Andrew Zornoza - A prose-photo book: a cryptic collection of random thoughts, experiences, and photographs of the author's fictional journey through the Western US and Mexico


Andrew Zornoza, Where I Stay, Tarpaulin Sky, 2009.


"In the process of constantly disappearing, the unhinged, unmoored and unnamed narrator of Where I Stay travels through a cracked North America, stalked by his own future self and the whispers of a distant love. From Arco, Idaho to Mexico City, he flees along the highways and dirt roads of a landscape filled with characters in transition: squatters, survivalists, prostitutes, drug runners, skinheads, border guards and con-men. Where I Stay is a meditation on desperation, identity, geography, memory, and love—a story about endurance, about the empty spaces in ourselves, about the new possibilities we find only after we have lost everything."

"Consider Andrew Zornoza’s Where I Stay a loose retelling of Werner Herzog’s 1974 march from Munich to Paris to try to save a dying friend—only set in the arid, ominous nowherescape of the contemporary Southwest and composed by a strung-out W.G. Sebald. Zornoza dedicates the book to “all those he's lied to” before prosecuting a narrative in stark photographs and crisp, lurid text that will make you wish we had more liars like him in the world." - Matthew Derby

"A gifted journey through borderlands between text and image, glassy prose and suggestively indirect prose poem, facts and fictions, sanity and the other thing, but most of all those borderlands crossed and recrossed on the West's back roads—the kind that always exist just off the grid, just below the radar, and always in beautiful pieces." —Lance Olsen

"Andrew Zornoza writes with the precision of a poet and delicately creates a haunting, glowing world of dreams and beauty. The language and images of "Where I Stay" make you want to step inside the pages, to travel down the road with the author. Books like this remind us of what true art really looks like." - Martin Hyatt

"Andrew Zornoza's Where I Stay bills itself as a "photo novel," meaning that text and images are combined here to produce one unified fictional narrative tale. And I have to say, although I found the written part only so-so (a sort of rambling Jack-Kerouac-meets-Studs-Turkel tale about the freaks and losers who populate the great rural areas of the US), as a publication I found it one of the greatest little basement-press photography books I've ever seen, which just by itself earns this book a decent score and recommendation. It's almost a case study of what smart yet cash-challenged publishers can do with a little forethought and some good design skills, something to be studied by fellow photographers as much as it is to be simply enjoyed." - Jason Pettus

"The movement of people and lives; chance meetings between strangers destined never to cross paths again; moments that can never be recreated; the uncertainty of people, place, relationships — all collide across culture and class, gender and race to form an anthem of displacement. The author deftly — and in spite of himself, seamlessly — weaves common threads that, by the end of the book, form a recognizable whole. Where I Stay is a story of a search for a home, for permanence, and ultimately for meaning." - Cynthia Reeser

"Open Andrew Zornoza's novel Where I Stay anywhere and you will be presented with a spread of two facing pages, each wider than they are tall. Given the amount of text and the subject matter—a hitchhiker traveling the American West—you may find them somewhat reminiscent of postcards: On the left will be a title consisting of a date and a location—"Aug. 2, Cheyenne, Wyoming," perhaps, or else, "Oct. 15, Deschutes, Oregon"—and below it a single paragraph composed of a couple hundred words, some slim sliver of experience related by a narrator as poetic as he is desperate, as much a seeker as he is someone trying to finally get truly lost. There is little narrative in these micro-scenes, but lots of resonant images and phrasings. Here is the entirety of one such section, "Sept. 28, Three Forks, Montana":
Two roads meet like a cross upon the earth and there stops a middle aged man and his father and their truck. A dog squirms between them, its tongue dropping pearls of spit upon the upholstery. the younger man gets out, jerks his thumb to the bed of the truck where a sofa is lashed to the floor with heavy chains. The chains are spray-painted gold. The old man runs his liver-spotted hands through the dog's thick black fur, his eyes not leaving the windshield. You'll be king, he says. Alright, I answer. The younger man lowers the bed door, tests the chains. He's right, he says, you'll be king for now. King of the road.
Each right-side page of the book contains a single black-and-white photograph, sometimes seemingly related to the block of text on the left, sometimes not. These too are accompanied by text, evocative captions generally only a line or two long—"I worked at a toy factory, I worked at a restaurant washing dishes. People gave me money. I was ashamed, but I took the money. I never did not take the money"—but sometimes ballooning to paragraphs of their own:
I went to the only friend I had. His parents were Mormon. With his family and other families we drove across the country in a caravan of mini-vans. We camped near the Teton Mountains. There was a three-legged race. I won a medal, printed on the tin, "favorite stranger: favorite new family member." Next year I got another medal, "Best loved hitch-hiker." One of the men worked in vice for the Salt Lake City police. At night he drank beer and I smoked cigarettes and his daughter plucked away at a plastic guitar while she sat on a log away from the fire.
More often than not, Zornoza leaves it to the reader to place these disparate pieces into mental order, to fit them into some understandable arrangement of narrative and photo and caption. The headings on the left, with their dates marching from August to November provide a linearity to the slim paragraphs below them, but this seeming five-month journey is contradicted by paragraphs like the one above, with their claims of a journey lasting not months but years. Without more full-bodied clues as to how the book should be experienced, each reader will invent their own system: Like me, you may find the captions making unbalancing claims to fact from their proximity to the photographs, which make their own claims to truth even in this age of digital manipulation and computer graphics. And so what? Are we faced with a fictional novel on one side, and a factual photo-narrative on the other? Or are there two novels here, one made purely of text, and one of photographs and captions? Or has it been one novel all along, but one in which the narrator is less than reliable, is int the end as fractured as the America he's traveling?
Even if it is a blend of fact and fiction, does that impact the truth contained in the book? Does the presence of the factual increase the truth content of the fiction, or does it detract?
Are these the right questions to ask? Are any of these questions even close?
I'm not sure that Zornoza has put the answers to these questions in the book for us to find. Or rather, I think that it's more likely possible that he's erased the answers, has lost them for us in the same way that this narrator seems to be trying to lose himself. "There are places I keep returning to," he says, in one of the captions from the middle of the book. Later still, the narrator sees a map taped to a wall, one where "lines have been drawn from spots on the map to the margins, each line ending in a crowded scrawl of letters and numbers, coordinates and temperatures, illegible words." The narrator says, "I wonder how long he has been out there."
The narrator says, "I don't know."
He says: "It all gets jumbled together."
He says: "It's all about to be swept away again."
He says: "[The] little home that I had had moved along without me."
He says: "There was nowhere to go, as long as I was myself."
The book closes. The left side—the fiction, the invented narrative beneath the forward march of dates—it folds into the right side, into the photographs and their captured truths, into the captions that illuminate or obfuscate that truth so that it matches or else denies the fiction that faces it.
And then what?
And then the book is inside of us, or at least its contents are, emptied from the fine container Zornoza has built for all of his narrator's contradictions and complications, his precise phrasing and beautiful mistakes. Like any long trip, the months of the narrator's journey and the years of Zornoza's photography that were compressed to make the fiction will probably not stick with you as a cohesive story, but rather as a series of fleeting images: A white dress wet from a river, a drawing taped to the side of a cave, a girl sleeping in an overturned refrigerator, and then many more beside them and also between them. And what's left in the cracks left between? The memory of a person trying to lose his identity a mile at a time, only to find it waiting for him at every destination, on the other side of each one of America's empty spaces as wide and yawning as the ones inside ourselves we spend so many of our years attempting to escape." - Matt Bell

"The ‘road novel’ might be one of the most maligned forms in storytelling, in that for a mold that by in proper handling could be kinetic, shapeshifting, and packed with an uncontainable kind of light found only in certain kinds of travel, too many books get caught up in minutiae and joking, leaving out the language and the true moving meat.
Thankfully, Andrew Zornoza’s Where I Stay, just out from Tarpaulin Sky Press, manages to not only wield that rare light while avoiding those common pitfalls, but to do so in a refreshing, pitch-perfect kind of steering that is innovative not only for the genre it might get called into, but for experiential and language-focused texts of every stripe.
Immediately striking for its beautifully designed horizontal 8”x5” shape, Where I Stay is a dual kind of amalgam. Each two-page spread consists of a one paragraph prose block tied to a sequentially moving date and location, as well as photo concurrently associated with the text, and a caption for the photo that often extends the prose into a further direction. There is violence and desperation. There is music and shithole buildings. Dirt. There is sky. Moments told for how they are and how they were in sentences that for their unassuming aura moreso sting:
“Laughing, joking with the children, they haul the garbage bags into the trucks, lifting the children by their armpits into the flatbed, everyone now laughing joking.”
While each graph and location could be self contained for Zornoza’s striking lines, meditative and rhythmic in the mind of Mary Robison mashed with William Vollmann, the prose in sequence forms a narrative of seeking, of looking for something familiar in so much splay. The unbounded point-to-point of the narrator’s surroundings, in which he works strange crap jobs, meets roadside strangers, deals with his life, contains no abject want for summation, and yet therein reaches beyond the narrative in beautifully and concretely rendered fragments evicts a true sense of drift, though within the drift, the body.
“I worked at a toy factory,” one of the images’ caption reads, just after a passage about a man finagling him for gas, “I worked at a restaurant washing dishes. People gave me money. I was ashamed, but I took the money, I never did not take the money.”
And yet for something seemingly so everchanging, there is a center here. A lock. The moments of pure human magic are abound. Certain page of Where I Stay, in their collision of texts and image, move in such a precise and startling way that at certain points it seems necessary to stop and close the book, to let its image sink deeper, strong in the head. Zornoza’s knack for rendering the momentary in timeless, syllabic lines, to cut to the blood of the line in an effortless, truly fevered sort of way, is not only refreshing, it is unforgettable. Though he is smart enough to keep the moment by moment phrasing quick and vivid, line by line, there are no exits pulled in the overall collage that results from all the wanting, from the haunting viscera there contained." - Blake Butler

"Where I Stay opens with a description of a stark landscape in movement: grain, threshers, wind, a hand raised in wave from a tractor, a girl who appears and disappears in the same instant; a barren image of an America we all know or have seen in a photograph. The few humans who populate this land acknowledge the narrator with minimal gesture, interpolating the poised but desperate voice that will insistently, though always somewhat privately, lead us through a road trip squarely situated between the ethos of Jack Kerouac and Walker Evans. Where I Stay is a novel of almost pure voice, told in diaristic fragments coupled with photographs whose captions are drawn from other moments in the time of the narrative. Here, nothing is anchored. Even the black borders of the photographs, those supposed documents of a reality experienced, are themselves unhinged and moving on a trajectory. The story, barely narrative, told to us by this voice, is of a young man moving aimlessly through an America moving violently through him. In and out of cars, of the arms of lovers, looking for someone he lost, for a moment of rest, the novel slides, falters and picks itself up again in the margins, the out of frame, the side of the road, the memory, the coming word. A year passes, days and weeks omitted, blank spaces where the lives of criminals, kind families, abandoned dogs and factory workers continue to be lived. By the end of this short novel, the voice of the narrator, not surprisingly, is failing. Those who filled his world he can now find "only in the cracks." The novel, in danger of never being written, becomes a letter, composed to one who may never receive it, for they may also have moved on, pulled by some love, some violence, some journey. But we, for the moment, are here, resting a bit before the next move." - Michelle Tupko

"How to impress me:
■Do something new.
■Do something unexpected.
■Break with convention.
■Do it well.
Andrew Zornoza‘s photo novel, Where I Stay, does all of these things and more, so, needless to say, I’m very impressed with it. In a nutshell, the book is about an unnamed wanderer traveling through the Great American West. To say it’s “about” a wanderer, however, is to belie the book’s complexity. As with Cesca Janece Waterfield’s Bartab, Where I Stay leaves to the reader much of the work of stitching together a narrative. Throughout the proceedings, Zornoza provides the reader with snatches from the wanderer’s life — a day on the road, for example, or a moment shared with a stranger — along with a series of photographs and their captions. Sometimes the photos complement the text. Other times, the connection may not be so apparent. The end result is that the reader is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the book, and each successive reading has the potential to carry with it new meaning.
As haunting as it is gritty, Where I Stay has the feel of an impressionist watercolor and underscores the value of the small press in literary culture. Indeed, I hesitate to simply call it a book; its ambitions, beautifully realized, make it a hybrid of textual and visual arts. Like all of my favorite works of art, Where I Stay has the capacity to evoke something akin to an out of body experience, to propel the reader into unfamiliar territory and, in so doing, to make the quotidian world new again upon the reader’s return. To put it more plainly, Zornoza’s talent is to take us out of our day to day lives and to show us the world from a new perspective that allows us to see our own lives in a new, ever-shifting light.
If I have one suggestion for Zornoza, it’s to implore his publisher, Tarpaulin Sky Press, to come out with a deluxe edition of this book. While the photographs that appear throughout the current edition are certainly compelling, I can only imagine what a glossy, high-resolution edition might look like. Yes, the volume may be a bit pricey, but this is art we’re talking about. And who can put a price on that?" - Marc Schuster


"Andrew Zornoza's marvelous first book is hard to pin down. With dated and place-notated prose on one page and a captioned photo on the facing one, it seamlessly shifts its delivery from straight-ahead to a possibly unreliable photographer with captions that either expand on the text, or further question the reality and relationship between prose and picture.
In action that takes place between August 2nd and November 25th, the unnamed narrator wanders throughout the American Southwest and Mexico. Perhaps action is too strong a word, as everything seems to come across as notes written on unsent postcards. Even the dedication, "To all those I've lied to," says something about the veracity of everything that follows.
Here, in the middle of nothing, is a rusted bronze plaque: Incinerated Forest (Tree Molds). Taped to the plaque is a purple flower and a piece of paper. I pick up the paper and put the tape and flower in my pocket. A boy with a crown sitting on a rock orbiting the earth is drawn on the paper. Written underneath the drawing are the words, "What makes a desert beautiful, says the little prince, is that somewhere it hides a well."
Small moments like this one (Nov. 4, Craters of the Moon National Park, Idaho) give Where I Stay its authentic voice. The narrator repeatedly finds the last shred of humanity in the modern wasteland. If Chris McCandless, the ill-fated true-life wanderer Jon Krakauer wrote about in Into The Wild, had met up with shadier characters, and decided that instead of searching for a way to live true to oneself realized that no matter how one lived it was true to them, Where I Stay could be a smarter companion to his adventures.
Zornoza manages to capture that wanderlust that has caught anyone who ever read On The Road, or realized you can get on Route 80 West and drive from New York to San Francisco. It's sad and searching, filled with the desire for experience for reasons we may not even know. As Antoine de St. Exupery wrote in Le Petit Prince, "Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." And Andrew Zornoza does it with style and grace." - John Findura

"Tarpaulin Sky Press has just published a new work of fiction by Andrew Zornoza, Where I Stay, which includes numerous embedded photographs. Unlike W.G. Sebald and most other writers that have scattered images in a sporadic manner throughout their texts, Zornoza’s book places a snapshot on every right hand page, setting up a visual rhythm with two sets of text. The left-hand page is a diary entry, complete with date and place, while on almost all of the right-hand pages, in addition to the photograph, there is an italicized text that is usually briefer than the diary entry. Part of the puzzling pleasure of reading Zornoza’s novel comes in attempting to triangulate these three components.
The book opens with a 1938 quote from photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975), perhaps most famous for his Farm Security Administration photographs of the American Depression and for his collaboration with writer James Agee on the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).
These anonymous people who come and go in the cities and who move on the land; it is on what they look like, now; what is in their faces and in the windows and the streets beside them and around them; what they are wearing and what they are riding in, and how they are gesturing, that we need to concentrate consciously, with the camera.
In spite of its title, Where I Stay is a restless book that moves all across the American West and even into Mexico. Time flows from August 2 to November 25, but otherwise there is no discernible progression. The narrator drifts, struggles, observes, and writes regular diary entries about day jobs, drugs and alcohol, death, loneliness, and brief attempts at friendship.
Compared to the diary entries, the italicized texts on the right hand page are generally more meditative and reflective.
Sometimes I wrote things down, fragments. But then I looked at them and they did not seem real and there seemed to be no purpose in writing them. There was nothing in them, other than things I did not want to remember.
The photographs, which are credited to five people other than the author, depict the bleak anonymous locales familiar to every hitchhiker: roadsides, truck stops, bus stations, laundromats, gritty streets. There are a few snapshots of people, none of whom receive the heroic treatment of Walker Evans’ sharecroppers. Only the occasional landscape image offers a possible solace – the open sky, the sunset, the forests that consume the old shacks and abandoned automobiles – but even those moments are undercut by the text." - Terry Pitts

"This is an cryptic collection of random thoughts, experiences, and photographs of the author's fictional journey through the Western US and Mexico. This definitely isn't the scenic route: Zornoza's travels take him to the edge of urban life, mainly concentrating on the rough roads and deserted highways that have been left in the past by time and progress. The landscape is grey, gritty, and jagged: much like the words he chooses to describe his interactions and his reactions to it all.
His observations are sometimes funny, sometimes tense, and often a bit obscure. You get the impression that he has x-ray vision and sees beneath the surface of the locations, as well as the hardened exteriors of the people he meets. He encounters the most diverse group of people imaginable, all lingering on the outskirts of city and suburban life, some intentionally and some without choice. The black and white photographs heighten the sense of distance and reminded me of a Dust Bowl migration. There's sadness within it all, yet the traveller continues. Much like an epic quest, he keeps pursuing that which he cannot identify.
"There are cracks in the country-in its families and highways, houses and rivers, factories, cellar windows, truck stops, in the sounds of chattering televisions, in the plexiglass booths of pay phones by bus stations, in the crushed glass of parking lots..."
"The prairie was my cellar door. I had removed everyone I knew or the people had removed themselves. I replaced them all with a vast plateau, then mountains, dry desert, broken pieces of landscape that didn't quite fit together. I found people in the cracks."
Zornoza's gift in this collection is the little surprises he throws out amid the descriptions of the raw landcape. In his diary-like entries, he may explain what happened and where, but he may also throw out a mysterious phrase: "because if someone was making a movie of her, the movie would not be good. She was a bad actress, but there was no movie, there was no acting." I really enjoyed the photographs but more the pictures his words composed. Sparse, with no unnecessary details or dialogue. An excellent collection....It reminded me somewhat of Sam Shepherd's Day Out of Days." - Amy Henry

"A couple of years back, Blueberry Nights, a film by Wong Kar-wai was released and it sucked. Kar-wai is known for his dreamy, gauzy, sensual films, which obsess over love, lost, place, identity and time-- all delivered in fragmented narratives. Blueberry Nights was his first Hollywood film so what better to make than a “road movie?” The movie not only lacked vision and contained some awful acting, it really showcased how the obsession with the road has become another cliché of Americana. If I think of the road as a literary trope I think Steinbeck, Kerouac, and McCarthy. So my question was whether Zornoza and Peet’s books could make the road feel fresh again. These are two drastically different texts yet both are united in the necessity of search and that ability to be in a place, or of a place, to pass through a place, but not possess or change the place—i.e. the anti-capitalist imperative, that is if Huck Finn sets off down the river to find a freer and wilder America does it exist? According to Zornoza and Peet the answer is yes and no.
Where I Stay is a prose-photo book, which sets up a rhythm by wisely having photos on every right-hand side of the page. This strategy allows for Zornoza to have a nuanced and complicated reading of his book because although the photos relate (sometimes quite loosely) to the text the photos tell their own story. So you have the opportunity to get one story from the text, another from the photos, and a third reading by combining text and photos. This allows a certain emotional resonance and mood to permeate throughout the book while challenging your intellect and intuition. Where filmmaker Wong Kar-wai failed with Blueberry Nights, Zornoza succeeds. Part of the success of Zornoza’s book is that he allows it to roam—despite it’s title this is a restless book traveling the American West, Mid-west, and Mexico. The prose gives us just enough information to remain engaged in both character and place, but Zornoza doesn’t try to define, instead allowing the reader to make associative leaps from Sept. 17, Albuquerque, New Mexico which begins,
My older son don’t write me, but he’s a good boy, she says. We park in a diner parking lot and tilt back the seats to sleep. When I wake in the morning,she’s sewing shut the end of a pillow. A pocket with a tooth embroidered on it has been stitched in one corner.”
The next page has a photo collage of a pillow, photos of people and a newspaper. Below the photo the caption reads, “I worked at a toy factory, I worked at a restaurant washing dishes. People gave me money. I was ashamed, but I took the money, I never did not take the money.” The page after this it’s Sept. 20, Boulder, Colorado and the narrative begins,
“A man on a motorcycle with a Yorkshire terrier in the sidecar, a woman in a Volvo, and finally a water fountain, shade, a field of green grass.”
One of the reasons why Where I Stay is so successful is because of Zornoza’s ability to navigate and weave together fully fleshed sentences along with airy lines of staccato. Zornoza’s prose has range, which is what makes this book at times so beautiful and at other times so devastating..." - Steven Karl




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