6 Feet Back From Life: A Homeless Man’s Photo Essay On Life During Coronavirus is a collection of Bumdog Torres’ photographs and writings from 2020 and early 2021. Much of the writing and many of the photographs previously appeared on LAist, Medium, and perhaps elsewhere, so you may already be familiar. I became aware of Torres thanks to swerdnaekalb’s great interview with him, and I encourage you to read that and Torres’s other writing. He’s doing great things.
I got in right at the end of the print run (my copy is #93 of 100). Given there’s no chance to get a copy of the book, I planned to leave this review for much later. Then I saw on Instagram that Torres is reprinting his #findthebumdog book and thought I could maybe help sell a few copies, so here we are.
Torres is a self-professed “career homeless” man in LA who earns coffee and food money selling photographs, DVDs, TShirts, photobooks, and etc. from his cart around Hollywood and Fairfax, and online. If you’re not able to find him out in the world, reach out to him at Bumdog at gmail and see what he has available. As of 11/9/2021, he was taking preorders for the second edition of #findthebumdog, and he always has t-shirts, photographs, masks, and something going. Now back to the book.
6 Feet Back from Life comes with a warning emblazoned in bold print on the back:
WARNING!!! If you don’t want to RELIVE the panic, hysteria, paranoia, violence, divisions, political wars and racial violence that was 2020, THEN DON’T BUY THIS BOOK!!! This is written from the perspective view of a homeless black man, #bernieorbuster2020, whose politics are violently left of Noam Chomsky.Torres, Bumdog. 6 Feet Back From Life. Self published, 2021. back cover.
Well, I have no desire to relive 2020, and I know it’s late 2021, but it seems like pretty much nothing has changed and if anything has, it’s mostly gotten worse. Torres’ political views are quite similar to my own, if somewhat more realistic-pessimistic. The first half of the book goes into Torres’ experience during the first months of the pandemic and his development as a photographer. The last half of the book opens with a discussion of Jack London’s The Iron Heel, which I haven’t read. In Torres’ reading of the novel, London pretty much predicted most major political shifts in the 20th and early 21st centuries, and Torres uses the novel as a jumping off point to talk about #blacklivesmatter protests in LA and broader social and political issues.
I don’t have a television and my news mostly comes from the DemocracyNow! podcast, and if I heard anything about Rodeo Drive being looted, I don’t recall it. Torres was there on the ground, just a few blocks away. He was surprised that the march, the police, turned violent, but he was sure that the cops wouldn’t let the violence get to the fancy parts of LA. He was shocked when looters made it to Rodeo Drive, and that the police didn’t stop them. Torres realizes, as I also have, as you also should, that the wealthy people who shop on Rodeo Drive with their noses in the air are absolute paupers when compared to the Kochs and Musks and Bezoses and Thiels and them. From the lofty heights all bugs look the same. It’s not that Peter and Jeff and Elon and David hang out in smoke filled rooms and run things, but the Republican and Democratic parties more or less do. And they’re both partly or wholly beholden to the billionaire class. Mere millionaires mean about as much to them as Bumdog and I do. So the powers that be, not the smoky-room types, not anyone you could name… in fact us… all of us… let Beverley Hills burn just like we let South Central burn in the 1990s.
Anyway. Reading a short synopsis from a hack photographer, low level corporate manager, and amateur photobook reviewer, sitting comfortably in his (wife’s) rather posh home has nothing on Torres’ direct reporting. You can, and should, read the whole essay over on Medium. And, really, the rest of the writing in the Six Feet Back From Life book is worth a read too and can be found on Medium or LAist. His photographs, which I realize now I haven’t said anything about, accompany the articles and are worth seeking out. And Torres is a filmmaker too, with a couple of feature-lengths and many short films to his credit. All of them are available on his Vimeo. I encourage you to go check it all out. He’s doing loads of great things.
Thanks to Blake Andrews for featuring Torres back in August. I’m glad I found him and his work. All praise and thanks to Allah. It’s a shame that this book is sold out, but that’s the way it goes. Follow Torres on Instagram or Vimeo or Medium or LAist, and maybe buy a mask or photo or t-shirt or copy of his next book. If you’re in the LA area, you might run into him in Fairfax or Hollywood, and if you’re in flyover country like me, you can find him easiest on the ‘gram or through email (Bumdog at gmail). Really, he’s doing much much more than I—living here in this big house with more cameras than I’ll ever shoot and more photobooks than I can ever look at—ever will.