Cantame Una Triste (Sing Me a Sad One)
Mi Casa No Es Su Casa (My Home Is Not Your Home)
Hombre Invisible (Invisible Man)
Olympic Donut Box Pink (Donas Olimpicas Color De Rosa)
Te Estoy Escuchando (I'm Listening)
I'm Sending You This Poem (Te Mando Este Poema)
Palma Negra (Black Palm)
This is a series of photographs all shot “through a glass darkly,” or in less poetic terms, through a bus window as seen on my commutes to and from work (surprise MTA detours included). They tell a story of the daily lives of Angelenos from East Los Angeles through Downtown, Koreatown, Miracle Mile and Museum Row, the changing faces of once-familiar neighborhoods and the sacred presence of trees.
Marisela Norte is the author of Peeping Tom Tom Girl, a collection of poetry and prose. Her latest published work In Memory of Frank O’Hara will be featured in an upcoming book about MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Norte's work featured in the MTA's Out Your Window project was recently named one of the best transit poems in the world by The Atlantic Monthly.
Artist Q & A
Can you tell me a little bit about your lens of taking these photos from the bus?
Oftentimes, trees will sneak into a shot if I'm taking a picture of a person or, you know, a skirt, fabric, whatever it is—and there's that tree there.
Especially on the corner of Brooklyn and Soto. That's a good corner for pictures, because there's always a lot of people getting on the bus and getting off. And there's this big tree in front of this barbershop. I've been watching the barbershop because there's an old guy that sits out in front. I guess he's like the bouncer or the greeter. I don't know what his job is, but he's always there. And the place shut down, so he's gone.
The tree is still there. He's gone. The barbershop is gone. But if you've ever gone down Brooklyn, Cesar Chavez, there's like five barber shops on every block. No one can say people in Boyle Heights are not well groomed because there's either a beauty shop, unisex, esthetica or a hair salon. There's so many of them. And I always wonder, how do these things survive? But then you look at these trees and you say, how do these things survive in the middle of all this craziness? You know, widening the street and repaving…it’s interesting how the streets will keep changing but these trees are still there. And they're ancient.
The pictures I take are always about what used to be there or what I imagine is still there.
So, it really is just what I used to put down in my notebook—that I haven't had the desire to do in quite a long time—I'm doing it visually. To me it's louder, it's more precise…to me it's always been more interesting to see what's going on, like I say, through a glass darkly. Through the window of the bus.
Has the pandemic changed your process and the way you take these photos?
Now, I'm just taking pictures of them through the bus window, when before I would just ring the bell and be like, I'm going to get off here and walk around for an hour and see what I see. And then hop back on and go home. But that doesn't happen anymore.
If I’m waiting on Vermont, I go buy a mask from the señora just because I'd rather that five dollars go straight into her pocket than go get a mask at Forever 21 because it's leopard print or something. So, I have my regulars in that respect, my mask vendors.
I also love the juxtaposition. There’s one photo where there’s ivy or some greenery growing onto the building. You probably see a lot of that right?
I've been rescuing plants that are ready to be tossed out at Ralph's and they're marked down. So, I thought, I'll go to the hardware store because they have succulents there. I get off the bus, walk to the hardware store. They have nothing. And so, I have to walk back. And it was that beautiful, magic hour—that light. I’m looking to see, okay, I’ve got 22 minutes to wait. I was going to go into the supermarket and for some reason, I turned around—and I just saw that ivy. Plus, there’s a palm tree. It looked almost like sheet music to me. It was some kind of composition that nature was producing. Like lines written in a composition book. It was just so stunning to me.
I was taking pictures and this guy's honking at me to get out of the way because I'm in his parking space. And I’m like, look, am I the only one that’s seeing this? Am I the only one that thinks it’s important?