Editor - Joshua Zamudio / Editor - Jenae Lien / Featured Photographer : Bumdog Torres / Photo Essay by @josh.tsm____A few weeks back I had the privilege of spending time and have a conversation with Bumdog Torres. A unique individual with a unique story. He is homeless by choice and has lived his life at his pace. This man lives a virtues lifestyle and has truly inspired me not only in photography but in myself. Read our conversation below to get to know who Bumdog Torres is and support his work @bumdogtorres - Joshua Zamudio___Josh - I will first start by introducing myself. I’m Joshua Zamudio, Editor in Chief of These Streets Magazine. I was born and raised here in Los Angeles. These Streets Magazine is a collective of photographers that have been photographing Los Angeles for the last 8-10 years. We all met through the social community of photography that L.A has. About 2 years ago, I thought of the idea of teaming up with the group and starting an archive. An archive of photography that’s meant for photography. I have a real strong opinion on what photography should be. I like to stick to the roots of things, I feel as if the first guy who created the camera obscura, Joseph Nicephore, I’m pretty sure he didn’t know exactly what he was developing in terms of what the outcome would be. It was discovered as the first tool for quick and rapid documentation. Before, documentation was done with words and literature, art and paintings, but then that camera was created. So, we at These Streets adopted the same theories and ideas of photographers that came before us that have established themselves by doing what photography was meant for. I feel that a lot of photographers don’t get the recognition that they truly deserve when you are able to use a tool to its ultimate potential. I highly consider you as someone who does that.
Bumdog Torres - Thank you.
Josh - First off, you go by Bumdog Torres, do you ever announce yourself as your first and last name?
Bumdog Torres - Oh no, it’s a nickname on the street. When I went to jobs, I would tell them my real name. Or if I met squares, you know, the straight people, I would tell them my real name. But then I was downtown. In downtown, the difference between the homeless and everyone else so [emoshed] I said alright. If somebody yells my real name, it’s somebody I work with or a cop or someone like that. But if somebody yells out ‘Bumdog,’ then alright cool, that person knows me. If someone yells out my real name, I’m like ‘aw fuck, what kind of lies did I tell this person about me?’
Josh - Where were you born? Where are you from?
Bumdog Torres - I’m from L.A. I grew up in the Crenshaw district.
Josh - How was it for you growing up? What era was this?
Bumdog Torres - My teenage years was the 80’s, my formative years were in the 70’s and 80’s. After that, I started traveling around in my 20’s. I went up to San Francisco and across the United States. I went to London and The Netherlands, France, Spain and Morocco. Then I went back to Spain. I was over there recently, I got kicked out of Spain and came back to L.A.
Josh - What made you want to travel, and think about visiting places outside the Crenshaw square?
Bumdog Torres - Yeah, hahaha, as you know, when you’re living in there, all you can think about is a few square blocks. If I thought about moving someplace, like say if I thought about living in Beverly Hills, I thought okay, I’ll live in these few square blocks in Beverly Hills and it’ll never occurred to me to go outside, it’s almost like the perimeters of a prison. Not in a negative sense, but in an actual sense. Not in a negative way, because in prison, you can’t go past this point, that point, or that point. So you’re always thinking within a few square blocks. It occurred to me that I don’t want to die just having been here. I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to die without having been anywhere. Everybody else has been do New York, or they’ll talk about Texas, or this place and that place, and I’ll be waiting for them to mention Disney Land because that was the place outside of Crenshaw place that I’ve practically ever had ever been. I decided to travel of travel, I went up to San Francisco, and I learned how to be homeless. I wasn’t homeless before that. You can either travel with a lot of money, or you can travel with no money. Anything in-between that I just vacation. And I wanted to travel travel. I knew I had no expectation of ever making a lot of money so I had to learn how to live on the streets and live with no money as I traveled.
Josh - What made you choose not to head towards the ‘normal’ life of school, job and house?
Bumdog Torres - I dropped out of school after the 7th grade, and also I messed up my hip when I was in the 7th grade. I dropped out of school because of that. Then I just refused to go back. I just didn’t want to go back. I was at a pretty low level already. There wasn’t much promise. I could live some dead end job. I could gang bang around, sell dope and get killed like that. There weren’t a lot of options. The difference between my life and just living on the streets completely was not so big of a fall, as it might be to someone, maybe like someone in this neighborhood right here, who would say, ‘Wow I wish I had the guts to live on the street like that.’ I can’t blame them, because they would be giving up a whole lot more than what I gave up, which was nothing. I didn’t give up anything. I gave up some maybe promise of a something possibly maybe happening in the real world. It wasn’t really a sacrifice.
Josh - That’s a decision you had to make at what ages?
Bumdog Torres - I decided that when I was a teenager, but I didn’t actually leave L.A until I was 22.
Josh - What were some of the influences you had growing up?
Bumdog Torres - I read a lot of books, like Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky, Bukowski, a lot of Buddhism. The thing that tripped me out - I was reading a history book, and I found out that the Buddhist was a beggar on the street. When we look at the Buddhist, I think of these big fat Buddha, but actually he was just this real hobo. Literally a beggar with a begging bowl. And I thought to myself, if it’s good enough for this guy who people worship like a god, then it’s good enough for me. The Zen in Taoism as well, just living without anything, that appealed to me. As it appeals to many people, but again, they would have to give up a lot to live like that. I didn’t. It clicked with me. That Aegis, that Socrates, I vibe with stuff like that.
Josh - You mentioned you worked in film?
Bumdog Torres - I made a film, while I was in the Arts District. I was sleeping on this parking lot on 2nd and Garey, which is now this big fucking thing. I can’t stand looking at it. I made a film from 2004 - 2007. I found these one-chip cameras, that’s just when iMovies came out, and it was really, really simple. It’s different now, but it was really, really simple back then. I saw some guy in the Sogo, is it still there? The Sogo Hotel? Anyway, he was in this little room and he was showing me how to piece together this thing. I said wow that’s pretty easy. All I would need is a camera and a computer with iMovie on it, I could make a little video. I only thought in terms of I just need a camera and someone to shoot it, then I could do a little bit. I started picking up scenes that I could do really simple. I kept adding on it and adding on it until I had a 107 minute film thought up in my head. I went to the library and started picking out books on how to make a movie, and I started making a feature film with things that I borrowed from different people. It took me 3 years to make it while I was in there. The film is called ‘Sketches of Nothing by a Complete Nobody,’ by Bumdog Torres.
Josh - Who is this ‘Nobody?’
Bumdog Torres - It’s just me, it’s just a title. I had it in my head for a while.
Josh - Why did you consider the name ‘Nobody?’
Bumdog Torres - What does one consider oneself? Look at Chaplain. The Tramp with no name. He never had a name, he was just the little Tramp. Without a name, you’re just a description. I ain’t nobody.
Josh - So, you made your film from 2004-2007, and you started photographing in 2012?
Bumdog Torres - No actually, I left L.A and went to Santa Cruz, but it was winter. It was too cold, so I went to Maui. I stayed there for 3 years, and then I went to Thailand for 3 years. And then I got kicked out of Thailand, and ended up back in L.A in 2014. That’s when I got a little iPhone, I bought it off of this dude down the street. He found it in a garbage can, and I just started taking pictures. Reflection shots, mainly just of mirrors and stuff.
Josh - What’s a motive that made you start photographing? You could have done anything else, why choose photography?
Bumdog Torres - No I couldn’t, it’s just something to do while I’m cruising around. I don’t even like calling it a talent or anything, it’s just a knack. It’s like being an idiot savant or something. I don’t know how to do anything else except that. I only know how to do filming, I know how to do that very well. Photography in terms of composition, I know very well. It took me a while of practicing to get it right. I always understood the principles of it. Also, I know how to tell a story with photographs, with anything actually, I’m a storyteller mainly. If you ask me where I am as a photographer, I would say there’s amateur, there’s professional, and there’s beyond professional. That level is the Mary Ellen Mark’s, the Jim Goldberg’s, the Frank Capra’s - those are on that level. I’m better than the average professional photographer, that is something I personally consider myself. I do have within that skillset, I get close to my subjects, I do have a feel for people - that’s just natural.
Josh - How have you been able to see your environment now compared to when you weren’t photographing?
Bumdog Torres - It hasn’t really changed that much. One of the problems is when I got back from Thailand, the homeless community had changed incredibly. Maybe because of ice, maybe because of the drug. Before, they were all on crack. That was much easier to deal with because I would hang out with them, we would talk, kid around and BBQ, shit like that. And then the dope man would come, and what I would do is I would just take a walk for like 20 minutes or 30 minutes. They get high, after 20-30 minutes they come down, I’d come back and would hear how they would get at each other’s throats or whatever while they were high. So, it wasn’t really a big deal. Back then, $20 of dope will keep them high for 15 minutes. Now with ice, they buy $20 of dope and it keeps them high for 3 days. So they’re gone for 3 days, there’s no point in talking to them. So, I’m not as close as I once was. The photographs seem like I’m still with them, they’re still my people. But I don’t hang out with them the way I used to.
Josh - Do you consider your work as a form of documentation of what you’re experiencing?
Bumdog Torres - Not of what I’m personally experiencing, except when it’s self portraits. A self portrait, when you do it in glass, or when you do it in the mirror, it’s always going to say something about you at that particular time. That documents me and my journey, but when I take a photograph of someone else, it’s just them at that particular moment. I try to capture that one moment that is them, when they’re being real. I don’t see myself as a photojournalist, per se. When I asked the LAist if I could do an essay for them about the homeless and Coronavirus, they said yes. I started taking pictures, but I was forcing it. There would be photographs that I should that that would document an environment, I could just take a picture of a homeless camp. Or I could just take a picture of a bunch of people getting tested. But, it seemed too forced for me, I like capturing personalities of a person. Maybe later on I’ll develop a style where I capture a bunch of people in a moment. Right now, I’m only good at capturing one person at a time. Sometimes, like that opening shot in the Corona piece where the 2 women are talking, that was a shot, but I don’t usually get shots like that. Most of my shots are individuals. I would like to develop to where I can get a shot of several people that captures the moment of why they are together. I haven’t gotten to that level yet so it’s something that I aspire to.
Josh - What do you hope to leave with your work? What kind of impact?
Bumdog Torres - Leave? Impact? I would like to inspire people, a lot of people are ironically inspired by me. Like, when I made my film, nobody knew that I was making a film. Back then, you just didn’t make a film, nobody just made a film, much less a homeless guy. Now it’s perfectly normal for someone to say they’re making a film because they have a phone and can start shooting. Back then, it was incredibly difficult because they had one-chip cameras but very few people had those one-chip cameras. I mean, they would loan you their first born child for the weekend before they loaned you that camera. One of my greatest accomplishments is making a feature film all by myself while I was on the streets. People saw that. It wasn’t a good film because one person cannot make a feature film, it’s just not possible. But I did it, and people would tell me that I inspired them. Several people told me they got inspired to do photography because they saw me doing what I do. I think I’m a good inspiration for people, they can think if that guy pushing a shopping cart around can get his photos in L.A Magazine, or the LAist or somewhere, then they don’t have any excuses.. I’m a naturally creative guy, I write, I do films, if I had more patience I would learn how to draw better, but I don’t have that hand-eye coordination. What’s most important to me is to keep creating something. I get frustrated when I think about all the stuff that I could be doing that I’m not able to do. That frustrates me. I have to get away from that and concentrate on all the things I can do right now, and that’s one of the things that drew me to photography, because I wasn’t doing anything else. I can do this, right now, with this phone in my hand. With this thing in my hand, I can create.