OK, Buckle Up Cowboys. My grades in school were always D’s and F’s. Mostly because I didn’t go to classes that bored me. I would go to the library and read instead. I was a voracious reader, and I credit that with my survival into adulthood.
I did manage an A+ in my art survey class during my senior year. It was the only one I ever received. I loved history, science, and art. I liked English even though I did terribly in it (except for writing essays and such). Every other class, I would bring a book to read or try as hard as I could not to fall asleep.
My teachers would say, “Gerard is a bright boy, if he would only apply himself.” I didn’t know how to apply myself.
The first time I got suspended was in 2nd grade for 2 days! I was overheard using some swear words that I learned, listening to my mother while she was driving. They must have been pretty bad. This while I was attending the Waldorf School* which if you know anything about it is pretty special. I remember asking “How can a word be bad?”
And not getting an answer. George Carlin picked up the ball from there.
During my senior year in high school, I was suspended for the 11th and 12th time.
Suspension number 11 was when the vice-principal saw me driving my car to school without a permit. He saw me dropping my friend off in the front of the building, pointed his finger at me, and said, “My office.” I tried to explain that I had gotten a job 20 miles away that I had to be at 30 minutes after I got out of school and I had to drive. His position was that I should have gotten the permit before so doing, and he suspended me for 2 days.
I took suspension number 11 with aplomb because this year was different. I didn’t argue with the VP about it and just took my lumps.
The things that I got suspended for were cutting class and civil disobedience. It was the late sixties early seventies, and there were a lot of things to be pissed off about, like being drafted into the army but being too young to buy a drink.
Discussions about things like that in the class were frowned upon, as was a protest of any kind. I never got suspended for beating someone up or stealing or anything like that. I did tell the typing teacher that he was a “real shit.” (Suspension number 7), but that was about the extent of it.
Suspension number 12 was my last. It was 2 weeks after suspension number 11. On this occasion, I had entered the boy’s room 10 seconds before (hillbilly chemistry teacher) Rex Morrison did. Sexy Rexy, as he was called, was short, rotund, and spoke with the evilest southern drawl. There were maybe 12 guys standing around smoking cigarettes in the bathroom, just like any other high school boys’ room ever. The smoke was thick, and I coughed as I approached the urinal.
When students started noticing a teacher was standing in the doorway, the room became silent. Peering through the haze, Sexy called out 3 names plus mine. “Here we go,” I said. As we walked to the principal’s office, I explained that I was taking a leak and holding something other than a cigarette. I didn’t even smoke.
“Smell me,” I begged, but he wasn’t having any of it. “I’m sure you’re able to lie to your Momma and get away with it.” Sexy Rexy said. “But I’m too smart to be fooled by you.” What a twat. Sexy Rexy is dead now. Good.
Mr. Vice Principal (VP of discipline) didn’t listen either. When he stepped out of his office and saw us standing there with Old’ Rex, he had all the info he thought he would need. Pointing to us, “You, you and, you. You three have detention for the next two weeks. Be gone with you.”
Turning to me, he paused for the drama and said, “Two days Mr. Exupery.” Adding, “You know the drill; you can’t come back unless your mother or guardian comes with you.”
“Do I get a chance to explain what happened?” I asked. He said, “No, I’m not interested.” while simultaneously turning his back, taking 2 steps into his office, and closing the door. He’s dead now too. Good.
One thing that made me absolutely bat shit crazy was being accused of doing something I hadn’t. Not being allowed to defend myself was an insult.
I felt my ears stinging from the increased blood flow. I knew my face was crimson red. I had a lump in my throat that actually hurt, and my mouth was so dry I couldn’t form a sentence.
I looked around, and the office ladies wouldn’t look at me. I was so angry and frustrated that I picked up the first thing that had a little heft. A chair, a school chair, one of those snot color plastic mid-century jobs that looked like Judy Jetson parked her intergluteal cleft on it.
So I picked it up and hurled it, being careful not to hit the office ladies. They were always kind to me.
The chair hit the Vice Principal’s door cracking the sliver of a reinforced window in it. One of the chair’s steel legs remained attached to the hole it had made. When what’s his face tried to open the door, he could only open it so far before having to fight with the chair.
Before he could get his door open, I had left the office and was heading for the front door of the building. As the door was closing behind me, I could hear, “That’s 2 weeks Mr. Exupery! Two weeks!”
“Fuck you,” I yelled at no one in particular. I was never going back.
But I did, and I even graduated.
Hey, I’m getting there…
All my life until that point, I was told that I was lazy, that I would be a failure in my life that I had better buckle down and fly right and keep my nose clean. I was a troublemaker, a bad kid. I even believed it.
I knew there was something wrong with me. No matter how much I would try to “do it” like the other kids, pay attention, take legible notes, and get my homework turned in on time, I was an utter failure at it.
Except for photography. That and reading kept me alive.
How was it that I was the only person who knew there was something wrong with me?
It wasn’t until I was 38 years old and watching the local news that I saw a news piece about a new study. It showed that children don’t outgrow their ADHD/ADD. The symptoms continue into adulthood and often the root cause of alcoholism and drug abuse and depression.
Hey, I had depression in droves from the time I was a teen. I was the champion of anxiety and depression. I never thought I had ADD as a kid or an adult until that news story. Every symptom the story listed, that was me. I was overtaken with emotion. When she heard me crying, my wife came into the room to find out who had died.
Several weeks later, after screening with a psychologist, I was interviewed by a psychiatrist specializing in ADD. Halfway through answering his questions, he put his clipboard down and stopped the interview.
“You,” he said, “have all of the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. How is it no one at school or your parents not realize that there was something wrong?” I had no answer for the former and didn’t want to answer the latter.
He wanted to know how it was that the psychiatrist I had seen for years as a young adult hadn’t picked up on it?
Finally, there was an explanation for the negative image of myself I grew up with. It was why I never thought my photography was any good. It was why I anticipated failure first. It was why I was called lazy and stupid and why I did so poorly in school. See, I love learning, and I always did. I just couldn’t stay focused.
What the hell does this have to do with making photographs?
Genomic analysis of the natural history of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder using Neanderthal and ancient Homo sapiens samples [ Link ]
After years of trying, researchers say they have now succeeded in discovering specific areas of the human genome that contain variations in the DNA sequence that are robustly associated with risk for ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
ADHD and Hunter-Gatherers [Link]
A study conducted at Northwestern University in 2008 examined two communities in Kenya. One of the communities was still nomadic, while the other had settled into villages. The researchers were able to identify members of the communities who displayed ADHD traits.
Research showed that members of the nomadic community with ADHD — those who still had to hunt for their food — were better nourished than those without ADHD. Those with the same genetic variant in the village community had more difficulty in the classroom, a major indicator of ADHD in areas with more physical and technical amenities and structured guidelines. The researchers also noted that unpredictable behavior — recognized as a key characteristic of ADHD — might have been helpful in protecting our ancestors against livestock raids, robberies, and more. In essence, the traits associated with ADHD likely help more with enhancing hunter-gatherer skills than those of a settler.
The Point, and What Really Pissed Off My Evil Girlfriend
My evil girlfriend hated what she called my ability to take the shittiest situation and make something positive of it. That’s what I’m going to do here right before your eyes.
All those years and indeed from the time I was 9 years old I wanted to take pictures. Photography was the only consistent thing I’ve ever had in my life except for, you know, body parts. Now there are 2 consistent things.
Photography and ADHD, apparently.
You might know my story, but for those who don’t, the short version is that I took pictures and thought about photography every single day of my life. I just didn’t show them to anybody for 40 years.
I would look at the work of others and just know my stuff was no great shakes. I wanted to be a street photographer, and I was.
At some point, I decided that I’m going to “do something” with my images but probably not until my mid-50’s. That’s pretty much what happened.
It wasn’t until Flickr that I found out my pictures were not bad at all. It was the first place that I had shown them. I started writing because followers on Flickr wanted to know more.
So here we are
I’ve realized that my “eye,” my vision as it were, has been a unique gift bestowed on me by a very funny God or evolution, whichever way you swing.
I’ve talked a lot about “the flow” of doing street photography. There is a rhythm to seeing the world around you and picking up on the indicators of something about to happen. When I started doing street, I knew where to look and when to push the little button. My friend Mark, a brilliant photographer, said to me: “I was right there with you, and I didn’t see that. How did you see it?” I dunno Mark, I just do.
I now think that having ADD is the gift that allowed me to do street photography. It’s what made me curious and motivated me into sometimes humorous, sometimes dangerous situations which I write about.
You know, growing up the way I did with ADD was fucking awful. But look what it gave me.
You have to suffer if you want to sing the blues.
Gerard Exupery has been a lifelong resident of New York City. Since 1975 he has used photography to document the subways, streets and people of New York. He studied at The School of Visual Arts and with Lisette Model at the New School. Though Mr. Exupery has been a photographer for more than 40 years, he only began to show his work in 2017. In his past lives, Mr. Exupery has been a: Custom Printer, Video Producer, NYC Taxi Cab Driver, and Mr. Mom.