Category Archives: Video

Desert Town

I call this: Hello, hello . . . anyone around here sell brioche? One of those quieter towns somewhere on the I-10 to Palm Springs. Only missed out by 11 months, apparently. The building with the flag is a post office and still functioning. Dave found a woman in there at a desk at the end of a long room and bought a stamp. I met a nice man with no teeth in a truck outside.

Incidentally, he also picked up a postcard:

desert town


Ghost Town, New Mexico

I love the idea of ghost towns. And the pictures which always show them in sunlight. New Mexico is full of them thanks to rivers that dried up, mines that failed, railroads that drew traffic away from stagecoach trails. It never occurred to me that at night they’d be dark, but I did think about that a bit as we drove down through lengthening shadows into a silent valley, largely abandoned town, and past the disused church to the Old Cuchillo Bar and Hotel which isn’t exactly a Bar and Hotel anymore, but the remains of a bar, post office, trading post, stables and whorehouse and the unusual home of Josh Bond who generally lives here all alone, but of late has been offering accommodation to paying guests.

Turns out Josh was not, as Dave had worried on the way, a ‘nut job’ after all, but great company and almost completely normal; a clever and humorous artist and designer who stumbled across the town 11 years ago, and bought this property five years ago, and has been unravelling its history and attempting to preserve it ever since. We weren’t going to have to camp out in the ghost bar with flickering candles; instead, he showed us into his beautiful adobe home, and a chic room with wi-fi, a pile of Dwells and Architectural Digests, good art and the world’s most comfortable bed. And there was beer, lots of it. Inevitably though, after eyeing the cobwebby windows of the empty bits across the courtyard, the urge to poke around the abandoned bits proved irresistible.

Josh is slowly working his way through the simple but plentiful rooms, sifting through the things that were left behind. There are some that are semi-ruined, like the stables, where the locals would hole up protecting each other and their horses during Apache raids, and the Post Office was badly damaged by a fire some years back. But through the dark and creaking store, full of furniture, saddles and boxes of papers, the saloon bar is intact. In fact, it looks as if a bunch of old-timers heard a noise, put down their drinks, stepped outside, and never came back.

In the last of the evening’s slanting sun, this is a mighty atmospheric place, with worn steps, a table by the window, stools up at the long bar, dresser laden with stuff, and glass cabinets. Many of the objects found across the property have made their way here – the pistols and rifles, old pictures, photo albums, papers, coins, tools, stags heads, ornate tills and a hand-drawn oujia board. He holds a light up to a couple of portraits in a back room I don’t like the look of, and I keep checking the mottled old mirrors to make sure the only reflection in them is mine.

He’s had a drink at the bar with friends, says Josh, but he wouldn’t chose to sit in here at night alone. To help raise the money he needs to keep the place, and because he loves to share it, he’s hosted ghost-hunter groups. They’ve all come back with things, he says. “I don’t subscribe to everything they believe, but these buildings are 150 years old and they settle and make noises . . . I live alone, so I don’t need to spook myself more than I already do.” The last group set up 16 cameras and are currently sifting through the footage for signs of paranormal activity. “They’ve sent details of some of the things they’ve found, and I’ve told them I don’t want to know the specifics, just send a report and we’ll leave it at that. But it’s interesting. The way I describe it is as residual energy. There’s been 150 years of boots scraping and that energy is still here.” Hmm, I say, looking around. “It’s easy to scare yourself and I don’t come and hang out here at night, but I’ve never felt anything here that was bad at all.”

Josh has been researching the history of the property and Cuchillo as a whole, scouring through documents and talking to descendants of the early settlers, as well as his friend, Mr Romero, the 80-something year old previous owner who he takes to lunch on Fridays. The town was a trading hub, and a popular R&R stop-over for miners and cowboys, and travellers passing through on the stagecoach from Silver City. Not only was it customary for cowboys to bury their money so they didn’t lose it all in the bar, but as the boarding house was operating back when travellers were vulnerable to attack by Apaches, guests would frequently give their money to the owner to hide for safekeeping. Apparently a big haul was discovered buried in the courtyard some decades ago, and Josh spends a fair bit of time with a metal detector in the hope of unearthing the rest and using it to restore the property and keep it and the things that belong in it together. At the moment he’s facing the fact he might have to sell it.

“It’s an overwhelming responsibility. I feel that I should be doing something every second of every day to try to save it” he says. “Have you seen Christine? The Stephen King film? I feel the same kind of possession by this house. Do I own it, or does it own me?”

I am happy to report that despite what may or may not have been going on over in the dark bar, we had a great night here. Excellent Mexican food with plenty of the most famous green chilli, top conversation, and then, after handling one of the old pistols, a look through Josh’s huge vinyl collection which, for someone raised in Alberquerque, leans surprisingly heavily towards UK indie bands, some of whom I’d interviewed and Dave had done press for which gave him a chance to tell his old Morrissey stories which makes him happy.

As we’re leaving the next morning, Josh points to a boulder by the steps and says “shot a rattlesnake there. I don’t usually mind snakes, but this was a little close to my house. It’s unusual; usually the big bull snake that lives underneath it gets them.” This is impressively Wild West.

I found this place through Airbnb – a new addition, we were Josh’s third guests – and once again had the kind of unique and unforgettable, full-on local experience I couldn’t have had in a Days Inn (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – this social media facilitated overnight homestay thing is great). In this case, not only do you get to step back in time, but you get to meet Josh, to stay in a house that’s really lovely, with thick adobe walls, traditional ornate tin ceilings and full of art – some bright, religious Mexican bits (found in abandoned houses), and some his own beautiful metal work, and it’s all for a good cause! The ridiculously small amount you pay goes towards helping keep the Old Cuchillo Bar and Hotel standing.

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Prada Marfa

PRADA MARFA: a site specific, permanent land art project by artists Elmgreen & Dragset was commissioned by Art Production Fund and Ballroom Marfa back in 2005. Modeled after a Prada boutique, the structure includes luxury goods from the Fall 2005 collection. However, in true conceptual artsy fashion, the door doesn’t open and nothing is for sale. The building is located in the middle of nowhere, 36 miles west of Marfa. Yes, that’s 36, not, as the helpful receptionist at El Cosmico suggested,  ’20 miles towards the sun’.

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Reclaimed Space, Austin

And so to Austin (in a tow truck). Not, as I expected, for SXSW and drinking tequila, discussing funding for some kind of self-indulgent, non-commercial film and music project destined to fail and put me off media for life, but to Reclaimed Space and another take on the small, mobile house. The company was started by Texas rancher, founder of the DIRTCO construction company and environmentalist by training and nature, Tracen Gardner.  He wanted to build a house on his ranch but couldn’t afford to take the time out of the city to be in the middle of nowhere during construction. So he hit upon the idea of building one in Austin that was small enough to be transported  to the chosen spot on the back of a truck when finished. The idea of portable housing was so good and zeitgeisty, he turned an inspired solution into a business in 2008.

The buildings are not just small and portable but built using a fair whack of reclaimed materials, as the name suggests, and designed with inherent alternative energy capabilities for sustainable living. I could order a house here off the freeway, and live in style and comfort off-grid on the mountain or beach – or ranch, of my choice. Or I could stick one on a small urban plot, or at the end of the garden for visiting guests, if I had a garden. Small and sustainable is a plus here, not a compromise. Sleekly designed, these are aspirational dwellings, aimed at people who have wised-up, rather than dropped out.

I visited Reclaimed Space and spoke to Eric Bricker, there in an interesting multimedia capacity, about the appeal of the buildings – and there’s an excerpt of that conversation in the video. More to come in due course, including a visit to a site build, and chat with Tracen. In the meantime, there’s plenty of information and pictures at

Incidentally, Eric made the multi-award-winning film Visual Acoustics,The Modernism of Julius Shulman, a celebration of the photographer and the photographs that created the image of 1950s -60s Californian cool. The late, great Shulman has to be the most influential architectural photographer of the 20th century, introducing the mainstream world to Lautner, Neutra, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Pierre Koenig and R.M. Schindler and all, through photo books best described as building porn. Try reading Architecture and its Photography or Modernism Rediscovered without wanting to pack up and move to Southern California. I don’t know how I missed Eric’s film first time round, but I’m looking forward to being somewhere long enough to order a film and watching it.

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Tiny Texas Houses

Obviously once I find Somewheresville, I’m going to need something to live in. The industrial spaces and trashed duplexes being bought for pennies / cents and lovingly restored in Detroit are tempting, mainly because the people involved in reviving the city are so inspiring. The wooden cottages in Hillsborough, North Carolina are pretty as a picture, with enough quirks and antiquity to make them odd and interesting, creaky and atmospheric. And I do like a porch. And the tropical colours, raised elevation and ornate flourishes, verandas and columns of New Orleans Shotgun houses . . . well, ooh la la. However, none are exactly where I would have them. Hence the fascination with mobile / modular / pod / prefab housing. Our route across the USA has been designed to take us to the workshops of as many of the leading practitioners as possible. The stay in Luling wasn’t just to sniff the oil and meet Thomas, as interesting as that was, but to pay a visit to Tiny Texas Houses and meet the founder and owner, Brad Kittel.

I can’t do justice to Brad’s philosophy, justification, ideas and influence – or his tiny gem-like houses in the space of a blog post, but I’ll be writing and uploading lots of footage on both Tiny Texas Houses and mobile, container and reclaimed houses in general (offline but posting online) at a later point. This is a rough taster. Suffice to say I called in unannounced in the hope of a 30-minute chat and left 8 hours later (partly because the car refused to start) which Brad would say was divine intervention and the Hertz rental people would say was the ignition.

The biggest house in Texas is 42,000 sq. feet. Brad is taking things the other way, hoping to “create the antithesis of what America has become to the rest of the world, which is the epitome of excess”. The houses are architectural gems, and mobile; desirable as off-grid retreats but also, increasingly, as primary dwellings for the growing number of Americans keen to divest themselves of stuff. Aside from providing a different sort of housing option, the houses are made from material that would otherwise be in landfills, and re-investing energy and materials – and encouraging others to do the same – is core to Brad’s mission. As he says:

“Our custom Tiny Texas Houses have been designed and built with 99% Pure Salvage. That means that everything from the doors, floors, windows, lumber, porch posts, glass, door hardware, interior walls and even the siding has been saved and re-used to create houses that we hope will last for a century or more. Our small homes built with salvaged vintage materials demonstrate that it is possible to reduce our carbon footprint, simplify our lives, and live in a healthy house that is energy efficient as well as beautiful. Each Tiny Texas House is a unique piece of House Art that will last for the rest of the owner’s lives and for generations to come.”  (See for more inspiring info).

Brad lived all over before coming to South Texas, but there’s something about this hot, dry place with its big skies that either draws or creates people with anything-is-possible big ideas.

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New Orleans Sound

Rough footage (shot by Dave) taken from a lot of filming in Louisiana which I’ll eventually have time to edit. Yes, this goes with New Orleans Vision (see previous post) because the French Quarter is all sound and vision and (and beer and whisky) and sensory overload. Louis Armstrong was born here, learnt the cornet here at the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs where he was sent for misbehaving (many times), and I wish I could come here again with George who used to dance with me to We’ve Got All the Time in the World when he was about six, and when we thought we had. Jazz is part of the air fizz, along with funk, country, zydeco and whatever. There’s a band every few paces on Royal Street during the day and, at night, live music booming from competing venues on every side, but it was Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers that stopped me in my tracks outside the Krazy Korner bar. Not literally, because he was onstage. He is the crowned King of Accordion, and fantastic. I also enjoyed the frottoir – rub-board – player. Is it ever quiet here? Is there ever a time when people aren’t dancing down the streets? Doubt it.

Dwayne Dopsie

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