Mother’s Day

Heaven And Her Mother On Houston Street, NYC

When I met Heaven one day on Houston we immediately clicked. As much as you can with an almost five year old….I understood her immediately. She reminded me of myself, and of a few women I’ve met on Skid Row. She made me realize with extreme clarity that life really can be very unfair and completely impartial at the same time. She’s got what she’s got, and it’s just the reality of her life. She is just another little face in HRA, the welfare system in New York City. Which is the only way I can explain to myself why she is with her mother and stepfather, who were high and dealing drugs openly on the street. To me, her face was distinctive and stood out from most that I see every day. Unfortunately the brutality of social demographics and dismissive thinking by most of us judges her to be nondescript, like so many children who lack resources in neighborhoods all over the world. I mean, it’s the truth, isn’t it? She’s mixed race, and it’s a sad fact of life that children of color get overlooked and ignored and trapped and it happens constantly. As we sat on the sidewalk, me snapping a few pictures and listening to her baby rambles, we listened to her parents, bickering and hollering and arguing with others on the street as they transacted and interacted. Her mother was hard to communicate with, and was openly very high….At one point Heaven whispering to me that it was a little weird….

I was very happy to hang with Heaven. Her mother left her with me….we got ice cream. Anything goes with me….I roll with whatever happens. Was it strange that they just walked away, leaving her with me, as stranger? As I sat with her on Houston I looked for her mother and stepfather. They were gone. We waited, and they finally reappeared. Her stepfather accompanied us to Oddfellows, a too sweet, self important ice cream shop in its newest location on Houston Street. We went in, looking very out of place in the crowd of hipster/uptown downtowner clientele. After she finished her ice cream, her stepfather, in an oddly bold move, stole as many napkins as he could handle from one of the napkin dispensers in the shop. I tried to pretend that I didn’t see this…..but I’m not sure I pulled it off.

I don’t care what people think most of the time….but I was surprised and uncomfortable with his behavior. Heaven loves sprinkles and experienced great joy in Oddfellows, and a week later I returned with her.

She was wise…and knew her situation was not good. She smiled at me many times….and we hugged. I felt awful when I left. I had their contact information and I’ve seen them twice since that first time. It’s hard to stop thinking about Heaven, and what the odds will be for her. It’s harsh and raw and hurtful to say, but I know it well from my experiences in life….sometimes we’re bound to people that just don’t fit or support us. The feeling is like having a foot caught in a commercial fishing net as it’s dropped into the ocean to troll for fish. Once it’s pulled to the surface after the struggle has been long over, the continuing attempts to bargain for a better existence with those in our lives that we’re stuck with is a thing long forgotten.

Forgive me for saying….

Pieces Of Heaven

Heaven On Houston Street And Lafayette, New York City

My first sight of Heaven. Sometimes I see people that I can’t walk away from.

I wasn’t feeling well for many reasons….I had been dehydrated on this day, the only Spring day here in New York that reached into the upper 70’s. Already exhausted by life, I was feeling lightheaded and I stopped to buy some water at a CVS on Houston. I felt awful, and kept walking anyway, stupidly ignoring my need to go home and call the day off. I saw this little girl with the person who turned out to be her stepfather, and they felt authentic and New York and entirely unpretentious and I forgot about my fears for myself and started talking to them…

I have many pictures of Heaven, and her expressions in many reveal that she understands, at nearly five years old, the strange nature of her situation. As I go through her pictures lately, having taken them just over a week ago, I can see so much. I haven’t stopped thinking about her in this situation, and I saw her again yesterday, April 24, 2018.

Everyone was high, except for Heaven.

Ten Months

Towne Avenue, Skid Row, Los Angeles, February 15, 2018

I was gone ten months, and I returned last week to Skid Row hoping desperately to find some of the people I’d photographed before I left California. I found Doreen, and, in my absence, she had found someone.
These portraits and the images from the day I spent with Doreen and Gary speak for themselves….being in love is a a lottery win when it’s for real, and it can happen to anyone, anywhere. These pictures prove some of the trite nonsense that reads as nothing more than tired drivel to the jaded.
To me, these images are intimate, intense, sexual but not pornographic, somewhat graphic without being obscene, and a personal history of a pretty straightforward afternoon spent in the arms of someone trusted.
I’m beyond tired of idealized images of love and sexuality. I’m sick of airbrushed pictures of already unblemished people who represent nothing but a media display or advertising effort. And…it’s just unfair and unfortunate that most images of deep romance seem to star much younger people, leaving an entire population out of the game.
I love that there is obvious acceptance on view here. It’s why I got so involved in trying to adequately record what I was seeing. Between them, Doreen and Gary have nearly a lifetime of incarceration between them. Their hands aren’t squeaky clean, and there’s no blow dryer in sight.
They live their lives at this time in a tent on Skid Row, and they have found each other. They had these intense interactions during a workday, and workmen buzz around, providing contrasting life elements.
I stopped by to say hi, and was invited in to take pictures of these moments. I declined initially, unsure. But after Doreen told me that I needed to step inside to see them, I did so….and I immediately got hooked on the sight.
More in this series coming.

Not Free

5th And Main Streets, Los Angeles on Saturday, February 17, 2018

I was in Los Angeles for one week. I hadn’t seen the city in ten months and there were some big changes, at least to my mind. I was trying to locate the people that I’d photographed that would not leave my mind, and spent many hours with people as I found them. I would say that it was a dramatic few days, and I will return permanently in June. Some things haven’t changed at all, though, and have in fact deteriorated visibly.

Visible deterioration did not occur in India’s life. She was very beautiful on the day that I saw her. She was clean, and dressed in clothes that some caring individuals must have given her. Her feet were not blackened from wandering the streets without shoes, and she was unmarked physically, in contrast to the bruises and black eye from last year.

I was at 5th And San Pedro on the morning I was supposed to be in Hollywood giving a presentation about my pictures. I needed every spare moment and had no time to spare, as I wanted only to revisit and photograph the places and people in my memory. 5th And San Pedro had undergone a remarkably unfortunate transformation–the intense murals that dominated the corner of the intersection were erased and scaffolded over to accommodate renovation. The drama and life that had once made the Cuban Corner a live explosion of electricity, a uniquely formed and permanently visible cyclone was gone forever. I stood near a young guy with a bullhorn, and the corner that I stood on the opposite side of the intersection, next to a small convenience store, was alive and well and it’s usually chaotic activity remained unchanged. I asked why the bullhorn? And he answered, very nervously, that he was a street preacher, and that he was very nervous! And trying to will himself to begin his sermon. I figured I’d hang around….and as soon as he started, I realized that I’d have to leave, because a man in a wheelchair suddenly rose and began a verbal rant that was escalating in pitch and anger. When I decide in an instant that it’s time to leave I always act immediately. I rarely do abandon what I’m doing, and when I do it is because it’s become intolerable.

As I headed on 5th Street toward San Julian Park, I turned suddenly to see if the guy had calmed down, and I saw India, walking slowly, eyes down, in the morning light. Had I not felt the need to leave the corner I never would have seen her…she would have slipped silently down the street.

When I walked to her she smiled. Some of what I heard walking with her as she made her way to 5th and Main was not a revelation. She was much more coherent than the last time I had seen her, and, although disconnected sentences and thoughts punctuated her line of reasoning, it was deeply troubling for me to listen to.

Anywhere And Nowhere, 1

Chipotle

It’s cold and rainy and New York City in the wintertime. Today, right now, I can hear the rain falling as I lay, writing this entry. I can also hear a bird chirping and this sound for me creates some hope….it makes me believe that Spring will come, sooner than I expect.
This photo is a mystery. The intention was to express my despair during an East Coast winter through the weary frustration of someone else….and this picture proves that a street portrait is anything anyone anywhere anyhow.
I was taking refuge from the cold in a Chipotle on 6th Avenue in the West Village one afternoon last week, the week of February 5, 2018. I used the men’s room because I’m too impatient to wait….and when I emerged, there were two men standing outside the door. I hung around, messing with Instagram, answering a few comments, prolonging my rest stop before going back outside to freezing fingers and soaking rain.
I turned for some reason and caught sight of one young guy, still waiting for his shot in the bathroom, standing under the light, rubbing his face, covering his eyes, frustrated in his way with his day and having to stand outside the men’s restroom waiting too long for somebody to just get the hell out, as he had just waited for me and was now stuck waiting for somebody else. I said hey! This is bizarre but please don’t move you’re under the light it’s an awesome picture…can I can I can I? And he said yes.
But I didn’t wait for him to agree….
So pictures can happen anywhere if you’re willing to act reflexively and use your environment to your advantage, no matter where you find yourself. No situation is off limits, if done respectfully….even waiting to take a leak in a Chipotle on 6th Avenue one rainy winter day in New York City.

Everydays

every day lives

I love taking pictures. I love pictures that speak about nothing and everything. This one is just a moment in a laundromat. It’s a forgotten memorial to a half afternoon spent doing the laundry on 7th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Even those pictured have already forgotten….but simple pictures are a document of daily life in our times, and can be even less spectacularly described as daily minutiae. But minutiae makes up life, and one day this little girl will remember the laundry days with her grandmother. Maybe it will be a sudden memory as she walks past a similar place one day far into the future, or maybe a randomly occurring, fleeting memory that will come and go like a Spring scent on a soft breeze that acts to remind us of a long forgotten day…..and then vanishes without a trace, taking with it forever the lucky fusion of memory and scent.

Crossing The Line, Gleefully?

Utica Avenue, Brooklyn

So when does Street Photography become rude, crude, base and lewd? Hmmmm….I love this picture but in no way do I feel that it’s for everyone. Did I put it on social media? No….mostly because it got lost in the avalanche of summertime New York pictures. But, in all honesty, I don’t feel entirely comfortable blasting this one to thousands at once because, although it’s a definite street truth, totally accurate and a part of the landscape in some places, it can be considered to be grotesque for two reasons: one, there’s a child’s face in the juxtaposition and two, there’s a very clear image in the background that isn’t exactly flattering. But….who cares?? Street imagery isn’t perfect and it should include every last bit of truth and reality that can be crammed into the frame. I know, however, that the audience that will view this will not understand that, and that it could be considered to be an image that is racially insensitive. And, although there are many sights to behold in the Brooklyn summer sun that are just as provocative and bare, there are many whose ears will turn a brighter shade of pink. So….for social media, Instagram in particular, this one is a no go.

Chocolate Sleeps

This was recently posted to Instagram. This is Chocolate, and, the not-so-observant observer can see that she is relaxed. Her body language, most notably evident in her leg position, is aware, and unobstructed by grief. She is happy in the afternoon sun. I operate my camera almost exclusively with a wide angle lens (16mm, 24mm full frame equivalent) and so it’s pretty apparent that I’m lying down on the sidewalk alongside her, very close. An image like this requires complicity and permission, both of which are in clear view here.

So….this one is a true slice of life, on 6th and San Pedro in Skid Row, Downtown Los Angeles, California. You can’t shoot pictures like this one sans permission, not here….and yet, I had to staunchly defend this image. I cannot anticipate the vagaries of the poisonous atmosphere with which politically correct thinking has blanketed society. I feel that racism is in clear evidence on social media, and I see it in ways that affect me personally as a photographer. Had the woman in this image been a younger, white female I have no doubt that she would have received far more attention, and me support as a photographer. It’s a damning truth, and I can’t say it out loud to my adult audience but, when I speak to school aged kids between the ages of 12 and 15, they get it immediately and without all of the roundabout bullshit that I find many adults who view my images seem to be mired in.

How can anyone shoot genuine street photography and leave out everything that leaves a question? Social documentary/Street Photography should push the limits, seek to expose, enlighten and question….life is in evidence everywhere, and nothing and nobody deserves to be omitted.