Walking Home

Barefoot
Saturday Morning, East Village

Bare feet….icy sidewalks
Snowy evening a few hours back…..
Saturday morning.

When I saw her yesterday morning I jumped out of my skin…..an amazing future photo, tantalizing, hanging over me…..snow, ice, barefoot, perfectly unblemished white legs….she must be a little bit over the edge. I didn’t see her face. She walked fast, and I didn’t get it initially. Not the image….the story. I thought: wow, she’s high, she’s in some sort of fugue state…..she’s out of it. She carried her shoes, flat flat sandals, nothing special. She was fast, not quite loopy but with just enough of a peculiar abandon to give the impression of gentle lunacy. The kind that hurts no one but the sufferer, and allows for an occasional predatory encounter that can be very damaging to an ethereal feminine energy.

I followed. And I hoped to grab a moment that fit her. I thought I needed her face. I thought to display her fully in the photograph, to show her without holding back. I didn’t know if she was beautiful, or ordinary….she didn’t feel commonplace. No matter her facial contours, there was nothing ordinary about her.

Nothing ordinary because she was doing what she wanted to do, without thoughts of observational judgement, the temperature, the wisdom of being barefoot on a New York City street on a cold cold snowy morning. She was being observed surreptitiously by others in the neighborhood, young couples out for brunch, together in their ordinariness. She was looked over and noticed and smiled at, strange smiles, abstractions. She walked and walked and walked with me behind her, and she was like a white rabbit on a wooded trail it knows well, weaving through thickets, between leafy obstructions, over bramble and under vine.

We walked very fast, I wanted very much to see her face. I wanted to know…..was she an East Coast, New York City version of a Skid Row beauty, a tragedy unfolding before a spectacular disintegration of some kind…. I thought this as I tried to keep up.

She stopped very suddenly on 13th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. My street….and the ordinary crept a bit closer to us. She turned to a glass door, a renovated building like many that have changed the face of much of the East Village. I saw her….and I suddenly understood completely. A chunky jeweled, big stoned necklace, quality false gemstones, Barney’s or Bergdorf’s or Saks hung precariously and crookedly from her neck. Her black strapless dress was hanging too low on one side, and her white skin shone healthy and well cared for. I asked her for a portrait, and she laughed and smiled and said No! Not now….:)) And I understood….she was on her way home, and didn’t want to soil her shoes in the snow, and was in a pretty daze from the night before, the haze of whoever she had been with and just departed from left over to warm and numb her feet to the cold, icy and wet sidewalks, and to render the looks and smirks she received as she made her way back to her burrow meaningless.

She was on her way home from Somewhere Else, a little like Alice In Wonderland, and a little like the white rabbit of my first impression…..and now it was time for home, a hot shower, and brunch with a friend.

So nice to see that some things haven’t changed in the East Village.

Hands

1st Time I Saw Sheila On St Mark’s Place, Nighttime

Everything about her demeanor connected with me on a personal level, and, try as I might, I never really got the portrait that I had envisioned. This one comes closest, but the low light just didn’t allow me to compose or focus or set the f stop and ISO where I would have preferred. Too much backlight and her face in deep shadow as perceived by my xt-2’s sensor was too much to overcome. The color version wasn’t what I consider to be usable….very disappointing, especially when compared with what I still have in my imagination. What the image could have been and what I produced are two separate entities–something I’ll have to accept.

Life On The Street

The next day I found them on 2nd Avenue. The mood was different….still amiable, but more honest in a way that allowed me to see the truth, but in the end wound up causing the people pictured to feel what I think may have been some shame. I wish I had asked for a portrait….one young woman, with one black eye, irises a bright blue/grey, stays with me. I didn’t ask, but I wish I had. They were all high, and I just didn’t want to figure out how to negotiate that landscape on this early evening on 2nd Avenue. Getting high on Skid Row in Los Angeles is well within my experience, but these people were different…..a small group, but two women visibly damaged. One black eye and one bruised and bloody nose in a group of not more than seven people is not very encouraging.

Sheila lays, wrapped in old shirts….as I took these pictures, she shivered. She stayed this way, pointed toward 8th Street, disengaged from the people behind her. I asked if they would stay the winter….it’s way too cold in New York for homeless people and dogs. It’s likely that they’ll migrate to New Orleans….but migration and heroin addiction aren’t compatible and would require a large supply for everyone until they get settled….so I’m curious to see if they disappear sometime soon, or stay put on the icy sidewalks of Manhattan where everything and everyone necessary to facilitate addiction is within easy reach at all times.

Misery Loves

2nd Avenue, East Village, NYC on November 22, 2017

When I was six I asked my mother if animals go to heaven when they die. She said no. I said….what about dogs? Do they go? She said no, they don’t go to heaven. Heaven is only for people. Why, I asked? Because….only people have souls. Animals don’t have souls. I don’t remember if I accepted this, but I did wonder at this strange anatomical difference between Us and Them….people come equipped with souls and therefore have greater depth and value than any animal ever could according to my mother and whatever line of established thought had convinced her of this surprisingly callous belief system. It was also at this time that I had asked a neighbor of ours in the apartment complex where we lived if women could be astronauts. He said no….only men can be astronauts. And I asked what about doctors? Can women be doctors? And he said no, only men can be doctors. So…..I thought why not? And I asked Why Not? And he said because men are better at these things than women. And so I thought to myself that at least women are better nurses! And so I said Are women better nurses than men? Because even at six I realized that nursing was a generally female profession. And he said No! Men are better nurses. And I got a little flustered and angry. Well, what about teachers? Because all of the teachers in my elementary school (Audubon Elementary in Audubon, Pennsylvania) were women….And he said No. Men are better teachers than women. And I countered with What about cooks? Are men better cooks than women? And….he said Yes! Men are better cooks than women. I got frantic, and strangely embarrassed and defeated. What about mothers….are men better mothers than women?? And I don’t remember his answer….but I felt terrible afterward. Because I believed him.

And I guess I believed my mother about animals not having souls. Because I didn’t feel so bad about eating them. And, in the 1970’s when I was a kid, having a lucky rabbit’s foot was an unbelievable luxury. Real, with bones clearly felt beneath the silky fur, and toenails. It never occurred to me to consider the rabbit that these rabbit’s foot keychains were made from. And mink coats….it never occurred to me to wonder what a mink was, or consider it as a living creature or wonder what in the world a real mink looked like. Or cows, and pigs,,..or all those hotdogs and hamburgers and the bolt to the head that they must endure before dying.

I looked at this dog named Sheila and I saw her love for her owner, and I felt and observed clearly her misery. And….I thought to myself that this is not ok. Those heartwarming pictures of homeless guys and their dogs, some of which I’ve created myself, are somewhat stereotyped. On Skid Row, where it’s warmer year round, living conditions for animals are sometimes far below the level at which one can say that it’s acceptable…..but at the very least the weather is warm. But in New York it’s a whole different circumstance…..watching and waiting, and shivering in one place, or a succession of places, essentially motionless for most of the day while the owners spend their waking hours trying to get high just struck me like a bolt for the first time.

Hey, I thought….this actually isn’t fair. Not if you give it any thought at all.

Bound

2nd Avenue, East Village, on November 22, 2017

I made a set of images that I never thought I would make. This is Sheila, and my first sight of her, wrapped in scarves and old sweaters, was on St. Mark’s Place this past Tuesday night. She looked like a forgotten and somewhat forlorn elementary school aged child. She watched the parade that is every day St Mark’s and sat, looking to me like she’d been left out of a classmate’s birthday party. She is a homeless street dog, one of innumerable pit bull/pit mixes that I’ve seen accompanied by young street people. A dog to overlook and avoid and ignore. It never once occurred to me that one of these dogs might be cold, or lonely, or in need of a second thought. This one was somehow able to communicate a surprisingly stark form of unhappiness, clearly visible to me for the very first time.

A few portraits and street shots that reflect her life during a few minutes time on these cold, early winter days.

For me, these pictures are about love, and being bound by it, and how we can’t choose everything and everybody we find in our lives, and how we must accept at times what it is that we find we’ve wound up with. And that sometimes we love our captors, and wouldn’t leave, even if we suddenly could. These pictures are for me about being trapped, and never understanding that the love inside is actually a form of stealing liberty, use and abuse.

Sun And Stars

Saturday Night, November 28, 2017

I saw Vanille, Jeanette’s little dog, as she turned the corner onto 13th Street near 1st Avenue. I was tired, and not feeling particularly happy. It’s cold in New York City, and it was very chilly on this on again, off again rainy Saturday night. I wanted to go home, but Vanille had seen me. She seemed oddly out of place, on her own at the corner as she waited for Jeanette to catch up. Jeanette walks very, very slowly, rocking with each step, cane in hand, and in tremendous discomfort. Rheumatoid arthritis and severe back pain don’t keep her indoors, though, and don’t prevent her from taking Vanille out.

I wanted to see Jeanette because she is one who makes people feel good. She is happy to see you, and makes you know it without hesitation or inhibition. A bright and beautiful and eager Hello for many people as they pass by, strangers included, sometimes quizzical looks are thrown her way, but who cares? With many more surprised and happy receptions it makes the enterprise worth her time, this habit of greeting all. She’s been in the East Village for 43 years, and on this night she began expressing serious concerns about her ability to make it through another cold New York winter in her beloved East Village neighborhood, and whether or not she would see her next birthday, her 82nd, on

November 9, 2018. She detailed for me the life spans of her nearest relatives, and we sat outside Mikey’s Ice Cream on Avenue A, on a wooden bench with Vanille at our feet, occasionally wandering off a bit down the street to alarm concerned passerby–is this sweet little old dog a stray?–as we counted and calculated and guessed. I listened and, as I did, I thought about my own life, and my responsibilities toward my son…..and I remembered the words of a homeless man I had met recently near Union Square, on East 16th Street. He said to me that we are promised nothing. Just because you want it, need it, expect it or deserve it, it is not promised to you. And no truer words have been spoken.

Thought Catalog

Portrait Of A Woman, Borough Park, Brooklyn 

This image is one that’s probably far too subtle to please an Instagram audience.  It may well be that it’s in another category altogether….one reserved for my own appreciation.  I showed this to someone who just completely missed the point of the picture, and I can see why.  But….to me this picture is a painting, my own contribution to The House Of Vermeer and one that I can pull off with my camera only, because I lack the skill to render this beautiful subject with brush and paint.  She sits, alone, in a lobby. She is on 13th Avenue, which is a busy street devoted to commerce and daily essentials nestled in the heart of the large Hasidic community in Brooklyn, apart from Williamsburg in feeling and geography.  She reads The Torah, and is isolated by virtue of her physical positioning in the picture and therefore it is difficult to get an accurate, adequate view of her.  But this is true whether she is on the street in full or here in partial.  

When I made this picture I was with my son, and this day was the first time I visited this neighborhood in approximately 27 years.  It’s the same, but different.  Little speciality stores were replaced by banks, and the distinctive food from another time was all but gone.  I found myself being regarded by many women and girls with a mixture of curiosity, resentment and distrust.  I understand why, though, and I elected not to  shoot pictures wantonly.  It’s important to have respect  and use some sensitivity in Street Photography in these circumstances…but shortly after this one was made she saw me, and hid herself in the shadows of the lobby.  Occasionally  she peered, peeking out toward the light to see if I was still looking and noticing her in this nondescript place.  I felt just a little bit guilty, but it wasn’t enough to make me give up the pursuit.  Nonentity no more, she made a strong and unforgettable impression on me.

The Cutter

Fabric Cutter, Borough Park, Brooklyn 

  • I showed two versions of this image to my father.  One was black and white, and this one in color.  He instantly preferred the black and white, because he adored the Old World feeling it evoked.  I posted it to Instagram despite my own preference for what I consider to be a better, more engaging and modern representation of the man and his surroundings.  I deleted the black and white image a few hours later, and replaced it with reality.  Because, after all, I’m not out to promote stereotyped views of the world.  If an image confirms a stereotype I suppose it’s at times unavoidable.  But….there’s reality.  The reality here is that there’s this group of people living in the modern world but who steadfastly maintain their cultural identity, and who are able to exist and resist, at least on the surface.  But surfaces lie, although blamelessly in these instances, and fail to tell the whole story.  And, underneath the interesting garb and unusual exteriors lie human hearts, and they feel and do and wish for things just like everyone else does.  They are not merely decorative….they are people.

Reinventing The Wheel

Greenwich Street, Tribeca, NYC 11/1/17

Covered in a blue NYPD tarp, the compact pickup truck made its way down Greenwich Street on a flatbed with NYPD logo.  It was like it was almost alive, guilty, ignominiously headed toward some anonymous impound lot for criminal vehicles.  A cluster of photographers ran into the street, shooting away at it.  I didn’t know why until it hit me…it was that truck.  The Home Depot logo and the mangled top and front end gave it a treacherous, sepulchral air.  The feeling that I should be ashamed of myself for stepping into the street accompanied me as I jumped in with the others with my camera.  On the sidewalks as the flatbed slowly rolled in heavy traffic were dozens of bystanders with smartphones, taking pictures and video.  It was with a mixture of solemnity and mirth that only occurs together in big city dwellers, and all I could focus on was this left front tire, and the enormity of what it had done, and that it happened near the high school that my son recently tested at, and….. it could’ve been anybody that this tire rolled over, including my son.


Why not reinvent the wheel?  Turn it into something criminal, with evil undertones.  Weaponize it….every day I watch for people operating wheeled vehicles, and hope for the best on occasion when I’m nearly run over by one of them.  But this new weapon is everywhere, and entirely unpredictable.

Still Waiting 

Memories On Bleecker I have so many memories of this street….they are all about 25 years old.  Everything about this picture brings them back….still waiting for something or someone that isn’t showing up.  Sights like this can evoke memories or something similar, maybe just a feeling that I had that I’d forgotten long ago….so I try to make a picture of the feeling.  Sometimes it changes, and the original sense I had gets lost as I become more and more tangled in the web that shooting pictures seems to become.  It’s so easy to express so much, and it can become very difficult to decide which image best suits my mood….and relays the true content of the street as it existed in real time, as opposed to whatever ghost grabbed hold of my senses for a few minutes.  A combination is what I aim for.  I made a few here.  Each one feels different, and one or two are not pleasant.  I may or may not post them, but for now my favorites, the ones that adhere to my original intent when I saw her.  Chloe.

Jeanette

Avenue A, Sunday October 23, 2017


Holding Court

Jeanette And Vanille 
East Village, Avenue A near 13th Street…….
I met Jeanette and Vanille my first week back in this neighborhood.  I’ve been gone so long it’s a completely new experience.  They’ve been here 43 years. She has, anyway….Vanille is twelve. They both have that aura that speaks volumes to me, and it’s something that isn’t easily described or found with regularity. I’ve come across it in people in odd and unexpected places, usually when I’m rushed or angry or distracted or otherwise focused on something else. People appear suddenly, and I’m always surprised afterward at my lucky meeting. Sometimes it only lasts for a few minutes, and when I see the person again the magic has left. Other times it’s real and lasting and forever captivating and I’ll rearrange my day, miss appointments, forget where I’m supposed to be and blow everything and everybody off to take advantage of my good fortune. I’ll sometimes spend hours listening, taking pictures. These experiences are unforgettable, and can at times stay with me for a while afterwards.
 Jeanette is French, and Swiss, and says she is gypsy royalty way back. Her body is very painful now, and here she sits, holding court with Vanille, with a smile for everyone that passes. My portraits of her and Vanille will follow, with a few bits from her I hope…..she lives to write, but thinks no one cares. I’m telling her that it only takes one person, and that she should write, and tell, and make sure that her unique and haphazard and beautiful existence doesn’t go unrecorded.

Every time I see her, she seems a bit more fragile.  Vanille too….today was spent in a partial stagger, migrating from shady spot to shady spot while Jeanette actively sought  full sun, sweating profusely.  I think it’s hyperhidrosis of some kind, and it’s the first thing you notice about her.  It took me a bit but now I ignore it completely.  Initially it was almost a concern–is she alright, I wondered….should I do something?? So much sweat, beading and falling and whirling and dripping that it’s hard to focus on her words.    But now I know that it’s her body’s way and I’m less aware.  She is entirely unselfconscious, and loves to sweat out what she considers impurities.    The crystal clarity of the sweat as it lays in droplets and rivulets beckons me….I want to do a very tight portrait.  I will….soon.  It has its own beauty, this copious moisture.  The dead don’t sweat and she is here with us still, 81 on November 9.  Her sweat and her frailty mix magically, and I want to do it right or not at all.