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 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.
I love taking pictures. I’m fortunate to be able to squeeze enough life out of my finances to barely inch past disaster in order to continue to do so. But it’s very hard, and demands true devotion without compromise. I can handle it, and no matter how impossible, it’s something that is there to be conquered and I will try to remain undaunted by the sheer impossibilities presented by the world of dollars and sense each day. There are, however, a few things that I’m finding difficult to overcome and understand in the world of photography that I find myself having to negotiate, and here I’ll state my feelings.
The images in this post are visible on the streets we walk each day. They represent truth and humanity, and are presented in a somewhat stylized manner, and hopefully, they are done with compassion as well. They are images of people that are part of street life but who are almost never represented by photography organizations or competitions or publications. I ask this question: how can you leave such essentials out of the business of street photography? How can you contemplate reality and include only snarky, trendy stylized representations of life on the street? This is not Happy pictures versus Sad pictures…..this is reality. Where is it? Was it Cartier-Bresson that talked about smelling the streets from a street photograph? These are meaningless sentiments these days. Why do publications shy away from photos that have meaning, depth and punch in favor of images that lack these things, but are safe viewing that showcase a clever and trendy sense of snark that reveals very little beyond the surface gloss. My street animals are sometimes those of homeless people or people on the fringes. These images are every bit as important as those representing their wealthier counterparts, but they have been overlooked and passed over in some surprising ways.
One of these images has been outright copied recently and of course, I understand the risk I take when I post my images to Instagram and elsewhere. But when the copycat gets much more press than I do, where does that leave me?
I’m very disappointed by photography publications generally. I see pictures that are competent and technically great. I see work that’s definitely highly skilled and worthy of respect, but it’s not necessarily emotionally powerful in the sense that it has found a means by which to make a social statement. Should all street photography attempt to speak socially? Of course not! It should be whatever the photographer wants it to be, whether it’s flip and sarcastic or heavy and sentimental. I think, however, that all sides of the genre deserve respect….including the grit, the dirt and the hard to look at. Because it’s Street Photography, right? Not some pretense intended to appeal to a millennial mindset. Everything and everybody belongs in Street Photography, not just the pretty girls, the fancy camera work and the quirky humor. All of it, because it’s the world we live in. Photographers who do not wish to tackle all of it are graciously and respectfully excused, provided that they respect and give credit to the images produced by those of us who do choose to present our views of these realities.
I am more than tired of hearing stories of major plagiarism. I’m tired of posting pictures of cats in a particular style, and then seeing it copied by another photographer who gets more press and/or attention than I do. It happens a lot, and if course it’s not just me. It’s a serious problem for many of us, and I’ve blocked people on Instagram for it. Of course, they can continue to see my images online despite being blocked, and I find that the copying continues. Shamelessly, and inexplicably. Original ideas should inspire, but outright theft of composition and duplication of a photo series or content is a sign of a weak photographer. Unfortunately, major organizations are routinely duped and the problem arises on a grand scale and is a serious embarrassment for those that have been fooled.
It’s such a bitch, getting this party started. Devotion and love of the process keep me going, but navigating the fraudulent waters of social media sites like Instagram leaves me cold. There are so many ways to game the system that it hardly counts. Likes and followers, and all of the gaming and optimization and trickery that meshes with the Instagram algorithm has absolutely NOTHING to do with photography as an art form.
Contests are bullshit. They are money making ventures that hold very little meaning. They serve to defeat artistry in many cases and are a true waste of money. Sometimes they work, but mostly it’s a way to promote safety in numbers. And lists of photographers? Fuck the list, folks. I’ve been on one, and it was nice, but been left off plenty that I think I should’ve been on. They are nothing but discouraging and serve no purpose.
We are in a world deluged with images of every kind. Making an individual statement in this world becomes harder and harder to do with each passing day. DSW and Foot Locker and CVS and Starbucks have taken Manhattan and like-minded individuals are running the show elsewhere as well. Keep it original, be inspired, work your ass off and find your voice. Don’t let other people’s standards dictate your practices. Current standards in politics are nothing but emerging disasters and so are those in the world of artistic endeavor. Be original and stand up for yourself and others who do the same and stop this mindless following behavior. Try to look for depth and meaning….it’s not about the “#great shot”. It’s got to be about more. Strong voices are needed, and a fearless attitude about whatever it is that motivates. Never let what’s being promoted or placed in the popular view make you think it’s great or worthy or meaningful. It’s just that….popular. And there’s still a difference between popularity and originality and excellence. Do it your way and don’t let yourself be discouraged.
This picture is not Instagram material. It requires the viewer to actively participate, to take note of the background and read it, to then apply the background to the characters in the foreground and tie it together. To have the ability to appreciate subtle irony, and be willing and able to appreciate an image that lacks glamour of any kind. There are three characters in this image, one invisible but very much a part, and the two women that are immediately apparent. New York City is a place that gives a street photographer ample opportunities to exploit these little narratives that appear and disappear in life, these split second nuances so easy to miss but that tell a story that, while transitory and almost too subtle to be perceived nonetheless display a daily reality that’s truthful but unfortunately hard to define. This isn’t a picture for everyone, lacking as it does the shadowplay, the photographic pyrotechnics, the techniques often employed by very capable people who make beautiful pictures that say nothing special, and, technical triumphs aside, leave a moment after I remove my gaze.
But here….all three of these characters resonate with me and those that I carry with me, past and present. The woman on the left has given up. The one on the right still has hope. The man in the middle is the one we all seek. But he is older, my father’s age, and represents an invisible minority, a rare find to be treasured should you have the good fortune to stumble across him one day. The women are unaware of his presence, he is so quiet and still, unobtrusive and humble. He’s the one we didn’t notice, and the one we missed seeing altogether.
I saw them and couldn’t believe how absolutely nude they were….not just in the obvious way. But how they put themselves out into the world, in a way that was trusting and innocent, desperate and sharp and cunning all at the same time. There are many ways to do a street portrait, and exploiting the obvious is the first impulse….but there’s a great deal more below the surface than the first split second impression would have you believe.
I said you have an innocence, that I can see here, as I checked my exposures in the crazy, artificial space age lighting of Times Square. She said no I’m not. I am not innocent. I told her that my pictures say something different….and she replied that she looks funny and strange and terrible in pictures. I said No! You are beautiful….and I know I’m right. She told me I was too….but I’m an old broad and I said so. Because I’m moving at the speed of light to do these pictures, to not fuck them up, because there’s never ever any second chances…..And she said no….you are beautiful. And so is she…out there in front of the world, innocence remaining despite knowledge gained. A beautiful mosaic.
East Village, 1st AvenueI wish always for that one thing that will trigger a sense memory. A long time ago, when I lived here, I thought I was an actress. I went to various classes and workshops and played along but I always felt shabby and false, and preferred to write the monologues as opposed to performing them. I learned something from one of my teachers, a much older woman from the distant, long dead New York City that I’m currently grieving over. I can hardly remember her face….but she always spoke about sensory memories, and how to evoke them to help facilitate the creation of believable, living characters as opposed to the lifeless mannequins within the capabilities of most people in pursuit of an acting career. And those are what I hope for now….a smell, the way the light hits a familiar patch of pavement at a certain time of day, the sounds of ancient Chinese folk music in a market in Chinatown. I got a memory in one of these subterranean mini Chinese department stores, and it was a shock, sadly leaving me as quickly as it came, and although I searched for it and tried to revive the feeling, it was a phantom, triggered by the sound of music like momentary electrical stimulation on a patch of brain tissue. Maybe an icy breeze blowing as I leave a favorite restaurant at night, the way it feels when you leave and push into the cold, dreading the frigid walk to the subway in a much quieter Lower East Side….the LES without children accompanied by nannies after school, and without the footsteps of the young, working upwardly mobile crowd that shops at rag and bone, and unleashed, and spends time contemplating a cupcake or snow cream binge in one of the newly minted ventures on the dearly departed streets of the former East Village. I know I need to get over it, and I know that I sort of will, some day…..the ice cream at Davy’s on 1st Avenue helps, as does the same at Van Leeuwen, or Big Gay or a smoothie at Pure Green. Maybe Bingbox? I don’t know….I haven’t decided yet. I remember the profiteroles at Caffe Della Pace now but they too are gone, as is the homemade apple cake at Kiev….but I must finish doing cardio at Blink, on Avenue A….right next to Tompkins Square Park. I have a few minutes left to make a decision.
My first sight of Vanille…on East 13 Street. Vanille is a foundling, and looks like a cross between a bat, Gizmo, Pikachu, a chihuahua and Yoda from Star Wars. I loved her immediately, as well her owner. Jeanette has been in the East Village for many years….I believe she said almost forty three. Jeanette has many stories. When I first saw her on my way to San Gennaro in Little Italy, she looked to be suffering mightily with the heat of Indian Summer in New York City. Sweat rolled in beads, like raindrops, down her face and onto her neck, her dress, the sidewalk…everywhere. I didn’t feel sure about including her in any pictures initially because I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. Jeanette is a holdover, originally from France but old school Lower Manhattan through and through.