Melvin Van Peebles, 89 no more.

trillian_stars said that when I met him, I had to call him Chevalier Van Peebles because he'd been knighted in France. And he was knighted in France. Back when he started trying to make films in America in the 1960's and ran into the problems that a young, black filmmaker inevitably runs into in the U.S. Melvin heard that France paid its artists, as long as they wrote in French. So he packed his bags, moved to France and started making movies in French. And he was successful. And they knighted him.

When he opened the door of his apartment in a ritzy New York neighborhood I said "Hello Chevalier Van Peebles," and he waved me in with a cigar. I was there to photograph a cover for the Philadelphia weekly, written by Michael Gonzalez about how the badass filmmaker was still very badass and had a new band.

We bonded over running, something we'd both started in our 40's, and art, and movies.

I eventually asked where he kept his suit of armor and he showed me his knighthood, he kept it in the closet. Like everybody in New York does.

I took photos, Michael interviewed, the band played. You meet a lot of people as a photographer and most of them you photograph and you leave and later you have the photos. Melvin was one of those rare people who turned into a friend. He loved what he did, and he loved that he was able to use his cache to help other people.

He called a few weeks later and suggested that he and the band should crash at my house while they were in Philly. Which sounded like a tremendous idea. I took Melvin to our local diner where he tried politely, though legitimately, to pick up the 20 year old waitress for the duration of our brunch.

Melvin watched the movie that trillian_stars had just made, A Doll's House drank a couple of bottles of wine with a cat on his lap and told us stories of Hollywood. The one that sticks in my mind is that when he was making Watermelon Man, (his breakthrough 1970 comedy about a racist white guy who wakes up one morning to discover he's Black,) Columbia Pictures wanted him to cast a white actor to play the role in blackface. Melvin said "why should someone be in makeup for 90% of the movie? Why don't I cast a black actor to wear whiteface for 12 minutes of screen time? And the studio executive twisted his face and said "Can a Black actor do that?!" Melvin said (to us) "They always think that the prince can play the pauper but that the pauper can never play the prince."

The film was a success but Melvin had enough of that and set out on his own where he wouldn't have to listen to people like that. He spent the rest of his life in indie cinema and was a huge inspiration to me in college. The thing I learned from him when I was 20 was that it's better to do something not as polished if you don't have to ask people you don't respect for money. It's been a guiding light of nearly ever creative project I've undertaken since then. Melvin found his own money, he found his own cast -- he wrote, he directed, he acted and he was a success. At a time when Hollywood thought that nobody would go to see a movie with a largely Black cast and a Black hero who fights a corrupt police force and wins, Melvin helped break open Hollywood like a teapot.

Another of the things I found remarkable about him was just how kind he was and pleasant to be around.

A few months after the magazine came out, I got a call from editor Stephen Segal saying that we'd been nominated for two Keystone Press awards, one for my cover photo, and one for his layout of the article. (We won both of them. I keep the award on my desk and a giant copy of the photo on the wall in our living room.)

Right at this very moment, there's an unsent letter to him on our mail table that I keep thinking I need to put a stamp on that.

If you have a letter like that on your mail table, send it tomorrow.

Mikel Banks, Jared Nickerson, Bruce Mack, André Lassalle, Chris Eddelton, and especially Paula Henderson, my heart is with you today.

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Trillian Stars has a new movie

trillian_stars used her lockdown to do a couple of things, one of which was to make a movie about novelist Mary Shelley. It's opening on the 30th of August on Shelley's birthday. You can watch it in the comfort of your home, or, if you're in Philly, you might be able to watch it at a special party in our back yard.

Trailer and link to tickets below.

Mary Shelley: Strange Star
You may clickenzee to embiggen

Watch the trailer here:

(Also: Hi everybody!)
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I've been collecting masks for more than a year now, using them in portraits of doctors and nurses and essential workers. But the masks themselves, because of their disposable nature and incredible variety, have a beauty all of their own like Hilla and Bernd Becher's photographs of water towers. So much the same, and yet so different.

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During this pandemic I feel that I can see the angel wings on some people whose feathers are deeds

"When you give someone Narcan, you’re touching them, and in the early days of COVID when I saw someone going out I didn’t think about putting on gloves, my first response was to get to that person and give them Narcan and check on them and then after it was over it would dawn on me, Did I take the necessary precautions? Did I touch my face? Did I sanitize my hands? And in the rush of the moment you don’t think about those things because your priority and your objective is to get to that person and help them. In those instances you’re not thinking about yourself, you’re thinking about that person who’s on the verge of dying.
"My father died from an overdose, by himself, and sat in a room for three days. Alone. I never wanted anyone to experience that, or feel like no one cared if they lived or died. I never wanted anyone who overdosed to be alone, and unfortunately that’s not how these tend to happen. You can give people Narcan in hopes they use it, you can reverse an overdose and tell that person to be careful and inform people if they’er using just to be safe, but many times it doesn’t happen this way. You never know if someone who overdoses will make it. So I wasn’t thinking too much about my safety, I was thinking I have to make sure that this person lives. I have to do everything possible with my being to make sure this person has a fighting chance. COVID and all—this person has to make it."

Jose Caraballo is a Harm Reduction Specialist with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, working with people experiencing homelessness and substance use disorder in the Kensington area of Philadelphia.

April 29, 2021 — 403 days after the stay at home order

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Leica M10, TTArtisans 21mm f1.5 Sunpak 622 flash. Printed through a discarded surgical mask.
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So we made a movie! And it's 90 minutes long and playing during Philadelphia's Theater Week. trillian_stars plays Nora's friend Christine Linde.

Here's the trailer for the thing.

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    Jo Beth Young, Mechanical Ballerina

We're making a movie!

trillian_stars and I are making a movie. We wrote an original adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House set to take place in 2020 during lockdown.

The Kickstarter for it is here. We'd love it if you signed up to get a copy of the movie for $15 and we'd also love it if you'd share with your friends.

COVID-19 shut down the theater industry overnight. Venues closed their doors, laid off workers and actors put their careers on hold. We knew that the power of theater was something sorely needed during quarantine when we seek intimate connections, powerful stories and shared experiences with others. So in April of 2020 we started planning a transition; thinking of theatrical performances we could still do utilizing the skills and technology we had access to to bring timeless stories to audiences. What if we could take the production of Ibsen's A Doll's House that we were planning on performing and adapt it to take place not in 1879, but in 2020? What if we could view our limitations as challenges?

Watch the trailer here

This movie version of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House is set during the middle of the COVID19 pandemic. Ibsen's story of a woman awakening in and breaking out from an oppressive world translates well to our time. This original adaptation puts Nora, Torvald, Dr. Rank, Krogstad and Christine Linde in lockdown as they try to lead their lives against a background of isolation, infection, heartbreak and survival. While this takes place in a Zoom-like environment, it's not filmed on Zoom, but is a fully realized production filmed in HD and edited by award-winning filmmaker Anna Gamarnik. Anna has created a virtual environment both similar to and better than the ones we're used to, in order to create the best experience for the viewer.

The original soundtrack was written by British singer/songwriter Jo Beth Young (

Thanks everybody. Hope to see you all on the other side of this pandemic.

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One beautiful thing that came from 2020 is that Molly Robison wrote this song about giving your whole heart away to someone you know is going to die. She wrote it about Roswell and about her mom, who also passed away. It's the most, heartfelt wonderful piece of music I've heard all year and I think it can be the mood of 2020. We can look at it as the year that defeated us, or we can look at it as a year of remembering and appreciating the things we had and the love we hope we'll one day have again.

If you like the song, I encourage you to share this and to buy it from her website.

"And while it hurts to think of you not being here
And the time we have still remains unclear
I'll still love you as well as I can, my dear
'Cause it's folly trying to know what's next
We'll stay happy and then we'll make up the rest
Can't guarantee it won't hurt, but I'll try my best"
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