IBy 1987 I had amassed a fair body of work, using a variety of models, and had even managed to learn some things about lighting, developing, and printing. I took some sample photos to our local college, and the director of the art gallery liked them enough to offer me a show. I called it "The Ethiopian Exhibition: A Journey to an Imagined Land." I had recently finished my novel of the same name, during my first trip into Mexico. The women in these photos, I decided, were like the mysterious women in that book. I hung about fifty pictures. The show had a rather mixed reception: the art instructors in particular complained that it was degrading to women. "You put a woman in a cage!" one teacher cried. I pointed out that the cage picture only made visible what she and others had argued: that women were put in cages by our culture. And clearly, I said, the women in my photos were not helpless creatures. They were powerful, strange, erotic. Nevertheless the gallery director was nearly fired, and told to never do another show like this. A couple years later the show was mounted in Creativity, a gallery in Santa Monica, while an acting group did a dramatized reading of Ethiopia and its two companion novels, Maya and The Queen of Las Vegas. No one complained.
I enjoyed my hours in the darkroom, experimenting with different papers and other technical things. But I always felt frustrated, too. I simply couldnt make everything I wanted—there were too many limits, both to what a model could actually do in front of a camera and with the whole chemical process of capturing and developing. The digital revolution has given us more capabilities. I have taken my original prints, for instance, scanned them, and used Photoshop to make minor modifications: darkening them and selectively increasing contrast, giving the images a grittier look which I feel is more in tune with my original, "Ethiopian," vision.