Dallas, the New Paris

Dallas, Texas. They say everything here is bigger but I’m not convinced. I keep on checking for my growth spurt, but I remain diminutive.

Living here is ok… as long as you make extensive use of the international airport, but my dog Virus will draw his final breath before I pack another suitcase. I owe him for 15 years of devoted service and all the dead presents, so I stay put. But I ITCH!!!

The other day a sudden awareness struck me. I realized that, to many, Dallas would be considered different and exotic. Obviously not if you live around these parts, but what about if you lived in Rome or London? I bet you English folks still think Southfork Ranch lies right smack in the middle of town (which it totally does not! Ha!)

Dallas is my new Paris. Minus the croissants and the old buildings and art that no one bothered to replace over there because, you know, they are a bunch of socialists after all…

Bye bye Art!

Driving south on 35, after crossing the Trinity River, you arrive in a neighborhood called Oak Cliff. It knows no official bounds; anything south of the river is pretty much considered Oak Cliff. Many celebrities either lived there or attended its schools: Sergeant Garcia from Zorro certainly did, and so did Batgirl.

Then, there were some for whom Oak Cliff did not bring a lot of luck. It is said that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met there in 1930 and we all know what happened to them. Then, there is also Dennis Rodman. When he attended South Oak Cliff High School, he failed to make the football team. Freshman year, he quit basketball in the midst of the season for not having been given enough playing time. Truth be told, he was only 5 ft 6 at the time. We all know the rest of the story. He left Oak Cliff to attend college, grew to be 6 ft 7, dyed his hair funky crazy and dated Madonna. Sometimes a change of venue is all it takes.

Nowadays Oak Cliff has bits of parts for the well-off, and plenty of parts for the not so well-off and the not so white. Most places, it’s not so safe either. I decide to walk along the route of the former steam railroad on Jefferson Boulevard.

First impression? A lot of Spanish!

Second impression? If it’s not your first language, buy a dictionary. You just know that this little fellow will misspell the word “cigar” for the remainder of his life. In all fairness, 80 cents for a supreme cigar seems like a bargain to me.

This Tejano sells Cds on the street. His friend approaches me as I am walking along the Boulevard and asks me what I am doing. I never thought I looked anything like a threat, but indigenes plain don’t like outsiders in this part of town… that is until we start talking on the sidewalk and he tells me all about his former gang activities and the murders he witnessed. Pause. “But, er, we’re friends now, right?” He reassures me and tells me he is going to watch over me. Five minutes in the hood and I’ve got myself a spankin’ new guardian angel! Or a guardian evil…

I continue my walk and cross paths with this couple of lovebirds who maintain their very own red shopping cart.

This is Brenda. Brenda scares me. As I look through the window of the laundromat, she briskly opens the door and, with a bit of what could be easily described as a disapproving tone, questions my presence on the premise. She is smaller than I am but she could take me. With a finger. I stutter something about Sergeant Garcia and Dennis Rodman and my blog and Paris and she appears overwhelmed by a sense of great pity. Silly little blond is going to have a hard time going through life with that pea-size brain! She requests a photograph. We’re buds.

Ah kids! The little girl sits on the table, patiently waiting, and her smile is beaming. After taking Brenda’s portrait, I really need a more reassuring subject. I could definitely take her.

I catch this family in front of the bus depot. The boy in the yellow tee-shirt hams it up. The boy in the orange shirt just wants to die of embarrassment. A camera generally has this effect on teenagers, especially when the whole family is involved.

This is the Supermercado. In front, another seller of CDs. I try to convince him to have his portrait taken but when he learns I have already photographed the competition, he shuts down like a clam. His CD selection is not as good anyway.

At this point, I’m starting to feel as if I had traveled to Mexico. The colors, the people, the language: there is absolutely nothing Anglo about this place besides the street names. Add a beach and I’m moving there.

A muy cool Tejano plays pool. The rules are different. Instead of starting the game with all the balls in a triangle, he aligns them on both sides of the table.

At first, this young Tejano appears very reluctant and even a little stern. He “warmed up” eventually although you really can’t tell by looking at this photograph. I want boots like that too.

The cohort of Stern Tejano, all wife-beatered and pumaed. Tejano sell-out!

Diana. In the arms of her mami. Hating me. For delaying her supper. I look like that too when I’m hungry.

At the bus depot, this Mexican man provides drinks and food to the waiting passengers. He is incredibly sweet.

In front of the bus depot, two men in intense conversation. We mean serious business.

As I make my way back, this little thing catches my eyes. She is mesmerized by me. I steal her image. I generally always ask the parents, but I just could not resist the moment.

Waiting for a call? Waiting to make one? Does anyone still use public phones?

The hair salon. All this pinkness! You feel transported back to another era. If I managed a pink salon, I would ban bright yellow products.

I enter a check cashing joint and see this security guard. To obtain the permission to photograph him, I would have gone through extraordinary lengths, jumped through hoops, and sold my grand-mother. There is something incredibly touching about him beyond his droopy eyes and high-waisted pants: the man just exudes goodness and sense of duty.

You should always pay for your ticket. Ask Lee Harvey Oswald! If the dude had paid for his ticket at the Texas Theater, he might still be sipping cocktails on a beach somewhere in the Pacific. Sometimes small savings do not pay off in the end.

I walk on the now seemingly deserted boulevard. A big black dude in a big black car moves slowly along the sidewalk. He lowers the window on the passenger’s side and asks me to join him for a ride. He is holding some kind of baton that he rubs in upward and downward motions as he insists heavily. I kinda like my life and I really feel like I ought to go home right about that time. I see him park his car a little further down the street. Time to get the hell out of here!

Bye bye Oak Cliff!

21 responses to “Dallas, the New Paris

  1. interesting – thank you

  2. I have to say, when I read your title for this post, I snorted. Dallas? Paris? WHAT???

    Then, I spent a great few minutes looking at the photos and smiling. These are really great. Personally, I think several of them are the best I’ve seen of your work thus far. Touching, interesting, entertaining…. All the good stuff. If you will, National Geographic quality.

    As always, very good indeed.

    BTW, I hear that your brothers and mom are thinking about a cruise. Hmmm. We were thinking the same thing. 😉

    -Turkish Prawn

  3. breathlessmini

    All of the portraits are amazing but the childrens’ faces that you captured are extra amazing. I take my camera with me everywhere and often think, I’d love a picture of that, but I get too nervous to ask. You’ve made me realize that it’s worth asking. It would also be worth getting a better lens =)

  4. You’re one brave, talented, fearless pixie of a pixel-ator!
    This gorgeous series took me back about 45 years in time, evoked the No Country for Old Men scariness, and captured, well, not Paris exactly, but another kind of esoteric-ness.
    I particularly liked the one of the little girl sitting up on the table with that crazy ray of light on her cheek.

    Adios, adieu, and where are you taking us next?

  5. You’re braver than me…though I suppose several of those gentlemen are more receptive to someone with your looks rather than mine.

    “…questions my presence on the premise. ” Somehow I doubt her language was so sedate.

    Excellent work. And I agree with breathlessmini – thanks for the inspiration to approach strangers for portraits.

  6. We just moved to Oak Cliff from Ka’u at the southern tip of the Big Island, Hawaii; refugees of the current out-gassing. You get a totally different take on Oak Cliff if you meander down Davis Street (we live between Jefferson and Davis, in the midst of a bunch of streets named after several famous presidents) that runs parallel with Jefferson a half mile north just west of Zang. That’s where Bishop Arts District is: old brick buildings, family owned restaurants, coffee shops, bistros, and little art galleries. It would be worth it, photographically, to hang around there in the late afternoon and early evening time. They have an monthly event called First Thursday where street musicians and jugglers (haven’t seen a mime yet) and such lay out their empty cases on the sidewalks for a fill-up and the shops stay open late. Great time, good grinds good lime.

  7. I see you’ve decided to try and work more with color. They look great, as always.

  8. Ha! Another few moments of heaven amongst hells toast, you are one brave crazy woman who would so go nuts here in Africa. Dare ya to venture, bring Virus!

  9. The only place I’ve been in Dallas is Texas Stadium…and it is a dump. Love your pictures! Do you ask people to pose or do you walk around just snapping pictures? Either way…you do a wonderful job! Always look forward to your new posts!

  10. Amazing photos and play by play. Brenda looks a bit disturbed, but very photogenic in a strange way.

    I remember playing Spanish pool in South America with 6 or so balls lined up on the rail. If I remember correctly I always did well, until the house rules were explained 🙂

  11. Poet Dean Baker, thanks for your appearance. You lofty man picked my earthiest story to visit!

    Prawn, man, National Geographic? I WISH!!! As if!!!! But thanks all the same for the high marks.
    Er, about that cruise, the mere thought of being cooped up on a boat with my sister will prevent me from sleeping for many days. When I was in Belgium in May, we exchanged two words. Both were “hi”, and it’s only because there were people around so I could not ignore her. The chick faked cancer to hide the fact she was having a gastric bypass. I have absolutely nothing to say to her. Do you still want to go on a cruise with us?

    Breathlessmini, if you can get away without asking, just do it. It’s much better photography-wise. In Paris, I rarely asked. In Oak cliff, I asked 99% of the time. It’s 15 miles from my place. I ask.

    Bonnie, I am so not fearless! I even think that, in a way, it is an out of body experience. I completely take on another persona when I go in the streets like that. I am a very shy person deep down, but I have always learned to compensate with a great dose of acting and an extrovert front.
    Next on the list, probably downtown, although I might also dig up something very silly from the past just because I sense my inner child rebelling.

    Magnum, I’ll flick the hair, show cleavage, and sway my hips, if it gets me what I want. I have no problem with it. You, on the other hand, would probably get yourself killed for using these tricks. On the other hand, I bet the probabilities of you getting propositioned by a big dude rubbing his big baton suggestively are close to nil. So there you have it, we each have our fair share of problems to overcome.

    Mikinikane, I thought about photographing B.A.D. but that’s the new swanky hot area in Oak Cliff. Very white. Very “cute.” Very safe. So I decided to go with something a little more raw where I could photograph people who carry their life on their face. Trying to get a interesting portrait out of young urban professional from Kessler Park who came to B.A.D. to have Tapas at Cafe Madrid is actually much more complicated than shooting a typical Tejano going about his daily business. I am however very interested in the street festival. Thank you so much for taking the time to give me this info and next first Thursday of the month, do not hesitate to say hi to the photographer on the street!

    Diana, I have no choice about the color. I’m told I need color for my portfolio. Not exactly my idea of a good time, especially processing-wise, but if it will get me out of Texas, I’ll do what I need to do.

    SanityFound, LOL. Virus would not scare a mouse anymore. I could bring The Alligator, but he cares much more about his next death victim than protecting me. I’m afraid my only bout in Africa was two weeks in Morocco by myself 20 years ago. While I wore long sleeved shirts and long pants in the middle of summer, I got called a whore a lot. Not exactly my idea of a good time.

    Allan, we are having a brand new stadium for 2009 for more than 1 billion dollars (currently!) I’m picturing Jerry Jones as Dr. Evil with his pinkie to his lips raising construction costs to 100 billion dollars! Initial budget was 650 million dollars!) Check it out:
    http://stadium.dallascowboys.com/
    Call THAT a dump. We will even be the hosts of the 2011 Super Bowl. I have never been to a football game in my life, nor do I care to, by the way.
    Best case scenario, I take the photograph, then ask permission to use it, but in a rough area, I ask first because I like to be alive 😉

    Ross, Brenda is misunderstood.
    I do well at pool too… after a few drinks. I’m not sure whether it oils my abilities or alters my concept of what it means to play well 😉

    I hope I did not forget anyone. Thank y’all for your encouragements. Being a photographer is a solitary pleasure but it feels nice to at least be connected to others during the day! Honestly, I was beginning to feel a little depressed working home all day without having people around. It’s much better now. Thanks!

  12. Nice work, Nathalie. What I find most fascinating about this series of photos is how it captures the less public side of Dallas, the more personal and shunted aspect of a diverse city. No, we’ll never be Paris or London or NYC, but this tiny fraction of the metroplex shows a diversity that most urbanites want to hide: the part of their realm that doesn’t attract tourists, that doesn’t attract marketing dollars. To me it seems more personal, more real, something tangible that’s perhaps less clean and less packaged than the hype. Thanks for sharing!

    Are you going to continue the series with your other recent visits? I think it would offer a bit of the marvelous contrast around our area, and not just for others to see; I’m interested in viewing what you captured as well during your excursions to other locations around the city. If you want to share, that is.

  13. Lol don’t feel alone had similar visiting Saudi, age 14 and they made me do an AIDS test *shrug* apparently South African woman are well hmmm

    If you ever need a break the offer still stands – stay in/sane

  14. Well, the little girl who was mesmerized by you has now mesmerized me. And, Brenda. Now, why did you go to this area? Where you on assignment for something or did you just decide one day to go. If you brought someone with you, would that alter the chemistry between you and potential subjects? I know you said you had to do more color but will you use this material elsewhere other than portfolio?

  15. Jason, I’m glad you approve! I think I’ll do downtown but I’ll probably can Highland Park – you know people there feel too important to be photographed. I spotted one of these typical pretty self-important man at a terrace and asked him if I could take his portrait.
    He replied he was already a media personality. He did not seem familiar, so I asked which media and he replied he was a radio personality. Hahaha, so much for being a recognizable personality. Idiot. I’m also planning on doing Oak Lawn – hopefully the “Round up” and Sue Ellen’s.

    Yo InSanityFound, I must congratulate you on hitting more than 50,000 hits. Bravo!!! The AIDS test before visiting Saudi? Brutal! Sorry I can’t remember which offer you are referring to ;-(

    Yeah Pat, I was actually on assignment. I’m working for a movie producer and shooting the photographic part of his style book. I thought about taking someone with me but it would most definitely change the chemistry with my subjects, so I elected not to. I think it would have been alright if I had left earlier… but once I begin to shoot, I never seem to be able to find the brakes!
    The color is because I would like to do travel photography. I could start doing stringers – financing my own trips then trying to sell my stories when I get back… but apparently I need to shoot color. I really never use my material other than for my blog or portfolio anyway.

  16. No, it can’t be… Magnum is here! Major swoon and great avatar.
    Brenda is my favourite photo but what I love about whatever you do is how you make people trust the lens. NOT easy. You are goooooooood.

  17. Dallas, huh? Hmm, never heard of it. Is everything really bigger? If so, does it have a “Hooters?” That might be frightening.

  18. Epicurienne, I had actually send Magnum the link to your post about the cake! He appreciated it greatly. Mr. Weenie has a great blog by the way. Making people trust my lens is exhausting, and quite frankly, I’m not sure I always trust the subject all that much!

    Matt, come on! I live in the capital of fake boobs. Heck yeah, everything is bigger. Hands down, our hooters are WAY better than yours.

  19. Pingback: Weekly Fruit Salad 08 « SanityFound’s Rambling’s

  20. I just discovered your site. You have a fabulous eye and talent. Oak Cliff is very close to my home in Waxahachie and I sell a little real estate there as well. You captured the Oak Cliff essence perfectly.

  21. Lovely!
    I far prefer what some call the seedier side of “Big D”
    I admire your ability to approach and get such refreshing portraits!

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