Saturday, December 24, 2011

Occupy Albany!!! D Day in America ...

Dateline Albany, New York   December 22, 2011  Day 68 of the Occupation...

An unseasonably warm first day of winter up here in Albany.  47 degrees and partly to mostly cloudy today.  Great weather for a massacre.  Yesterday it was in the high 30s and it rained for much of the day.  An unpleasant day to be Occupying, I'm sure, creating an ambivalence that might have made the Occupiers glad to be put out of their misery.  Since I just got back from Florida, after helping out with my ailing old father for the past 3 weeks, this was my first opportunity to visit the Occupy encampment in a while.  Not much new to see except for a few new signs, a lot less tents and few expectations.

And this guy named Gene, who was making his sign...

Today was an auspicious day to return because the city had gotten a court order permitting them to evacuate Academy Park on December 22 and close down the movement.  Since things had been going reasonably agreeably and peacefully  on both sides, many people  did not take this order all that seriously, especially since it meant dispossessing people just 3 days before Christmas and would be a PR disaster for the city (so they were saying), so there was little preparation for the impending invasion and police action.  Big mistake!!!  The police never like to miss the chance to kick ass and take names, so why should today be any different.  It wasn't...   

I got down to the park at about 12:30,  and was greeted by a quiet and much diminished presence.  Fewer tents and fewer people still.  Some new faces and some of the stalwarts.  Took a couple of pictures, talked to 3 or 4 Occupiers and was thinking of leaving, when much to our surprise, at 1:59 Deputy Police Chief Schultz materialized on the scene

 accompanied by what appeared to be an Armani clad, tassel shod city attorney, entering the park and announcing the court order stating that if the Occupation did not cease and desist within the next hour, proceedings would begin by the Department of General Services, with armed tactical support by the storm troopers of the Albany Police department, to dismantle the encampment.  Surprise!!! surprise!!! to those youngsters who missed the 60's and obviously didn't follow my advice to read the manual.

That said, it all came down real fast and real mean after that, with a menacing police presence descending rapidly on the park on horseback armed with tear gas and clubs hoping for necessary  provocation, followed by a phalanx of neon vested Department of General Services goons eager to wreak havoc on the remaining Occupiers.

Municipally endorsed modern day cossack.  You could feel their aggressive energy in the air and see their drooling appetite for state sanctioned destruction and thuggery.  It  reeked of that 1960's feeling of us against them, the hippies vs the police.  The only difference is that with shrinking state and municipal budgets, the people that are doing the trashing and pillaging today could easily be among the unemployed and disenfranchised of tomorrow and may be under the boot themselves as they themselves stand bewildered and uncomprehending in a motley crowd on the street wondering out loud, chanting, screaming, howling, what became of their livelihood and their portion of the "American Dream".  But in the end, confused by romney-esque rhetoric they don't understand, and addled by drink, they will slink home, drunk and angry, beat their wives and children, and blame the alien hordes that stole their jobs.  Will they wake up and see the truth, or roll out of bed hungover and ready to goose step and  don the brown shirt of fascism?????  What do you think???

With the police presence in place and hungry for blood of any Occupier naive enough to believe that  good will continued on the part of a frustrated city government was sorely mistaken!!!  The invasion began...

Under police protection, they made quick work of it, and despite protestations and pledges to lay their lives down for the cause, the whole thing ended a little after 4:00 with a whimper not a bang, which was just as well for these mostly 20 somethings.  The police did show an initial restraint in the face of an onslaught of profanity laced verbal provocation, turning the other cheek and not responding at all.  An apparently welcome change from the blood lust exhibited by the police in the  60's.  This "benevolence" was no doubt  helped along by the presence of TV cameras from 5 or 6 local stations and a very progressive new police chief and DA who up to this point had shown a surprising degree of tolerance.   And believe me, there was this one guy (the one with the hat and red sign) who tried his level best, short of physical contact to provoke a police reaction.  But as the evening fell the mood got ugly the jack boot police thugs on horseback and foot got busy and began to savage the crowds with pepper spray, night sticks, and profanity, later claiming that this "crowd control" was necessary to protect the Occupiers from greater harm.  In the end, there was nothing but a swirl of frantic activity...

And in the end, there were only garbage trucks to haul away the evidence of this once vibrant village.  

Since the Occupiers failed to have a meaningful exit strategy in place (or did they? we shall see...), it ended as it did.  The energy was gone at that point and the city did them a favor.  They got tons of press, and they will be able to return next spring rested and ready.


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.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Occupy Albany!!! Day 32....

Dateline Albany, NY,  November 22, 2011

Day 32 of the occupation of Academy Park.  JFK was killed 48 years ago today.  Cold last night, 32 degrees and 39 this afternoon.  Overcast and gloomy with a good chance of cold rain mixed with snow tonight.  The mood and energy level at base camp are starting to go south with the weather.  The last hurrah for the season should have been the "Day of Action" on November 17.  It would have been a perfect way to cap off the season of protest and a fitting coda for next year.

The issues will still be there, but even more urgent and the numbers will surge.  As Neil Young said "Its better to burn out than to fade away", which is what appears to be happening in terms of steadily diminishing numbers and energy level.  If we just wither with the weather, that will be just what the city counted on and they win the hand.  If we wait them out cold, shivering, sick and diminished,  it is a Pyrrhic victory leaving the troops dispirited and lacking momentum.  Grasping at straws with the mock attempts at being arrested for trespassing on state property ploy is a sad cry for help and attention.  Regroup...return in the spring...renewed, rested and ready...

Things are starting to have the feel of a ghost town, yesterday's news.

Len, the newest arrival at base camp says he is a trucker from Texas who came in last night because his truck broke down while he was making a delivery and he is awaiting repairs.  His cap indicates that he is a union man.  

It is time to pack the tents for now, but "not go gentle into that good night".  


Addendum...Day 33.

Cold hard rain last night as predicted.  Still raining on and off today, 11/23, temp in the mid 40's.  On my way downtown today I passed base camp not expecting to see much, and indeed there was not much to see except a group of 25 or 30 damp and soggy Occupiers being organized by Colin with his megaphone exhorting the group on to chant their mantra's of discontent, and hoist their signs, all for one lone TV camera man.   There was no one else there watching or seemingly caring at this point.  But no one watching TV will know this, if it is even aired.  At this point the Occupiers are becoming old news.  If this posting is sounding less supportive than it should, that is because it is.  Rather than stepping back, and rethinking their next gambit, they have at least one thing in common with George Bush, no exit strategy.  They are now treading water and resorting to lame PR scams like the silly attention seeking civil disobedience of trespassing (wow) and demonstrations for no one by a lone TV man.   Are they watching what's going on in Egypt to see people putting their lives on the line for the cause.  Sorry I didn't have my camera, but you get the photo.  It's getting lame and tired.
Following their very successful opening salvo, it is time for a clear exit strategy for the season, at least that's what I think.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy Albany!!! Day 27

Dateline Albany, N.Y.  November 17, 2011

Back from assignment and pleasantly surprised to see the Occupiers still here and going strong.  It rained a bit last night and today it is overcast and presently 42 degrees.  Mother Nature had held her breath as long as possible, but the inevitable wrath of late autumn is soon to be upon us and them.

Today is day 27 of the Occupy Albany movement, and across the state it is the "Day of Action" with a march and rally here,  in NYC,  LA,  Chicago, and across the country.  As opposed to being met by police in riot gear like NYC and Oakland, where the police themselves provoked the violence they were primed and eager to subdue, the Occupiers here in Albany have been met with benign neglect in hopes that they would just go away.  So far status quo from both sides.   

 This being the state capitol, there are busloads of contingents from Buffalo, Rochester, and a variety of other upstate cities converging in solidarity of cause.  Looks like three or four hundred people ready to march.  The crowd was mixed across all demographics, but over all seemed younger and more reminiscent of the 60's.  Just need a few thousand more people, a bit more insanity, weed, et voila.  Given time I'm sure this will develop.  The issues are existentially valid, life threatening, and address the vast social and political inequities that threaten to push us over the cliff with only the extremes of society, the chronically poor and the very rich, not noticing any change.   For them it will be life as usual.

But today, it is the vast middle ground that is awakening from their existential slumber to see a changed landscape no longer hospitable to nurture the dreams and aspirations planted by them during the better years of the now past American century.

The rally began in Lafayette Park across from the capitol,  to the cynical amusement of that sneering son of privilege and  entitlement fortunate enough to be born into the right family, Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  I saw him joking about todays proceedings on TV, in that angry, unpleasant manner that seems to be his trademark.  What does he have to be angry about?

This is a guy named Colin who seemed to be the organizer du jour.  He was good.  His stuff was right out of the 1960's protester's playbook.  Chapter 1, Peaceful Demonstration.  Not sure if he has gotten to the later chapters on Kent State and the like yet.  But why dampen the enthusiasm of the movement so early in the game.  Once begun though, revolution will become serious business.  "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we're finally on our own", and all that.  Corporations will not take these threats to their bottom lines lightly, and through their proxy congress/legislatures/para-military police forces will test that old adage about needing the blood of patriots to nourish the tree of liberty.

And the crowds were ready to be organized for the march...

The sad answer, Christian, is that there is no love and there never was, but back in the 60's, a good demonstration and peace rally was a great place to find love, but I'm not sure that's what you are thinking of at the moment.

Linda, introduced as the organizer for the Albany Occupiers addresses the crowd..

She was kinda nice, and there was no need to ask her what her sign was...

An elder statesman of the movement.  Looks like a holdover from the 1960's who's been living in the fast lane a bit too long.

And this bloated, befuddled looking guy who seemed (and I'm sure felt) completely out of place at the rally is Bill Lambdon, a TV reporter for a local station, channel 13.  Couldn't the station have had the imagination to send a younger, hipper member of the staff who could have worked the crowd instead of  just standing there looking like he wished he could be anyplace else?

And a quick amble back to base camp prior to departing indicated that the village was intact and evolving.  Will keep you posted on the Occupy Albany Movement here in upstate New York.  


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Occupy Albany!!!

Dateline Albany, N.Y.....  November 10, 2011...

During an unseasonably warm October and November, it is another beautiful day, sunny with temps again in the mid 60's.  Mother nature has certainly been on the side of the Occupiers and with good reason.  The greedy, corporate 1%, whom the Occupiers are railing against are destroying her planet,  smothering her, slowly poisoning her to death, and driving her children into extinction.  We have developed the technology to destroy the planet, and are doing a damn good job of using it and they won't stand for it any more.  If all the smart ass corporations, with the full support and backing of the United States congress, had not exported all of the jobs and manufacturing to countries that have no child labor laws or environmental regulations to negatively impact their bottom line, these good people would have meaningful work and a bright future and would not need to Occupy!!!

 Here, in the shadow of city hall, and the state capitol buildings, the Occupy Albany movement enters its 26th day having begun on October 15 in response to the Occupy Wall Street movement in NYC and various other cities with the desperate hope of taking back their country, the country that has been sold out from under them.  Few people take them seriously, but it is their sense of disenfranchisement and loss of hope that gives them the strength and fervor that are the seeds of revolution.  This may be a small and vaguely focused start, but the anger is real and the issues will become more pronounced as desperation increases. The seeds of taking to the streets have been planted.  Soon you Occupiers will be labeled a threat to homeland security and the dogs will be unleashed.

And there is a whole cast of characters, young, old, employed, unemployed, disenfranchised and homeless, united together in common cause...  There's Ed from Cohoes, who can't find work these days, manning the front lines alone...

And Ed with friends at one point or other during the Occupation...

And Eric who says he's been here since day one...

Jimmy who just showed up just yesterday and is gone.  I think he does that a lot...

And Ken, the guy to the left who had a lot to say about a lot of things while eating the pizza that was just delivered.  Going on about LBJ of all people he continued choking and talking.  He said his father says he will probably die choking on a piece of steak.  I had to walk away so I would not be party to any self inflicted damage on Ken' part.

There are lots of others who I have not gotten to talk to yet, but most people seem to know why they are
there.  They are not sure they know how they will know when and if they have won, and exactly what winning will look like, but they seem to be having a fine time doing it in the process, and I have once again become something of a photojournalist sans film, developing and the dreaded deadlines.  But no Gaye Applebaum to write the text and share the experience, which was part of the fun.  Have an assignment to complete in Cleveland.  Leaving tomorrow and won't be back till the 15th.  Will check in then.


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