.
I took pictures of each skull and I don’t want to spoil the beauty by posting each one. I’d rather you Google the installation or go see it yourself if it is traveling. Each one was so very different. The one above was my favorite because of the amount of time it had to have taken to create. This piece is made up of different colored beads placed like a mosaic. The mouth was the only part not covered in beads. I had to have been studying this for 20 or more minutes and watching the people’s reactions when they discovered its makeup.
Then, I went back to three skulls to make my own unique memories of my day. I took my Ken DDLM doll and gave him his ukulele. I placed him on La Fiesta, the skull shown above, and centered him between the two skulls playing guitars in the eye sockets. It was a way to celebrate the music that has lived before and that we are yet to make. The second skull I used as a backdrop was Xantolo which was painted as an altar to pay tribute to a loved one. Once again, I centered the Ken DDLM between the two eye sockets painted as candles and placed a photo and flowers in his arms of the loved one whom he longs to reunite. Finally, I went to Tanta Vida to setup a scene with a skull in the background. During this setup, I had a lady walk up and compliment me on my dedication to get it set exactly how I wanted. She must have watched me continually move things back and forth and front and back multiple times before giving two A-Okay signs with my hands. Another group of people asked if they could take a picture of my scene.
Personally, this day back in October was perfect. The Houston heat took a respite allowing everyone to enjoy the brightness of the sun without the scorching temperatures. Walking around the skulls made for an otherworldly experience that kept my mind going from thought to thought. Finally, leaving the park I knew I was meant to be there that day. It really was a celebration of life and it was the first time I felt in the present in a long while. The veil had been lifted and the past two years of mourning the stagnation of pandemic life was over for me. It was time to once again recharge and start creating, doing, and living. Today was my own Celebración de Vida.
To see these pictures full-size along with more pictures of various Ken dolls, follow me at 12inUniverse on Instagram.