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


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.


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.



How do I tell you about choices. You have them always, and make them with and without thought. Everything and everyone feels just right or not at all and you either go with it or not. It feels ok to wake up with the sun early, or with the sun late.

I sit down, and contemplate the beauty of skin in the light, and I think briefly about the pile of things that I’ve done wrong. I don’t reflect because really all I care about in this moment is just how I want to frame this unexpected beauty. I feel distracted by some small, nameless memory…a loss, a reflection, a missing piece….and I wonder as I make these pictures about light and movement and shades. I think about Jack Kerouac a bit and try hard to move fast so as not to lose these moments in the sun.

I remember what it was like before I had an understanding about what true regret feels like, and how it felt going to sleep at night with a weightless head. Always assuming that it would remain so.

How do I say that the decisions now can forever alter everything. Skin and the sun will never be the same, revised as each long day passes on the streets of whatever new city, and with my experiences I understand that I may return in a year or more and find that skin in an accelerated gestation between birth and old age, and find myself remembering its former purity.


Rene Outside

I don’t know. The question: why do I take these pictures? What is it for….I have trouble articulating why I do these things. The closest I can come to answering would be to say that it blows my mind, so many little unwritten stories, unseen and therefore invisible to most. Sometimes I find that these brief stories are analogous to a little window, like something out of a Madeleine L’Engle story….a magical aperture that allows a glimpse into a detail. A detail, a small occurrence, a bump on the road….or a face imbedded in a sea of many. This little window can illuminate a brief sequence of events that may be relatively insignificant but profoundly meaningful at the same time….if only to the one experiencing it. How many stories are out there…captivating and tragic and beautiful and absorbing, as each of our lives is. My intense, daily experiences are my own….and remain with me until I die. When that happens, they’ll die with me.

So why not tell a little story? A little big story of somebody else’s life, just a few pictures and words.

I found out that Rene was something of a regular visitor to the McDonald’s on Canal Street, stopping in to read his paper and drink coffee. I went back, and spoke to a guy who knew Rene when I showed my pictures….and he said he hadn’t seen him since the holidays, come to think of it. Robin said that he normally sees Rene in the subway at night as well….So whatever happened that day was more significant than I realized at the time.


Rene struggled to stay upright and balanced. My last picture of Rene.

Christmas Day….Assumption.

Rene In McDonald’s, Canal Street

I had agreed to meet someone to take some pictures on Christmas Day. I don’t generally prefer to wander with other people for the purpose of shooting street photos because I find that the distraction causes me to miss pictures. It was a very cold Christmas Day, and I went to the meeting place, the McDonald’s on Canal Street. Many people were packed into the place, taking refuge from the strangely penetrating cold air. I saw someone, hunched and swaying over a meal, and of course, I instantly assumed him to be homeless. I wondered if he was drunk, and sleeping in the relative warmth or just fatigued from a night in an edgy shelter situation….my assumptions were incorrect I learned later.

Rene tries to stay alert

He seemed to be struggling to stay awake, or conscious, or so my assumptions went. I felt that inexplicable drive to take his picture, and I crouched near him, despite being moderately embarrassed to be seen by others as I did so. Why did I feel this way? Because I hadn’t yet spoken to him, and I was uncomfortable taking his image in this situation without having first communicated with him. I thought that the picture was important enough to steal, and so I did. For whatever unknown reason, some people just hit me and once I lock on I don’t stop.

Rene’s Eyes

I roused him and asked if he needed something. I told him he was falling asleep in his sandwich. Can I get you something? He was slurred a bit, and seemed out of sync with the surrounding hustle and noise of the McDonald’s foot traffic. He was very disturbed by the constant cold draft of the entrance, and couldn’t make peace with the icy blasts that punctuated nearly every moment. His eyes were beautiful and warm and kaleidoscopic. Instantly engaging, and at odds with my initial assumptions. They were alert, and warm, and happy to see me. And it was Christmas Day….and his happiness at seeing me was irresistible.

hot coffee

He wanted hot coffee and I hustled to get it for him. My friend had by this time arrived, a fellow street photographer, and he gave him some fresh orange juice. It was a strange paradox, my assumptions of drunkenness, mental illness, or monumental fatigue caused by too many nights without shelter. I feel stupid now….as I sat, I realized that he didn’t smell of alcohol. His eyes told a different story. He was able to follow the conversation and, although his physical self behaved otherwise, his eyes conveyed no slouch, or sleepiness, or anything at all aside from a pleasant warmth at being the center of attention on a cold Christmas Day in the McDonald’s on Canal Street.return

We left to wander Chinatown. I told Rene I’d come back to check on him later in the afternoon….I figured he’d be long gone by the time I returned. I didn’t last long outside…perhaps two hours. The cold destroyed me that day….I could not get myself together. I apologized to my friend, because I just wanted to go home. My obligation to Rene and my cold fingers directed my footsteps, and I found myself back in the McDonald’s, and saw that Rene had never finished his orange juice, or his coffee, and was slumped insensible. This was odd, and after this picture, I roused him once more.

This McDonald’s and many others serve as a refuge for homeless people. The two women in the background, Jennetta and Christine, explained to me. They suggested that I help Rene to the shelter located on Lafayette Street. I hadn’t intended on doing anything of the kind until they made the suggestion, I admit. They were right, and I realized that it was Christmas and in no way appropriate to leave him in this condition. I guess I would’ve sat with him for an hour or two….but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to take him to shelter. And I’m sorry to say that I should have figured that out on my own, and didn’t. Thanks to Jennetta and Christine, Rene did get help.

With my friend’s assistance, Rene made it out of the McDonald’s. It became clear immediately that he never was drunk, or fatigued, or just another shapeless homeless guy that we all skirt past every day in New York and Los Angeles and everywhere else. He told us, in strangely slurred speech, that he had an apartment. He was, however, entirely unable to control his movements, and lacked even enough basic balancing skill to remain upright without falling over. He dropped his orange juice on Canal Street, and, along with the juice, exploded in frustration and dismay when he did so. He nearly fell on his head and I knew that he may have had a stroke and been unable to communicate his condition, and that he had taken refuge in the McDonald’s because he was unable to help himself or speak sequentially long enough to interest someone in order to get help. And….all those assumptions that we all make, every day. Assumptions about each other that can blind us to the most obvious situations. Put Rene in a small town coffee shop on Christmas Day and I believe he would’ve been hospitalized far sooner. So many people saw Rene, including me, and concluded that he was a homeless person and therefore beyond reach or sympathy. So he had sat in the McDonald’s for many many hours, until management kicked us all out and I realized that it was time to call 911.

Once EMS arrived, we were able to coax him into allowing himself the luxury of being cared for. The EMT’s were two strong and comforting men, and we let him go. I took a few pictures….but I’m not sure if I’ll use them in this entry. There is one I’ll consider. I don’t generally take pictures of people who are injured on the street or involved in any way with EMS. It’s unfair to do so in my opinion….

I haven’t seen Rene since Christmas Day. I’ve checked the McDonald’s twice….I’m nearby as I write this, and I’m thinking that today, January 9, 2018 at 11:01 a.m. Eastern Standard Time that I’ll go back and check that McDonald’s, just to see. I told him I would. I hope I see him again.

I’ll keep checking until enough time passes and I give up….but every time I pass the place, as long as I’m in New York City, I’ll peek inside, just in case.