The Athlete and the Aesthete

Collegiate wrestler Jake Harman turns into Multimedia Man

The rules of the prize match are simple: No direct strikes to the face. No gloves are worn.

Jake Harman stares across the mat at his foe, a jacked-up Marine sergeant who looks like he could vaporize a village by flexing his atomic biceps. The combatants lock eyes, and Harman unloads with a melon-crushing slap to the back of the head.

It's a favorite tactic of Harman's. Not only does it hurt like hell, it lowers his opponent's buzz-cut head. Harman has the advantage he needs. He chops at the sergeant's tree-trunk-size leg with a precise kick. The Marine's balance is now supported by one leg, and a hasty retreat gets the bad one out of striking distance. But Harman targets the wounded limb again, and this kick creates a snapping sound that forces the Marine into a humble submission.

No Semper Fi for you.
The $500 prize goes to Harman, money he will spend not on Creatine but on music-making equipment and photography supplies.

Fighting on military bases is not the easiest way to make a buck, but it will produce cash faster than an ATM machine if you know how to whup some ass. Besides, it's much more profitable than the $34 Harman can get at the blood bank.

Plenty of artists claim that their blood and sweat go into their work. In Jake Harman's case, the cliche is true.

It is February 4, and there is a free art and music exhibition at Arizona State University's Memorial Union. The show is called "(r)evolutions," and features photographs of the people and equipment associated with Tempe's underground music culture. A comment book by the door is filling with positive responses from students and faculty who have been admiring the artist's work since it went up on February 1.

"You can't tell the difference between his work and that of a professional photographer," says Frank Hoy, a professor of photo journalism at ASU, of the poster-size photos of Tempe ravers on exhibit. "It's good to see someone that age on fire. His shots are top drawer."

Jaws drop when people learn it's the thick-necked guy with Popeye arms named Jake Harman who is responsible for the pictures and music that make up this event. Fair or not, Harman is a former varsity wrestler at ASU, and jocks fall into the meathead stereotype of someone who couldn't spell "camera" or "computer," much less operate either.

Harman's eye for detail is only part of the reason his beat-up camera--held together by tape--produces such interesting results.

When he's shooting, he sets the camera for a 60-second exposure and flashes a strobe light at his subject, which can be anything from a breakdancer to a turntable. Occasionally he'll hold a colored gel in front of the strobe, the color depending on the mood of the music being broadcast. If it's wild and wicked, he uses a red gel. A cooler, more mellow sound gets a blue one. This technique results in tripped-out pictures with ghostly, multiple images.

Right now Harman couldn't care less that he's proved to all of the "artists" from class that his diploma as a photography major isn't printed on a jockstrap. He wants this night's exhibit to resemble a jazz show, with five musicians working toward a seamless flow of sounds. Instead of a saxophone giving way to a trumpet, beats generated by Harman's computer will mesh with keyboard, turntable, guitar and bass.

But as he sets up for the music portion of his exhibition, that Murphy bastard is imposing his cruel law.

Computers crash, speakers don't arrive, rain falls on graffiti artist Frank Gonzalez, better known as Zeroh. Harman and Zeroh spent most of the morning assembling a giant plywood wall just outside for Zeroh to spray paint. The artwork is to be an advertisement for the show, since graffiti art is part of the underground scene Harman is celebrating.

The artist in Harman seems powerless to confront these gremlins. It's the warrior who will grapple with the problems.

"When something went wrong, coach would always say, 'What are you going to do, sit on the curb and cry? You've got to find a way to win,'" Harman explains. "So my motto for the show is, 'Make it work.'"

Simply reaching this point is a triumph in itself. Production costs have been fished out of Harman's shallow pockets, and he isn't charging admission. Blowing up and mounting the photos under glass, printing fliers and other expenses have forced him to sell a computer and put the quality of the show over the quality of his meals.

Rice and barbecue sauce can be a tasty dinner if dreams of a successful exhibition are dessert. And being a starving artist is easy--perhaps even rewarding--when you're used to struggling.

"I had a tough time growing up," Harman says. "I wouldn't wish my life on anybody. Not even my worst enemy."

He was born in Japan to a white father in the military and a Japanese mother. When he was 4 years old, the family moved to the outskirts of Anaheim, California, in the type of neighborhood where there were more hoods than neighbors. On a recent trip home, a memento from high school gave him reason to reflect.

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