Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to write down about a young man. In this case it’s hard to figure out what I can say without betraying his confidence.
In person, he was so calm as to seem nearly somnambulant. At times his eyes would close and I’d have to say something to be sure he was still with me.
But just beneath the disconnectedness, the sleepiness and boredom, there was an undeniable razor-sharp anger or rage. His passion, he says, is fighting.
Every time he made a move, I’d notice scars. Some were light, others from obviously serious injuries or wounds. I made a point of asking about each one, and each time give me the same response: “It’s a long story.”
I asked him how he stands when he’s ready to fight. His hands went up automatically while his face showed me that he was a million miles away. I reached up and put my hand around one of his fists. It immediately went loose, limp, dead. Too easily he relinquished everything.
For another project I had a collection of paper letters. I spread them on the floor and asked him to play with them. While he messed the letters around, I asked about the tattoo on his chest. He said “My mother was killed when I was nine.” “Who did it?” I asked. “My dad,” he responded blankly.
He spelled “FAST CASH” on the floor. I looked over at Pony; Pony looked at me. I don’t know if I can explain what a profound moment this was, how much was revealed in these two words. If I were to say this shoot was “about” anything, it was about unbridgeable distances, about very thin ice over very deep cold water.
He suddenly scattered all the letters around and squatted on them. Out of the blue I said “You’ve been in prison, haven’t you.” He didn’t respond, but I knew the answer. Finally, after an interminable pause, he said “That isn’t where my nose was broken. That was in the ring.” In one moment, it felt like he wanted to slug me hard; in the next moment he was gone, absent again and deep inside himself.
I moved in, as close as I could get to him. “Last shot,” I said. He seemed almost asleep. I reached out and slapped him in the side of his head. He looked directly at me and I quickly took three shots. This one seems to me to capture a fraction of his beauty, intensity and mystery.
I left the room. Later Pony told me that as he got dressed he talked about how angry I’d made him. “It’s my body,” he kept saying. “I can do what I want. He can’t tell me what to do.”
– PAUL MORRIS