So, What’s With The Goldfish?

The goldfish in these pictures were my pets from about 1985 to 1988 when I lived in San Francisco. “Sometimes, two goldfish in a bowl are enough” is an aphorism that originally appeared in my collection of poems, Words for Refrigerator Doors (e.g. press, 1985). At the time, I was working alternately as a van driver and typesetter for a photography studio in South San Francisco, and consequently learned a lot about taking photographs. I had the idea to photograph my goldfish in symbolic locations around the city. If two goldfish in a bowl are enough, I thought, then they should be enough anywhere. So between October of 1986 and September of 1987 I travelled with them to a variety of locations in and around San Francisco and took their pictures.

Sometimes, two goldfish in a bowl are enough

A man and his goldfish, somewhere on the northern California coast, December 1986

One of these excursions was to a national park a few hours south of the city. I wanted to shoot the goldfish in a desert-like environment. So we drove down there and I lugged the fish, my camera equipment and that faux classical column all the way to the sand dunes near the beach. The shoot went fine but as I was loading all the gear back into the car afterward, I accidentally knocked over the goldfish bowl — all the water, as well as the fish, spilled onto the floor of the front seat.

For a moment, I was in a panic. The fish were flopping about in the shallow pool that had formed on the floor mat. There was no source of fresh water nearby and I had no way of getting the spilled water back into the bowl. Then I had an idea. I knelt beside the car on the passenger side and started sucking up as much water as I could from the floor into my mouth and spitting it back into the bowl. In a minute or two I had about half the bowl filled. Then I grabbed the fish and dropped them back in. Then we drove home.

Both goldfish lived to the ripe old age of about two-and-a-half. When they died, I flushed them down the toilet.