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


Friday, November 4, 2011


There is something zenlike about the mysterious, expansive tranquility of this photo overlooking eternity,  the lyrical flow of the infinite impeded only by the rude imposition of man whose restrictions and taboos are all that block our path to peace and freedom.

In reality, this picture was taken at the 4 Corners National Monument at the geographical point where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet.  The photo is looking out onto Colorado and the posts are there to keep out the cars, buses, and vanloads of tourists who have come to see this truly unremarkable sight.  A large brass disk (which was recently found to be in the wrong spot) indicates the "exact" spot where the four states meet.  In as much as we have 4 extremities, busloads of Japanese, German, and various other European tourists, and vanloads of American families willing to pay $5 and wait on long lines, get the opportunity to straddle the disk and to be in four states at once while a friend or family member climbs up to a platform above to document this event photographically.  Surrounding the disk area were 30 or 40 booths for people to sell souvenirs, food, and beverages to these pilgrims.

The fallacy of this "zenlike" photo is that I am standing with my back to this madhouse of a thousand tourists buying, eating, laughing, talking and straddling, in 20 different languages.  As I look at this picture I can still hear and smell the carnival like atmosphere.

At my recent show "Signs of Life in Death Valley and the American Southwest",  I was telling this story to Joe Schyuler,  an important local photographer.  He asked me why I didn't take a picture of the area behind me.  I told him it didn't occur to me at the time, since I didn't know there would be a story to tell.

He told me that when he was studying photography with Minor White, the students were given the long standing assignment to turn around after they had taken a picture they liked, and photograph whatever was behind them.

I have done this on a number of occasions with generally uninteresting results, but I particularly like the juxtaposition of the two photos below which provide surprising context to the illusion posed by the first picture.

So indeed, things are not always what we imagine them to be.


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.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Heading out of Alliance, full and happy in spite of our disappointments, we began to head east on route 2 right down the middle of the state, on the beginning of making our way to Auburn in time for Chase's graduation.  In the growing darkness, we passed small towns like Antioch, Ellsworth, Bingham , and Hyannis, where we found no places to stay and by now, no signs of life to reassure us, so we decided to drive south on the 61, through Arthur county, a sparsely populated area with the town of Arthur being midway at the junction of the 61 and 92.  We had a good feeling about finding someplace to stay in Arthur, this being Jackie's father's name, but like everyplace else, it was dark and uninviting as night had now fell and the streets were empty.  To compound our sense of growing desperation, it began to rain heavily and long trails of horizontal lightning, like nothing we had ever seen, strafed the horizon in long sideways rolling blasts that lit the landscape with an eerie glow over an emptiness that threatened to swallow us.  Since Jackie was driving, I had my nose pressed against the window, enjoying the spectacle thoroughly, until Jackie mentioned that this was perfect conditions for a tornado, and given the total darkness, if we were to encounter one, we wouldn't know it until it sucked us up and spit us out, which would be too late.  This sobering thought dampened my childlike excitement and added to our sense of urgency about getting to Ogallala, which appeared to be a large town with the best chance of finding a place to bed down for the night.   The rain and lightning followed us right to the door of a Best Western, or was it a Hampton Inn, whatever....They had rooms and we were saved.  The next morning over a buffet breakfast of grits, eggs, toast and coffee, we talked to truckers and fellow travelers who were equally awed and eager to talk about last nights events, watched the skies clear, and ventured out to see Ogallala.

I am not all that happy with this entry.  The narrative is good but the pictures aren't particularly informative, cohesive, or good.  I am reaching the point in my Nebraska road trip where there are many good pictures, but not much to say, or vice verse, so at this point I will leave Nebraska for a while to regroup and reminisce, and then cut to the Chase (as in Chase's graduation in Auburn) followed by mostly images I like that don't have a lot of context, but just speak for themselves like this one which so aptly describes Nebraska in general (who comes up with these things?!!!).


Kilgore, Nebraska

After spending the night in Valentine, we quickly drove through the town, felt like it seemed too busy and headed down route 20 toward Cody.  About 21 miles west of Valentine we were surprised to see that we were leaving the central time zone and entering mountain time a demarcation which follows the most irregular of paths which, when looking at the map makes no sense at all.

But a few minutes later, we came upon the most unusual of places,  Kilgore, Nebraska, population 99, a ghost town which might easily be seen in a southwest photo by Edward Weston or Ansel Adams.


This is main street.  It is hard to understand what has happened here.  It seems so post apocalyptic in many ways, but there are still 99 people living here.  The two mainstays of any well functioning social structure, the bar and the church are the two best maintained buildings in the "downtown", so life goes on in a well oiled manner.

And of course, I would be remiss if I did not remember the US Post Office the spiritual core of any American town.

And somewhere between Kilgore and Cody, there was this little town called Nenzel where I took this mysterious photo and moved on without really seeing what else was around me.  I always like to think that next time I will spend more time there.  Always next time.