’89 domande a Bumdog Torres – Homeless

Name? Bumdog Torres (@bumdogtorres).

How old are you? 52.

Where did you go to high school? I didn’t, I dropped out of school after the 7th grade.

Was the choice to be homeless your own or were you forced? Choice. I learned how to be homeless. I knew I never wanted to have a regular 9-5 job, or go back to school. Without a job or an education I knew I was either gonna end up dead, in jail, or some bum on the street. I choose the the third one. Also I wanted to travel, and you can either travel with allot of money or no money. In between that is just a vacation. I never had any hopes of making allot of money, so I became homeless and started to travel.

Where did you sleep? In an alley in front of a storage garage door.

What was the worst thing about being homeless? No privacy.

Do you have any upsides? Enforced discipline. I am much more productive when I’m on the streets than when I have a place. 

What percentage of homeless people are addicted to drugs and alcohol? At one point I would say it was 95%. But that number has lowered because there are more homeless on the streets now because of purely financial reasons. Now its down to 85-80%.

What is the drug that circulates the most among the homeless? It used to be crack cocaine. Now its meth and opiates.

How do you make money? I panhandle on the streets DVDs of my movies, tshirts, photographs and photo books.

What photographer inspired you to be a photographer? Vivian Maier, when her story originally came out. Looking at her photos inspired me because with a little effort I thought I could take photographs like that too. I started in 2014 by taking selfies in thrown away  broken mirror I would find walking through alleys. I did this for several years before I got a real camera and began taking portraits of people.

Whats the subject of your photobooks? The first one is called “#FindTheBumdog: A Homeless Man’s Development as a Street Photographer While Living in the Streets”. That was a catalog of my photos from my first self portraits with my iPhone to my photos today. 

The second is called “6 Feet Back From Life: A Homeless Man’s Photo Essay On Life During Coronavirus”. When the lockdown went into effect I queried some magazines if I could take some photos for them. The only one who said yes was an online magazine called the LAist.com. I wrote photo essays for them about what it was like being homeless during the lockdown. My third was “Happiness is a Great Service to G-d – A Black Homeless Man’s Photographs in a Orthodox Jewish Community”. In Los Angeles I was living the Fairfax which is the second largest Orthodox Jewish Community in America. The fourth is called “Hollywood Dogs” which are collections of photographs of the homeless in Hollywood. The last one is called “Tangerine Land”. I titled that after the movie “Tangerine”, which is a movie by Sean Baker about trans sex workers living in South Hollywood. When I walk from the Fairfax District to Hollywood and back I would go through that area and think “I’m in Tangerine Land”. 

I also did a second version of “#FindTheBumdog” with 150 more photographs in it, so I consider that another book in of itself. In all I self published six photo books in eight months. It’s one of the few things in my life I can take pride in.

Any advice you can give to someone that wants to be a photographer? Learn the “12 shots of composition” and practice them everyday.

What is your photo you are most proud of? A photo I call “Fan Ho”. I always admire the Chinese photographerFan Ho. He did really cool shots with shadows. I wanted to try to recreate one of his photos. One day I was pushing my shopping cart across a street hen  this other homeless guy was crossing the street at the same time in the opposite direction, I called out to him and he stopped. I said I was a photographer and Id give $5 if he let me photograph him. He said ok. He was wearing a light grey shirt. And across the street there was a building that was directly in the sunlight and  painted almost the exact same color. I asked him to cross the street with me. He did and I posed him against the wall. The way the building was built there was a strong shadow coming across that time of day. I asked him to get closer to it and put his back against the wall. The shot I got reminded me of Fan Ho, so thats what I called the photo.

The one that is most appreciated? Fan Ho

What do you think about those who say that old films are better than the new ones? It’s true. Films are getting worse every decade.

Don’t you think that if old movies could be done with modern technologies they would be better than the new ones? Not technology wise, I think if they had the freedom back in the 30’s, 40s and 50s that they had in the 70s, that would have been truly the golden age of movies. Basically if the Hays Code hadn’t gone into effect.

Do you think that today actors are better than the actors of the past? No way. They are getting worse every decade too. I think the prime sweet spot was the 50’s with Montgomery Cliff, Brando, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.

Favorite books? Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath, Native Son, The Iron Heel, The Possessed (its sometimes translates into “The Demons”), Leaves of Grass, Ramtha The White Book, On the Road, Visions of Cody, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream and Solipsist.

Favorite directors? Chaplin, Hitchcock, Welles, Di Sica, Fellini, Ashby, Woody Allen, King Vidor, Billy Wilder, Buster Keaton, Spike Lee, Lina Wertmuller, the German films of Fritz Lang, Elia Kazan, Scorsese, Speilberg, De Palma.

Favorite authors? Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, William Blake, Whitman, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur Miller, Hubert Selby Jr, Bukowski, Donald Goines, John Fante and Henry Rollins.

Who are your favorite artists? I like “people painters”. Artists who paint peasants and ordinary people. Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Velaquez, Riberia, Goya, Millet, Van Gogh, Picasso’ Blue and Rose period and Norman Rockwell. I’m also very into symbolism like William Blake and Dali, as well as German Expressionism. Max Beckman is one of my all time favorites.

Favorite TV series? The original “Twilight Zone”, the original 60’s “Star Trek”, “The White Shadow” “Taxi” and “Futurama”. I literally cried when they canceled “Futurama”.

If you can choose 5 celebrities to photograph, who would they be? Im not really interested in photographing celebrities per se, but I would like to do more creative shoots, like the work in Vanity Fair or David La Chapelle. The only one I can think of seriously is Jim Carrey, because I imagine him being very open to ideas. 

What’s the topic you are most expert in? Creatively I’m a jack of all trades, king of none.

How has the advent of smartphones and social media affected the job of professional photographers? I wouldn’t be a photographer if it weren’t for smartphones and social media. When I was homeless the thought of buying a camera, then buying film, then shooting stuff and paying money to have the film developed. Then paying for prints, then having no place to store them or anyone to show it to. All that would have been completely beyond my comprehension.But I was homeless when I got my first iPhone that I bought off someone who found it in a trash can. I’d take it out of my pocket, take photographs with it, then upload it to Facebook where it’s immediately seen by hundreds of my friends. If it wasn’t  that easy I would never have started.

Can you give us a definition of art? Conscious effort.

When, in your opinion, can you define a person as an artist? Conscious effort, whether you’re painting a fresco in the Vatican or making a cup of coffee. 

What makes one artist better than another? Effort. Most painters can technically draw as good as Michelangelo. Its the extraordinary amount of extra effort he put into his work that set him apart.

Do you think there exists an objective aesthetic value or you think aesthetic value is just subjective? Subjective

Best musicians from the past? Duke Ellington on Piano, Miles Davis trumpet, Charlie Parker on alto sax, Coltrane Tenor sax, Mingus on Bass, Keith Moon on Drums, Jimi Hendrix on lead guitar, John Lennon on rhythm guitar. Arhetha Franklin singing. Bob Dylan composing the lyrics.

Favorite musicians from today? I don’t think there are any good musicians that I know of. It’s almost like playing musical instruments isn’t even a thing anymore. It’s easier to be a rapper or a DJ. And rap is way past its prime years.

The most overrated band and music? Guns and Roses and second wave punk music. 

The most underrated? Most rap music up until 1997 and the first two albums by Motley Crue.

Do you think that the relationship between art and drugs is just a cliché? Between art and drugs is a cliché, but the relationship between artists and drugs is no cliché. 

What’s your favorite show business character? Charlie Chaplin.

If you were a character of a movie, which one would you be? Ratzo Rizzo.

If you could have a super power what would you choose? Flying or super speed would be cool. 

Do you have any political orientation? I belong to the far left. The Bernie or Busters is what it’s often called.

If you could choose which historical era to live in, which would you choose? 1957-1970.

If you could spend a day with an historical figure, who would you choose? The Buddha, at least if I could understand what he was saying.

Who are the people that inspired you the most? Single mothers raising their children under very difficult circumstances.

If you could choose a famous person to spend a night, who would it be? Marilyn Monroe.

And for a relationship? Barbara Alton.

Have you ever had a homosexual experience? Almost. With a very convincing Trans. The large strong hands gave him away…excuse me…gave them away.

Have you ever been offered something in exchange for sex? Yes I’ve been propositioned by homosexuals like most men on the streets have, but its not my preference, and I’ve never been so desperate as to consider it making it my preference. But that’s because I don’t use drugs or drink. If I did use those things it might make me more susceptible to offers.

Where are you from? Los Angeles.

Where do you live? Los Angeles.

Which neighborhood? Hollywood.

Other cities where you’ve lived in? San Francisco, Las Vegas, Broward County, Key West, London, Amsterdam, Paris, the French Riviera, Agadir, Casablanca, Ceuta, Malaga, Santa Cruz, Maui, Bangkok, Nong Khai, Hua Hin in that order.

What’s your favorite city in the world? Los Angeles.

Which languages do you speak? English, French and Spanish.

Where have you been on vacation when you were young? Nowhere really. That’s one of the reasons I travel so much when I got older. 

Where are you going on vacation now? I don’t go on vacations. I’m a traveler, when I go to a city I live in it until I leave. Currently I’m LIVING in Hollywood.

The material goods you most desire? I just want the tools I need to create: a computer, cameras, music players and a phone. Of course all those things are on one phone these days, but still.

The most precious material thing you own? It used to be my Walkman, then it was my iPod, now it’s my iPhone and cameras.

The quality you would like to have and don’t have? Complete self acceptance. 

Are you ashamed of being “a bum”? No, I’m ashamed of not being a GOOD bum.

There are more and more models who do not respond to the “classic” aesthetic canons, do you think that brands really try to change the social dynamics or do you think they are choices dictated by marketing reasons to exploit the politically correct? The latter. 

If you had the possibility to remove social networks from the world, would you delete them? Yes.

The craziest experience you’ve ever had? That question makes me realize how boring my life has been.

Can you define yourself with an adjective? Lazy.

Do you believe in a religion? Not religion itself. The philosophy that is the basis of most religions, yes.

Photo by Boaz Zippor

What’s the first thing you would do if you win the lottery? Go to Las Vegas and blow it all. I’m addicted to gambling. 

The richest person you know? I don’t know any. Even the well off people I know don’t have incredible amounts of disposable cash, which is what I consider rich.

Your favorite dish? Tom Yum Ghai.

Favorite fashion brand? Pro Club T-shirts

Do you have some phobias? Other than believing the whole universe is against me, no.

How important are fame and money to you? Just enough fame to make enough money. 

What do you think about Banksy’s experiment to sell his works on the streets for cheap? I first thought of the fact that I sell my artwork on the streets too. But then I was living on the streets at the time. Whereas Bansky did it on principle. Which I admire. 

What’s the item of clothing you spent the most money on? I don’t really spend money on clothes until the ones I have wear out, and I can’t find anything that will fit me on the streets. But once in Paris I spent a good chunk of the money I had on a shirt that said in the front “LAPD” then on the back it said “CATCH ME IF YOU CAN”.The next was spending $30 something on a Johnny Cash tshirt by Jim Marshall with him giving the finger to the camera.  I loved that shirt. It got stolen when someone stole the shopping cart that I had it in. I spent hours with a knife looking for it. If I found anybody wearing that shirt I was gonna open them up.

Do you think that prison, as a deprivation of a person’s freedom, is a correct solution for an individual who violates the laws of society, or do you think it presupposes an acceptance of participation in the social contract that some individuals may not want? I’ve met people on the streets where I thank god that we have prisons. 

Do you have some regrets about things you wanted to do but you didn’t do? If so which ones? Too many to mention.

Do you have some remorses for something you did but you should have done differently? If so which ones? Too many to mention.

Do you have some dreams that you are trying to realize? If so which ones? Copy and paste the above. 

What is the night you spent the most money to have fun? I spent all the money I had the first night I was in Las Vegas. Thats when I realized I was addicted to gambling. That wasnt fun.

What do you usually drink at the bar? I don’t drink.

What drugs have you done? I never did drugs. None other than second hand contact smoke. But I recently tried mushrooms, I wanted the psychedelic experience, but I didn’t get high, I was just brain dead for several months. But I am a gambling addict.

Are you in favor of the liberalization of soft drugs? Yes.

And hard drugs? Yes. Everything except chemical drugs like Meth, PCP etc. Its fucks people up too much.

Best party you’ve been to? Downtown La 2005 I think, it was at the top of the Nabisco building. The guy had the entire top floor, you could see all of downtown LA and East La at the same time. I talked to him, he paid $5,000 a month for the whole floor. It got bought up and they kicked him out, and that top floor he had all to himself, they turned into about 20 different condos for $600,000 each.

Do you think that if people couldn’t post on Instagram about it, they would take part as well to social movements? I saw that during the George Floyd riots. People getting out of Mercedes SUVs taking selfies of themselves in the protests, then getting back in their cars and driving away.

What do you think about the existence of royal rulers for birthright? Being from America I have a natural aversion to it. But as I have traveled around there are several countries that prefer it. So who am I to judge another country’s culture? 

Does the current concept of democracy make sense to you? I don’t know about the “concept” of democracy, in America the practice of Democracy has become a joke.

What is your position on a hypothetical enlightened dictatorship that could direct the good of people? Hypothetically it could work.

What do you think of the Inside Job theory regarding 9/11? I think its true.

What do you think about Donald Trump? I was a Bernie or Buster, so I have mixed emotions about him.  In 2016 I was horrified that he won, but it was orgasmic to see Clinton lose. As far as him being elected president I never laughed so much in my life. I didn’t watch tv so every time I went by a bar or a restaurant with TV on and it saying “President Elect Trump” I’d bust out laughing. The whole 4 years was a comedy horror show. Like “Duck Soup” plus ‘Dr. Strangelove”. Usually presidents just make me depressed. With Trump I was still depressed, but I was also entertained beyond anything in politics before. 

Were you surprise by the January 6 riots? No, I expected them. I didnt think Biden had any chance of winning. I bet my stimulus check on it, again I am addicted to gambling. If the vote had been closer it would have been tens of thousands instead of just a few thousand.

What’s your best talent? Communication.

Do you have many friends? Yes and no. I have people I call friends, even best friends, but I dont have anyone I can talk to regularly or go and hang out with, because they run in different circles. Which makes me sad when you want someone to talk to or just want to be around people.

Do you think that racism is a manifestation of some kind of deficiency, an aid to fill gaps in existence for those who approach it? Could this explain the fact that often the profile of the average racist corresponds to individuals with difficult lives who have to struggle with a variety of issues and who use it as an outlet? Yes.

Do you consider yourself smart? Smarter than average, not much more than that.

The smartest person you know? I don’t know about the smartest, but the dumbest people I know usually are the ones who brag about their education and how much they read and research.

What book inspired you to write your stuff? John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”. Before I read that I didn’t think literature had anything to do with real life. The only thing I ever read was Hobbits and novelizations of movies. That was the first thing I ever read that I could relate to.

What have you written? The first was in 2001, I self published all the short stories I had into a book I called “Sketches of Nothing by a Complete Nobody”. When I printed it out I had all the covers made out of blank sketching paper. I was going to draw stuff on each one, so that everyone was an original work of art. But instead I got a computer, learned photoshop and pasted collages on each. I used to panhandle them on the street, and sell them for $10-20 each. I also wrote and performed a one man play called “Masterbation Theater Presents”.

Advice for being a writer? Read a lot, and experience more until you can’t hold the writing back. But like Bukowski said “Don’t try”.

What movie inspired you to make movies? The first one was when I saw Steven Speilberg’s “ET: The Extraterrestrial”. When I was 12-13 I watched people come out of the theater just a little bit different than they were when they went in. It’s what made me want to be a director. The second movie was a documentary called “American Movie”, because I thought you needed millions of dollars to make a movie, but this movie was about a guy in the middle of nowhere making a movie with only his bare resources. 

What movies have you made? In 2004 I was sleeping in a parking lot in Downtown Los Angeles, when I realized I could make a feature film if I could get someone to lend me a camera and Mac with iMovie on it. It was going to be about three days in my life being homeless. I used several stories from my book so I called it “Sketches of Nothing by a Complete Nobody: The Movie”. I thought I could do it in 11 days, instead it took me three years to finish it. ds: The Homeless Filmmakers of Hollywood (A Meta Mockumentary)”.

Advice for being a filmmaker?  No matter what your resources are, make a feature film. Even if you only have a camera on your phone. It doesn’t matter how good, bad, or ugly you think it will be. Make a movie that is at least 70-90 minutes long. Most people just make short films and they will say “I know how to make a feature film because Ive made lots of short films.” But the difference between making a short film and a feature film is the difference between running a 50 meter sprint and a 50 mile marathon. Winning a sprint is fine. But running a marathon can kill you. Same thing with filmmaking. Making a short films is one thing, but trying to make a feature film has killed people.Thats why 95% of people who call themselves filmmakers have never made a feature film. But even the 95% of people who have made one feature film never make a second one, because they realize how hard it is and they don’t want to do it again. So the first thing you should do is make a feature film, then you will know right away if you ever want to make another one, or even if you want to be a filmmaker anymore. If you find it in yourself to make a second feature film, then you are a real filmmaker. God help you.

Favorite directors? Chaplin, Hitchcock, Welles, Di Sica, Fellini, Ashby, Woody Allen, King Vidor, Billy Wilder, Buster Keaton, Spike Lee, Lina Wertmuller, the German films of Fritz Lang, Elia Kazan, Scorsese, Speilberg, De Palma.

If you could choose a person, who would you like to read this interview? I just hope my mother doesn’t read it.