Homage to Bagel Guy

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I wish sometimes that I could capture the sense of character of people in photographs.  Sometimes I can – but it’s not the same as really knowing them.  This fellow is the most extroverted subject that I’ve ever run into.  Every time I come into the store in the early morning – say 5 a.m. – when they’re at the end of the night shift – there’s a certain giddyness that breaks out.  I remember the same feeling after long film shifts.  When he sees me enter with the camera he puts on a big grin and begins to give bear hugs to everyone around him.  They are okay, but strike usual poses.  Maybe they put two fingers up, some sort of victory sign.  But this guy is 100% natural.  No posing.  No staring into the camera.  He just seems pleased to see that someone actually is interested in their work lives; which I am.  In the shot above, you get a sense of the balancing act, moving through the narrow kitchen to the spot behind the camera where the bagels are slid into the bins.

We shake hands if we meet on the street while he’s leaving work.  We don’t know each others names.  It doesn’t matter.  We both have this sort of exuberant feeling about the sacredness of life that I can’t quite explain.

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When I arrive, as I sometimes do when I can’t sleep at some crazy hour of the morning – he would just walk up to me and give me pieces of some sort of cake or cookies without saying a word.  Some sort of prize for being the only customer in the store.

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I know that he can speak English because I’ve heard him, but I always think of him as someone performing pantomime.  Not that sort of thing you see with the mimes in the cities raising money – but a natural mime.  Someone that you just feel has this way of seeing into you and understanding what your life is about, and somehow reflecting it back at you.  Am I making too much of what is really just a baker that I run into every few months (I’m not usually up at 4 a.m.).  I don’t think so.  I think that everyone around him sees it too.

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Dave

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

6 thoughts on “Homage to Bagel Guy”

  1. Fabulous post. An entire way of life in a few pictures and lines. Photography as a labor of love.

  2. For many years before work I stopped off for coffee and an occasional bagel at a bagel shop on the Lower East Side, next to Katz’s Deli. The owners were Russian Jews and I always felt a connection with them, being the child of Russian Jewish immigrants.

    They sure knew what was best for business because they always hired the most beautiful Ukranian girls to work for them behind the counter. These girls could hardly speak a word of English and the owners probably paid them minimum wage, but every working guy in the neighborhood would stop into this shop for coffee and bagels. The sanitation guys especially would stop in for long coffee breaks and flirt with the girls.

    The male comraderie in these photos is great, Dave, but I personally like my bagels served with doe-shaped eyes, broken English, and lots of cream cheese.

  3. I always enjoy your H&H photos, Dave – and this set is wonderful. Your very touching commentary really came across to me, too.

    If you get a chance, please tell the gentleman in these photos that I enjoyed seeing him, and that this former steady H&H customer (from 30 years ago) hopes to see him in person during one of my visits to NYC.

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