carlos tony shawna

Carlos Batts (L), me, Tony Acosta


Ever meet someone you know you’re supposed to meet? Someone who feels like you knew them in another life, in a parallel universe somewhere? That’s how it was when I met Carlos. I’d been in LA a couple of years, a DC transplant, when friend/editor Roger Gastman asked me if his friend Carlos, who was moving to town from Baltimore, could stay with me and my then-boyfriend for a few days until he found an apartment.


We’d both been contributing to While You Were Sleeping—Roger’s graffiti mag—and, knowing he was coming from Baltimore, I figured we’d have other friends in common, so I agreed to let him stay. Carlos showed up, dressed in black, shoulder-length dreads pulled back in a ponytail, with a bag of clothes and a bunch of camera equipment. He was hyper, friendly and funny as shit. He and Rich bonded over metal and hardcore; he and I worked on many magazine pieces together, and later he shot my author photos for my first book. He’d always laugh about the story of how we met, and we fake-bickered about how long he stayed on my couch.


I don’t know if it was an east coast familiarity or similar dark-humored sensibility, but we clicked. He’d email me and ask me to rewrite his bio. I’d call him for last-minute photos. I hate having my photo taken, but with Carlos, I was not as stiff and nervous as I tend to be in front of cameras.

IWATD UK cover

I got to shoot the new Dwarves record!


I just shot this hot Black woman in a confederate flag bikini, too sizes too small!


I’m gonna shoot Justine Bateman in knitted lingerie.


I wanna shoot this chick with white trash tattoos in a Mexican wrestling mask and a straight jacket.


I get to cover the BET awards!


Carlos was always excited to share his work. He was bored with shooting for mainstream mags. He wanted his work to bust clichés and blow minds. “I saw Richard Kearns’s book and Eric Kroll’s book at the Maryland Institute College of Art bookstore in 1995, and I was motivated to out-cool their imagery,” he told me. “It was never about fucking the model… I was competitive erotically, but not into the models—until I saw dynamite: my wife.”


When he met Lillian, his aura grew even bigger. They created a life together—he was her lens; she was his muse. They blessed our wedding with their presence and we were happy to bless theirs a year later. I had the pleasure of interviewing both of them in August about their opus, Fat Girl—a beautiful book, 12 years in the making. Lillian also did me the honor of shooting the author photo for my latest book. We are all forever entwined through our creations and community—and now further, through this loss. We are here in this little piece of time and space together. He lived. We loved… love—present tense.