I've spent most of my life making pictures and have managed to preserve most of that work despite moving around quite a bit, I've been lucky. I emigrated to Los Angeles from Lima, Peru in 1962 when I was ten years old with my parents who were looking for a new start. Their relationship, always on the rocks, didn't work out for them and they eventually separated. My dad returned to Peru and stayed in the same house, a Spanish style house in the back of a shop, until he died in 2014. His health was always frail, having suffered from tuberculosis as a kid, and he was very proud of having made it to celebrate his 80th birthday, but he died shortly after that.
I went from a very strict Catholic school in Lima to a public school in LA where I didn't speak a word of English. I learned by watching television and my accent, which is somewhat all over the place, tends to reflect that. Listening and watching became my style of learning - it's still that way now. My father was an amateur photographer and he set up a darkroom in the bathroom of a two bedroom apartment my parents and I shared in Gardena. This was then a tough, decent, but rigidly conservative neighborhood that was then undergoing a massive change from a Japanese enclave to an influx of African-American, Mexican and Latin American immigrants - the change was quite violent in every sense, but you did learn a great deal if you were a good observer. Trade and manufacturing jobs were still readily available, which made things easier, but that was soon to change.
Gardena High School was then a vocational technical school, or Vo-Tech school as they were called, but they didn't have anything remotely like photography - only electrical shop and refrigerator repair among other trades. I majored in cars as I liked them and was very much intrigued by car culture but fortunately it didn't last long. I got odd jobs when I was in my 20's and took pictures and read a great deal. I didn't care for school and dropped out of several programs at various Colleges but decided to educate myself by going to the Gardena Library. This is where I first started to do serious reading and, thanks to their photography collection, became acquainted with some of the great photo books by Lewis Hine, Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Lisette Model and William Klein - Hine and Klein's work especially fascinated me as it looked very well thought out but arbitrary at the same time - their snapshot aesthetic resonated with me immediately. In the same library I became obsessed with European literature, especially the early modernists, who are still my favorites. Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Celine's Journey to the End of the Night were my favorite books. I loved Hemingway, Woolf, Borges and, for some reason, the poet Catullus, who is still my favorite poet. I was fortunate in that writers whose work I treasured were working then, so I got to read the works of Milan Kundera, Joan Didion, Gore VIdal and Umberto Eco as they were coming out. I also became a cinefile going to films about 3 or 4 times a week. At the New Vagabond Theater in LA I became familiar with the British Kitchen Sink films, Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave which I took to immediately - and they are the films that I still go back to.
I moved to New York City in May of 1979 and stayed through 1984 - it was a great learning experience - probably the most intense of my life. I took very few pictures then as I was just trying to survive. After briefly working as a waiter and a Guy Friday in the corporate world I eventually I got a job at the Strand Bookstore where I learned the book trade. It was a difficult job in many ways but being surrounded by books made up for it. I also got to read a great many titles I would never have discovered on my own. A colleague at the Strand, once he discovered my affinity for Joyce, turned me on to Hélène Cixous' "The Exile of James Joyce" which became my favorite book - it has been displaced a couple of times since then but I think it's still there. I had my own apartment on Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge that was on the second floor and looked out onto traffic coming off the bridge so it looked like I lived on street level when you looked out the window. With a "real job" at the Strand and my own place I thought I was set for life. I would get by on pizza slices, mac and cheese and canned soup so I could afford to go to films, concerts and theater. When the neighborhood started changing in the early 1980's it all came apart and New York was done for - the money people were raping the place and remaking it in their own image of the golden city they were determined to see - and if one wanted no part of that it was a good time to leave.
In 1984 I moved to Pasadena California and attended the Art Center College where I got an MFA and started to write articles about photography and film for magazines. I lived in the Old Town section of Pasadena that was then full of thrift shops and abandoned buildings. I got a full time job with a pension in the library at the same college buying books for them which was, as I liked to call it then, "the greatest job of all time." I still think it was. I had been taking pictures and making films throughout this time, some of which you can see on this site.
When I arrived in the USA in 1962 I was ten years old and by the end of the sixties I was twenty which means that my most formative growing years coincided with that decade and it is undoubtedly the period that has had the most profound effect on me in ways I can't even begin to articulate - but my work speaks for me far better than I ever could so I will end it here.
Writings on George
Writings on George