With what’s going on in the mid-east, I don’t really feel like writing anything today.
It’s interesting that I haven’t taken any trips since I left work. Every time I’m making plans, it seems that something comes up. I’m wondering if, somehow psychologically, I’m nervous about leaving the business on its own.
Strange huh? Remember the three fire-building stages? I don’t, but there’s one stage where you are hunched over in the woods fanning or blowing on the twigs, and you’ve got to keep the fire going by gently placing twigs and then the next size wood at just the right place and at just the right time.
That’s what “the business” still feels like. Sort of like leaving a pet alone for the weekend.
Who knows what you’d find when you got back.
This is not the reality. I can check my email wherever I go, pretty much — but then you lose the sense of really “getting away”.
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Speaking of pets, I’m thinking seriously about getting a dog. My sister was dog-sitting for a labrador and I just fell in love with it. A labrador is probably too big for my apartment, but maybe a cocker spaniel? We always had a dog in the house when we were growing up, and now that I’m not tied to the 9-5 world, I’d have time to walk the dog etc.
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Sitcom City: When I was a hotshot vice-president of something technological, I used to bring my laundry in to be done. Cost me about fifteen or twenty bucks to get washed and dried.
Today, bored with photography, bored with writing, bored with cooking chicken, I decide to wander down to the basement where there are two coin-operated laundry machines. It’s a little scary down there at first — the laundry room in an apartment building is always the place where dead bodies are found. And it is dark down there.
A sign on the outside reads, “PLEASE TURN OFF LITE AFTER USE” in a shakey hand.
Hey, that’s my philosophy these days as well.
I stub my toe on something. Then feel around and find the light switch. Ah hah — one good-size washer and a dryer. Reminds me of going to the laundry with my mom on Gunhill Road. As a matter of fact — I used to do the laundry myself when I was a kid. Nothing to it. I wasn’t one of these helpless males…
So I flip-open the washer lid and read the washing instructions which are on the inside of the cover, and we’re off to the races. I put in too much soap, I guess, and the stuff is starting to foam over. Not enough to foam onto the floor.
About half-way through the cycle I get the bright idea of pouring in some bleach. Don’t have any bleach, so I run down to the deli where there is a long line, and by the time I get back the clothes are just sitting there. But the cycle isn’t over. I guess the tank is emptying out….
Either the amount or the timing was wrong. Several mauve shirts are now tie-dyed. Jeans have bleach burns. Black socks are now speckled. Eh, I saved $15 and it cost me about $50 in damages. But I learned something: find out when to put the bleach in and don’t pour it directly on the clothes… Man, did I ever do some tie-dying without the rubber-bands.
I didn’t know you could get such colors. My nice GAP shirts — burned up in the bleach, blown back into the psychadelic sixties. The socks, looking like negatives. As someone who is essentially superstitious, someone who looks for signs but doesn’t really believe in them, there is a sign here. Even my clothes have been burned. Bridges and clothes, burned. Back to the sixties (I never was in step with any decade).
* * *
“Dave, Only use color-safe bleach for colored clothes. Better yet, don’t use bleach at all. Use liquid Tide, then you don’t get any powder soap residue. Especially when you wash your dark colored clothes in cold water (prevents colors from bleeding and fading). If there’s one thing I’ve learned, that’s how to wash clothes properly. You won’t have to replace your clothes as often. ”
Cold water? I had my choice of cold, warm, and super hot, and I chose super-hot figuring I’d get the cleanest clothes that way. Why, I wondered, would anyone want to use cold water? Cold water doesn’t wash as well as hot water? Any dimwit knows that.
O.K. So Martha Stewart I ain’t…
Now when I started this journal, who would have thought that I’d be discussing cheap foods, and how to do the laundry… what’s next I wonder? At this rate I will soon be espousing on whether Pledge is better than (since I don’t know any other furniture wax I can’t even make the comparison)…
And while I was waiting for the wash to finish up, I got the mail, and sat outside on the stoop (it was a nice day) wearing my sandals (you see, I’m going to be a hippie yet) and I notice a nice envelope that doesn’t look like junk mail, doesn’t look like a bill, but looks like it’s from a person. Open it up and there is a very nice note (if you are reading this — thank you) and a ten dollar bill. One of the things that the note mentions is that “I’ve been candid about mentioning the ‘snags’ I’ve hit etc.”
This is certainly true. In fact, if it weren’t for the ‘snags’ the ‘things that go wrong’ there wouldn’t be anything for me to write about here. What, I wonder would it be like to write if I lived in a world without these problems… Maybe something like this:
Fictious Day 1.1.1
It was a lovely night. Slept like a log again for the fifthieth year in a row. My breakfast was ready for me when I awoke… Crispy bacon, fried eggs, and hollandaise sauce. It’s quite wonderful not to have to worry about colesterol. Then I walked down to the mailbox and picked up the latest check… [strike that] Then I turned on the computer and saw that my stocks had all gone up, and that money had flowed into my bank account from [you fill in the blank]. In fact, it’s getting to a point that I really should give away more money because…
The wife and kids are equally well this morning. Winnie [now I’m picturing myself married, and living on a farm in England just after WWII] Strike that…
[No, you can’t go on like this. Try and picture a ‘perfect life’ and you will be bored out of your mind. One thing that is necessary for this perfect life is a challenge. No? But if you overcome all the challenges — phiff — it becomes boring again. In short, its odd but there probably needs to be unhappiness… how much is another story — in order to have happiness.]
Them thar clothes — I looked at ’em agin this morning — yep — thar’s no doubt about it — them there GAP tee-shirts are histr’y. Which brings back ta the memory of my mom who would often come up to me when I was a teenager and tell me that some fav-or-ite shirt I was wearing had to be thrown out because it had holes in it. And after I would persist in wearing it, she might walk up to me and literally rip it off my back, tear it into strips, and say, “Now its rags”. And for years afterwards, the shirt would be used to clean the windows with.
So here I am, standing in the narrow foyer, barely wide enough for a person to walk by without bumping something, with the GAP sports shirt in my hands, and as Bill Cosby said, “Zip zop ma face is ripped to shreds” — one of his first comedy albums. Well, the shirt rips up real good. And I find myself thinkin about rags, dem rags, dem bones, and startin’ to talk like I was frem the backwoods or sumthin’. And I guess the idea of livin’ lak an artiste — up here — on the upper east side o’ New Yurk Citee, seemed kinda funny, lak a kinda Beverley Hillbillies fer art-easts.
Anyway, enough about the shirts… I’ve got film to develop and more laundry to do.
* * *
STREET PARKING EXCHANGE
Are you tired of cruising the streets or circling the block looking for a parking space? How about those costly parking tickets or outrageous garage prices? If you are experiencing the frustration of parking on the street, we have a new service that will save you time, money and a lot of hassle. It’s called the Street Parking Exchange.
Here’s how it works:
Call SPE fifteen minutes before you want a parking space. Our Parking Coordinators will direct you to a specific space that will be available with 15 minutes and is reserved only for you. Fir call-first served. The member in that space has called within the past hour and notified our operators when they are leaving. When you want to pull-out, call SPE and we will notify another SPE member who is looking for a space…. After the free trial week, the cost is $22.95 a month.
This is an actual flyer picked up off a car in front of my house and gives you some idea of how difficult it is to actually find a parking spot in this area.
* * *
Promenade is up again on eBay. I still find it interesting that I can generally sell the more expensive prints up on eBay but not from my site. Sometimes from the bidding they end up at just about the same price on eBay as through the site. Anyway, if you’re reading this and there’s something in particular you’d like me to put up on eBay, let me know.
* * *
Call Me Argo (I don’t remember what part this is, continued…)
Argo was just setting a few plates on the table, as he had prepared dinner for a nice girl he had met at the cybercafe, when he stubbed his toe on the table leg, and just at that moment the phone rang, and he couldn’t see straight because of the shooting pain in his leg, and fumbled for the phone and picked it up. If he had checked the caller id he would have never answered it, for on the other end of the phone was his ex-wife Margie and she was already talking before he had a chance to say anything. He just sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing his toe, and half-listening…
Margie was rattling off a list — sort of a master list of lists. She was going to have to make a list of the things she needed to start the new job next week. She was going to have to make another list of the things she would need to do before meeting someone or other. Lists of lists, and all the time he was rubbing his big toe and wondering whether he would finally get a word in edgewise when Margie stopped to say that she had just called to see how he was, and then hung-up suddenly without waiting for a reply.
[ed.’s note, this story began a while back in first-person, but apparantly has switched to third-person. we will tidy it all up when we have some idea of what the story is about, which may be some time yet]
At any rate, Argo was glad to be off the phone, and every time she called he was thankful that they were no longer wed. In fact, they had only been married for exactly three hours, one of the shortest marriages in history, but that’s a story for another day…
A nice Spring day in the park. My bronchitis is gone, and I’m scrambling over rocks to find the best angle. Too much of a postcard? I’ll see when I print it. I had my imaginary “view camera” hat on, and was working with the Leica on a tripod, and studying the scene like a pool hustler surveying the table for the next shot.
Then a less classic shot, where the buildings remind me of the broken teeth in a boxers mouth:
Rocks and Skyline
Central Park Cafe
And some other stuff from that day:
A Smart Bet
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* * *
* * *
Horse & Driver
* * *
In the dream, I’m somewhere in Tibet or Nepal and its the middle of the night, or maybe its always night, and I’m preparing to summit some mountain and I’m in a tent placing clothes out on a cot, deciding what to bring. I am doing some layered-look with a tee shirt, and then the next step up from that… until there are seven shirts of various textures from lightest to thickest on the cot and my old childhood friend G.R. is there to guide me. He has done this before and he tells me that the seven shirts are fine, so long as I start with the white one first. And to hurry up because there is a crowd gathering to get up the mountain.
And I’m still futzing with equipment. I’ve decided to bring along all my musical equipment. Two large amps, even though I don’t have a guitar with me, and all the camera equipment, and I’m deciding whether to bring the tripod up the mountain but decide its a good idea since it can act as a waling stick as well, and then I’m looking for food… out in the howling Tibetan night, where there are these fast food Tibetan joints and I’m on my roller blades, in the snow confusing Tibetan food with Thai food, and now there are some mangey dogs and women with parasols, and I have this feeling that the sun is about to come up and I’m late, I’m late for an important date, and I still haven’t managed to get any of those Thai noodles although I’ve seen them handing them out at the shops, and I get lost. Now I’m lost in the commercial part of town, which is filled with tourists preparing to climb the mountain… but they’re talking themselves out of it. “Oh, today’s not a good day for it. Too cold. I’ll try it tomorrow perhaps.”
People are all locked up in these smoky wooden buildings, crammed together in their American ski clothes, jostling to get out as if they’re in Stalig 17. And its really more like a run-down mall than a place to summit anything.
I hear riffs of conversations like that and say to myself, “Nothing doing. I’m going up that mountain right away.” And find myself back in base camp again thinking about what to bring on the journey, and I look at the two amps and realize that’s ridiculous. I get my camping shoes on (over seven pairs of socks — seven plays fast and heavy in this dream), only to realize that there is a hole in the big toe of the first sock. This is going to be disaster going up the mountain. Well, no time to waste. G.R. is calling me telling me that the mountain awaits. Nothing to worry about, he’s climbed it a million times before, but we’d better get a move on.
And as we head out into the howling blizzard, I think to myself — sure, he’s done it a million times before, but he hasn’t had all this damned photographic equipment to carry. Anyone can get to the top if they’d just didn’t have all this stuff. What was the point of the tripod anyway? And I toss it over the side of the mountain.
As we climb the base of the mountain, I see the moonrise in the distance — huge and cool, and swathed in deep-purple mists. And I think in the dream, “This means something… this moon.” The foot with the sock with the hole is just starting to bother me as I begin up the mountain in my roller blades. “Yeah, these roller blades make a lot of sense. Good climbing boots, and then real fast on the way down.”
* * *
9:07 am EST — Sales plug: eBay auction is about to end with Promenade #55 still unbid on. It can be picked up on eBay for about $94 ($15 shipping).
* * *
Watch as the home page slowly fills up with little signs that say I can be trusted. Today I added the “Square Deal” icon. Already on the page are the Verisign Certificate, and the various credit card logos… and pretty soon I won’t have room for any of my own pictures. In what other business do you need to fill your office or your storefront with symbols that declare “I am not a crook, I can be trusted.” Two that come to mind are doctor’s offices — diplomas all over the place, and psychiatrist’s offices. We need the symbols that represent another group of human beings, probably no more reliable than we are ourselves, who have confered their collective vote of confidence. Maybe I should dig up my college diploma (I wonder where it is), scan it on the flatbed, shrink it down to an icon, and post it on the home page. “These pictures sold by a certified college graduate from an acredited school in the Northeast that was run by idiots and filled with boozers and drug addicts… you know, your typical state school.”
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Write your own caption…
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Speaking of Icons to attest to your honesty, I still have a slide I took in a fabric store in Singapore in 1969 that claims the establishment is a “Fair Dinkum Store”. I think it’s some kind of Australian word. Would make a great icon. (R.C.)
Here is a fair Fair Dinkum explanation
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This little scene was on 2nd Avenue — so far I’m just calling it AID. And a few blocks later:a sort of Bugsby Berkeley of Legs!
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Finally did some printing today. Reprints of Marsh and Window. No difficult. Then on to some of the new TMAX stuff. I seem to be all around it but not quite on yet as far as developing / exposure — but “close enough for folk” as we used to say when tuning guitars.
Then on to some new things. Kiss in Diner is by far the best of the new stuff. There is a touch of movement blur in the two figures. This was shot at either 1/15 or 1/8 of a second at f1.4. But the lighting and the moment are pretty good. I have another shot taken right after the kiss that is equally interesting where they’ve both sort of returned to their own worlds.
The shot of the guy dropping the newspaper was “so so”. True I caught the newspaper dropping between them, but it didn’t do anything for me. The arrays of chair legs was worth a few prints. Still not sure what I think of it. More abstract then I usually do. And that postcard type shot of the Central Park Cafe with the rock in the f.g. is worth another attempt.
* * *
I re-arranged the “trust me” icons on the home page so they’re all bunched up together. Was trying to make a design with them (sort of a pyramid of good trust…. but pyramids and scams go too well together) so I gave it up.
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I’ve probably been spending about half my time “fixin’ up the house’ and the other half doin’ photography. A few people have suggested that I get either a “cleaning woman” or a “maid” or some female that would basically come by and clean up after me. So I’ve decided to look into this business a little and found a couple of ads in the Village Voice for maids, at least they were dressed like maids, but they were all much better looking than the maid that I remember we had once a month when we were kids. Her name was Sooze, and rhymed with booze, and she was sloshed most of the time and sort of shakey as well, but… I digress. The ads in the Village Voice had some very attractive maids and so I called one up to ask about the price, but they quoted something that seemed very odd indeed — $200 an hour. I told them that for that kind of money I could get an ex-Andersen consultant to clean the house for me and do my books as well. And the woman on the other end said that they too could do what Andersen did to Enron…
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Conversations with A.G.
Have you ever read the Jungian psychologist/philosopher James Hillman? (The Soul’s Code, Blue Fire) He is a lunatic like Henry Miller. I ran across this passage in which he describes how imagination must be rooted deeply in sensual imagery, using whiteness as an example. Though it is not about photography, but rather silver and alchemy, I think he comes close to expressing why good black and white photography (like yours) feels more soulful and touches the soul:
“Unless the multiplicities of white are kept as its shadows – as blues, as creams, as the wan and pale feelings of gray – the whitening becomes sheer blankness. Here is a reflective consciousness that perceives without reaction, a kind of frank stare, chilled and numbed, lunar, curiously deadened within its own anima state that should have brought it life.
So, to keep whiteness from blinding itself with simplicities (instead of multiplicities), a reduction needs to be performed on the albedo, but in its own style which means turning up the heat in an anima fashion. New lunatic intensities demanding active imagination and fermentations that lead to ever-finer discriminations (white against white), adding weight to light and rubbing the silver to more clarified reflections. This means friction, more accurate tuning of responses, and keeping to the lunatic fringe – noticing the oddity of behavior and feeling when images are first reality. We whiten the earth by earthing our whiteness. So, put the heat on anima attractions, soulful philosophizings, delicate aestheticisms, petty perceptions, global moods, lovey-dovey coziness, and the nymphic gossamer illusions that promise lions. Don’t literalize the relief of the albedo into relaxation: pull the plug on Mary’s bath. Silver is hard and it likes heat and truth; its telos is yellow and red, bright and loud”
I was laughing out loud as I read that — did you make that up — somehow I
think not — but it is really funny. It reminded me of that double-talk
professor — Irwin Correy?? I don’t think there’s a shred of reality in
that passage, which means that it may actually be right on target, because
we all know that we don’t shoot at the target with a blue arrow, but that
the target is shooting back at us with white and alibo rays which are
translated into figments of a lunar eclipse when the moon is right…
* * *
“Alibo”…I can’t find that word anywhere. Is it Latin…Greek? Is it “sardine” in Lithuanian? Or did you have to make it up to express a hitherto unthought of concept:
a= without, -libo= fat book, n. that which has no fat book written about it? Whatever it means, it’s brilliant.
No, I did not make up that passage!! And I don’t understand why whenever I use a quote by Hillman, people laugh and make fun of it. I’m seriously trying to locate my soul. I thought I had it hidden under my socks, but Hillman says that the soul can also be found under the refrigerator, along with other lost objects, like dried up contact lenses.
I’m sure that you have to admit, that before you take a photograph, you subconsciously need to consult your alibo.
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The “alibo” is a real word that is not in any dictionary. It is a combo type word which I have found useful. The words that it combines are: “libido” and “alibi” and hence by joining them you can have an alibi for your libido which first came into use in the French farce by Molliere which reminds of something that I’ve been wondering about — Did Molliere invent the “French Farce” or did he invent “The Farce”… If he invented either, what by all that is holy has happened to the French since then? I won’t mention Jerry Lewis, (I guess I just did) but how could the people who invented the farce enjoy Monsieur Lewis… this is a true mystery that needs to be solved (solv-ed)
* * *
Got a ride up to the Washington Heights area — near what we used to call “The Little George Washington” Bridge that goes to University Avenue (which is where I grew up). Anyway, reverted to TMY 400 film — and walked over the bridge — the salmon returns and all that, and then walked beneath the bridge (kind of desolate and to be truthful, scary) but all in all an good morning.
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Doing more shooting lately than writing… which is a good thing. Will toss in this latest compliment from the U.K.
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The prints [Promenade and Equitable & Flat Iron] arrived today and I am bowled over by them. The Flat Iron shot is going in my bedroom, the other in the hall, so no-one can miss it! The print quality and finishing surpassed my expectations. I shall be back for more. I am very tempted by Benches-Atlantic City-my kind of shot!
Thanks again for your first class service, will keep in touch. [G. M.]
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After a considerable amount of perseverating, and perambulating, I’m back to say that I’m more convinced than ever that the problems in the world are not related to religion but to something more basic: groups. Groups of any kind. Boards of elections, board of directors, the co-op board, the board of Rabbis, the council of religious icons, the community council, the photography club of America, the Boy Scouts of America, the Acadamy of Arts and Sciences, and Royal Acadamy, and all sports fans, whether they be Yankee, Mets or Giant fans, whether they be soccer, or basketball fans — if they root for one team, if they place their hopes and dreams in one team — in the home team — they are to be relagated to the world of groups. And the reasoning, if you expect any then let’s see if there is that there are scientifically proven group dynamics. People act differently as part of a group as they would act if they were on their own — in fact that is one of the pleasures of the group. For example, every group has a leader. I don’t care if you elect him, if you appoint him (him here means him/her) if you draw straws, if you use attrition, if you have ’em meet on the field of battle and duke it out — there is always a leader. And the leader always has a second in command to do the dirty work. And there is always a scapegoat. And then there are what we call the average, I just don’t want to get called on, let me keep my job, I don’t want to do anything to make me look stupid, I hope I don’t rock the boat, majority. And it is the [the timer just rang… my rant time is over]
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Just had my first “bite” from a design agency. They want “Sewer and Leaves” at 20 x 24 inches. This should be an adventure since I’ve not printed anything that large before and its from 35mm / 400 speed film. So the plot thickens. First off, I don’t have an easel that size. Next, I doubt if I can get the 3 trays at that size on my foldout table. My washer only holds up to 16 x 20. The only thing that I was smart about, ten plus years ago when I bought the Zone VI enlarger was to get it with the highest column I could.
* * *
Music video promo for Major League Baseball: The players with the weirdest ticks (ie., Chuck Knabloch, Joe McEwing)in slo mo going through their pre-batting ceremonies set to Igor Stravinski’s “Rite of Spring” or Schubert’s “Ave Maria”.
I don’t think the high salaries are causing the ticks, but rather a fear of the supernatural. Baseball is the most religious of sports and has become a modern day substitute for religion. Players who make it to the majors are like high-priests with their own set of incantations and rites. Before the delivery of the fateful pitch, they make an educated guess as to whether it’s going to be a slider, curve or fastball, but when a rock-like object is coming toward you at close to 100 mph, you don’t tempt fate. You go through the same ceremony that has sustained you throughout your career and brought you to this holy altar where every swing is worth thousands of dollars.
I think baseball also re-enacts a very primitive human activity: hunting. Hurling stones with accuracy and using sticks adeptly were surely necessary skills for the first humans or even proto-humans (ie., Yogi Berra). When mankind evolved from the Yogi-like stage to the Knabloch-like stage, religious consciousness made ceremony (ticks)a necessary aspect of the sport. [A.G.]
Struggling along to put things together for doing the 20 x 24 print. They’re going to pay me $300 for the print (unmatted) which is pretty good. So far, I’ve spent $79 for three large trays (I’m going to need another one), and I guess about $100 for paper of that size, and I absolutely cannot afford to pay for an easel of that size — so I’m going to rig up something to keep the paper flat; not sure what yet. The good thing is that I think that two trays can be stacked on top of each other (crosswise) and by doing that I’ll be able to get the three trays on my table.
I’m sure that by the time I’ve got all this figured out it will cost me more than I’m getting for the print — but I have wanted to try larger prints anyway — so its a good time to take the plunge.
* * *
Spent most of the afternoon moving stuff out of a closet so that I could at least have a place to store the big trays. Everything is like one of those “cell puzzles” where one thing comes in, and all the other squares need to be re-arranged. And today its muggy in New York, and I’m feeling lethargic, and keep going up and down the stairs throwing things out. I’ve stopped using bubble wrap for packing, so I had tons of the stuff that took up a lot of space that I brought downstairs. Then all these computer books. I find it easy to toss computer books. “How to program your way to the moon with C++”, “C++ for Idiots and for Dummies and for Morons” but I book of fiction cannot be tossed. Unless its really really bad. So the endless books on the endless new programming languages which cost the most anyway, and which I don’t feel like posting on eBay, get re-cycled.
Anyway, the easel thing had me stumped, then this morning I had an idea about cutting a slit in a mat board, and then forgot all about it until I received this note:
for what it’s worth, as a broke student having to do some large prints, i used a mat cutter to cut an opening into a mat board. i left about 3 inches on all edges and it was enough to keep the paper flat. i hinged this to an uncut board and used it as an easel. also, it took me a couple of tries to geta a good cut all around for a decent edge. not adjustable or long lasting but worked just fine at the time.
btw – i am now looking at the world through your journal from my cubicle (i guess i am your average journal reader). great stuff! [B.G.]
Thanks for reminding me of at least one idea to try.
I ordered one more big tray, so I guess by tomorrow I’ll have all four trays. The plan is to take the fourth tray and stick it on top of the bathtub (its too big to fit in the bathtub, I tried) and cut a hole in one side to stick a drainage tube into, and then use another tube to get water in. It should be fine for one or two prints at a time. If I get everything cleaned up, I’ll put a negative in the enlarger tonight just to see that the head goes up high enough to do the job (it had better!). What’s annoying me right now is that I have finally gotten really good results doing my own developing iwth xtol and tmy and I’ve got two more rolls to do and I’m running out of steam… Here’s the beginning of what I think will end up being a photo essay on the “Little George Washington Bridge” — Down Under #1
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The Design Agency said that they want it 20 x 24, i.e. not to leave too much of a border on the paper. Of course this is a 35mm negative. It just don’t really fit into a 20 x 24 frame, so, basically I need to either cut off part of the right side of the sewer which has the nice wisps of smoke, or else cut off part of the left side which has the street, and if you do that you lose the graphical design which is what attracted them to it in the first place. I will cut off a good part of the right side of the sewer cover to get it all big enough. I think I’m going to leave a bit more space on the top and bottom and go right out to the edge on the sides.
But as far as blowing the thing up to that size goes, I don’t think its going to be a problem. Grain looks reasonable through the grain enlarger, and the head could even go higher. It is amazing though how much trouble going up to this size is going to be. Another thing that occurs to me is the drying process. Normally I dry the fiber prints on screens, or hang it from clothespins, and then stick it in the dry mount with very very low heat between two archival mat boards, and you get a nice smooth print and finish… but this size won’t fit into the dry-mount, which means lots of books and stuff to weigh it down for a day or so. On the other hand — these are all growing pains. Next time around should be a piece of cake (yeah right).
* * *
B.G.’s suggestion is exactly the ticket. That’s what I’m going to do, essentially, just cut an overmat for the thing, hinge it, and voila, I’ve cut my easel. I’m going to give it a try tomorrow, even though I probably won’t have the 4th tray. But I’m really interested to see how this will work out.
* * *
>>>>News Flash<<<<< Dateline New York, It has been reported that photographer Dave Beckerman has succesfully produced his first 20 x 24 inch print and he has done it without a store-bought easel. Actually, Dave said that the hardest part was opening the envelope that held the paper. It was accomplished through the usual trial and error methods that have become his trademark. First the easel was created by simply cutting a mat board for the outer framing device and using a matboard to place the print onto — but the unexpected happened, namely a:) the paper was a touch bigger than the prepared easel, and b) the easel would be hanging over the edge of the countertop and produced a slight curling effect, so plan Nine was put into effect, which meant, look around the house for anything that was more rigid than matboard and of the same size, and voila, a bunch of plexiglass sheets meant for frames were enlisted and the rest, as they say was history.
After two prints were produced, the simple but elegant arrangement for washing was produced by using two milk crates, at two different angles of rotation, so that the washing tray was sloped… and a little wedge to make sure the water exited through a corner…
Actually, what was interesting was that the print held up pretty well. I was surprised. The corners are little soft, but considering that this is from 400 35mm, and cropped to 20 x 24 (i.e. I'm not even using the whole negative) — not bad at all.
Now to see if I can dry it flat. [later..] Yup. Not a problem. You can flatten it in two passes in the dry-mount. [time lapse…] I walk by a place where they build furniture, and ask if they've got any spare wood around 20 x 24 inches… I'm thinking of building a more permanent large easel. And sure enough, a nice sanded down piece of 1/2 inch plywood ( about 24 x 30) is given to me for free. The problem with the matboard as a frame is that it doesn't have weight to it — I could almost do something pretty nifty with two metal framer's squares…
I wonder what the design firm will think of the print. I'm personally amazed that it works as well as it does. I think I could have done a little better if I closed down the enlarging lens one more stop… anyway, doing things at this size from 400 film… I think I'm pretty well convinced to give up the tmx 100…
* * *
And here I am, with my little debates about film and easels, and it feels like the world is on the brink of a major war.
* * *
"Another perfect day, I love L.A." — Randy Newman
It was another perfect day in New York — spent time again in Central Park shooting a bird's nest that was built in one of the bridges, and continued on to see if the… yes, I sort of come across this brilliant burst of pink and white and dark gnarled wood — the cherry blossoms by the resevoir are exploding with color. There's the rest of my morning. A guy approaches and begins to expound about the cherry trees, that they were a gift from Japan, and planted in 1935, and that they were originally cultivated by the Chinese 4000 years ago — and I'm thinking — who cares — they are magnificent, and they will only last for about nine days or so. I tell the guy to get lost, that I don't care to hear any facts about the trees (no, I don't) actually I tell him that every year I try and shoot them and that I never get anything good (which is true) and this makes him think apparantly that either I'm an idiot or that I don't truly appreciate the trees — so he stops lecturing and moves on.. And then I start to think about trying to frame someone in the grove of trees. But who? And the idea of waiting for someone who is Japanese to stroll by — well it could happen — and it would go with the Japanese blossoms and as I'm standing there, a young Japanese mother with her daughter pop out of nowhere with a camera (of course) and ask if I would take pictures of them together. She tells me that it is the little girls birthday. My mind is plotting. I want to have the little girl standing alone in the grove surrounded by the blossoms — and I suggest the idea to the mom who thinks its a tremendous idea. So we do our little photo shoot — and I stroll away and hear the little girl clapping! I turn and clap for her. And I walk away thinking of shutter speeds, and f-stops and did I have the right lens on? I did those shots with the 50mm — maybe the 35mm would have been better — but no, then you would catch all the expressions… and did I still have the orange filter on that I was using to try and brighten the trees and darken the sky…
* * *
I guess this is sort of about one of those distant childhood memores… the bridge that we used to call "The Little George Washington" — when we kids and lived on the Bronx side. I'm slowly beginning to explore this neighborhood again. One side being Washington Heights, the other University Avenue.
Cross Bronx Sign
Down Under the Little George Washington
LGW – Through Window
From the Little George Washington
Hubcap on Bridge
* * *
On Sunday, I'm returning to Washington Heights and the Little George Washington and will continue onwards like a salmon going upstream or a poet returning to the scene of the crime… and see if the apartment building where I spent the first 13 years of my life is still standing; whether the spot where Joe's Deli once stood brings back further memories; and whether I should have had a police escort before heading homeward…
* * *
Cherry Trees #1.
Cherry Trees #2 (Birthday Girl)
Well its time to send out my estimated taxes for 2002. Ugh. It's really quite different having to write out a check compared to having them silently deduct it from your wages.
Draped In It
* * *
And back to the Cherry trees this morning to give 'em another try. I'm there for a while when a Pheasant walks by. I take a couple of shots of it. A little bit later, Katie Couric walks by, with a young girl (I figure its her daughter) and we have a little chat. She is sort of dressed incognito (no make-up, really sloppy clothes — pretty much dressed as I'm dressed) and we start talking about the pheasant, and her daughter tells me that the owner was out walking the pheasant, and we have a laugh about that. I pretend not to know her, and she pretends not to know me… Then she asks if she can see through the camera, and I hand her the M6 saying, "It's a rangefinder" and she says "A rangefinder, what's that…" And I say, "uh, it doesn't matter".
Anyway she's very friendly and asks me what speed film to use to shoot the Cherry Trees, and I tell her 400. So you can catch all the blossoms falling… And she and her daughter (if that's who it was) walk away down the bridle path. Ah, my first interview. But it was easy to see why she's so popular, she has a real curious nature about things… Well, its New York, and true New Yorkers don't go all agog when they meet someone famous. Do they?
* * *
A good fine art photographer should have been able to do something with these cherry trees on their own but I couldn't. I tried them from every angle, every lens, and every lighting condition, but it wasn't until several people, a dog, and the falling blossoms came together that I felt I had captured something of the feeling of the day and place: Cherry Trees #6 Sort of like that speech that Walter Houston gives to Tim Holt and Bogart about why gold costs as much as it does — something to the effect that in and of itself it isn't really worth anything, but it represents the work of thousands of man hours to find it.
* * *
I wake up early. My gear is packed: the small camera bag, three lenses, and a bunch of TMY film. I look out the window and see that it's gray and overcast. The birds are chirping loudly outside the window. And my little expedition to the Bronx will be underway soon. I feel as excited as if I were about to go on safari. I've been reading up on the old neighborhood, and have discovered that there are several bridges involved: Highbridge (this is actually the oldest bridge between two boroughs in NYC) and the Alexander Hamilton bridge (I believe this was the bridge I was walking across last time out); and the tower in the background is another key landmark. I've read that it was originally built to regulate water levels in nearby resevoirs. The feeling of the hunt is upon me and there is a sense of danger as well — I remember reading that one of the parks I was to visit was the home of countless buried bodies…
But I put those thoughts behind me, and prepare a good Hemmingway breakfast of toast, eggs, and tea. I have tried to enlist the help of guides, but am told that they don't usually visit this particular area.
* * *
Maybe its not a great photographic journey, or at least one that is of interest to anyone else, but I crossed the Alexander bridge to University Avenue at about 8:30 this morning and was surprised to find that (and I think this is true for almost anyone that goes to revisit a childhood memory) everything simply looked smaller than I remembered. University Avenue, when I was a kid, was a wide, boulevard, almost impossible to cross on one light; with a huge concrete center divide where we used to play marbles because the surface was smoother than the normal sidewalk finish. But today University Avenue (actually it has a dual name, and is also called Martin L. King Avenue) seemed like a moderately wide street, but no great divide. My younger sister has gone with my on these last two excursions. She didn't remember the place as well as I did since I was there until I was thirteen and she was there until she was seven. But excitement grew as we read off the street numbers and realized that we were now in front of the apartment — 1636 University Avenue — of our childhood. It was still there. Still standing. The courtyard that we used to play in between 1636 and 1640 was tiny, maybe ten feet across. The window of my old room on the first floor from which I used to throw things at passersby was still there, boarded up, but still there. And a guy was hanging out the window from the floor above, in a tee-shirt, smoking a cigarette. I walked into the courtyard, like a kid going to an amusement park, and just as if I had never left, yelled up to the guy in the window: "This is where I grew up! I used to live here." He just answered in some tongue that I couldn't understand, and that I didn't think was Spanish, but maybe it was. He looked down again at me, like what the heck was I doing taking pictures of the courtyard, or maybe he was just happy to see someone around that didn't look dangerous. I couldn't read him at all. But I yelled up again: "I used to live here." And he answered me again and took another drag on his cigarette. My sister, who was waiting in the car came out and passed by saying she was going to go inside. Go inside, in my dreams of returning, I had never thought of going inside, into the hallway? And she said, "Keep an eye on the car" which I did, and went in. I was sort of between the car, and the entrance way, and she popped back out again, holding the door open, saying, "Look at this"
In the anteway, there was a bas-relief of three women holding a pitcher, and further on in was the little hallway where I used to fight with the local Irish kids. She said she didn't remember any of this. But I did. Everything was exactly in the same place. You don't expect apartments to move around do you? I thought to myself. And there was even a fireplace in the hallway.
I didn't want to hang around too long, and it was very dark in there, and then a kid came by yelling up, "I'm back momma, back from the store, mamma" And a voice trailed down, "Hurry up"
We hung around for a while, took some pictures, and then went in search for my old elementary school but got lost, and headed back across the bridge to Washington Heights.
The area, had improved considerably since I had last been there fifteen plus years ago. There were still plenty of boarded up buildings, but at one point, the street opposite my apartment had been mostly rubble. Of course, none of the stores that I remembered were there anymore, but I didn't expect to find Joe Ronai's deli or the Harry's barbershop. But the basic structures were still there. The streets with the names from my childhood: Featherbed Lane, Nelson Avenue, 177th street. These streets had survived. The church on Featherbed lane where a bunch of kids had once tried to toss me over the churchyard wall was still intact. And the main artery that had ripped through the neighborhood like a control nuclear explosion: the Cross Bronx Expressway, was still there, but not exactly an Expressway anymore.
* * *
I'm really fascinated (don't know if anyone else will be) by this trip back to 1636 University Avenue… here's the start of something:
1. Exterior I
2. Exterior II
Top of Stairs
Steps In Park
to be continued…
* * *
The photos have a quality of an excavation, like you've unearthed an ancient city…in this case the city of your childhood. Those Roman friezes look like something out of the ruins at Pompeii. Is it just me, or are those draped figures voyeurs? They seem to be fighting each other for a better view of what's happening in the dark space to the right. Either that or they're horrified by the ugly intrusion of modernity in the form of the recycling sign. It seems the building has returned to its ancient classical state and the recycling sign has become an anachronism. [A.G.]
I plan on returning to that, and other childhood haunts during the next few weeks. Names like: Mt. Eden Street; The Church on Featherbed Lane (where George Washington and his troops slept on Serta Perfect mattresses). I've slowly been drawing a map, showing where stores that I remember stood, and what is there now. Where childhood friends lived, and what remains of their apartments.
I don't want to do "The Whole Bronx" or anything like that — just the things that had meaning to me as a kid; and even there say up to 12 or 13. For example, there was a billboard that overlooked a sort of weird park that had grown up around an underground pipe that must have been twelve feet across that ran through a park that I think we called Mt. Eden Park. That was the spot where we could get a tactical advantage over the kids who were always chasing us. That was the place where my little friends first told me about sex and there were some pretty wild and it turns out inacurate accounts. But I always remembered that it was fitting that I should hear about sex in Mt. Eden Park. Was there such a place, or has the adult mind, the mind that is now steeped in cultural symbolism, made this stuff up to tell to itself?
Maybe, by seeing some of these spots for myself after thirty-five years — I can at least see how much of what I remember is true and how much is only poetic embellishing.
For example, I didn't remember the Frieze in the entranceway — but it must have been there because it fits with the other decor in the inner lobby (and that I do remember). Another thing, on one side it says: 1636 and the other adjoining building is 1640. What the heck happened to 1638?
There are still a lot of mysteries. There is no doubt that the bridge I walked over when we were leaving the Bronx was the same bridge I walked over to approach University Avenue. But is it the Alexander Hamilton or the Little G.W.
Anyway, the plan for today is to get a couple of orders out that are promised; pick up a good map of the Bronx if I can find one; and then hopefully tomorrow I will rent a car and take off again down memory lane.
* * *
Received deposit from the Design Firm — for Manhole Cover and Leaves (20 x 24). I've done one print so far that is passable, but I'm going to do another one tomorrow with my new easel. I made the easel with scraps of lumber from the nearby trashbin of a furniture making store. It's basically just a large board, sanded down (I may laquer it if it works well tomorrow), with a right angle formed by two pieces of wood nailed in, and then to hold the paper down a metal picture frame. I wish the picture frame were heavier, and I may need to lean on it during the exposure. We'll see.
I've also got to do some printing of the new things, just to make sure that my film developing is what its supposed to be. So tomorrow is printing. And its going to be hot in NYC.
* * *
It's strange… Very muggy… Lying on my futon with a very detailed map of The Bronx spread out on the floor. For the first time I get some sense of where I came from. My fingers trail over streets, and places, and I want to see them all again. It's not that there are good times, or bad times associated with these places, but just a sense of strong presence. I see that I lived in a part of the Bronx that is called Morris Heights. I didn't know that. I can't find any streets named after this Morris character. Who was he? Is there a particularly high place where Morris lived? I'm going to have to find out.
But the bridges to the west become clear. I used to think that I lived in the High Bridge section, but that was south of me. What's the difference what section I lived in. But… wow, Burns avenue, that's where my grandmother lived… above the little window that opened into the bathroom of the pizza place that we all used to peek into on my way to my grandma's. Hey, let's see if anyone's pissin' in there. Oh well, maybe next time. And then the grand, dark hallway and flights of stairs that went on forever, with our echoing footsteps…and each floor with its different smells that somehow all seemed the same…
* * *
The elementary school that I went to, P.S. 104 had its name changed to The Shakespeare School since its on Shakespeare avenue. The Junior High I went to was called "the most violent Junior High School in New York. Kids were ripping out urinals and selling them for drugs…" and it was closed a year ago. That's probably a big part of this rush of memories… the fact that so much of it is gone.
* * *
A bit of a run-in with the health insurance company. Nice and friendly they were too. Too complicated to get into here, but let's just say that when they make a mistake, it means more paperwork for me.
* * *
My homemade easel has worked out well for the bigger prints. Did three today. The only thing that's annoying me now is my own film developing. I had been experimenting again with different number of agitations/time etc. because the TMY was a little "thin". Now after two weeks of this tinkering, I finally print some of it today, and I'm not thrilled. Now it's TOO contrasty. I think I may have gotten spoiled by having the lab doing it while I could afford it, which I can't anymore. Which reminds me, time to order my xtol.
* * *
Fell asleep dreaming about all my aunts from the Bronx. Were we poorer than our cousins? It seems like we were, but I can't understand why, unless it's that when I was a kid my parents were still going to school part-time, or maybe full time: I think my father was going through college on the G.I. Bill. At any rate, I remember that whenever I would walk into the house, my mom would say, "Quiet, your father's studying." And I do remember this little room, off the kitchen, that was filled with books, where the door was usually shut, and there was the smell of pipe tobacco.
But let's start at the beginning. You walked through the dark outer lobby, up a couple of stairs, and then you stood at the front door to the apartment. You open the door, and step into a narrow foyer. To the left is the kitchen. To the right is the closed door to the makeshift study that I've already mentioned. And at the end of the foyer, at least this is how I remember it, is a huge living room with a piano and a green couch. My sister and I spilled red shoe polish all over that green couch, one day when my mom was out, and then tried to disguise it by turning the cushions over. About six months later, when my mom went to turn the cushions, we heard a shreik, and I think she came after us with a frying pan in her hand. I'm not sure whether she had been cooking, or whether she was going to brain us, but we didn't wait to find out and skidded into our rooms keeping the door closed behind us. Perhaps we were seven and five. But we already knew that once mom flew off the handle, we just needed to give her time to calm down and things would usually be alright.
To get to our rooms, you walked through the living room, into another hallway, where you had the two rooms and a bathroom at the end.
We were on the ground floor. From my window, you could look out onto University Avenue, the big boulevard that didn't have any university on it (as far as I can remember). If you walk back into the living room, you can see my parent's room, which was enclosed by two paned french doors. This was the room where I first saw television. One of those big brown wooden boxes, with a tiny screen. And there was usually a folding clothes dryer opened up near the double windows that also looked out onto University Avenue.
It was a different city world back then. Kids simply went out after school, and didn't come back until it was starting to get dark. I don't know if it was safer. But somehow you survived. I don't remember stories about kids being abducted or anything. Kids did get hurt, but usually that was from trying to ride on the fender of a bus and falling off (our parents warned us about this all the time…. If you fall off the fender, don't you know that there's going to be a car right behind you that's going to run you over???).
But none of that sank in. We'd wait for the bus to stop (brilliant) and grab on to the back, and ride it all over town, or at least until we reach some boundry line to the neighborhood such as Burnside Avenue. Then wait for another bus and ride it back. And it is true that kids were killed, and had broken legs, broken heads, and other things broken, but it didn't matter to us at all.
As a matter of fact, the really big myth in the neighborhood, was that there were two kids who had actually been run over by a bus and got up and walked away from it. There names: Fat Junior and Fat Linda. There was another kid, Mitch, that could actually climb up on top of a city bus and ride it lying down on the roof, but I did hear that he got killed… though it wasn't from falling off a bus, but through food poisoning; bad clams which he had stolen anyway.
* * *
"Funny how the things you have the hardest time parting with
Are the things you need the least" — Dylan
* * *
Tomorrow I'll send out the 20 x 24 print of "Sewer and Leaves" to the design firm. It turned out pretty well for a blow-up of that size from 35mm. I'm happy with my easel which was made for nothing. The design firm is important because they could, conceivably, be a source of steady income as they probably use a lot of prints for interior design projects.
* * *
As I fall asleep, with the Bronx map still spread out on the floor, I wonder whether this obsession with revisiting my youth is some sort of nostalgia. My mind writes out sentences to place in the journal, such as: "This is definitely not a nostalgic trip to a time when life was simpler and I was happier." It wasn't a happy childhood. At least I don't remember it as happy. It wasn't miserable either. Even back then, I didn't have much idea of the future, or the past. I think that's why I was a bad student. It never dawned on me that by studying today, sometime in the future, this would pay off. On the other hand, I didn't learn from the past either. I didn't look back and say, "If only I had studied, I might have done better on that test." There was only one thing in the future that I was aware of, and that was the trip to the orthodontist. Every Saturday, although I don't know how we could afford it, my father dragged me to the worst orthodontist in the world, to have my teeth straightened.
This was probably the only truly traumatic experience of my childhood. I have long since blocked out what the orthodontist looked like (although I do remember his hairy arms and short white lab coat), but the main thing I remember was that I used to gag a lot. I don't think there was a Saturday morning that went by without this madman causing me to gag, or throw up, and after years of this, I finally figured out that I might as well throw up before I went to see him where it was less embarassing, and that's what I started doing. I can remember standing on top of the hill overlooking the orthodontist, with my father, and throwing up on the Grand Concourse. What a wonderful place to throw up. The Grand Concourse is sort of like the Champs de Elysees of the Bronx. But I digress (as usual)… The point was, that my memories are not of some wonderful idylic time.
I was short for my age, and probably not well coordinated. So I was usually picked last, or near last for any sports endeavors. I wasn't a good student (as I've said before); I had the feeling that I might become an inventor. I liked taking things apart, but I usually couldn't get them together again. In school, the highest office I ever ran for and won was "blackboard eraser monitor" which wasn't a bad job. You got to take the erasers to a little room where there was this vibrating machine that filled the room with chalk dust, and you'd stick the erasers on the machine, and turn it on, and plumes of chalk dust would envelop you. But that was a pretty good job. One step above the kid who emptied the garbage. All the jobs were called "monitors".
"Window Monitor" (Open and close the windows. The top windows were closed with a long stick with a hook on the end like something out of Moby Dick)
"Eraser Monitor" (Already described)
"Hallway Monitor" (Now there was a job, stand in the hallway during class breaks and do what? I have no idea. Maybe they were supposed to be like traffic cops.)
"Garbage Can Monitor" (Self explanatory)
And then you start to get into the real high level officers of the class:
"Class Secretary" (You took down the minutes of the meetings, but there never were any meetings. Still you were a sort of officer of the class.)
"Class Treasurer" (When money was collected, you got to put it in a little box and make sure no one but yourself stole any. This office usually went to the biggest kid in the class, and believe me, we had our share of scandals in that office.)
"Class Vice President"
I can't remember that the class officers really did anything at all. But they were generally the most obnoxious kids, who, if they weren't thrown into jail or didn't die of crack, are probably State Senators now.
So this is not really a sentimental, nostalgic journey, but more of a simpler excavation. The visit to the apartment building bringing up certain memories, and then my writing about them leading me to other sites.
I don't remember that we were hungry as kids, but we sure were pre-occupied with food. I shared a room with my sister J. who was two years younger than me (for about a year) and our favorite activity was at night, when it was really dark, and sort of spooky, we would scratch on the headboards of our respective beds. The headboards were made of some sort of strirated (sp?) vertical vinyl crap, and you could get this high-pitched squeeky sound by running your fingers across it horizontally. The game was pretty simple, you would stretch your hand back behind you and makes three squeeky sounds on the headboard and then make a wish outloud. Any all I can remember us wishing about was that we'd grow up to own restaurants. I wanted to grow up and run a pizza place so I could eat all the pizza I wanted. And she wanted to run a deli. She insisted that I'd get sick of just eating pizza for the rest of my life and that a deli was more diverse. At any rate, I stuck to the pizza place idea for a long time, and would often fall asleep dreaming of pizza.
* * *
Sent out the print to the design firm. Have my fingers crossed that they like it. I might be crazy, but getting a connection with a good design firm seems more promising than the gallery world. For one thing, they always do their own matting and framing. It makes a big difference to me that I simply need to produce and ship the print.
* * *
I'm still experimenting with this bigger size, I guess the full-frame size is 15" x 22" on 20 x 24 paper. I feel like re-printing a lot of things. I'm thinking that maybe I could sell these large prints unmounted, and signed on the white border on the front, and then the buyer could have it matted so that the signature and date show on the print. I just don't want to get another whole size of packaging materials.
* * *
The #4 uptown train to Woodlawn roared out from the tunnel into daylight at 161st street and I began to feel a little more at ease. I had always hated the dark claustrophobia of the tunnels, and the train had meanandered uptown, stopping at every little station from 125th street to 161st street (Yankee Stadium), and my palms were starting to sweat, and I was wondering whether I had picked the wrong day to go up to Fordham Road in the Bronx. It was unusually hot for an April day. Yesterday was worse, having broken all the records for April.
Anyway, when the train finally "went elevated" and the strong sunlight came through the scratched windows of the #4 train, I began to feel less anxious. And I remembered that feeling from thirty years ago as well. As the train would go underground, I would always catch my breath, and feel annoyed, and edgy. And as it would break into the open, and the city would open up beneath me, I would feel at ease again. Some things don't change at all.
At each stop, as the train went north, I wanted to get out, and stand on the platform and do some shooting. Mt. Eden station, and 176st station had great views of the graffiti covered buildings, and shiny fenced-in used auto-parts centers; but if I got off at each stop, somehow I thought I wouldn't get to my main destination which was Fordham Road and the Concourse. I had two places that I wanted to see again: Poe's Cottage, and the Army/Navy/Marine recruiting station.
When I was about ten years old, I had run away from home and ended up walking to the Marine recruiting station, and sitting outside there until it got dark. My father had hit me for something that my sister had done (she had scratched my initials into a piece of furniture) and gotten me into trouble for it. And after being spanked, I snuck out of the house in the afternoon, and walked to Fordham road (which was a pretty long walk for a ten year old kid). I don't know if I was thinking of enlisting, but eventually, a Marine came out, and asked me what was going on, and where my parents were, and I wouldn't tell him anything but my name. Somehow, he got more out of me, and called my father who came by (frantic of course) and picked me up inside the recruiting station…
At any rate, Fordham Road was announced, and I embarked onto the platform, and it was glorious to see Fordham Road again although the only thing that I really recognized from the elevated platform was the old Immigrant Bank Building in the distance. There were some workman on the tracks, and I took a few shots of them; and then some shots looking down at a long stretch limo; and I headed down the stairs to Fordham Road.
In a way, it was just as I remembered it. All the stores were different, or had different names, but some of the landmarks were still the same. I mean, you can't change how one street crosses another street, or how there's this little traffic triangle in the middle of an intersection. Alexander's department store where my mother used to drag us kids to get cheap clothes was now Caldor's department store, where plenty of mother's were dragging their kids to get cheap clothes. My mom would have loved to know that Alexander's was now Caldor's. She loved both stores.
The movie theaters were pretty much gone. The Valentine was completely obliterated. I couldn't find a trace of it. But the Paradise theater which was in its time as beautiful an art-deco theater as Radio City Music Hall, was still there. Abandoned. Busted up. Some men were working in a truck in front of it from Con Ed. They were the same outfit I saw twenty years ago when I went up to the Paradise and it had already been closed down.
And Poe's Cottage — it always meant a lot to me — was still there, although I swear it seemed to have moved from one side Poe's Park to the other, and it was only open to the public on Saturday and Sunday. But the fact that Poe lived in this little cottage with his teenage wife; wrote several stories there; had the d.t.s right there in the Bronx, right off of Fordham Road. Someone once said that the greater the genius, the worse the demons. And Poe lived up to that idea.
There were a couple of Park's Department women hanging around chit-chatting (I didn't see anyone working), and I asked one of them if Poe's house had been moved. She just smiled politely and said that it might have been. She wasn't sure.
And then on to look for the Thinny Thin calorie-free ice-product place that my mom used to send me out to at night when she was on one of her constant diets; but the thinny-thin place was now a shoe store.
The buildings, like the people, had to be big and tough to survive in this place. The big immigrant bank had survived. Alexander's which was the next largest building had survived as Caldor's. And the feeling you got as you walked the streets was that this was still a tough neighborhood, but not as bad as it was ten years ago. I felt perfectly safe there.
The heat was starting to get to me, and I decided to head back. I kept notes on the way back as to which station was worth getting out at. And on Saturday, I'm going to take another trip uptown, this time going further North, probably to Woodlawn Cemetery which was near our second apartment. There's plenty of famous people buried up there: Irving Berlin, George Cohan, Miles Davis, William Durant (found of General Motors), Duke Ellington (Don't Get Around Much Anymore"), David Farragut (Union Admiral. He uttered the famous cry "Damn the torpedoes."), Fiorello LaGuardia (NYC Mayor), Masterson, Bat (US West Marshall), Herman Melville.
And Robert Moses. American political leader. New York City Parks Commissioner (1934-60). He developed bridges, playgrounds, state parks, Jones Beach and Shea Stadium, among others. He is also the guy who built the cross-Bronx expressway which obliterated my old neighborhood.
It's funny, but I feel very much as I did when I was in Paris. Each night I would study the map, figuring out where I would go the next day. My basic idea is to go around the perimeter of the Bronx, and sort of work my way towards 1636 University from various vectors which have some emotional landmarks. I'm still fooling around with how I'm packing the camera and lenses. I don't like bringing the traditional Tamrac type camera bag, and I've been using a small Billingham bag for years which I really love because it doesn't look like a camera bag; but I always have to leave out one lens. So I think I'm going to move to the next size bag.
* * *
You know, there are times when the e-mails and donations (thank you G.M.) really do give me a warm fuzzy feeling. And this is the time that these very real gestures are needed. I fully expect that a year or two from now, the "big break" whatever form it takes, will have happened, and a lot of the financial concerns will be behind me. Now what evidence to support such an optomistic view? 1) I feel my photography is getting better (although possibly less pretty); and 2) each year that I've been selling, my sales have increased dramatically; 3) I like what I'm doing. This may be the most important thing. Everytime that I've worked as something that I enjoyed and was obsessed with, it has worked out.
Trivia fact about Robert Blake (he's in the news for murder today) — but he was the kid in Treasure of Siera Madre who sells the winning lottery ticket to Humprhy Bogart in the down and out flop house. "But senor, you have the winning ticket!"
* * *
Spent a few hours entering vendor bills into Quickbooks. I'm trying not to let this get out of hand so I can have some idea of how I'm doing before I find out that I'm in financial trouble. Currently, mat board is still the single most expensive purchase.
Also mixed up a fresh batch of xtol. that has got to be the greatest bargain developer. $7.85 for 5 liters, and I use it 1:1. That's a lot of rolls. Also, the stuff doesn't smell that bad and is easy to mix and last a long time. I went through my developing notes and I see where I went wrong… I was doing fine and then for some reason decided to up the agitation to 7 inversions in 5 seconds (pretty much like making a cocktail), and that's where I noticed the contrast was getting out of hand.
* * *
Anyway, tomorrow will be another trip to the Bronx. I still have a lot of film to develop. And, oh yeah, I also set up a page at home.nyc.rr.com/beckerman in the hope that I could use it to help drive search engine traffic to this site…
* * *
A friend who was reading about the Bronx excursions asked me why I had never been back before? And the answer is that I had been back a couple of times. When I got out of NYU Film School, I was a grip on one of the first films about hip hop in the Bronx (I think it was called Wild Thing or Wild Stuff or whatever the euphamism was for sex which seemed so Wild back then and is now so tame that I can't even remember what it was called; by Charlie Ahearn?? But I remember Fast Fab Freddy, or Fast Five Freddy… whatever… I used to see him on mtv for a while as a hip hop d.j.).
Anyway, at one point we did some shooting at night on University Avenue and were two apartments away from where I grew up. We had police guards with us, and none of us were completely sure we'd get out of there alive. I remember walking up to the third floor with this little film crew, after dark, and let's just say, it was plenty scary. That must have been around '83.
After that, I did go to the North Bronx pretty often, since my father was still living up near Montifoire Hospital (near the Oval); but you sort of zipped in by car off the Bronx Parkway; and zipped back to Manhattan; and there was no real desire to "explore" the past or anything like that. It had all been destroyed? Hadn't it?
And I think what got me thinking about it all again… was a combination of things… seeing a documentary where they were explaining how Robert Moses had divied up the Bronx; and I guess just getting to that age where you want to explore you own past. But there is no doubt, that it really began with the offer from my younger sister who works in Washington Heights, who had heard me say often enough that I wanted to walk across the Little G.W. to our old neighborhood and offered to drop me off on the Manhattan side.
So the past is prologue to the future; and the future is epilogue to the present. Sounds good to me. But once you go down that memory lane, where the past and the present collide, it's a slippery slope. One building reminds you of some story. You wonder what's behind that facade. What I would really like to do is knock on the apartment door of 1A at 1636, and see if I could go in and look at it. Maybe I'd have the nerve to do that, but not yet. Probably never. Maybe somethings are better off left unseen.
Anyway, today I'm off to the Cemetery (hope I don't stay there too long). Should have some new prints to show in a couple of days.
One other fun fact to know — I am a pretty atrocious speller and yet I refuse to spellcheck the journals. Go and figure that out. If some word sticks out at me too much, I will reach for this big dictionary and look it up. That just happened with Cemetery (I originally spelled it 'Cemetary'). But I have read that Herman Melville was also a bad speller, and that his daughter proofread and rewrote most of his stuff and I always contended that good spelling was the hallmark of idiocy and that vocabulary were more important then grammer and run on sentences and anyways…I'm going to try and find Herman's grave up in Woodlawn Cemetery today!.
* * *
Morbid, or life-affirming? Whatever, I'm just back from a pleasant morning, and rainy afternoon at Woodlawn Cemetery. I had planned to go by train, but ended up borrowing the car from my sister (I'm going to have to give her a credit if I ever really do this book). She loans me the car and on the key-ring she has one of these little tape-recorder things so that you can record where you parked the car, and then play it back later. This is an absolute must for aging, absent-minded New Yorkers.
My plan was to start at Woodlawn (which is a huge place) and work my way South, probably to Burnside Avenue where my grandmother used to live. As soon as I entered the park (I mean the cemetery), I knew that I would spend the rest of the day there. In fact, I think I would like to spend eternity there. (Well, I'm feeling o.k. but you have to spend eternity someplace, whether you get cremated, or entombed, you or what used to be you, are still someplace… but as usual I digress). The point was that as I entered the gates, within 30 seconds I was treated to another awesome display of Cherry Trees, and this time they encircled by gravestones. This is the perfect place to start the search for the lost city of the Bronx. As I was standing near one of the tombs, I thought I heard a familiar voice speaking to me. I had the camera around my neck and it seemed as if everytime I bent down I heard this scratchy voice. Spooky. Could be someone, or something in the sepulcher was trying to speak to me. But only when I bent in a certain position. Then I realized with a flash that I had put my sisters key ring with the recorder/playback thing in my pocket and was pressing the play button when I bent a certain way. Phew. No ghosts. Not yet.
And then I found this lake in the middle of the tombs. And it was just starting to rain. Geese, vicious and honking and half mad with hunger flew out of one of the tombs, and scared me with their noise and aggression. Maybe it didn't come from inside the tomb, but from behind one of the mausoleums. But I was very happy. Crazy geeze, amazing tombs, a lake, and a nice spring drizzle. I was just about to take a picture when a security guard pulled up in a tombomile, and asked whether I had a permit to take pictures. A permit? I don't need no stinkin' permit. I wish I had said that. But I just said, I didn't know you needed a permit. And he directed me to the big house near the entrance which took me a while to find, but finally I get inside, still thinking about those geese, and the lake and the rain, and the woman inside, a real Bronx-type (whatever that is) says, "Take a seat." and proceeds to bang around on her laptop apparantly looking for the permit. After a while, she complains to another woman that someone has moved the permit, and soon there are two Bronx women looking online for the permit. They both seem to be under the delusion that the Shooting Permit (as it is called) is filed under "J". Why "J"? I don't know. Maybe for Jewish guy who wants to take pictures.
Eventually, they manage to dig it up, and it basically says that you can't take pictures of the graves or the tombs or the mausoleums. So I ask, well what else is there? And they laugh, and say, well, if you happen to be pointing in the direction of a tree and a nice piece of stained glass gets in the way, I don't think anybody will be the wiser. So, I say, this is just something to protect you in case some relative don't like seeing their tomb in the paper or something like that. And the two ladies say, yeah. That's all it is. And then one of them asks me if I know about the house on the corner by the Oval. There was this strange stone house that looked like it was from the 1700's. Anyway, I say, you mean that house where the crazy people lived? And she says, yeah. That's the one. They were like the Addams family. Never left the house… Anyway we have a nice chat about them, and then I'm back out to the lake, only this time I can't find the lake. Every turn takes me the wrong way. I start to feel like I've stepped through the looking-glass. And its starting to rain. I'm cursing the dumb security guard. Don't they have anything better to do? Twenty minutes later, I stumble across the lake by deciding to go the opposite way from where I think the lake is.
And sure enough, as I get out of the car, the geese come flying from all directions. Maybe they've never seen a live human being before? I mean, I haven't seen anyone else in the park, besides the security guard.
So I start talking to them, figuring they've not heard people speak before, and pretty soon, the geese are gathered around me, camped out on the grave of one Hugo Warthmiller and kin; and I take a few portraits; sort of feeling as if they are the spirits of the place incarnate.
And they calm down a bit. And then it really starts to pour; and I get back in the car, and head back to Manhattan.
* * *
I asked my father if he had any reaction to the 1636 pictures, and this was his reply:
"The entrance: evoked memories: baby carriages; human noises-talking, screaming, hollering; torn wind blown, foot trampled newspapers, candy wrapper; jostling bodies; gated windows; the separation between 1636 and 1632-two separate universes."
The most interesting thing, for me was that feeling of separation between the two adjoined buildings. They were two separate universes separated by about three feet of brick and mortar. I don't think I knew anybody in the 1632 or 1640 or whatever it was called building but I can still remember many of the people in our building…
* * *
I don't know the order of things yet… that will come later, but here are the first things I've scanned in from the last two days of shooting. These things are not the best or the worst of it, just what I've started with. Poe's cottage looks too good although its true that they are constantly painting it.
He Will Be Our Guide
The Unopened Door
Poe Cottage #1
* * *
Some more "fun facts to know" about Woodlawn Cemetery:
William (Bat) Materson (1853-1921). Legendary frontier U.S. Marshall hung up his guns, moved east to New York City where he became a sportswriter and editor of the Morning Telegraph. He died very quietly while working at his desk.
"They called him Bat, Bat Materson." This was the line from the popular Bat Materson theme song. We loved the television series. "He wore a cane and derby hat… they called him Bat, Bat Materson." Can you believe that I am remembering the lyrics… "Back when the west was very young… there lived a man named Masterson… He had a cane and derby hat…. they called him Bat, Bat Masterson…" I don't remember who played him, and I'm not going to look it up on the web, but my guess is that it was the guy who played in Burke's Law (Gene Barry??)
I didn't come across his gravestone though the map says its at D-2 on Primrose. But it was easy to find Miles Davis' marker. In fact you can't miss it. I took a couple of shots. It's black marble with the notes of a song in 4/4 time inscribed and the name is: "Sir Miles Davis".
* * *
The beautiful artery that cuts through the Bronx, is the Grand Concourse. We just called it the Concourse. "Hey, I'll meet ya at the concourse, by Alexander's."
The Grand Concourse
Roofs at Fordham Road
* * *
Sales slowed down again to a trickle during the last week. I don't really care. I just put up another two rolls of film from the Bronx project to dry, and they look good. My xtol/tmy problems seem to have been solved. I think you can see that the latest scans are much richer than some of the previous things from this month. So the key for me was the usual thing, about 1/2 stop over exposed, and a touch of under-development. Never fails.
* * *
* * *
I've set up a crude page where I'm starting to collect the Bronx stuff:
Here it is. No navigation because the order will be changing a lot. I figure I'm about 5% into this project.
The 1636 Project
* * *
I have to admit, I didn't feel like getting out of bed this morning. I had been up late scanning in some of the new things; had spent a lot of time developing film; and it was cold and rainy. But my sister had offered the use of her car so long as I got it back by 10:30 a.m. so that it could slipped into a good parking spot and so she wouldn't have to move it; so at 7 a.m. I was in the car on the way back to you know where. I had no plan this morning. It slowly turned into a tour of high schools. I went up to De Witt Clinton, and stood in the pouring rain, looking down into the voigtlander finder, hardly able to see anything through the rain, and did a few shots of my High School. It looked clean, and tidy in the viewfinder, with the rain sweeping through the streets. And then off to find another school (Evander Childs) on Gunhill Road. That place still looked like hell hole (no offence if that's a school you went to). And then on to the train yards at Kingsbridge, which were completely fenced in. I approached the security guard at the entrance, and gave him my spiel about having grown up in the area and just wanting to take a couple of pictures. He was nice enough about it but said this was private property and he could lose his wonderful job if I took any pictures, and I just said, Hey, look, no one will even notice. And took one shot overlooking the train yards. He smiled and said, "O.K. Now get out of here before anyone finds out." And I did.
The drivers in the Bronx were a breed apart. People were honking at every thing. At one point, when I was stuck in traffic on Gunhill Road, two SUV's went up on the sidewalk to get around it. Seemed like the type of thing you had to do to get around.
I don't know if any of this will be good; but then on the way back on the Deagen, I finally did something I had wanted to do for a long time and pulled over to a narrow shoulder. The rain was still pouring down; I was soaked and cold; but I got out of the car near Yankee Stadium and did some shooting in the opposite direction, across the rooftops with the bridges in the background. Good or bad; who knows; but at least I got it out of my systerm. There are a couple of other spots along the Deagen that interest me.
I have two orders to get out (both for Promenade) but don't feel like printing. I want to develop the film I shot today.
* * *
I've received a couple of nice e-mails about the Bronx stuff. Encouragement to keep on going. I couldn't stop now, even if I wanted to. I still feel that most of this is not exactly the "postcard type of beauty" that people will want to hang on their walls, but my instincts are that if I'm obsessed by it, there will be others who will be also. (I hope.) And if not, I'll just keep selling Promenade for the rest of my life.
* * *
Also, for the record, I've taken to wearing a gold earing (clip on) that was my mother's — basically so that I fit in better in the areas that I'm going.
* * *
* * *
The Bronx project continues to spread out. My father has agreed to return with me to Burnside and Grand street where he returned after WWII, where his parents lived. He began to tell me stories about returning after the war with his friend, and how one of them was in the Navy, and he was in the Army, and how they exchanged uniforms as a gag, and freaked out (no one used that word then) both sets of parents who were afraid they'd get thrown in jail. and he became very excited about it, remembering stories about how his mother thought they were being charged too much by a butcher (there were price controls on) and went by herself to picket the butcher. how the butcher acosted her, only to find out that her older son, a big sort of scary ex-bombadeer (sp?) was there to protect her, and the butcher lowered his prices. (not exactly i'm gonna make an offer that you can't refuse, but close).
when i asked him what he thought about going into the building, he balked (as well he should), but we're setting up a time to do this. as other family members get involved, it evokes more feelings of walking back in time. when my father told me that he had returned there in 1946, it felt like i had just taken a big step back into another time. being more practical about this sort of thing, he suggested that i contact the Bronx Historical Society. he thought the feeling that i was getting was almost like a meditation. something about it "was just so calm and peaceful."
i think that's true. it has the feeling of peeling an onion. or like the Julia story by Hellman (Pentimento… in painting, the presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over.)
* * *
Falling asleep last night I was thinking that there is a hard part of the story to tell that has to do with the feeling and perhaps the fact that we (the white people) were driven from our homes by "them". I'm trying to remember it from the view of a 12 year old. My enemies, as I recall, were the Irish kids. The Irish kids with names like Pat and Mike, (damn that was a great movie) were always after us Jewish kids. I don't remember run-ins with blacks or Hispanics. But a time came, when my white neighbors began to flee. Words like "they're coming aren't you gonna get out while you can" were heard. My parents were intolerant of any kind of derogatory language in the house. I can remember aunts, and uncles using talking about the Schwarzes (sp?) coming in. And my father correcting them, in front of me, that we didn't use those kind of words. We saw our neighbors and friends leaving to go to Pelham Parkway, or Westchester. And the projects began to get dangerous. But, honestly, I can only remember being constantly involved in street fights with the Irish Kids: Big Junior, Frankie, Irish Joe. But nobody ever really got hurt badly. Usually it ended with a big kid sitting on your chest, pinning your shoulders to the concrete with his knees and yelling "D'ya give?" Maybe slapping you in the ears.
I didn't have any Jewish identity, to speak of. My aunts and uncles were religious, and once in a while I'd go to Synagogue with them on the High Holiday. I have a vague memory of having stones thrown and me and my cousins when we were leaving Synagogue, and running through a gauntlet of Irish kids. But I don't really think anyone had any idea as kids why we were being attacked.
I had to go to Buffalo, to study philosphy, before I ran into true anti-semites. A black guy from Rochester that I was playing cards with asked to look at the top of my head. I let him. He ran his fingers over my skull, looking for something. After a while I pulled away, and asked him what the hell he was doing? He told me quite seriously that he thought that Jews had horns. That's what his mother had told him. They weren't horns exactly, but sort of stubs where the horns used to be. He was shocked that I didn't seem to have any.
I asked the other two guys from Harlem if they had ever heard that, and they both said they had. The first guy then tells me, sheepishly, that I was the first real Jew he had ever known. I asked him did he know that Jews had been killed in Mississippi for taking part in the civil rights movement. He looked shocked. He had never heard that. What else did he know about Jews? Well, for one thing, they were all rich. They owned the banks. They controlled the world. I told him that my grandmother had come to this country as an orphan and worked for years as a scrub woman in a hospital. That my grandfather had worked as a millinery worker, and drove a milk truck for a while. That I knew a lot of Jews, and there wasn't a rich one among them. And we began to talk about his background. How his grandparents had been sharecroppers. How he was the first one in his family to go to college. There were so many similarities in our backgrounds, that we were both shocked.
But, to get back to the Bronx story. It's true, that as the neighborhood changed (a euphamism for becoming less-white) it became more dangerous. The types of things that began to happen had us scared. Drugs. Murders. Overdoses in hallways. Buildings begin to burn down. You couldn't do anything but move. But what I'm beginning to realize is that my home, my neighborhood was destroyed. Eventually it would start to come back. But the place that was my home, the place where you knew your neighbors, the place with the wide boulevards, and beautiful apartments, was slowly covered with strange writings.
* * *
I'm going to do a "Mother's Day Sale". I need to generate a couple of sales to close out April. I'll put up the details tomorrow. I guess the idea is, buy a print for Mom. The question is, how long should the sale be for? How about three days? With constant nagging reminders (would you take out the garbage already? I've asked you ten times… which actually reminds me of another thing I am dying to shoot. Incinerators. Every apartment I lived in had a little dirty room, usually dark, with a hatch that you'd pull down like a mailbox and drop the trash into. These rooms usually were crawling with roaches and other things. A very scary place to visit as a kid. I can see a whole chapter on incinerators and maybe…just maybe dumb waiters!) but I digress as usual. I'm going to pick out some shots that would make good Mother's Day gifts…
* * *
De Witt Clinton #1
De Witt Clinton #2
* * *
Well, can't stay in the Bronx all day… Here's some things from Schurz Park:
Schurz Park Trees and Buildings
Schurz Park Stairs and Daffodils
* * *
That was a shock. Woke up this morning to find that my sister (n.b) had sent me a $50 donation through paypal. Realy mixed feelings. Was my journal so filled with pitiful pleading for money? Or was it the picture I sent her of her H.S. Evander Childs.
* * *
Anyway, today I've got to get out that print of Promenade that I've been putting off, and hopefully print some of the new things.
Getting Into Your Work
The way some of these ended up being posted was that someone asked me if I had a shot of the Chrysler Building, which I do, but in searching for it through tons of crappy negatives, these popped up and bit me.
* * *
Your Seat In Hell
* * *
Yesterday, the video-intercom rings, and I look at it and see that the super's assistant is there, saying something in a hoarse voice and then he holds up a package. I tell him to come up. I had been sitting on the floor for hours going through old negatives, looking for Bronx things, and I wander down the stairs barefooted and meet him on the second floor. He hands me a small package, and there's a note attached to it. I know what the note means, he's going to hit me up for more money.
There's always a terrible story in these notes. He. is a small, skinny guy that is as sweet as can be, but honestly, the first time I saw him changing the bags in the garbage bins, I thought he was a homeless guy. And he's not far from it. It always seems as if the landlord is behind in his payments to him and I don't imagine that there's much in that pay envelope. There's always something physically wrong with him. Trouble with his stomach. Trouble with his ears. Nothing but troubles. Sometimes he eats at the soup kitchen. I once had a long talk with him where he told me which soup kitchens had the best food. This is not an easy life he's in.
Anyway, the note says that he's sorry, that he can't talk, he has something wrong with his throat, and then goes on to explain that he's about to meet his daughter who he hasn't seen in many years, and has no money to take her to lunch. Could I spare a $20. I'm sort of pissed, because although I used to give him money whenever he asked for it, $20 means a lot to me these days. But I put my good Karma hat on and walk down toward him where he's perched on the top of the stairway banister changing a flickering light. He almost falls off as I reach into my pocket and then comes down, and I hand him the $20. He starts to tell me the story in this raspy voice, and I tell him not to talk. Go have a good lunch with his daughter. And I come back to the apartment with the little box under my arm, and open it to find two rolls of TMY and a selection of tea bags. [Thank you C.].
That is how the universe should work.
* * *
More things are emerging from my search through old negatives:
Bronx Resevoir (I'm not sure of the exact name of the place but will look it up. Across from Lehman College). I'll have to try and figure out when this was done, but I'd say about 25 years ago.
This shot probably belongs more in a scrapbook than in the Bronx Project, but here it is: Feet In Window I'm just putting up whatever is interesting now; maybe it will end up fitting in somehow.
* * *
They send me requests for donations from the University at Buffalo, from DeWitt Clinton H.S., from Columbia University (where I studied programming), from NYU Film School (film, what else), from the Police Athletic League, from this organization and that organization and they appeal to my sense of group spirit, and that I was once a member of that group and I toss this stuff in the garbage.
At the core, I don't see myself as "A photographer", "an artist", a member of the Police Athletic League (although that is a good organization), or of any other group. I don't even see myself as an American, or as a New Yorker. If a photographer wants to relate to me about photography, I'm generally not interested. If you try and call up my patriotic spirit, it's there, but you'll need to pull hard.
I don't see myself as "A Jew", or a supporter or detractor of Israel, or a sport fanatic (I was once a big Mets fan, but that was when I didn't know any better).
But, and this is where this is leading, if you bump into me on the street and say, "I'm from the Bronx." My eyes light up. Where exactly are you from? Oh my God, Tremont? Have you been back there? What's it like.
In short, the closest that I come to having some group identity is as a Bronxite. And its not with some blinding love that I think of the Bronx, (oh, my old hometown, what a wonderful life we had there). Yeah right. But there is a bond between people who grew up in the Bronx. I swear there is. Maybe its the same with people from a small town.
I've worked at so many different jobs; usually for less than a year. One day I walk into the advertising agency to be interviewed by the MIS director; and it comes out that he's from the Bronx. Case closed. All questions removed. I can't remember all that we talked about, but very little was about computers. The guy is straight foward with me about the pros and cons of the job. He complains that he wants to retire (this is during the interview), and the place is getting to him. Nine years later, he finally retires.
We both have an aversion to "the suits". We can say things to each other (from day one) like "I don't give a shit what that a*hole thinks, this is how we're gonna do this.) And we have a pretty good run of it. One day, the Andersen Consulting people come in. Ten guys in suits. They bring out charts and power point presentations, and insist that the program that they have will make things work like a german clock. During the meeting, I get into a fight with three of them. I've seen all this stuff before, and it ain't gonna work. It never has, never will. My boss backs me up. He watches my back. Afterwards their program is put into effect and within six months has failed. But as we're leaving the meeting, he says to me, "Did you ever hear such a crock in your life." I just smile and say, "Never. These guys are idiots."
There's a similar sensibility with people from Brooklyn. Brooklyn is as close to the Bronx as you are going to get. Staten Island, forget about it. Queens is in-between. The streets are too wide. They're too close to the Island. And Manhattan — Manhattan is a dreamworld filled with tourists, corporate climbers, the ones they've climbed over, and streets that have been laid out by an orderly gridwork that stiffles the imagination and the vision ("not that there's anything wrong with that").
Hallway, Putnam Place
* * *
Put up a thank you Bronx Wall page for people who have donated.
* * *
O.K. one of those little things that has been bugging me and I'm sure there's a logical answer for:
Why, on wine bottles etc. do they say "Alcohol 5% by Volume." I understand 5% (maybe) but why "by Volume"? In other words, is there some other way to measure the percentage of one liquid in another? Could you just say "5% alcohol"?
* * *
Also there was a report that there is a carcinogin in french fries, potato chips, and bread. It seems that things that carbohydrates that are baked or fried are the culprit. If bread can cause cancer, than what about pizza, baked lasagna, baked ziti? Are the Italians doomed? This has me very concerned because I've been thinking of visiting Italy, and I hate to think that this whole society is now endangered. Well, it was a swedish study, and that in itself is suspect. We need some good American scientists funded by the food industry to study this phenomena.
* * *
* * *
There was an explosion at the Apex Technical School on 19th and 6th, which was one block from the ad agency where I worked. Without knowing anything, I doubt very much this was a terrorist thing, but was some kind of accident. We'll see how it turns out. I was in the darkroom printing when I got the calll from a friend to tell me about it. I turn on the t.v. The CNN coverage was awful. I switch to NY1, much better. And here I am, printing away, oblivious to everything but the Dylan song that's blasting away. The first reports are that 50 people were injured… Now someone from the Apex place was saying that it didn't happen in the Apex building but in a building nearby where construction was going on. They're reporting 50 injuries.
* * *
I was going to say something on a lighter note, about how well the printing is going with the Bronx things. Easy as pie. I can only attribute this to the fact that I went back to doing my own film developing (I had gotten into the habit of dropping things at Duggal and they did a good job) but I have much more control doing it myself.
* * *
Just made arrangements to take my father back to my Grandmother's house on Burnside Avenue in two weeks. I told him to wear an earing and a tattoo.
* * *
There is an oral tradition in any family. Stories that are told over and over, and passed from one generation to the next. My father's older brother, was one of the toughest guys that I ever knew. He had been shot down during WWII, and spent time in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. As a kid I remember taking drives with him and hearing him mutter "Blow it out your ass" to anyone who honked him. If there was ever any trouble, he was a guy you wanted to have on your side. This story probably took place in the sixties. This is how my father tells it:
"My brother and I are walking our dogs near the park [Mosholu Park]. It is after 11:00PM. A bunch of teenagers come by. They are hooting and hollering and one of them says something like 'Let's get those guys.' At which my brother unhitches the dog chain, starts swinging it over his head, charging towards them and bellows, 'Come on you punks. Come and get us.'
They scattered. He wanted to chase them up the street. I said, 'Let them go. They're just kids.' He said something like, 'But I really would like to get just one of them. It would be something he would never forget.'
Maybe I'm exaggerating, but as far as anger was concerned, he was frothing at the mouth. He wanted to do violence. He wanted to batter someone, see blood. I tell you, he was scary. I don't know how you did it, but you got one story out of me."
* * *
Cat In Window
* * *
An idea was just offered by a reader that I might sell coffee mugs, tee-shirts etc. with my images on them at: http://www.cafepress.com
This seems like something worth pursuing. You upload your images and design them on their site. Then you can link to your own store. I'm wondering if this would be worth spending some time doing.
* * *
Made a slight change to the site today. The new section on the home page will only have new prints that are for sale. The journal will continue to be the place to see ongoing work. And I put the first Bronx picture (Bike and Concourse) for sale. I printed three or four prints from the Bronx stuff, and will start putting it up for sale over the weekend. Paradise Theater, "He will be our guide" (this one is really beautiful), and a few more.
Took another trip up to Burnside avenue (at least from the train) and did some more shooting on the subway platform. I was so excited that when I came back, I couldn't wait to finish off the roll and developed it while there were only 20 shots on it. It's hanging up drying now. I'm beginning to feel safer in some of these areas, but I still keep my wits about me.
* * *
Two shots from the Burnside Avenue station:
* * *
A few short months ago, I remember thinking that my really creative years were behind me in photography. After all, its really about obsession, and willingness to do crazy things sometimes. I was in such a creative period when I was dragging my tripod and medium format camera with me to work every day and shooting on the way home. I didn't think that I'd ever have such an energetic period again. I remember saying to myself that if that's the way it was, and if all I did was keep reprinting Promenade, that would be okay too. Still better than sitting behind a desk. But it doesn't work that way. Things ebb and flow and you really can't control them. I have shots (not really worth posting) of the Highbridge from twenty years ago. And one thing that has happened when I left work, was that suddenly there was the time for these old interests to really re-assert themselves. That was something that I didn't anticipate. April was slow in terms of sales, and yet I said to myself, it doesn't really matter right now. I'm shooting what I want, and I'm enthused about it, and I can afford to go at this rate for a few months. And the Bronx thing re-invigorated me. I have no doubt that these pictures will never be as popular as Promenade, or Night Storm, and what is great is that I don't really care. So far, I've been concentrating on the architecture, but I'm slowly going to try and bring the same style of shooting people into this arena.
* * *
Under the heading of they don't write lyrics like this anymore: From Horse Feathers (Marx Brothers):
Everyone says I love you
But just what they say it for I never knew
It's just inviting trouble for the poor sucker who
Says I love you.
Everyone Says I Love You
The great big mosquito and the bee sting too
The fly when he gets stuck on the fly paper too says I Love You
There are only 8 little letters in this phrase, you'll find
But they mean a lot more than all the other words combined
Everyone, no matter who
The guy over 80 and the kid of two
The preacher on the pulpit and the man in the pew says I Love You
Christopher Columbus he write the Queen of Spain
a very nice little note
He said "How I Love You, my queen" and then he gets himself a bigger, bigger boat
Why you no do what Columbus do
When he's a come in 1492
He said to Pocahontas "Acki Vachi Vachi Voo,"
That means "You little son of a gun, I Love You."
* * *
The trip up to Putnam Place and the like was interminable today. The #4 train stops at every stop on the weekend. But it was worth it. I revisited "The Oval". I that since I was older (15 to 19) when I lived there, more memories rushed forth. I used to jog around the upper level with my father. Sometimes, even my mother in a drastic weight-losing fit would jog with us. But you couldn't jog around the upper level anymore because there was a mesh fence put in that bisects the upper level. I wandered down to the track area and then I remembered the area where the old Italian men used to play bocci ball and wandered over there and for the first time, I felt tears welling up as I looked at the overgrown bocci ball court. This was very surprising to me, since I never actually played bocci ball, and barely knew the rules. But no matter what else was going on in my life, I always found this a place where I could just stand by and watch the guys with their berets, and their old-world manners, playing. I wiped some tears away, took a few pictures, and kept going, wondering what the tears were about. I guess, it just opened up a deep vein that I hadn't recognized; how one culture had replaced another. Kids were sitting around listening to hip-hop. The basketball courts were packed. A whiff of pot as I walked by the playground area. Pit bulls were the dog of choice. The tennis courts, usually packed on a Saturday, were empty, and possibly closed off to the public. Everyone looked at me suspiciously. I guess I was the only white guy around. And then I went on to Putnam Place.
I tried to talk to people sometimes. I went back to my old Junior High School, and when I would get that questioning look from the kids going in to play basketball, I might say, "That's my old Junior High" but no one answered. On the way home, still feeling melencholy, I rode the between the cars like I used to do as a kid, focusing and setting the exposure with one hand. I had a feeling of not caring what happened and went so far as to take a couple of pictures inside the car, which were also met with glares. But it didn't matter. The Mosholu Parkway station was my station. I could take pictures on the platform or not if I felt like it. I had taken that that number 4 train into the city a million times. So what if now I stood out from the crowd because of the color of my skin. I wasn't there in the present anyway. I didn't matter. Maybe I was physically there in the present but I was really just a ghost from the past. And no one bothers with ghosts on the Mosholu Parkway subway stop.
* * *
Putnam Place Couryard
Building in the Oval
* * *
I began to organize the Bronx Project into geographical sections. It's getting too unwieldy to try and keep it going in this metaphysical journey mode. Some of that will have to come later.
Went back to Poet's Walk during a pretty heavy rainstorm. This has some potential for sure:
Central Park, Reflection
I was trying to see what the difference would be, returning to "Poet's Walk" with the M6 as opposed to the bulky view camera of 8 years ago, and I think the difference is apparant. A more interesting shot by far.
On my way back, I passed a Japanese couple getting married in the park. Central Park Wedding.
* * *
I was doing a little "ridin' between cars" on my way back from the Bronx. What's interesting, is that the train was going about 25 mph when these were taken. They were shot at 1/1000 with the 35mm lens.
Between the Cars
* * *
Just went to check google, and after all the tinkering with the site, I've finally hit the big time (at least for now). The phrase 'black and white photography' lists my site on the first page of results. The only problem is that with all the stuff I was trying, and a number of new people linking to me, I'm not really sure what did the trick. So if it drops off again, I'm not sure what I'll do to fix it, but one idea I've had is to start listing people who link back to me on my links page. The idea being that at least there's a better chance that google will spider those links and see that they've linked to me (and of course visa versa).
* * *
I've been asked by a few people why I haven't been including people in the Bronx project. Right now, I'm trying to retain the feeling of a sort of excavation in time — a feeling of these were the buildings, the places that I remember. It's sort of like trying to bring back ghosts. Tricky stuff.
The Way (Mosholu Parkway)
* * *
As April draws to a close, I want to quickly put down a thought which has been something of an idee fixe, which is to say, it won't go away — and that is: What if Van Gogh had a website? What if, while living in the yellow house in Arles he had a hotmail account and was posting his pictures on VanGogh.com? Would he have found an audience? Would he have been more disheartened.
Today I checked my weblogs and found that I have had forty-thousand hits, but still not a single sale. Here is a typical email that I just received:
'M. Vincent — I love your work. I am studying painting at the ecole de paintre, and I just wanted to let you know that someday I hope to be able to paint as well as you. — Marie.'
Theo, I find myself spending more and more time trying to fix the website and less time painting. I have this wonderful idea of painting at night and I need to make a hat with candles. I know it sounds crazy, but every time I start to work on this little project, I find some bug in the html code that needs to be tweeked. Well, I hope to get around to painting again in a few days. And here is still another email which has me wondering:
"M. Vincent, I have been admiring your painting that you call 'Potato Eaters' and I am thinking that this is an excellent subject matter, but I have a very large wall in my chateau to fill, and I was wondering if you have any that are like it that are of a larger size? Or perhaps you have something similar that could go next to it? Regards, Pierre"
Theo, what am I going to do? I only have the medium sized painting of the Potato Eaters. Perhaps I should try and paint a larger one? What do you think?
p.s. If you can send a few francs to pay for the ISP, I would appreciate it. "
* * *
Almost all the places where I grew up are in Police Precinct 52.
Population: 128,588 (1990 census)
2 Square Miles
Notable Areas/Points of Interest
1. Woodlawn Cemetery
2. NY Wildlife Conservation Park (Bronx Zoo)
3. NY Botanical Gardens
4. Poe Park
5. Bronx Bavarian House *
One fun fact to know about the Bronx is that it has more parks than any other borough.
Crime Statistics from NYC Police Department:
Murder 43 22
Rape 60 53
Robbery 1727 603
Felony Assault 627 524
Burglary 2,344 766
Gr. Larceny 922 528
Grand Larceny Auto 1464 555
* What the heck is the Bronx Bavarian House? I'm going to have to do a little research on that. It really does sound vaguely familiar, like I passed it by on Pelham Parkway once…?