Carina Crash… Is Simply Amazing

Carina Crash... Is Simply Amazing

Jane Pojawa

Carina Crash exudes cool. This Glendale College student is, at 23, a punk pinup girl, photographer and world traveler. She is also facing her 26th surgery – one that, if all goes well, will reduce the intense pain in her right leg and allow her to walk relatively normally.

Carina Crash does not use the word “punk” to describe herself. She finds the label misleading and limiting and, indeed, it does not really go far enough in describing her alternative look. She is very pale, somewhat luminous, with bright peridot eyes and spiky white hair that is somewhere between a Mohawk and that of an anime character.

Her full red lips are accented by a labret piecing and a ring through her nasal septum. Her arched eyebrows and flawless eyeliner are classic Hollywood. She laughs easily and often and has an expressive and enthusiastic conversational style. She has an “amazing” – her favorite superlative – collection of vintage dresses that she wears for all occasions. She wears a large red locket around her throat. High buckled boots that serve as ankle support complete the look.

And then there’s the name. “Guzman is the name I have to use on paper. I just liked ‘Crash’ – I think it works with my first name. You have to have something that represents your personality and I think that name does – more so.” There is no persona. “She’s just me with a different name; there’s no mystical story behind it.”

Carina Guzman was born three months prematurely. Emergency surgery fixed a damaged heart; and the many other surgeries that followed have been on her feet and legs. “I was born with duck feet, and now I have Barbie feet,” she jokes, referring to the built-in arches that give the impression of one permanently stalking on tiptoe. She quickly turns serious. “But they don’t really work and they hurt. I’ve been through a lot, but when things are broken, apparently they can be fixed.”

The most recent set of surgeries resulted in a devastating bone infection that ultimately left her wheelchair-bound for the better part of two years. “My ankle has been deteriorating over the last couple of years,” she says. “I have half a joint in there, and it doesn’t work, so when I step down I hear a horrible grinding, crunching noise. That sound is bone scraping against bone.”

Crash is taking this semester off to find a suitable orthopedic surgeon. “It’s very, very hard,” she says. “I have to find somebody I’m comfortable with. [Doctors] are reluctant to perform the surgery. The site is compromised and there is a very high risk of re-infection. It’s going to be a really intricate and involved process to find someone who really knows what they’re doing. All this time between spring semester and autumn I could be healing. And then I’ll make my grand re-appearance at Glendale Community College – brand-new Barbie!”

Crash talks about her medical issues nonchalantly; she has had these problems since birth, like her cerebral palsy, and they are for her simply a fact of life. “Of course, if I don’t come back [from the surgery] and no one sees me, you’ll know something terrible happened!” she laughs, not taking it seriously at all. It’s unlikely that Carina Crash would simply disappear without a trace.

“I put this off for a very long time because I’ve enjoyed walking around, as much as I can, and after this operation there is a high chance that I might go back into a chair. So I have to weigh the pain versus being out and about. Which one wins? I put it off for a couple of years, but the pain is starting to win so now I need to figure it out.”

None of this has held her back.

Holiday Abroad

In 2005, Carina decided to spend her 23rd birthday in London, brushing aside a momentary worry over whether her bad ankle would hold up for three weeks in a foreign country. “I had told myself,” she says, “that once I got better, once I got my ass out of that wheelchair, then I would go and do amazing things. It was one of the first things I did. I stood up and kind of wobbled around.”

But the trip was a success. London, she says, is “amazing. It’s my all-time favorite place. A city I feel very connected to.”

Her favorite memory of the city was her birthday party. “I had a hotel room party in a room that was only big enough for a double bed and a chair. To get to the bathroom you had to crab-walk along the wall. We fit eight people in there; they just piled up on the bed,” she recalled, explaining the logistics of throwing a birthday party in a foreign city on a shoestring budget.

“I have friends all over the world. We communicate online because phone calls are so expensive, and we just set it up. Everyone showed up and it was amazing. It was really, really fun.”

This was not Carina’s first trip to a distant city. She has also been to New York, Paris, Seattle and Vancouver – sometimes bringing friends, sometimes meeting them there.

Meet the Guzmans

The Guzman household is one of cheerful chaos. Bright colors, three exuberant dogs and a ferret (Carina is also planning on rebuilding her mouse army) fill their Tujunga home, and Day of the Dead knick-knacks and other reminders of five very interesting people with eclectic musical tastes and personal styles are abundantly evident.

Her parents, Umberto, a high-end plumbing contractor, and Cindy, a booking agent for the Greek Theater, encourage their three daughters to be themselves. “It’s completely unavoidable – it’s like you’re just born into looking artsy,” explains Crash. “These two incredible people had some babies – and their babies are walking art pieces, basically. Especially my older sister [Ginny Guzman, who received her photography certificate from Glendale two years ago and now works as a professional photographer]. I was wearing Doc Martins at age three, so it [the signature Carina Crash look] just came to be that way.”

“I love photography – I’ve always loved it. They [her parents] were used to me with these huge ideas at a very young age. I wanted to go to college and study photography when I was 10.” Until last semester she had worked toward a certificate in photography from the college, but, she says “we hit a bump. Certain rules got in the way. Now I’m really behind and the certificate is out of reach. I only had one more class to take then everything went wrong and I’m a year-and-a-half behind. It just got really messed up. But if things start going better – if everything goes according to plan, I’ll return in the autumn refreshed and just go for it. I don’t want to worry about that right now. Health is number one. I’ve gone to school when I’ve been awful medically – it’s not worth it.”

Rufus Wainwright

Carina Crash does not describe herself as a “scenester” – she hates nightclubs – and yet she has gained a certain notoriety for her photo documentation of singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, an artist who has achieved a cult following and critical success for an eclectic repertoire that draws on country, folk, pop standards and opera. His deeply committed fan base includes Carina as one of his prime boosters.

This is how devoted she is to the performer:
“Rufus was playing a show some years back and I wasn’t sure I was going to go, but someone online was desperate to sell their ticket, so I told her I would buy it. We were supposed to meet outside of the concert hall to exchange. The person never showed. I spent two hours outside.”

A strange and eventful evening ensued, with a photographer from The Advocate, a nationally distributed gay magazine, getting her inside. She then had the good fortune of being seated next to the best friend of Joan Wasser, the late Jeff Buckley’s former girlfriend. Buckley was, among other things, Rufus’ backup singer. Crash was invited to Cherry Vanilla’s (Andy Warhol protégé and former David Bowie publicist) after-hours party and by the end of the evening she was on the fast track to being Rufus Wainwright’s “official” photographer.

“It was just the most amazing experience,” Carina says. “To think that if that girl who stood me up, had shown up with the ticket. I wouldn’t have met the Advocate photog, never would have sat next to the wonderful woman who gave me the invite, and I never would have met Cherry, and then I never would have been close to her or Rufus for that matter. Life is amazing that way. I think it was meant to be. People were so kind to me that night. It had gone from a really awful experience to the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Although she makes it sound like she has glided through life on the kindness of others and fortunate circumstances, Carina has herself to thank for what might seem like luck. She came prepared with a small portfolio, her ever-present camera and, most importantly, a humble and appreciative disposition. “Attitude” and “entitlement” are not in her lexicon.

Gary Freeman, 61, a fellow student, met Carina Crash through photography classes. “I love Carina!” he said before recounting a favorite “Carina story.” “We were drinking martinis in the bar of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood for her 21st birthday. Everyone was there, her whole family, and she was just looking fabulous and holding court – she could barely walk. And then she said ‘Rufus is doing Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall – wanna go?’ I said yes, of course, and she booked the tickets. I guess the oddest part for me was how spontaneous it was.”

Freeman relates how he, partner Nick Macierz and Carina took on Manhattan. “She just sparkles,” says Freeman. “I think she wore a gold lame dress to Carnegie Hall and people kept running up to her saying ‘Carina Crash – I love your work!’ They’ve all seen her photography on the Rufus Wainwright sites. And wherever she goes, she’s turning heads.”

They went to museums and had cocktails on top of the Met. “I know she got tired and her leg hurt, but she never complained,” says Freeman. “She was in a wheelchair at the Met. But she refuses to let mundane things slow her down. She does it all and she does it with style and pizzazz.”

Penguins and Stargazers

Through it all, Carina Crash is incurably romantic. Her MySpace page lists penguins, stargazer lilies and ladybugs as some of her favorite things. Why penguins? “Penguins are so regal. There is something about them that is just incredible. The fact that they choose one mate for life – I think that is just so amazing,” she says.

“While girls are worrying about what boyfriend they’re going to take to the prom, penguins are out there and they have it all figured out. It’s their destiny to do that [spend the Antarctic winter trading off raising a chick] and all they want to do is take care of each other. They’re so sweet; they give their lives doing this and it’s dangerous. And I think that’s the perfect world – just to want to take care of each other.”