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.