The Old Photoblog November 2001

Nov 1, 2001

My first day back at work was nothing more traumatic than total and absolute boredom. There was almost nothing to do. If there had been a clock in the office, I guess I would have watched it.

My boss, who I really like, and have worked with for eight years send he was retiring in December. He had been talking about retiring from the first day I met him. And I guess he’s had enough.

Received some prints done with the Pieziography system, and wasn’t too impressed. The best I can say is that it is like the difference between a watercolor (inkjet) and an oil painting (darkroom). There is just a certain luminous quality that you get in a good darkroom black and white that I haven’t yet seen in this inkjet process. Color is another story. I have seen color inkjet prints that are every bit as beautiful as good Cibachromes.

* * *

Nov 2, 2001

For the first time since the WTC I actually did a bit of relaxed shooting this morning by the East River. Even though I wasn’t actually shooting the water, just the feeling of the breeze and the slight fog coming off the water made me feel great. Felt very loose, and calm, and seeing things sharply. I’m still shooting with Delta 400. Haven’t actually seen results of it yet. Left two rolls with the lab yesterday, and will pick it up on Monday.

* * *

eBay has really been a great way for me to get more exposure, and their feedback mechanism is a great way to get reactions from customers. I just added this link to my eBay feedback

* * *

Nov. 3, 2001

Excerpts from News Conference…

Mr. Little:

Thank you for coming. As you all know, I have recently been appointed as the leader of the I.I.I., and I am here to make an important announcement. I am sorry to have to report this, but in our opinion, a great number of deaths are likely. In fact, we believe that each one of us will die.

Reporter #1

This is very startling news, Mr. Little. Can you tell us when this will happen?

Mr. Little

Unfortunately, I cannot say when this will happen, but we believe that for most of us, it will happen within the next one hundred years..

Reporter #2

The next hundred years?

Mr. Little

That is correct.

Reporter #3

But, sir — almost nobody lives past one hundred. That’s something that we know already.

Mr. Little

Yes. That is already common knowledge. Nevertheless, I felt compelled, to make this announcement because otherwise, as people die, and if your government said nothing about it, well, we might be blamed afterwards for not releasing this information.

Reporter #1

So, you are reporting to the people of Lompac that they are not immortal.

Mr. Little

Correct. As far as we have been able to determine, through extensive testing, there are no immortal people in our country. Of course, we haven’t tested people in every country, but I can say that your tax dollars, have been hard at work and we have discovered that most people will eventually die. We have made tests on rats, goats, and other…

Reporter #2

Are we to understand that the Lompac government has been using our tax money to kill animals in order to see if…

Mr. Little

Kill animals? Of course not. No animals have been harmed in any of these studies. In fact, we haven’t spent much money at all on this. For the most part, our research consists of reading obits in the Lompac Ledger and then going to these funerals to confirm that the people mentioned are actually dead.

These studies began in 1901 under the direction of Frank Spindlehoffer Sr. and were being carried on by his grandson, Frank Spindlehoffer Jr. until he took a nasty spill in the bathtub and proved his thesis. I have now been appointed as the new President of the Immortal Investigations Institute, which is why I am here. Thank you all for coming and have a safe trip home.

***

11-04-01

Just back from the NYC marathon. Shot four rolls before the first runner even appeared. It was fantastic. I was near the Poland Springs Water people — and there was loud rock music blaring, and a nice cool beautiful day, and there were moments, as certain music blasted — ‘Born in the USA’ etc. that I had tears welling up as I shot. And then they put on what always seemed a little corny to me — “New York, New York” and I really lost it. I felt like the spirit of NYC was coming back. That the defiance was there. That fear had disapated.

The cops were nicer than usual. I was standing in the middle of first avenue for a while, and no one bothered me about a press pass. The security was there — but a feeling of compradery was also there.

I have shot the NYC marathon for years, and you’ll notice there’s not a single shot of it on the site. I am sure that today I got a lot of good stuff. I was totally in the mood, and in the zone, and before I knew it, all my film was gone. I thought my spirit and feeling for the sweetness of people was gone, but it came back stronger than ever.

This was the first time I shot it with the Leica. Nuff said.

* * *

I had, from an early age, a feeling that everything, and everyone would disappear someday. My uncle who was sitting across from me would be gone. The view from my bedroom window would disappear. The apartment would dissolve. And everyone and everything that I knew would someday be gone. And if not gone, changed. I don’t think that at the age of 14 or 15 I could put this feeling into words, as I can now, but I can remember photographing my sisters, my mother and father, my friends, with this sense of trying to capture them before they evaporated into time.

The reason that I write this now, is that I was looking through some old negatives from thirty plus years ago, and was amazed at what I was trying to do. There are many photographs which are simply my feet in the foreground, on the window sill, with the Park across the way in the distance. Over and over, I took this shot. There are shots of my Uncle eating a sandwich at the table, where I seem to be about two feet from him and he is giving me that look of annoyance that I remember so well. I try now, to understand where this feeling came from. Even today, I seem to be attracted to just ordinary things that are around me that I feel will soon be gone.

Some of it must go back to the early years on University Avenue — where my world, my apartment, my school, and the things that I loved as a kid, disappeared as the neighborhood ‘changed’. We lived on the border of what was mostly an Irish neighborhood, that very quickly was eaten up by the projects, and crime, and when I was around 13 we picked our things up, and moved. By the time we moved, murders in the neighborhood were commonplace. The building that I grew up was abandoned. Almost the entire street across from where I lived was filled with empty buildings used for shooting galleries. The deli was gone. The candy store burned down. The place where I used to take piano lessons was leveled. And for a long time, that street, the street where I played, and dreamed — became one of those South Bronx pictures that you used to see in the papers.

I never worked in color. The images of my childhood are still in black and white. Color was something the neighbors had in their new t.v. set. My dreams and memories, the early films I saw, were all in black and white. When I see color photographs today, with their vivid eye-popping saturation, they don’t look like the world I see, or the world I want to remember.

* * *

11-05-01

I’ve been to this spot in Central Park a million times, but this time, something magical happened — surface tension on the pond — lighting, clouds, and the city in the background, and then turning the print upside down!

Here it is. I haven’t actually printed it yet, just scanned it, but I like the feeling where the leaves floating on the pond seem like stars.

11-06-01

Phew. The Big Order (33 prints) arrived in England in good shape, and the customer is happy! Here’s an excerpt:

“Photographs arrived yesterday!! Also had delivery of the frames from Nielsen (profile 73 which is quite deep).
We both loved the the prints which more than met our expectations. Obviously the internet does not begin to do them justice with a lot of the detail being lost. Am very happy with the size as well.”

Although I packaged it as best I could — I had nightmares that it would be destroyed in shipping, and then what would I do?

Now I have another four or five prints to get in the mail, and then I’ll get a chance to print the new thing (which I feel like calling ‘Starry Day’ .

Results from the Delta 400 film are promising. The speed actually seems to be higher than 400! This is the first 400 film where I might actually rate it higher than 400 for normal processing!

* * *

11-07-01

Asked my boss again if he would fire me. Two days back at the job, and I am determined to leave. Just too boring for words. Irony — everyone is so concerned about the economy and their jobs and I want to be fired. I don’t think I’d be eligible for unemployment insurance because of the photo business, (although I’m not sure about that) but I would like to get severance pay after 9 years; and make my 401K match for the year.

But I’m ready to cut back on the number of channels I’m getting on the cable box; pick up a bunch of rice and noodles; and as I told my sister and friends — you may find me dropping by more often than usual for a meal. Let’s see what can be worked out.

* * *

11-08-01

I had been having this email conversation with Grant about Piezography/inkjet prints etc. and I had received one inkjet from him (not Piezo) and a few from J. which were done with the Piezo process — and then I sent him two prints from my darkroom and here’s the reaction:

Dave,
Got your prints today. The steps of the met print is amazing. The black is just so, BLACK! It’s like there’s a life and a texture in the black areas of the print, whereas in an inkjet, the black areas are very dull and flat. The picture itself is fantastic as well. Thanks for sending it. I’ll have to see about doing some real printing…

To be honest, I was hoping that the Piezo prints would blow me away and make it feasible to toss the darkroom stuff, but no such luck.

* * *

I see, looking back at my journals that Dec. 25th will make it two years since I put up the web-site and I feel like its a good time to look back and take stock of the experience…

For all my complaining and whining in the journals — it has been a good two years. I remember when I started just wondering if any print would sell. Whether the whole thing wasn’t a dumb idea. Whether the work involved in making this a ‘business’ would detract from the enjoyment of photography. And the answer to that, at least today, is no — I am still as determined and excited, maybe more than before about the possibilities. The things that irked me, many having to do with packaging, and matting, have mostly been solved. The question about whether anyone would visit the site without advertising has been answered — yes — they will.

The big question, about whether it is possible to survive from sales has yet to be answered, but I am close enough to it that I am ready to take the leap of faith into the unknown. What have I learned?

– I can cut my own window mats.

– I can attract more visitors to the site by using eBay to sell and to market.

– You cannot, at least I cannot, sell expensively priced prints through the web, though it can be done in galleries.

– It is possible to do all of this from a tiny studio apartment, so long as you are willing to ‘think outside the box’ literally.

– This journal, which I thought would be a chore, is not at all. I have always kept journals, so there was nothing new about this, other than complete strangers are reading it.

– No one who orders prints is out to ‘rip me off’. In two years, there has not been a single returned print, or stolen credit card number or anything like that.

– And the bottom line, is that turning this into a business — has not killed the fun of it. I remember saying to myself that so long as this thing remained exciting and fun, I would stick with it. Though I can see how it could. I am lucky in that I like doing boring grunt work (or at least I can put up with it). There is no glamour to it. There is nothing all that ego-gratifying about standing in a gallery and pointing at work. In fact, so far, the worst experiences have all come from the cocktail type parties at galleries.

– What else have I learned? There are a lot of people who want to do this, but are not willing to spend the time learning the little things. I have received many emails from people, and generally, the most illiterate and ill-thought out ones were from photography students who I think were trying to get me to do their homework for them.

– If anyone remembers the movie ‘Treasure of Siera Madre’ — and you think of Humphry Bogart (Fred C. Dobbs) and Tim Holt learning what it really means to prospect for gold — that its mostly labor, that you don’t just stumble over nuggets and pick them up from the ground.

Well that’s is the paradigm for the photography business. And despite the labor, the old prospector is always ready to go back for more if someone will give him a stake.

* * *

Question:

I was wondering through B&W sites while I had down time at work today, researching for a shoot I have this weekend. I happened across your website and found a picture called “Newspaper Reader”. I was wondering what camera you used and all the other juicy stuff that made this the most striking photograph on the site (to my eyes anyway).

Answer:

Simply the result of shooting on the subways for about ten years.

But here are the details —

Leica M6 with a 35mm/f1.4

Open all the way at f1.4, handheld, and probably about 1/15 of second (hence the blurring of those just walking by).

But the secret — if there was a secret — was that the guy with the paper and the umbrella, was very strong side-backlighting that combined with very narrow depth of field gives the effect.
* * *

Printed the City, Clouds, Sky shot– (not much of a name) — but heck of a good print. Looks almost exactly as it does on the web. I remember that at the time, I had been just sitting on this rock looking at the way the surface tension on the pond was slightly distorting the clouds. I actually took two shots. The first one had a touch of the buildings, and then the idea of placing the buildings more prominently must have struck me because the second shot is just right.

Experiences with Delta 400 are making me happy, although I still think it is actually faster then the 400 its rated at.

* * *

11-09-01

Brilliant. After two years of writing my name and address onto Fedex labels, I just called them and asked for labels with my name on it. No problem. Should have them in 3-5 days. I don’t know about others but I love the Fedex people. The place where I drop the packages off is generally empty or near empty. I just sent something to the Netherlands and the guy on the other end just tracked it and said it left the States already.

* * *

Received two huge boxes of mailers from Brasspack today. And even figured out where to put them without fearing they’d come crashing down on my head. One thing is a box of 100 13 x 17″ flat mailers. And the other is a box of fifty 22 x 27 flat mailers for the big stuff. I have three large prints to send out — lets see how that works.

* * *

11-10-01

Packed my first two 20 x 24 mats into the BrassPack mailer. Not bad. Made some cardboard corners for the edges of the mats, and put in a few pieces of fedex cartons, and then taped an additional mailer to the package. Not bad. Now lets see what it costs to send it fedex to NYC.

The whole process took me about fifteen minutes and looks better than the old method I was using of taping and cutting cardboard boxes which I think used to take me about an hour to put together. Exciting stuff, huh?

* * *

Just dropped off the prints at Fedex — and the price is not bad: $10. That’s for two large prints, with the extra mailer on the front. So with packaging, my cost is probably about $15. I’m a happy guy.

* * *

11-11-01

Dear Dave,

Just a few quick questions for a paper I’m writing on my favorite photographers:

1. What do you like about photography?

2. What is your favorite part of the camera? The lens or the shutter?

3. Other than your own favorite photographers, who would you say has influenced your photography the most?

4. Do you think that black and white photography is more emotional than colored photography, and if so, why and if not why not?

Thanks in advance, and please answer as quickly as possible because my paper is already two weeks late.

* * *

I’m thinking about breaking up the home page into two pages so there isn’t so much stuff on it. Sort of a page one and page two. Page two would have links to all the other articles, bio etc. This would make the front page simpler and easier to find what is important. On the other hand, it may screw things up with the search engines which have been kind to me lately. Do I risk it?

* * *

11-12-01

Well, it’s 7am and I’m getting ready for my second week back at the 3-day a week job, so let me dash off something here… The picture of the City-Clouds was luckier than I thought, because in addition to the idea of turning it upside down, it is probably the only shot on 6 rolls of Delta 400 film where the development (way over) didn’t ruin it. That shot is apparantly a result of so many accidents including my own ability to see the accidents, that I remain flabergasted by it.

A friend (you know who you are) apparantly out of boredom (again you know how bored you get) went through the images on my site and quantified them by when they were taken and with what, and came to the conclusion that about 1/3 were now taken with the Leica M6. I don’t know if this is true or not, but considering that I have had the M6 for less than 6 months — that would be an amazing statistic, and as my friend said to me, “I guess you’ve found your camera.”

I do feel like “I found my camera”. I held on to the G2 just in case this was a passing fancy, and also because it simply isn’t worth that much in re-sale. But this week I’ll sell the G2 back (two bodies, all the lenses) back, and see if I can get enough out of that for either another M6 body, or the 21mm. I think that Ken Hansen offered me $1900, and B&H offered $1850. I bet that with the economy going down their prices will be less.

You know that song, “Band on the Run”? by McCartney… I have the strong desire to write something called, “Taliban on the Run” — but I will stop myself…

If my 3 days at work are as boring as last week, then I will have to take up doing the Times crossword puzzle again, which for me is a sign of utmost apathy.

* * *

I joined the mailing list for the LUG (Leica Users Group) yesterday. Just out of curiosity I guess, and since I’m really not a ‘joiner’ I thought I’d force myself.

Now, to the age old question du jour, or longer: WHAT IS STREET PHOTOGRAPHY? Does it mean that it must be taken on a street, or a sidewalk, or in the city? I admit, that I don’t know. Well, time for breakfast, but I would like to get back to this later. I remember the old arguments between the pictorialists and the realists like Adams — (although he had his own pictorialish phase) — the only thing that I can say about street photography is what it is not. Ansel Adams is not a street photographer. Gary Winnogrand was. These are the extremes. There is often a hard edge to the street photographer. Many shots are taken, and culled from all this are shapes and tableux that have some emotional imact. The reflexes are supposed to be quick. The movements snappy. Yikes… got to get to work, more later, maybe…

At any rate, the reason I ruminate on these classifications is really because I want to say that I’m getting sick of street photography — you know that shot where you just point the camera at people walking along the street, and usually get a kind of numb or bitter look because you are invading their space and they know it.

* * *

Dave,

I wanted to let you know that I have received the beautiful print. You packaged it very well. [The 11 x 14 of Promenade.]

Also, for encouragement and affirmation, my husband saw it and asked if it was an Ansel Adams picture… wonderful photography,

Thank You again.

Best Regards,

L.
* * *

11-13-01

Yesterday, my boss walked into my office and said that he had written out his new plan which included having my position terminated, and was I sure that I wanted to do this? Should he send the e-mail? I put my hands together in prayer and said, “Yes, please, absolutely.” He smiled and we both said that our era was over at this place, and he went back to his office and pressed the ‘send button’. Now I have to wait for the reaction of his boss.

I have been with the agency (sounds like the CIA doesn’t it) for almost nine years. It has been a thankless position. We made timesheet programs, and made sure the email system worked, and did workflow systems, and for a few years it was an exciting place to work. Users disliked us, or at least treated us badly. We gave them systems that we thought were making life easier, and they resisted like crazy. When we first presented them with the timesheet system, the creatives in the agency used to slip little notes under my door. The one that I remember was a picture of a clock with a dagger going through it, and the caption read, “I thought we had driven a stake through its heart!”

But as new people came to the agency, and as these systems were now de facto way of doing work, no one complained. And when we wanted to change the system to a web-based system, the same complaints took place. Why are you changing the system? We love the old system.

I sat around with my boss and went over what I had learned about management since I was there:

1. In order to get anything done, you need to be willing to make mistakes. You need to be willing to get fired if necessary. And I can remember sitting in these big meetings with the bigwigs saying to myself, if I tell them something, they’re not going to like it. But I’m going to tell them anyway.

2. Working in M.I.S. department, you must give people a hurdle to reach before you begin work for them. People will walk into your office with all sorts of ideas, and they will all be important, and they will all need them ASAP. So you sy to them, “That sounds like a great idea. What I need is for you to write up a one page description of the benefits of this system and perhaps one or two mock-ups of what the user screen should look like, or what the report should look like.”

And that hurdle would kill 90% of the requests. Once you asked them to do any sort of work, the ideas vanished, and became less important. The 10% who went through the trouble of actually doing some work, meant that they were serious about the project.

3. And most important — in most cases, the personalities of the people you work with, the people you hire, are more important than the particular skillset they might have at the time they are hired. The right people around you and you can soar. I gave many programmers their first job. I took them quite often while they were still in school. The only thing I looked for was the desire to learn new things. Once or twice this backfired. But for the most part, it worked well, and there was a tremendous loyalty that came from having given the person a chance. Now many of those that I hired, who had been students working after school in Pizza places and hardware stores, are making six figures in brokerage firms.

* * *

I was thinking of opening an eBay store but after thinking about it and reading through a bunch of discussions about it, I’m not sure it makes sense. I already have a store. I’ve put on my marketing cap, and I think what I’ll do instead is simply offer a few of the limited edition prints for auction each week, and feature them on my home page instead of the web-discount thing I’ve got now — which doesn’t work very well. I think the monthly idea behind that doesn’t work because there isn’t a feeling that the BUY is going to go away. And its actually easier for me to list things on eBay then to keep changing what is on sale on my site. In other words, I’ll put those small images of what is for sale on eBay on my home page with a link to the sale.

* * *

Here are a couple of new things off the first roll of HP5 Plus — basically just experiments, but there are a few interesting things here perhaps. Lips is somewhat startling at first glance, and slumping man is more subway stuff. All taken on one roll of film on my way to work. Its pretty gray stuff. Probably not as sharp as TMY. I’m going to do a few prints from the stuff, but it looks like I’m probably going to go back to TMY, shot at 200, and under-developed. This basically minimizes grain, gives the best shadow detail while still controling highlights. I guess I’ve just been sort of lazy about it lately, hoping to be able to shoot at 400.

Slumped Man

Doorway

Flat Iron 1

Gargoyle

Lips

Glare

* * *

Dave,
I received the prints today and am very, very pleased with them. It’s not all that easy to get a good night shot with detail, especially one with snow in it — but you did it.
Packaging was great, no dinged corners. [My new mailers from Brasspack are working out well!]
I hesitate to offer unsolicited comments, but if I may, I would like to say something about the limited editions.
If you get a really hot shot, why don’t you limit the edition to 25 prints. Then, if it sells out and someone buys a print from an original buyer at a higher price than you sold it, and this can be documented, you have gone from selling photographs to selling investments.
I realize the odds may be a bit high, but I certainly think they are much better than lottery odds.
My 2¢ worth.
Again, many thanks. I left two positive feedbacks [on EBay].

Much success in the future.

M.

My reply:

First off — thank you very much.

The problem that I have with limited editions — is not from a marketing point of view — but simply it means that perhaps my best work can only be held by say 25 people. This strikes me as odd, considering that part of the beauty of a good negative is that you can make many many prints (although in reality each one is a little different). There are many famous photographers who have not done limited editions for this very reason — the one that comes to mind first is Cartier-Bresson.

Maybe this is a mistake, in terms of the business side of it — but I am much happier to see 500 prints in the hands of people than 25. Also, even the limited edition thing is really a kind of fraud, because what many photographers do is print an edition of 25, and then if it sells out, print a second edition of 25 etc.

When I started, I did a few prints at the limited edition size of 500, but those are the only ones that I’m actually still selling as limited editions.

Dave

* * *

Dave,
I understand your problems with limited editions. Many, many years ago I printed for a photographer who had “limited editions”, and when one sold out, he’d start another edition. Then, and now, I consider it a complete lack of integrity.
Furthermore, in this litigious society, I would think that any photographer who started another edition could run the risk of being sued by an irate customer.
I was looking again at the detail in the front of the Flatiron Building — really remarkable, especially considering the dry down.
The best to you.

M.

* * *
11-14-01

Changed the home page to feature the prints that are up for auction on eBay. This may be a fluke, but sold 4 or 5 prints of Promenade.

* * *

Had a horrible time at the periodontist this morning — nearly freaked out in the chair. I’ve always been phobic about dentists — and they were digging around for 30 minutes — and my heart started pounding and I said, “Stop, I’ve got to get up”. So I get up and take a drink of water, and then back in the chair.

I guess I was in the chair about 40 minutes, but it seemed like hours. A lot of scraping with that cavitron instrument of torture. Maybe I swallowed too much novacaine or something. Felt pretty shakey the rest of the day.

My parents tell me that once when I was a kid, I ran out of the dentist’s office and the dentist ran out onto the street chasing me around in circles. I don’t remember this, but I believe it.

Some of these dental hygenists are the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever met, and I figure its because they’ve taken out all their aggression on my gums. I once asked the dental hygenist if she had ever thought of taking up sculpture. She laughed. I said, really you could really put all that aggression to a more artistic use. Maybe not.

* * *
Also sold six prints to someone in Texas who believe it or not wanted smaller prints. That’s the first time anyone has specifically asked for 5 x 7’s.

* * *

11-15-01

Just put up Midnight at Grand Central, 2/500 on eBay. This is one of those prints that you really don’t get the effect of on the web — in my not so humble opinion. But what the heck. The first print sold at about $600 at my first show. Its opening price on eBay is $76. Its just one of those prints that I really think are special and would like to get into people’s homes. Especially seems poignent after Sept. 11th.

* * *

Hi Dave – Just wanted to let you know I received the photos this afternoon [Promenade and Equitable and Flat Iron] and they are absolutely beautiful, I cannot wait to see them framed and displayed. Thank you again for your help…The packaging was great, they arrived in perfect condition.

Best Regards,
V.

Ah, heaven. My new packaging for large prints is working fine.

***

I guess these accolades are boring to read through… maybe I’ll make a separate page for them. But what is great is that I am now selling the larger sizes, and that is where a lot of the quality and effort really come through. When I have time, I really would like to try a few of these at even larger sizes, say 20 x 24 prints — but I don’t have the right size trays, and am still not sure I have room for 4 20 x 24 trays. I might try the one tray method suggested by Lloyd.

* * *

After two years of selling, and ten years of shooting, I am really finding an audience, and am starting to see that I may be successful at this. That, I am sure, will bring my fifth mid-life crisis. I have generally run away from success in the past. I can tell a lot of stories about getting promotions, and refusing them or quitting as things were going good. I am as afraid of success as I am as fearful of failure.

* * *

QUESTION DU JOUR

Should I just keep sticking some of the nice things people say when they receive the prints in here… or set up a separate page called, Nice Things People Have Said …?

It might get rather boring to keep putting this stuff in the journals, plus I don’t know how many people (o.k. my business hat is on) actually read the journals. Maybe I should put a ‘nice quote of the day’ on the home page. Too slick for my own good? When I started the site, I used to have a page called ‘Dear Dave’ where I put the things that irked me in people’s emails up. Some of them were really harmless. Some of them were pretty funny. But I think it sort of stiffled people’s writing — uh oh, I might wind up on the Dear Dave page!

Anyway — matting and packaging today, and should have all the big prints ready for Fedex today.

* * *

The consensus is to keep putting reactions in… so here’s another that just came in today.

Hi Dave, I purchased an 8×10 of the same image a month ago. Really love the photograph. [Benches]

I’m looking at this purchase as my first real investment in art. A numbered print! I keep my 8×10 at work on my office wall and I’ll keep this new one at home. As I look into my crystal ball I see a very bright future for you and your work. I believe it will all come together and your name will go down in history with the other great
photographers.

J.P.

* * *
Dave,

I think that both feedback from your customers and visitors and your own reactions to what they write are important parts of this story. I suspect that more readers than just this one are watching the little drama of your
life and work. Maybe we’ve fantasized about doing the same thing you’re doing–walking away from corporate life and trying to make a living doing what we love to do. We’ve been to your shows with you. We cheered when you had a big day selling out on the sidewalk. We need to know what kind of reaction you’re getting from customers. We want to listen as you think out loud about pricing and packaging. (Makes it sound a little bit like that movie, The Truman Show, huh?)

M.M.

* * *

I put up ‘Midnight Grand Central Station’ on eBay — but this print is and always has been a problem to sell over the web. I just don’t seem to be able to get the detail to show properly. Yet the first and only time I took this print out to a show, it sold for quite a lot (don’t remember what but maybe $600). What I might do, next time is use that picture service on eBay where you can show various details of the picture. That’s one of the drawbacks of selling on the web — if the accumulation of a lot of detail is important — forget it. Another print like that which is really amazing is White Mountain, because you can just make out these tiny, tiny rock climbers inside a dark crevice, and I would say that each rock climber is about three grains of silver. When I first started with the web thing, I looked around for java applets that could be used to zoom in and out of a photo. These things do exist, but either they were too expensive, or people said that they crashed their computers. So I gave up on the idea. Its sort of like the pictures that sell the best on the web have the simplest, and most dramatic lines to them. If you removed the detail and just kept the major lines, there is a simplicity that can be understood. Think about it — best sellers:

Promenade — a bunch of dramatic trees in the foreground, and two converging lines that take you to the horizon.

Benches — almost the same classic type of composition. It would work equally well as a sketch. The lines of the wood drawing your eye past the blocks of benches to the horizon.

Night Storm — same thing.

But the Sprinkler and Tree which I really like to look at because of the splattering effects which you really have to look at closely — doesn’t seem dramatic enough on the web.

And the other thing that works well is faces. So long as the expressions can be seen you’re okay.

* * *

11-16-01

“A woman was seriously injured after being pushed into the path of a subway train at Grand Central Terminal last night by an emotionally distrubed homeless man, the police said” – The New York Times, Robert F. Worth

First off — there is that fact-stuffed, unemotional opening sentence that the Times is famous for. It glides ever so lightly over the horror like a skater on very thin ice. Who? Where? What? When? Why? Just the facts, ‘mam. There is no “Why?” That can never be answered.

This woman was struck by the number 6 train, the same train that is the subject of most of my images. How many times have I wondered, if I were pushed onto the tracks, would I have the presence of mind to roll over and try and squeeze myself beneath the platform? Or would the timing of the push just be too close to the oncoming train? What if I touched the third-rail, and was electrocuted and then mangled?

And that fear, that someone will come up behind you, and push you down onto the tracks, where you will try to get up, as the train roars at you, but you can’t quite reach up and get back onto the platform quickly enough — that nightmare will be raised again in New York today. The usual New York fear of death by being run over by tons of screeching metal will — at least for a few days — replace the fear of the terrorists.

* * *

11:22 am

Been up since about 5:30. Have been awakening very early lately, and then feeling lethargic for part of the day. Bad dreams. This is unusual for me — I don’t remember my dreams that often but now every morning I awaken with the most weird dreams. This morning I was in an elevator with my mother. I was working at the ad agency. And I kept trying to tell her that there were these two men who were after me and she kept laughing about it. Then I’m in a cab going to the United Nations building…o.k. ok., that’s the plot from North by Northwest. I’m not going to put my nightmares into this journal.

* * *

Did a couple of prints this morning, because I had to do the Flat Tire print for an order (I really do like this one) — anyway, some of the new stuff which was shot on HP5 — yikes, grain like boulders. I realize that in the last month I’ve tried Tri-x, Delta 400 and now HP5 Plus, and to be honest I’ve done better with TMY. I know that everyone has their recipes, and that any of these films will give great results etc. etc. — but I’m too pooped to look for the perfect film. So the TMY goes back in the camera.

* * *

6:10 pm

Slept a good deal of the day — seem to have a bad sore throat. Then got around to organizing some of my negatives, yes actually filed them away. You have to understand that I probably have ten thousand negatives in the house, so when I say that I filed them away, I’m only talking about those strips that are considered ‘portfolio’ material. I mostly only deal with the tip of the iceberg.

Maybe that amounts to two hundred strips of 6 (for the 35mm stuff). So now the glasine (sp?) envelopes are in little tabbed cardboardy things that I got from Light Impressions, and sorted by name. During this process I came across a few that I had printed but not put on the site, so I added them under new pictures. I did the one on the Staten Island ferry years ago with the Canonet, and it holds up really well at 16 x 20. What makes the picture is not so much the composition but the look — whether it is sadness, contemplation, reverence — I’m not sure, on the fellow in the sports jacket (left foreground.) I think it was Sunday. And I’m sure that this was on the way back to NYC. For some reason I was riding the Ferry back and forth for a few hours that day.

The other shot is nearly impossible to print. Its too easy to simply silhouette the kid in the foreground. But there is detail there. Maybe I’ll go back and give it another try. The shot reminds me (and of course this is just my association) of pictures taken in the Warsaw Ghetto. There’s a feeling of taking a respite from the destruction of some catostrophic event — and nothing at all fun about it. (That’s just my feeling). In fact, these kids were in the park on a hot summer day and running and playing and having a great time. Count on me to make associations with that and the holocaust. (Which was not an afterthought at all, but a feeling that I was after at the time I was shooting!)

* * *

11-17-01

You can probably skip all this stuff I wrote today… Looking it over, it isn’t particularly funny, and falls somewhere between banal and morbid. That’s just the way it goes some days, especially when I’ve got a sore throat…

From the NY Times, today — Richard Lezin Jones. Day two of the story about the woman pushed under a train.

“There was the time in 1987 that he fired a shotgun at the tracks of the No. 7 train in Midtown. There was the time last year when he groped a passenger on a subway car. He ended up in a mental hospital again.”

You know, about thirty years ago, I worked as what they called a Mental Health Therapy Aide at Brooklyn State Hospital. These types of characters were brought in all the time, but in those days, they were kept around and off the streets. Brooklyn State Hospital was a violent and ugly place, and like something out of Cukoo’s Nest, it was often hard to tell the inmates from the staff.

I was on the night shift. After one day of training, I have no idea what my job was supposed to be. I guess make sure no one killed anyone or themselves. At night the worst of the staffers were there. People who were one step above common street thugs. It was common for them to steal drugs from the cabinets, and pass them through the grate in the window to buyers. It was just as common to come in and go to sleep for the night.

The first day I arrived, they took us up to a ward where there were about two hundred men who were in the last stages of syphillis. Many of us left the room and lost our lunches. There was this kind of hardened shock treatment that the management tried on us. Many decided not to go back after that show.

I don’t think this story is going anywhere — but for all the sweetness or beauty that may show up in some of my photos, there has been a hard, scary experience. For example, there was a man, a very old man, with swollen feet, and each morning I would put his socks and slippers on for him. Always, the slight smell of urine and aftershave. Memories like that, jump out at me when I read these stories about the crazies in New York. Maybe there’s no point to putting them in here, but these are tidbits from my life and I feel like getting them down.

* * *

7pm. Still somewhat lethargic, but the sore-throat seems to be going away. Except for a bit of packing and shipping, didn’t do much of anything today. Still, just about all the orders are done and on their way.

* * *

Looking forward to the Dylan concert Monday night. (Yes, he’s still alive and still writes ambiguous but memorable lyrics). He’s been to the other side of life and back again more times than I’ve been to the supermarket.

Dylan is a giant in my book.

* * *

Web stuff — the site was switched today from Cybercash (out of business now) to Verisign Payflow (they bought that from another company) without incident. Even had an order on the site today, and it worked fine. Then I got a letter saying that the company that was doing the actual processing, I guess you’d call them the Merchant Bank, had been taken over by another entity. Whatever. So long as the money ends up in my bank account somehow because I’m gonna need it soon.

* * *

11-18-01

e-mail about the Dylan concert… i guess we were looking for a nice place to eat before the concert and I suggested a steak house nearby — Keens — why? because it was the only place I could find in Zaggats that was nearby and not a clip joint. So I suggested Keens and this is the beginning of of e-mails between myself and Andy:

Me:There’s not a lot in that neighborhood that is decent… but Keens might be the best bet — if we can still get a reservation… I don’t really know if I want a giant steak before the concert… but i bet its a nice place to hang out…

Andy:I wouldn’t mind a thick slab of bloody red meat amidst clouds of thick cigar smoke. You can deliver me to the Garden on a stretcher. Actually, that sounds fine if you want to call for reservations for 5:30. (I’ll take double dose of my cholesterol pills and a surgical mask)

Me: yikes, that sounds disgusting.
it wasn’t really the meat, so much as the idea of sitting around in Leather Chairs, like something out of Sherlock Holmes. I think what we really need is to hang at the ALL VICTORIAN CHAIR CLUB where you snort from Brandy
snifters or is it sniff brandy snorters, and fall asleep in the big easy chair. this seems like the perfect prelude to Dylan concert, and perhaps a good after-lude also… speaking of ludes, are they still made? but I digresss…

* * *

Found myself walking around the house shooting stuff like the toothpaste, and the shaving mirror, a corner of the garbage pail, the dishes in the sink etc. and then found this quote by William Blake, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower”

* * *

Dear Mr. Beckerman,
My name is [edited out]. I’m in a photography class at my high school and we’re doing projects. The project is to emulate a black and white photographer that does landscapes. I went to your site and liked your work. So, I was wondering if I could emulate you. I have some questions. What is your style? What kind of camera(s) do you use? What do you like most about photography? And if there is any other information that you would like share with me, I’d love to know. Thank you so much.

I replied: look at the journals and various other articles on the site and that each picture gave info on the camera that was used etc.

Hey Mr. Beckerman,
Thank you so much for replying. A lot of the photographers that I e-mail never write me back. I have some other questions. You don’t have to answer some of them. Where and when were you born? I know you live in New York, but I wasn’t sure if you were born there. Are you married and do you have kids? Do you have any pets? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Again, thank you so much for responding. I look forward to hearing from you again.

[this is an actual question, that I have not made up]

And my reply:

I hope you understand, but many of these questions are a bit too personal and can’t imagine how they would help write a paper on me … but here’s what I will tell you:

Born in the Bronx, NYC, 1951

I am a little weary of getting these requests from students, mainly because I have in the past given out a lot of information, and in return I just asked that the student send me a copy of the paper.

So far, in two years, not a single student has done that.

So maybe you’ll be the first.

* * *

I will let you know if I get any response to this. But so far, not a single student (with the exception of the fellow in Canada who did the transformation of ‘The Hug’) has sent me a copy of a paper. Perhaps this stuff is just a scam to find out personal information about me for whatever reason.

* * *

11-19-01

I took this from the guestbook — it is also a very common question:

I love youer work! I have just one question, though: A problem I seem to come across when dealing with others in my own photography… How do you not piss them off?! I’m a traveling artist, and I find that, in many of my travels, I see shots that are simply magnificent: detailing emotion, mood, light – without any help of meaters or models – but when I go to take the picture, it stops. The people move, or get upset and the mood changed. How can I avoid this problem? It would help me greatly if you could respond… -or anyone who may have suggestions on what I can do to capture the moment more spurattically… thank you.

* * *

One thing is, I don’t know what ‘meaters’ are.

* * *

I offered the following advice:

How do you shoot people, strangers, without disturbing the mood, scene, facial expressions etc.

Answer — it ain’t easy. But there are techniques that can be used. They break down into two camps:

Stealthy and non-stealthy.

Stealthy means that you are in some way not making it obvious that you are taking the picture. This might mean that the camera is hidden. Or that the camera is hanging from your neck, but you aren’t looking through it. Or that you are holding the camera in your hand, but not looking through it. Very often this type of photography depends on using a wide angle lens, so that there is a great depth of field, and being very close to your subjects… perhaps three feet away. Read about hyper-focal distance.

Non-stealthy
You must be quick, and you must know ahead of time exactly what you are going to shoot, and how it will be composed, and you’d better be pre-focused (either hyperfocal, or you have focused on something else in the same place of focus, or man you are just quick). The camera goes to your eye, and you shoot before the expression or the mood changes, and you smile, and relax, and hope for the best. Maybe you smile and relax first actually.

Both methods mean that you will be shooting lots of film and will be lucky to get a good shot. In my opinion, this type of photography is the hardest thing to do, and is generally not appreciated. For every shot of people on the subway or elsewhere, I have sold thirty times as many pictures of the trees in Central Park (which of course weren’t moving very much and didn’t care at all that I was shooting them).

There are other tricks that can help. For example, DRESS LIKE A TOURIST, even in your own city. And carry a map with you. Look like your lost all the time. Do not, in anyway look like a professional.

If you have a boyfriend, brother, girlfirend etc. significant other, other type, — and you see a scene or subject that interests you, again, play the tourist and tell your friend to stand near that scene, and it may look like you are taking a tourist type picture, but you really are focused on the people behind your friend.

Some situations you simply can’t do. Others are easy. For example, the easiest place to shoot without anyone caring is at a large public gathering — street fair, ballgame, etc. An event. No one really knows what exactly your shooting. People are drinking beer and eating ices, and could generally care less that you are trying to steal a bit of their soul.

Crowded places are not the same as events.

The hardest situations, that I have found, are on the subway. Although these are crowded places, people do not expect you to be taking their picture in this normal setting. Going to work in the morning is not an event. It should be an olympic event, but so far the olympic committee hasn’t taken it up — (bribes from the straphangers union anyone?).

One more thing. A quiet camera is always important advantage especially more the stealthy method. When someone hears a loud pop going off from beneath your coat — and the heavy slap of a reflex mirror, the fact that they camera is hidden, or hanging from your neck is not going to help you much, and in fact you may find yourself in a mildly threatening situation. And remember this, let a smile be your friend…

* * *

So yesterday, I’m sort of just lying around watching t.v. all day, when I get the idea to try and photograph objects in the house. In fact, to tell you the truth, it all started when I was taking a bath, and I sort of stuck my big toe in the faucet — which is right out of the old Dick Van Dyke show, and then I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to photograph my foot getting stuck in the faucet like Mary Tyler Moore. But don’t worry. I’m not that far gone. But I was thinking about stuff like that. What about trying to photograph the beginning of the shower scene from Psycho — that point of view shot where you see the water from the showerhead coming down at you, and then I started thinking, how the heck did they do that without getting the camera wet? I’m not taking my M6 inside the shower. No way.

So I put these ideas behind me. But a few hours later, I had this odd desire to photograph my bare feet, but in some jumbled up way. Something that would sort of make you just a little bit queezy — and then it hit me. How about putting my feet or foot up, with the spinning ceiling fan in the background. The blades would just be slightly blurred, and it would all be upside down, and maybe I could throw some interesting sidelight on the fan… O.K. I admit to doing this, and worse. I photographed the sink full of dishes. That’s right, the dishes that have been piled up and unwashed for at least a week now — became fascinating to me. I know you’re thinking that Dave has lost it — but wasn’t the idea I was preaching about finding heaven in a grain of sand, if taken for real, meaning that there could be found beauty in the dishes or an upside down foot? [actually I doubt it very much].

* * *

Got my check for consulting now and then from the agency. I was hoping that they’d give it to me without taking out taxes and all that, but no — 50% more or less got taken out — so I’m not as well off as I thought I’d be. Still waiting for the axe to fall over here at the agency. Like everything else, here, it falls in slow motion.

* * *

The flurry of Ebay sales dried up — but there were a few more sales from the website itself, and that’s great. My birthday is coming up soon (Sagittarius) and I’m asking everyone for money to launch me into the new year and the new career.

* * *

Tonight’s Dylan concert. Not sure what I’ll be able to do with a 90mm, although it is nice to have the F2. Will try and sneak up as close as I can.

* * *

How much do you want to bet that if I were to enact the most famous sit-com scenes with myself in the title roles, and photograph them that I would cause a stir? This would be my ‘urine in a mayonaise jar’ period. I don’t mean that I would dress the part or anything like that, I just mean that I would photograph myself in my normal clothing or lack of it as is appropriate to the scene.

1. Laura’s Toe Caught In Faucet

2. Lucy’s arm in the slop of Chocolate, or better yet, on top of the Empire State Building with a Ray Gun (might be dangerous these days)

3. Ralph Kramden giving the racoon salute?
(there should be something better for the Honeymooners)

* * *

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Dave

My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a photographer and programmer working in New York City.