Monday, December 26, 2016

Annual Report...

Its Sunday morning, December 11, 2016, coming upon the end of a long, challenging, and eventful year.   Jackie is down in NYC with her sisters viewing the tree at Rockefeller Center, and I'm sitting here on the couch procrastinating about heading out into the cold to do whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing today.  Seems like a good time to get going on the annual report.  First off, thanks to all my loyal viewers for tuning in over the past year.

Last year was an exceptionally good year for travel and some great pictures.  As I said during the annual report of 2015, the pictures were good, and it would be a hard act to follow.   I was almost right.  But it turns out that while Jackie was in Hong Kong last month on business, she took one of the great photographs of all time from her hotel room of Victoria Harbor at sunrise, a photo that could be easily mistaken for a Canaletto, which more than a few people have alluded to.  All else pales in comparison.  She has taken our ongoing project of "Room with a View" to new heights.

Her uncropped photo is a master class in composition starting with the placement of the ship in the lower righthand corner which is the organizational lynchpin that holds everything together.   Could say more, but "res ipse loquator", as they say.  The rest of the pictures are mine and pale in comparison, but the show must go on.

The post office is the only government agency we have no reason to fear.  Buy stamps, send postcards, support the post office.  They still care about you. 

As I reflect on my own photographs for the year, and for all previous years, for that matter,  I must confess my long standing awareness of the fact that I keep taking the same photograph over and over and over again.  Same organizing principle, different location.  Always symmetrical, and organized around a central figure.  Maybe the title of the blog should have been Monomania.

Jackie's photo is a good example of her ability to see the big picture and to shoot what's there.  I see what's there and then try to squeeze into the tight, compulsive constraints of how I obviously need to see the world, symmetrically organized around a simple but compelling idea.  Maybe I'm not the free thinker I like to think I am. 

Peace on Earth and a Happy New Year!!!


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Paul Strand's "Wall Street" revisited...

Paul Strand's photo "Wall Street", shot in 1912,  continues to be one of the most powerful and iconic images in the history of the field, and with good reason.  The impact is visceral and haunting and needs no words of explanation to amplify its effect.  Like all good photographers, the camera was an extension of his soul.  If you don't feel it, its not him, its you.

I'm no Paul Strand, nor do my photographs carry the power of his images.  But I was raised on the images of Strand and Weston and Evans and Brassai and Atget and the Photo League, et al, and when I finally had my chance to get out there and shoot, I was more than disappointed to find that their world, the world  I dreamed  of, the America of my mind, no longer existed.  In fact you can only live in the world you have inherited and work with the tools available and it takes time to realize this and come to terms with it, if at all.  If you do come to find interest and revel in the visual environment of which you are a part, and shoot it in that spirit,  it will work out.  I persevered, and have been fortunate to find America on my own terms.

When I shot my photo "'Humans of New York' or are they bugs", all I saw was the two oversized posters, but when I printed it and became more acutely aware of the people at the bottom, I was struck by the similarities between it and Strand's photo in terms of the metaphor. While my photo lacks the dark, menacing power and haunting moodiness of Strand's it does convey a similar idea in the context of my world, the world I work in, and the fact that some things never change.  We are still bugs, negotiating our small lives through the corridors of power.  My familiarity with his photo may well have unconsciously informed the composition and sense of insignificance the city fosters in the photo "bugs".


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Found Martha Holbrooke, now what...

Last summer while visiting Mady and Nate on the Cape, I went in search of an old gravestone I took a photo of many years ago, and while looking in the wrong burial ground, I took 2 pictures I liked a lot, (see posting...In search of Martha Holbrooke, 8/16).  While researching the stones, I found out  there is a whole school of study on the typology of old American gravestone etching art.  I also found that for the most part, the illustrative photos in these postings were not particularly good (poorly lit, tilted, out of focus, etc.), which gave me the idea for my next project.  Good gravestone photos.  I had not done this for a long time for personal reasons related to age and personal ethical issues, but I now had a justifiable purpose, and since Jeff and I were heading up to Provincetown this week, it seemed like a good time to spend some time at the Old North Truro Cemetery to see what I came up with.  Unfortunately, the first stone I was drawn to, of the winged head variety, quickly reminded me why I don't spend time in old cemeteries any more.

Abigail Adams, whose stone caught my eye, died in child birth at age 24 in 1774, while her husband Dr.  Samuel Adams stood helplessly by.  I felt badly about finding this tragic event as the basis for my artistic pursuit, and questioned myself about following through on the gravestone project, but as good hearted Jackie pointed out, I have probably spent more time thinking about Abigail Adams, her husband, and their suffering than anyone in a very long time, and isn't the purpose of the stone to keep people alive in someone's heart.  And its true, I only photographed a few stones this day, but I have felt a connection.

Then there is Jemimah Atkins who died in 1778 at age 28.  The winged skull and cross bones style here marks a transition from the last 3 stones posted expressing a sense of loss, hopelessness, despair, and possibly anger over the cruelty of the fates more clearly expressed than in the others. 

The curious case of one Israel Gross was one that interested this Jewish observer.  While the records do not directly indicate that Israel had Jewish roots, in fact the records list him as Methodist, but the first Gross to come over here in the early 1700's was a Simon Gross, Simon being a common Jewish name.  At the time, there were no Jewish cemeteries, and the thought of making a new start in the new world may have led to leaving behind an identity that suffered the slings and arrows of great prejudice in Europe.

Took some more photos over the weekend, but need time to mentally process them and see if I want to go ahead with the project .  There are a lot of mixed feelings now that I did get back and took a few more photos of the winged heads morphing into winged skulls variety.  Maybe thats enough for me for now.  But this does seem like a good place for another orphan picture taken at the Old Burial Ground in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Lark Street, USA

We have spent the last 6 or 7 years driving around and satisfying our curiosity about the US of A,  visiting all of the lower 48 states at least once and have seen more of Nebraska, Florida, and the Southwest than anyone I know, but nary a posting about our home town of Albany, NY.   Not that it is an uninteresting place, but its often the case that you don't see things that are right under your nose (literally).

On April 3, 2015, for example I was walking down Jay Street on the way to the gallery, and there on the sidewalk, a few houses down, were these wonderful old shoes, apparently left by some well meaning neighbor for someone to make good use of.  Used clothes give me the willies but taking a photo is ok.  This one was taken as is, with no effort on my part to pose them, proving the point that you don't need to go to Prague or Venice to get a good picture (although it helps, of course).

Sam's on Lark Street...

Up the block from us is Lark Street, the main drag in our section of the city, an area which has tried, unsuccessfully over the past 20 years, to reinvent itself into some kind of upstate Greenwich Village kind of place, but like most places trying to reinvent itself, it takes one step forward and two, sometimes three steps backward.  There is frequent business turnover, and presently a quarter of the storefronts are vacant, including both stores at the top of our block, and the last real art gallery is closing this month.  Restaurants, bars, tattoo parlors, two or three gift shops, and three second rate pizza places round out the picture.  Late at night as the bars empty, our streets are filled with hoards of squealing,  howling drunk 20 somethings from the burbs who have parked on our block and at 2am are heading back to their Subarus to drive home or to another bar, hopefully far away.   But I'm not here to rant., I'm here to report.   Sometimes I just can't help myself.  Sam's....

Three blocks from our house on Lark Street is Sam's, one of the last authentic greasy spoons in town, where an old guy can find peace and a bottomless cup of coffee in a questionably well washed cup, greasy eggs and fried potatoes of uncertain vintage that may leave you queasy,  even before you've tasted them, and pancakes that photograph well, but were dense, heavy, under cooked, and severely tested Jackie's aversion anything falling outside of her narrow comfort zone.  She was brave enough to accompany me on this dangerous assignment, and has nothing but regret about the food, but did find  the patrons welcoming and the conversation  intelligent and interesting.

The above photo was taken September 13, 2011, when our nephew Billy B. was up visiting for a few days and looking for some action on the wrong side of town.  These days, almost all of Albany could qualify as the wrong side of town so we started the day with breakfast at Sam's.  I hadn't been back since, but did remember the food to be surprisingly good and have looked forward to returning, but maybe 5 years was too long to wait.  The guy waving to us is John who lives across the street from us and judging by his placement in the next photo, he is still there, same seat.

I always kind of liked the 2011 photo and thought I should do a posting on Sam's, but thought it would be incomplete without some food photos, which I never got to,  so now that I convinced Jackie to join me on this urban adventure, the job is complete.  There is nothing cute about Sam's, but if you are in Albany and looking for the greasiest spoon in town, Sam's won't disappoint.

                                                   Bon Appetit  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Jackson Street Books, Omaha...

If you should find yourself having to spend a few days in Omaha, Nebraska, and find yourself running out of things to do besides eating a lot, which should happen fairly quickly,  and if you enjoy a good used/antiquarian book store,  you are in luck. On Jackson Street, right in the middle of the old market area, you will find a vast, magical place called Jackson Street Books.  Unassuming and easy to pass by from the outside; but once you walk in, BOOM!!  You will be mesmerized.  Prepare to spend hours.

While there, I was drawn to the photograph of the author as a young man on the cover of a copy of Winter Journal, a memoir by Paul Auster, an infuriatingly self absorbed, self referential, hypnotically self obsessed (I use the word self a lot here for a reason), one of a kind Jewish middle class meta-existentialist born 11 days before me in 1947, into the tedium of a suburban middle class childhood which should have consigned him to the stifling mediocrity I struggle against but instead,  morphed him into an award winning international phenomena/ literary enigma who has grabbed my by the soul dragged me into the rabbit hole of his perverse imagination and won't let go.  I have now bought 3 of his books,  am hooked and I don't know why.   But I digress.

You can't tell a bookstore by it's cover.  It would be easy to walk by this place and not even know what you are missing. You will thank me for the recommendation.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Manhattan Kansas?

Being New Yorkers passing through Kansas to finish the last leg of our Highway 83 quest, we felt duty bound to make a detour to check out the self proclaimed "Little Apple", Manhattan Kansas.  Founded in the 1850's, it has a long and very colorful/bloody history in the evolution of the mid-west which resulted in it becoming a substantial small city whose present major source of prosperity and importance distinguishing it from some many other less fortunate towns in the vicinity is the looming presence of Kansas State University.  After passing through a litany of  semi-abandoned, depressing small towns experiencing varying states of decay and irrelevance, this little boutique town of cute shops, and  eateries, etc. well maintained buildings and manicured lawns was a delight.  The icing on the cake was our breakfast at The Chef, a place Jackie zeroed in on, and as usual, she was right in choosing.  It was worth the 25 minute wait for a table.   No photos, but great breakfast.  Not much else to say about the place, but here is a sample of buildings along the main drag, Poyntz Street, so you'll get the idea.

So this is a fair sampling of what Manhattan looks like, more or less.  If the last 3 photos have a monotonous sameness about them, that's because that's how the town feels after a few hours.  Don't think I could live there.  When you only spend a short time in a place you are passing through, you are thankful if the sun is shining,  there are clouds in the sky, and the sunny side of the street is the interesting one.  This last photo marks the end of Poyntz Street and the beginning of the shopping mall to the far right.  In spite of that, if you are in the neighborhood, Manhattan Kansas is recommended.   But if you are not going to school there, it seems like a place that might get old pretty quickly so if you are just there to look around,  a one night stay is enough.   
Don't forget breakfast at The Chef!!!


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A most eventful high school reunion at the Boatel...

It's August 29th, 2016 and I'm on Long Island.  It is 95 degrees, tropically hot, oppressively humid... global warming?   I am sitting on the veranda of my room at the Freeport Inn and Marina, formerly known as the Boatel, pleasantly situated on a marina on one of the many marshy inlets on the south shore of LI, leading out to the ocean.  The Boatel is old, 60's retro without even trying, and not for everybody, but clean, adequate, and I seem to fit in perfectly.  Unfortunately the tide is down right now, and the smell of festering seaweed fills the air and drives me inside.  I am waiting for my elementary/high school friend Nick with whom I am soon to have lunch and then spend the rest of the day consuming a fifth of Johnnie Walker Black and reminiscing about old times.  Every time we get together, we tell the same stories and say the same things, but since our brains are so fried by this point, neither of remembers anything anyway, so it is good just hearing the sound of Nick's voice.

 If you are looking for a place to lose yourself,  like the idea of a motel that still uses keys, is far off the beaten track on a marshy inlet near the bay, and makes little effort to draw attention to itself, then the Freeport Boatel is for you.

I slept poorly last night for no reason I can discern and was up till 4am.  Slept till noon, which is rare, just woke up in a daze, dressed quickly, and went out to Seven/Eleven to get some coffee.  I was checking Google News to make sure the world was safe enough for me to venture out when I saw a short and woefully uninformative little article about an automobile accident that took place this morning on Sunrise Highway, no more than a half a mile from here in which some poor person was killed.  I often think about people starting their day with no idea that their time has come and when that day will come for any of us, and was overcome by a haiku...

                                                 Nobody wakes up
                                                 thinking today I will die,
                                                 but that's how it goes.

Nick came by around 2 pm, we went for lunch by the water a few blocks from the motel, then stopped off for a bottle of scotch, and drank and talked for hours.   This was the view from the window of Otto's during a short rain squall during our lunch... which was just ok...sitting by the channel in the rain made it better...By the time we finished lunch it cleared.

We usually drink at his place and I happily crash on the air mattress I carry for such occasions, but tonight we ended up at the Boatel quite sloshed.  Nick was almost incoherent by 11 pm, so I rented  him a room, deposited him into a bed only partially conscious and hoped for the best.  As always, very old friends are the best friends who knew you before you ever reinvented yourself.
Addendum Saturday August 27th:

The above haiku turned out to be quite prophetic and ironic.  This morning at about 9:15, while walking from my car to the synagogue in Hewlett, I was stopped in my tracks by an intense, painfully dull constrictive tightness in both of my upper arms that was almost unbearable.  There was some tightness in the chest, but minimal.  The incident was accompanied by nausea followed by throwing up the breakfast I had at the Boatel.  Unable to go any further, I was only 2 or 3 blocks from my high school and was able to get back  to my car and somehow make it to the school parking lot where the symptoms continued for another 20 minutes or so and gradually subsided.  Although the symptoms were atypical, I sensed that I had a heart attack, and although I had no idea what would happen next, I was satisfied with the thought that if this was it, it would happen in the parking lot of my high school which somehow seemed ok.  As things progressed, I seemed to recover, made it back to the motel and googled my symptoms which confirmed my suspicions, and said I should go to a hospital, but being the idiot I am, I did nothing but carry on with the weeks activities.  I should have been dead then and there, but I wasn't.  10 days later, the same exact symptoms happened at home.  Jackie threw me in the car, drove me to Albany Med who confirmed I had another heart attack, admitted me, found a 99% blockage to my cardiac artery, inserted 3 stents, put me on 5 meds and eventually sent me home.  I was given a second chance, and am more that lucky to be alive.  Don't know why it took so long for it to sink in, but as time goes by I become more and more appreciative and grateful for my good fortune to be  alive and not dropping dead on the sidewalk, which was a distinct possibility.  I am sure Jackie and Devora feel the same.  I can only marvel at my good fortune and the forces of good from above that brought me through this.   In the future I should try to be less smug and not take things for granted. 


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

In search of Martha Holbrook...

August, 2016

As I get older and closer to the grave,  I have begun to avoid cemeteries as an object of photographic interest.  But while Jackie and I were visiting Mady and Nate on Cape Cod last week, and having lunch (fried fish sandwich, rings, and slaw) at one of my favorite places of all time, Arnold's in Eastham

we did not encounter the usual crowds, so having finished lunch early,  and with time on our hands, we agreed to keep heading north to see if we could make it to Provincetown.  It was a quiet Monday, so smooth sailing all the way.  Made it there in record time.

As we passed a few of the old burial grounds along the way, I got thinking about a most unusual tombstone I took a photo of about 6 or 7 years ago during our last visit to the Cape, that of one Mrs. Martha Holbrook.  As we drove past the Truro Old North Cemetery, I was sure it was there, so I had Mady stop, and I looked for it somewhere in the front rows close to the road, where I remembered it would be, but it wasn't there.  Not a total loss, however.  Snapped these two stones before we kept going.

They are two great examples of the winged head style of tombstone art.   At the time, I didn't realize how good they would be, and with Jackie and Mady waiting patiently in the car,  I left it at that.  But the sun was great, the sky was perfect and I should have shot a few more.  Jackie said that Martha's stone was probably at the Duck Creek Cemetery we passed a few miles back and we agreed to stop there on the way home, which we did, and as soon as Mady slowed down I could see it from the road.

What fascinated me here was the face.  Quite unusual.  Never saw one quite like it on a stone.  Is it a portrait?  I tend to think so.  I'm glad the day worked out as well as it did.  Love the top two photos resulting from the wrong stop.  After a little research on the taxonomy of tombstone art, I found that these three stones all fall into the same category (winged head), but there were many more great stones I'm sorry  I missed, and I'm feeling the need  to to get back to the Cape for a few more good shots, followed by a visit the bar upstairs at the Lobster Pot in P-Town for a few bloody marys overlooking Cape Cod Bay after a hard day's work in the field.  As I was standing in front of the Pot taking this picture, I was thinking about the bloody marys, but was still pretty darn full from Arnold's and not ready for a drink.  

Hopefully next time.  Another project on my to do list.



Always looking for a good place to post orphan photos that don't seem to fit into any other posting.  Always liked this stone I shot at the Old Burial Ground in Halifax, Nova Scotia and it is another good example of the winged head motif.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Groundhog Day....

Its like I keep waking up in the middle of a bad dream.  Every time I turn around, I find myself back in NYC.  For a guy who is as sick and tired of the city as I am, or maybe we've just outgrown each other, I don't seem to be able to stay away.  Some unfinished business, maybe, or an "angry fix" at Yonah Schimmel, who knows.  A good con man always has a hook to draw you back into the game, even though you've heard that line a thousand times before.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was it was the secret pleasure of hearing myself say to Jackie, ok, so take Mercer to Delancy, right on Delancy over the Williamsburg Bridge, then you take the BQE to the LIE, et alia, who knows???

Left the city about 1:30 which seemed like a reasonable time, and traffic across the bridge was good, but it's always the BQE that trips you up, and for no reason we could discern other than "normally heavy volume" we spent about 35 minutes traveling the 2 miles from the bridge to the LIE, most of the time behind Vito's Catering truck commenting on all the new hi rise construction going on in this formerly desolate and unappealing section of Queens.


And once we hit the LIE, it wasn't much better.  Stop and go all the way to the Nassau County line, where traffic appeared to clear up for a while, then stop and go all over again, slow all the way to Suffolk, and it wasn't even rush hour.  The LIE has a million ways to break your spirit and make you glad you don't live on the island any more.

Blessed are the words scrawled across the walls of our city...

Maybe it is the resurgence of the outdoor urban art scene that has been drawing me back lately, as you might have surmised from some of my recent NYC blogs.  Thanks to Banksy, I'm sure, the walls of New York have become interesting again.  There appears to be a certain degree of sophistication that has elevated things from an angry cry for help or the drug addled ravings of those lost in a town in which it is easy to drown.

Even the scrawls seem softer and gentler...

Guess I'll be back for more...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Gamecock Cottage, Stony Brook, NY

This is a photograph I have been wanting to take for years, but seasons and circumstances have always conspired against me.  But here we are, once again at Stony Brook Harbor, mid summer, overlooking the Long Island Sound, which feeds into the harbor, and this time, time and tides were all working in my favor.

At 1:10 pm, 7/13/16, low tide drained the inlet that separates Shipman's Point from the mainland, and at a depth of no more than two feet, I was able to wade from the shore to the point, welcomed by an army of Fiddler Crabs who scattered at the sound of my arrival.  Now at long last, having the dune to myself I had clear direct access to the Gamecock Cottage.   Standing alone, it is the last of it's breed of small nautical structures that used to line the shores and marsh islands, used by the bay men who plied their nautical trades, supplying the world with fish, clams, oysters, and lobsters.  They are long gone, as is their way of life.  Why and how this one structure survived is a mystery, but survive it did, and at long last, here it is!!!!  I know you've been waiting with bated breath.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Banksy's Back in town...

As I always like to say, America is a generous place.  If you walk around in circles long enough, it will reward you with a few good photos.  So much of photography is about being in the right place at the right time, having the good sense to know it, and knowing what to do with it.

Sunday May 29th, I took the 12:05 to NYC to meet up with Jackie, hoping for a couple of good photos and a few good meals.  Mission accomplished.

The forecast was against me.  The weatherman predicted torrential rains from a storm working its way up the coast and thankfully, they were wrong (for a change).  Warm, sunny and a perfect day for ambling.

Made my way down to the lower east side and SOHO, where I feel most at home in the city these days and started walking down Rivington Street toward the Bowery  Walked this way often in the past, most recently with Gaye Applebaum in search of Morgenstern's, but for some reason never noticed Freeman Alley, a little 12 foot wide access way between two buildings, until today that is, when the sun seemed to be shining in just the right way and my eye caught this cute little piece of wall art which seems to be popping up all over the city in one form or another...

                                                                                    graffiti by Thomas Allen

And this one taken few years ago on the corner of Grand and Ludlow, graffiti by Nik Walker...

After a few very bad years when Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg went on a rampage, sandblasting and sterilizing NYC of all the wall art and graffiti they could find, somehow thanks to Banksy who became something of a phenomena and led to the re-legitimization of wall art and Mayor DiBlasi's laissez faire attitude about urban self expression, the walls of NYC are again coming alive.   There's art everywhere, if you know where to look for it.

And lately, you don't even have to look too far, which is just as well because my feet have been giving me trouble.

Finally, on the subject of not having to look too far for street art, on the corner of 5th Ave and 54th St., there was this one...

which I like to call "Humans of New York, or are they bugs" after a book of almost the same name.  Not bad for 24 hrs in NYC and with stops at Yonah Schimmel, Russ and Daughters, 2nd Ave. Deli for some pretty darn good stuffed cabbage, and finally Jackie, Geri, and I had dinner at Ben's on the way to Penn Station.

Talking about food, although I didn't eat there, this seems like a good spot to reprise my photo of Katz's Deli on Houston and Ludlow taken 11/15.  Things seem to get lost in the archives of prior postings.