Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20!!!

December 20, 2011, and its been almost a month since my last post.  My father broke his hip down in Florida and we had been down there for the last 3 weeks helping him out.  90 years old and feeling like enough is enough, but we managed to pull him back from the brink in spite of his stubborn nature and he is resigned to following rehab and we are hoping all will be well.   Few if any pictures however.

Did get down to Del Ray Beach and stopped by Doc's, a tropical paradise on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Swinton, that also happens to sell some pretty great burgers.  Some of the reviews I have seen on trip advisor/restaurant reviews were less than complimentary, but don't believe a word of it.  While I was there, there was a table full of city workers enjoying themselves thoroughly, as did we, so res ipse locquitor!!!

Am back home now.  My father is on the mend and we are hoping that he will be back to normal soon.  Back just in time to see what will be happening with the Occupy Albany people.  They are ordered by the city to vacate by 12/22 and it will be interesting to see how they handle it.  Its been cold.  Into the low teens at night so this may be a blessing in disguise for them to bow out with a flourish.  I may be an old wimp, by I think its time to take it inside till the spring.  Will be there with my camera to see how things unfold.  Stay tuned.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Gaye Applebaum and my short career as a photojournalist...

While studying photography at C.W. Post College I got caught up in the magic of the camera and darkroom and the invitation to trespass, explore and wander, which they provided.  Still being under the spell of the movie "Blowup"(1966),  about a swinging London photographer who drove a Rolls, frolicked with half naked girls between shoots, and whose camera was the keyhole through which he entered a world of darkness and mystery, I entertained the notion of becoming a photojournalist.  I thought it should be quite easy.  Just find a war or famine or social upheaval of some sort, go over and document it, sell the photos to the New York Times, et voila!!!!  But then everything appears easy when you live in a world of fantasy.

But there was a war going on (Viet Nam) and there was famine (Bengladesh) and you really don't have to look all that hard to find social upheaval.  As I think about it now, it was in my own back yard, the 1960's.  But I opted out of all of that by taking a draft deferred job as a school teacher which sealed my fate to teach for years,  go to school at night, marry, and become a psychologist, all the while taking pictures of obscure and arcane things, like I do now (although less so), and even learning how to make platinum prints of them from George Tice.  But things tend to unfold as they should.  I really wasn't a good photographer back then, producing the occasional interesting image, but mostly making pictures that pleased only me and otherwise had not particular redeeming value.

But when you least expect it, opportunity knocks.  In this case, in the form a certain Gaye Applebaum, Ottawa Bureau Chief of the Canadian Jewish News who was a friend who was familiar with my work and asked me to join her as the photographer on a number of interesting assignments.  There were no wars for us to cover, but there was this protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Ottawa circa 1980,  regarding the harsh treatment of Soviet Jews.  After the shoots, I would rush home, develop the film, enlarge the prints and make the deadline.  They were heady times my friends.  This one made the front page of the paper and earned me $10 or so and a byline.

This next one didn't get published (nor was it submitted).  It is a picture of Gaye Applebaum on the job during a Siberianly cold Ottawa winter.  She is the fur trimmed "cub" reporter in the middle.

And this last one was taken during that same period in front of the parliament buildings in Ottawa capturing the sentiment of the public service labor protest quite well I think.

I couldn't find many more images from that short career (maybe there weren't many), and what I could find was mundane, good for illustrative purposes but with little intrinsic or artistic value.  But these three photos do show some photojournalistic valor and ability under fire, so who knows...

Soon after that, I went off to Israel for an extended period thus ending my short brush with the exciting world of photojournalism.  The opportunity did not rise again, or has it. 



Saturday, November 5, 2011

Its not me, its them....

                                          As a younger man,
                                          New York filled me with wonder
                                          now, it tires me.

I wrote this haiku last December, or maybe the December before, sitting in a Crate and Barrel store or was it a Pier 1 next door to a Starbucks or something, who can remember, one shopping mall begins looking just like the next.  We were in the vicinity of Rockefeller Center and I was waiting for Jackie to look around after we had gone to see the tree and made the obligatory visit to Dean and DeLuca.  At the time I thought I was just getting old and cranky and NYC had just passed me by.  It was just not my city anymore, bequeathed to a new generation.  While this is true, of course, I have come to realize the I haven't changed that much, New York has, and as far as I'm concerned, not for the better.  Sure, it is now clean and cute, safe and family friendly, ordered and organized, sanitized and purged of the unwashed and unwanted, but in return it has become less interesting and lacking in intrigue and the dangerous edge that makes a city a city.  A city devoid of mystery, danger, decay, depravity, and the desperation that was once scrawled across the walls, the vagrantly ideocryncratic  characters that give a city life and inspire poetry appears banished.

                                       Its New York City man
                                       you've got to scream here to survive
                                       and poke yourself with needles
                                       to make sure your alive,
                                       its a plastic airbrushed heaven
                                       that drives little girls insane
                                       and fills their heads with strange ideas
                                       on how to play the game.


                                       I am a gutter rat...
                                       My ambitions take me
                                       no further than 42nd Street,
                                       My nightmares take me
                                       all the way to Harlem.

Every time I return to the city, I swear I will never return.  The Disney people have reimagined 42nd St and Times Square to death, the Bowery and the Lower East Side have been gentrified beyond recognition, much of Greenwich Village has been torn down by NYU and replaced with large university buildings and what's left is shops selling posters and/or pizza.  Not to worry though, Rocco's on Thompson Street and a few other hold outs from the 50's and 60's are still there, but are now islands of nostalgia, lacking in context.  I could go on and on and on about the half mile of nameless, faceless buildings on the west side built by Donald Trump that are as bland, lacking in character, and crass as he is, but what's the point.  They're there, I'm here, and he's on TV firing people, so you need to watch what you say and do, because there are cameras everywhere.  I'm beginning to rant.

What I really wanted to report on was the disorientation I experienced on a recent amble through the SoHo area, and particularly the area around Prince and Elizabeth Streets where I had done an interesting little photo shoot in 2004.  As I was walking around, I realized nothing looked the same and I was a stranger in my own town.  And indeed, nothing was the same, and not always for the better, although not everyone would agree with me.  After some inquiry, I was able to establish that I was in the right place, just at the wrong time.

This is a photograph of Brian taken in 9/04 on the corner of Prince and Elizabeth Streets.  Brian, the self proclaimed "Prince of Elizabeth Street" was a passable artist and I think writer, with delusions of grandeur and a funny, playful manner who reminded me a lot of myself when I was young.  He was lying in the sun on this discarded couch on Prince when I asked him if I could take his picture.  He said "sure, for a dollar" which I gave him gladly, saying that it was a bargain.  Afterward, he took me to a cafe down the block where some of his paintings were hanging.  They were ok, so we sat, I bought him a coffee, and we talked for a while.

When I was there last week, the building behind Brian just didn't look the same.  And indeed it wasn't.   When I went into the shop on the corner to enquire, they told me that the prior building, the one with all those nice words drifting up out of Brian's head, had been demolished a few years ago and this new one, which did look pretty darn authentically old and nice, had replaced it.  I was impressed, and no longer disoriented.  Walking down Elizabeth Street, where the next three black and white photos had been shot, I was surprised to see that they were all taken on the wall of one building marked 11 Spring Street, although the entrance seemed to be on Elizabeth, where I was standing watching people coming and going.  I was a little confused about that too.  The black and whites were taken in 9/04, the color ones of the same locations were taken last week.


So that was 11 Spring Street then and now.  This window where the last photo was taken was bricked up at the time.  There's some good things happening here.  11 Spring Street looked great.  I wouldn't mind living there myself.  I guess its not all bad after all,  and I can no longer say...

                                                New York City is a tough town,
                                                if you don't believe me
                                                next time you are in Manhattan
                                                I can show you this little alley
                                                three or four blocks east of Carnegie Hall
                                                where you can still see
                                                remnants of Van Cliburn's smile
                                                smeared across the brickwork.

                                                           Pablo, the gutter rat


Friday, November 4, 2011

Arthur Tress and Rick Tropp, 1969...

In 1969, after graduating from C.W. Post College, I got a job teaching, not something I aspired to, but at the time I had no idea what I wanted to do, so it was just as well, being a job that was draft deferred.  The war in Viet Nam was raging and there were so few teachers that you were able to trade one form of servitude for another, admittedly less dangerous one .  My friend and classmate in Arthur Leipzig's photography class, Ricky Tropp, got a job in NYC as a darkroom technician at an important photo lab.  They had great enlargers there with Leica lenses and didn't seem to mind my being there and making the occasional print, so needless to say, I was there alot.  A lot of professional/commercial photographers had their film and print work done there and I got to know a few of them, but the one who stands out in my mind was Arthur Tress, who had just gotten back from a road trip through the Appalachian Mountains and had made some great photos of the hill people and their buildings.  I liked them a lot and wished I could amble around the country like him, and take pictures like that, but couldn't or didn't, a dream deferred.

Arthur Tress went on to have a successful career as a photographer, I went back to school,  got a Ph.D. in psychology and became a mediocre psychologist working in a state mental institution, and I don't know what happened to Ricky Tropp.   I recently went to visit our teacher, Mr. Leipzig (who always became annoyed when people at school called him Dr.) and among other things,  asked about Ricky.  He said he had lost touch with Rick years ago but seemed to sense that things did not work out well for him (as a photographer anyway),  and thought that maybe he could have done more to help him along.  This is a photo I took of Ricky in 1969 in NYC using his new Minolta SRT 101 on one of our down town photo safaris.  Downtown NYC was in shambles in those days after years of slow decay... dirty, degenerate, abandoned... and we couldn't get enough of those mean streets.  In those days, anyone who was anyone was shooting with a Nikon, but the Minolta was a nice camera.  I bought one after graduation.  As if it makes any difference what kind of camera you were using.

The image at the top is one I took of a post office in 6/07 in a little isolated mining town called Goodsprings, Nevada .  It is a very American photograph.  This picture reminded me a lot of a particular photo I liked back then taken by Arthur Tress, and printed by Ricky, which I can still see in my minds eye.  The photo reminds me of his work which I so envied,  which pleases me now as does my recently earned freedom to roam around the country and document America, for which I so  envied Arthur back then.  It speaks to how simple life once was and how uncomplicated it still is in some places.  My life seems to have never been simple or uncomplicated and I seem to have always sought out that peace of mind in the camera and the darkroom and daydreams.  In the end, I traded one deferment for another, but maybe you need to be in the right place at the right time, and for me, the time was now.  I couldn't have known that then.  I hope all is well with Rick.

                                                                                           on a plane from Dallas
                                                                                           to Chicago.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Red Cloud

May 18,  2011

The end of the line for us on route 136 was Red Cloud, our holy grail, and the last important stop on our pre-Auburn amble.

Sometimes it is the chronology of the spirit that guides us.  It is passion and providence, not time, that provides the guideposts on the road of life.  So it was with Red Cloud, one of our last stops on the road before we ended up in Auburn for cousin Chase's graduation.   It was foremost on our minds from the first day that we arrived in Lincoln after an uneventful and generally uninspiring (Warren Buffet aside) 3 day stay in Omaha, a city flattened, ethnically cleansed, and replaced with 10 square blocks of multi-level parking lots and too many 70's and 80's style utilitarian pre-cast concrete and chrome and glass office buildings of a most undistinguished, and almost Soviet style nature.  If you look hard, there are are a few surprises (building wise), but they are few and far between, and there is the old market area,  partially intact and still charming, that hints of what once was.

But I digress into my usual rant about the decimation of old down towns.  Don't even get me started on Des Moines and Chattanooga et al.

Anyway, Jackie has a thing for state capitols, so after checking into our hotel, we walked down Centennial Avenue to the capitol building, an awe inspiring monument to the rustic, broad shouldered nature of rural Midwest life,

for what was to be the 3:00 tour which included us, 20 5th graders from some farming town about 25 or 30 miles from Lincoln, and one other adult who we were told happened to be from New York as well.  We were about 20 minutes early for the tour, so it was suggested that we take the very antiquated elevator to the rotunda where you have a view of all of Lincoln.  Upon exiting the elevator ride experience, we entered the rotunda and I immediately had the experience of Indiana Jones in the cave of Somes when the sun, in exact position, beamed through a portal onto his staff whose shadow indicated the exact location of the Ark on the floor map.  Well there I was in the rotunda, with the sun shining in a photogenically direct manner on the only object there, a sign, letting us know that we were not alone.  A comforting thought in these uncertain times.

After the tour we got talking, and it turned out that the other New Yorker was Willa Cather's great nephew who had taken the train to Nebraska, and was just returning from Red Cloud, where he was attending an annual event honoring the Pulitzer prize winning chronicler of turn of the century Midwest life who often liked to dress in men's clothing, refer to herself as William, and who fled to Pittsburgh and later New York City as soon as she had the chance,  and who later became the patron saint of culture and literature for Nebraska.  I'm sure she would be amused by the irony.   There are courses devoted entirely to her works given at UNL.

As it turned out, George, her great nephew, was staying at our hotel, so we planned to meet for drinks later in the afternoon and then walked down to Billy's on H Street (where all of the legislators meet) for dinner and what turned out to be quite an entertaining evening of stories about his family, and particularly his mother, Willa's niece, and the times she spent at the Cather house while she was growing up..  By the time we parted company with George we too felt an almost familial connection to the town and the Cather family.

There is not much to be said about Red Cloud that you can't find on some of the many web pages devoted to the town and to Willa Cather.  It is a quiet, substantial midwest town,  lots of brick buildings befitting a county seat, and one gets the sense that it is mostly intact, although no longer the hub of activity and commerce it once was judging by the number of empty store fronts and the prevalence of turn of the century photos seen here and there showing the busy vibrant place it once was.

While I get the feeling that there was a certain ambivalence to Willa and her strange ways while she lived   here, in the end she became the savior of this town that might otherwise have lost all sense of real purpose and gone the way of other ghost towns, were it not for her.  While there, we did become members of the Willa Cather Society and I have since read O Pioneers, My Antonia, One of Ours, and A Lost Lady. In the process, I have developed and even appreciation of the people and place of Nebraska.  These are a few odds and ends to add to a sense of place.  Unfortunately time constraints here like elsewhere limited photo opportunities.  

As you can see, this is the Red Cloud Post Office, built in the 1920's.  If there is any architecturally compelling reason why, I like to take pictures of the P.O.  where ever I am.  Unfortunately, I did not find out until later that there are 4 murals inside painted by WPA artists during the 1930's.  It's on my list of things to do if I get back there.

According to pamphlets given out by the Willa Cather Society, this presently unoccupied store front  that is now for sale, was the place of business used by Willa's father after they moved into town following a short and apparently unsatisfying stint at sod busting and breaking the land into something useful (see O Pioneers).

This is the drug store next door to the above picture.  That's about it for Red Cloud during this trip.  Looking back at this selection of photos, I could have done more.   Hope I will get the opportunity to fill in the blanks next time around.


Addendum, 2/24/13...

While nosing around a used book store in Mobile, Alabama, I came across this heavily used, frayed library copy of   Death Comes for the Archbishop.  Fifth printing, December 1927.  Four dollars.  A find at twice the price. 


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The search for Mezcalito...

Now that I've spent some interesting times in Toronto and NYC, its hard to get back to Nebraska at the moment, so before the Cornhuskers get too far into the season, there was one more thing I had to get out of my system before I head back.

There was this funky little tiki bar in this almost non-existant little town on the ocean side of Cozumel, Mexico, that I'm sure that I had too much to drink at 5 or 6 years back.  I couldn't remember the name of the place and I was sure that if it even existed, it would no longer be there, as happens so often where I live, but it has been on my mind.  Because it is so stereotypically like something out of a Jimmy Buffet song,  could it have really been the perfectly desolate, thatched, have too many Dos Equis and just roll into the ocean kind of place I imagined.  I do have an active fantasy life, so anything is possible.  There was only one way to find out.

We took a flight to San Miguel do Cozumel, a tasteless tourist trap of a city with a Diamonds International on every block that makes you want to get out of town as quickly as possible.  To get out and around the island in your own way, you have to hire a cab.  Our cab driver who was nice and easy to get along with was a very hispanic looking man named David Saul of all things.  I half jokingly asked him if he was Jewish and he said no, why did I ask. "Porque en Neuva York, David Saul es un nombre Judio" I explained.  He seemed surprised to hear this.  I was surprised he was surprised.

With formalities taken care of, we asked him to get us to the other side of the island as quickly as possible.  The first stop where you make the turn onto the ocean side was Punta Sur.

After passing a few very little clusters of shanty buildings that could not quite pass for a town,  that were obviously not what I was looking for, we did make a pit stop at Playa Bonita, named so for obvious reasons.  There was not much there but a little restaurant on the other side of the road,  a little bar with some tables in the sand and our waiter named Lucho who found us quite amusing and inferred something about us being rich Americans.  Everything is relative, so after two beers and a little more small talk, it started to seem like a prudent time to move on.  

Further along the road was this area called Chen Rio which did not look all that inviting a place to get out of the cab so I just took a picture and we moved on.  At this point, I was beginning to doubt myself and wondered if I were going to find what I was looking for.

We were now only a few miles from the end of the ocean road which turns to the left and heads back into the city.  At one point along the road, just about here;

I had the feeling we were close, and if you kind of squint a bit, you can see the thatched roofs of Mezcalito, the "town" I was looking for.  And sure enough there it was.

That's me, celebrating by having the first of 3 Dos Equis, just about my limit for drinking beer.

This is the table we were sitting at, when we were sitting at all.  In this day and age of photoshop and other post production techniques that allow people to cobble together all sorts of beautiful and improbable images, one might think that this great photo is is a product of photoshop magic or some such thing.  Its not.   Its just an improbably good and evocative shot of an improbably great spot.  On the table is my second Dos Equis.  I have just begun to settle down into the mind space that is Mezcalito.

I am on a little roof top deck of the bar, overlooking greater downtown Mezcalito.  It is comprised of the bar, the gift shop next to the bar, the roof of which is on the right, and the two thatched buildings off to the left, a restaurant called Senor Iguana, and another gift shop named Marilyn Azul, "The Mexican Target".   That is my third and last Dos Equis in the picture.

These are the two shops across the way.  The only other building in Mezcalito was a boarded up somewhat derelict building across the road from Marilyn Azul.  I probably should have taken a picture of it to round things out, but it wasn't all that photogenic I guess.

Next to the bar was this sign, but since we were the only people there, and I didn't feel like asking, I wasn't sure if this was a "chiste" or not.   Anyway, you don't often get a second chance in life to do the next to impossible, but we did, we found Mezcalito, and it was just as we remembered.  Interesting, the side of the island facing the ocean remains completely undeveloped with the exception of a few small,  local, eco-friendly little places like the ones seen above.  It is 20 or 30 miles of pristene beaches and warm Caribbean blue water on one side of the shore front road, and island wilderness on the other.  Not a Marriott or Hilton to be found.  I'm not complaining, just reporting and wondering how miracle could exist in this day and age.  So if you get to Mezcalito and don't want to leave, there's no place to stay.