I get sent quite a few press releases & emails about promoting books, magazines, photographers & clothing lines, but they rarely contain content that really grabs me. The email I received about “Rue” had me interested from the get go, it’s a harsh & beautifully photographed look into the life of the photographers friend, an addict & graffiti writer living in Boston.
We got to catch up with Michael, ask him some questions & take a look at some pictures which didn’t make the cut, have a look below.
Q1. Hey Michael, how are you getting on?
I’m doing alright, thank you.
Q2. Tell us how you became friends with Rue & a bit about him.
I became friends with Rue when I first moved to Portland, Oregon back in the early 2000s. I lived in this studio apartment in downtown Portland on Burnside in this building called the Marquette. The Marquette was an old building that was like 8 floors or something just filled with all kinds of degenerates and weirdos. This was the real Portland old school degenerate style. Not hipster. Strippers, drug dealers, winos, dropouts, hippies, punks, maniacs, freaks. No one had a real job and everyone partied with each other pretty much all day and night. Rue and his girlfriend lived below me, and they were friends with a girl I was dating at the time. Rue would knock on my door at night and we’d party or whatever. I lived in that place on and off again for years. The landlords were pretty clueless and owned a bunch of buildings in Portland. At one point I moved out for a whole summer and lived in another part of town but still had my keys. At the end of the summer I needed out of that house so decided to try my old keys. They still worked. Boom. No one had moved into my apartment and all my shit that I had abandoned was still there. I started mailing my rent in and no one ever noticed. This place was surreal, I’m telling you. At one point the Marquette became infested with bed bugs. A bunch of people moved out. Whole floors became vacant, and the landlords made some sort of bargain with the people that stayed I don’t really remember now what exactly happened. But the point is, they had no real idea how many tenets were in the building. I didn’t pay rent for about six months and they never noticed. They only found out when someone kicked down my door and stole my safe in broad daylight, I called the landlord and asked to move into a different unit and finally it clicked “wait, you haven’t paid rent in months…” After that I had to move out.
This is the time and place that I became friends with Rue.
Q3. How did the idea of photographing him come about?
It must have been quite hard at times, was there any point when you thought of stopping taking pictures & abandoning the project?
Well we stayed in touch throughout the years. I mean sometimes I wouldn’t talk or see him for months, or years. But then we’d reconnect somehow and take up where we left off. I somehow went from being a complete freak to curating photography at a small boutique gallery in downtown Portland by series of bizarre events which is the subject of a whole other interview. I became caught up in this little art world. I kind of straightened myself out some. At this point I kind of lose contact with Rue for awhile. I still heard stories about him, but I didn’t really see him.
It’s only a few months before I move to Boston that we get back together. I know I’m about to move, and I don’t really care about seeing most people but there are those certain people that I just have to get back together with before I move. Rue was one of those cats. I hang out with him a few times with our mutual friend Dylan and it’s good. We’re all on a different path but we’re all getting along. Rue is in pretty bad shape though. He’s really emaciated, homeless, can’t hold himself together. Dylan and I both take some pictures of him and his girlfriend and I just decide to keep going. Rue is really photogenic and not really shy about being in front of the camera. We’re all friends so it’s not a really uncomfortable situation. During this time, Rue is arrested a few more times, I put some of the mug shots in my book, and things just get pretty dark. Honestly, I figured he was going to die, so doing the book was a way of holding onto the kid.
I never thought of abandoning the project.
The camera helps to distance myself from the situation.
Q4. How’s he getting on at the minute?
I’m happy to say that as far as I know Rue is doing great. He was down in LA but he’s in Oregon again. He sent me an email about 2 weeks ago. He’s in rehab, been about four months sober.
Q5. What’s next, do you have any more books in the works?
I’m working on the next issue of No Thoughts, the 8th issue. I’m also working on a few other projects one is about people waiting for the train, and the other is more of a diary style project.