Call me a patriot. In the Declaration of Independence, our nation’s founders predicated the existence of our nascent country upon the “pursuit of happiness” - and I take my civic duty seriously. Over the past few years, I’ve made it a personal project of mine to photograph people in pursuit of fun. To be more specific, drunk people pursuing pumpin’ music, a red cup filled with beer, and, of course, each other.
Now some might argue I’m merely pursuing prurient interests. True documentary photographers go off to war or photograph the homeless, shrinking glaciers or a starving child - all important subjects to be sure. But what about the real life of so many of here at home? Isn’t there a story here? Does all important photography have to document something depressing? Skinny girls with fake boobs and body tattoos need their story told too. How else will the next generation understand this generation’s sacrifices and values?
Though I’d planned this trip for months, come the week prior my motivation waned. Despite the promise of unabashed drunken partying, I instead saw mornings of hangovers, tempting bodies and an unsure welcome. I travel and shoot alone as well. No friendly souls waiting to accompany me over the long weekend. And though I hopefully make it seem easy, it’s a huge amount of mental energy to continually intrude into people’s lives - and risk the rejection and confrontation that sometimes results. But, with encouragement from my girlfriend, I slung my weapons, filled my cooler with ice and vodka and drove off to battle.
For those not familiar with Lake Havasu, it’s a man-made lake on the border of California and Arizona that captures Colorado River water and sends it off to Los Angeles. The actual town was founded in 1964 by some rich guy (how’s that for reporting) who had the foresight to buy the actual London Bridge from London and rebuilt in the desert - thereby attracting lots of tourists. In due time, people with loud boats and coolers filled with beer began calling it their weekend home and a party town was born.
Not just any party town, but the creme-de-la-creme of party towns. Or as I like to think of it, the belly of the beast. Because at times it’s down right ugly. Yeah, I can handle the beer bongs. I can deal with getting soaked by beer spewing keg-standers. I’m not complaining about girls trading their bikini tops for pasties. I’m okay with drunks and drinking games. However, at Havasu all of it whips into a grotesque whirlwind that touches down all too often.
One set of mostly-naked fake boobs is arousing. A few more is fun. An entire fucking sea of them becomes grotesque. Go to Havasu if you want to forget what the undoctored female breast looks like. After coming home and seeing relatively flat chested (i.e. normal) women walking down the street, I’d have to force myself to remember that not every woman has breasts that can lob shells into the next county.
Not just that, but there’s crassness everywhere. Recovering Catholic school kid that I am, I still think that not every photo calls for the guy to stick his tongue out in a mock licking of a woman’s breasts or her ass nor some sort of mock sex act. After all, I’m a documentarian, not a pornographer.
Still, there’s something thrilling about documenting the extremes - be it summiting Mount Everest or the working end of a beer bong. I’m not the only photographer out there shooting this stuff, but the other guys I see don’t connect. They’re on the outside looking in. What I love about what I do is that I’m in the mix. I become a part of the party. I become one with the beer bong - and I had the hangover to prove it.
Let me also say that, though there are bozos and knuckleheads, most of the people are great. They accepted me in their boats and allowed me into their lives. More than one guy told me that if anyone hassled me, they’d have my back. (Hearing that from a Marine in the midst of a drunken, muscle-filled crowd was actually a bit of a relief.) They’re having fun. I’m having fun. Life is good.