Happy Holidays

Dear Reader –

The recession blasted across the country over the last two years or so.  It knocked out many of the local store owners I know.  Stores that had been in the neighborhood for twenty years or more closed.  And yes, it hit me too this year, but to take steal a disco phrase – I survived.  And I survived partly because I began to reinvent myself, and because I continue to feel a wonderful wave of karma coming my way from you.

You have kept my spirits up when I was down; and  knocked me down when I was up; but I always had the feeling that you were out there.

When I began the storefront idea in the winter of ’99, I had a vision of a bunch of guys (truth be told they were guys) straight out of central casting for an Abe Lincoln movie, gathered around a pot-bellied stove in the back of a general goods store.  In this vision, men were wearing overalls, spitting tobacco, and doing what people would later do around the water cooler and then through social networks: chew the fat.

The general store is gone and been replaced with the everything store.  The water-cooler has been replaced with tweets that can only add to attention disorders.

Turns out that everyone needs  such places in the back of the store where they can grumble, tell jokes and in short – be human. That’s what the blog has been for me – a chance to be show the human side of trying to make it as a photographer.  And you, dear reader (how archaic) have enjoyed it too.  Who wants to see pictures when you can read about the ups and downs of the photographer (and there have been many of both this year).  What better way to encourage yourself in your own path.

To get down to business – this post is for you – and for future followers.  Although I may not answer every e-mail, or every comment; the sense that I’m not working in a vacuum has made this journey easier for me.  And I hope that it makes your journey easier as well.  I’ve been trying to come up with a phrase to end what is essentially a thank you note, and was thinking about how most of us don’t really believe in Santa Claus, or many of the things that we celebrate.  I was thinking about my mother, who has been gone these last 20 plus years, and missing her.  But I was also feeling lucky that she was my mother; and that we had as many years as we did together.

Spirits and memories live on.  I probably think about her more since she’s gone than when she was on this earth.  Gone from the physical world, and yet able somehow to remain with me.  So I’ll leave you with the traditional “Happy Holidays” and this sentiment: Just because you can’t touch it – doesn’t mean it can’t touch you.

Dave

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Street Performers by Metropolitan Museum (infrared)

Caption Contest

Funny captions wanted. If I use yours – you get a pack of these cards, or a mug with your caption. I have a few in mind, but I won’t put them up until I see if anyone comes up with something better.

This one of Shea being torn down – it’s pretty much gotta be in color.

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swirling

days have been swirling by in a blur of printing and packaging.  i’m too tired to use the caps key.

one day printing from say 6 a.m. until 3 when i have to take a nap, getting up and doing more until i go to bed for the night or the cat won’t let me work anymore;  and the next day matting and packaging on the same schedule.  yesterday first time that i had to make two trips to Fedex on the same day because i couldn’t carry it all  on one trip.

and that – yesterday – was the big push.  now i have about four of the large prints (15 x 19 and up) to get through and figure out where to put them to dry; and tomorrow (thurs) everything that is scheduled for Christmas delivery should be on the way.

then there are three new yorkers coming by on friday to pick up prints.

It’s been very lucky that this season went hectic on me because the year had been a washout which I chalked up to the recession.  On the other hand, I spent a lot of time during the year making sure the site was ready for xmas; and doing what I called the pre-season sale.  I can see that the sale helped big time – which is why everyone in the world does sales.

The only glitch, in the middle of the frenzy was running out of yellow ink which ShadesOfPaper.com was good enough to overnight to me for free.  I can’t say enough about the service those guys offer.  On top of that – somewhere in the blur they had a half-off sale (speaking of sales) on the Epson Exhibit paper and I really stocked up then which was smart.

Yesterday, I was so busy that I didn’t notice that somehow the radio signal on the blackberry had shut off somehow and had been off for two days.  Weird.  I looked at the thing which didn’t have email or calls for two days and wasn’t making outgoing calls and realized the thing had turned itself off.  Whatever.

On top of that – the Zazzle stuff continues to sell, I wish I knew who was buying it, which is something I can’t see in Zazzle; and I keep adding items when I have a break.

None of this could have been done in the darkrooms days.  No way.  Just to start off with, the number of sizes I offer, and even the Zazzle stuff, since all the digital files are already prepared for printing.  It’s just a matter of uploading them to Z and sticking my name and title on them, and some description which I usually copy and paste from the store website.  I have nothing to do with those sales which is the real blessing, and I have just upped my royalty on the posters to 45%.  I may go higher with that later.

I also have three lessons scheduled for the new year; so when this is over with I had better get a haircut and get my clothes cleaned.  I’m walking around like a bum.

Okay – time for a nozzle check on the 7800. Sure, it needs to be cleaned.  Which is why I tend to print for a day, and then package the next.  Otherwise I’d be doing nozzle checks around the clock.  Ciao.

[hopefully this doesn’t come across as whining.  just the way it is right now.  these are the times i wish i was 25 years younger.  man, in the film making days we’d often do 18 hour days.  i remember one shoot where we worked three days in a row without sleep.  i also remember thinking at the time that this was the sort of life that would be impossible when i got older.  i was on the track to be a cinematographer then.  i looked at the older cinematographers, i just wondered how, physically, they were able to endure the hours.]

Bloomingdales, Dave, Judith, Sid

Lester, who I kept hectoring about how he was shooting (using flash, looking at every image after shooting etc.) did a beautiful tribute of the signing. The video is also (of course) now available on YouTube.  Here’s the link if you want to pass it around:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zgk079bPnCo

http://v.wordpress.com/wp-content/plugins/video/flvplayer.swf?ver=1.11

Well, that really went well. By the time I left Judith had just about sold out all the john lennon: in their own write books. And I was happy to see that Sid Bernstein showed up, and not only that but he was an absolute doll to work with. 90 years old, and he offered me half of his danish when he arrived. This has been an object lesson in perseverance, on the part of Judith.

Amazing coincidence – the woman in the second photo next to Judith has several parrots.  I recognized her as someone I had photographed at the Mermaid Day parade.  We both remembered that day – a few years back – and the shot of the parrots.  Maybe I’ll see if I can find it.

It was also a nice reunion – for me to see my sister meet Lester who she hasn’t seen in – must be over 20 years.  I was also able to have Ross (the videographer) come and I got to do a short interview with Sid (yes, after a few minutes you find yourself calling him Sid).  On top of that, I forced Lester to bring a CD of his songs and pass it off to Sid’s PR person who promised to give it a listen.

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Photo by Lester

And yes – that’s me laughing in the plaid shirt (a birthday gift). Cast of Characters, from left to right: Judith Furedi (author), me (photographer for book), Sid Bernstein (the one and only), Ross (videographer), and I forgot her name (PR person for Sid).  One of the few shots that caught me in a happy, engaged moment.

Bio Moments

Although I should be working on getting prints out, I spent a few hours this morning trying to put together important dates from my film career and stumbled across my transcript from NYU Grad. School of Film.  So I had a pretty good start.  I entered, Fall of ’79 and was there for 3 semesters.  I think it was a two year program at the time, so I didn’t finish, which was standard operating procedure for me at that time.

It also means that I was 28 years old, and going to turn 29 during the first semester.  As I began to search for alumni, I discovered that the name of the school had changed from Tisch School of the Arts to The Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film, Television, & New Media.  I also discovered that Spike Lee had become the Artistic Director of the school.  I don’t know if he still is.  And that Lee’s thesis film, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, was the first student film to be showcased in Lincoln Center’s New Directors New Films Festival.

I was sitting next to him at that showing.  I had worked with him on the first film exercise.  The class was divided into groups of three or four students, and we were given 16mm cameras and went out to do short films.  The first setup was of a guy running through a parking lot near Astor Place (the lot is no longer there) and he and I spent some time trying to extend the legs of the heavy wooden tripod.

I can’t say that we were ever friends, but we were both known as decent writers.  He also worked in the equipment room, so you would always run into him when you needed to check out or return equipment.  And of course, there were always film showings.  Lee had a reputation for always wanting to do films about the black experience.  There weren’t many black students in the class, and I don’t remember any black teachers.  And he would get flack for this concentration.  I remember during one showing someone, whether a student or a teacher I don’t remember, complained about his films all being about blacks – and Spike replied that no one had any trouble with Woody Allens’ films all being about the same class of whites (I’m paraphrasing) but you get the idea.

The school was, and still is, almost impossible to get into.  According to NYU, less than 5% of applicants are accepted.  I was also told at the time that the head of the school, Lazlo Benedek (The Wild One director)  never interviewed students, and yet he wanted to meet me after seeing my application.  Long story short, my application consisted of a huge sci-fi screenplay that I had written with Lester while we both had full-time jobs (called Adon) that had hundreds of characters and was way too long for a screenplay.

I also submitted films I had made as a teenager with the Young Filmmakers group; and a bunch of black and white photographs.  After going over it all, I must have said something right because he shook my hand and said that although I obviously didn’t know what I was doing as far as screenwriting format goes, anyone that could put that much effort into it was worth taking a chance on.

But I’m not here to write stories right now – though I have a lot of them about film school – I was just trying to get my chronology down so that when I do begin to write my memoirs I have some idea of the dates.

When I left school, I have two other film credits that help pinpoint that time for me: Alone in the Dark (released ’82) and The Outdoorsters (released ’85) directed / written by Charlie Kaufman.  Kaufman (I believe there were two brothers) had created a small low-budget company that did films like The Toxic Avenger.  Usually, the humor was crude, the camera work was shoddy, and the direction was awful.  Nevertheless, as I was coming back from Great Neck (visiting my father) I saw that The Toxic Avenger was now a broadway show.  Who would have thunk it.

I was eventually interviewed to be the cinematographer on a Kaufman film – in ’84, and it was at this time that I pulled another Beckerman and quit again.  Although I loved working on films – it always felt like a circus atmosphere.  You’d work incredible hours for a few weeks or months; get to know people really well; and then find yourself at the wrap party.  A few weeks later, if you were lucky you’d get a call from a former crew member about another film that was looking for tech guys and off you’d go.

That sort of jumping from project to project completely fit my temperament.  But what annoyed me was that whether you were working on a great film, or a piece of crap (and I did both) it wasn’t your own vision that was plastered on the screen.  Only people in the industry are aware of cinematographers.  And the odds of moving from cinematographer to director (although it has been done) – it just seemed too difficult a jump.  So around that time, I turned down the chance to be cinematographer on a low-budget Kaufman feature film, and went off to try and write a screenplay.  And that is how I ended up writing training films for a while for Con Edison.

[I’m now trying to figure out the time period when I made a living as a writer].  Lester may be able to give me a clue as to the time period for the writing of Uncle Lou.

From there I worked for a while on an early hip-hop film shot mostly in the Bronx (released in ’83)

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John Foster, during the filmming of Wild Style.

Pointing at Me

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Given the amount of attention I’ve gotten this year – with some more coming up on Saturday – and given the amount of blabbing I did for the cameras – you might find it surprising that I dislike being anywhere near the center of attention.  In fact, the reason for getting into photography in the first place was probably as a means of hiding from attention and being distant from the various social events where I always felt awkward.

I am an introvert.  There is no doubt about it.  I have enjoyed my time in the shadows.  But there’s something to be said for introverts that end up in the public eye – because they’ve spent a lot of time in their own heads, living in their imagination.  And as a general rule – when they do pop up on stage – they tend to have something new, or at least curious to present.

I suppose that is why I dislike my birthday.  My entire family knows that there’s no worse day for me – not because I dislike getting older.  I don’t care about that.  But there are calls and invitations to dinner, and even a party if I’m very unlucky.  Fortunately, over the last decade since my birthday is close to Thanksgiving – the family has managed to get me a cake and presents and combine it with the Thanksgiving meal.  That’s the best for me.

As another example – although the booksigning at Bloomies on Saturday is really all for Judith – I will be very happy to have my camera with me and just document the event for her.  I hope that I’m able to stay in the background as much as possible.

There is another type – extrovert – that loves this type of stuff.  And without them, I think the world would be devoid of speeches.  But scratch most performers and you will be surprised to find an introvert who can only perform with the help of the mask they wear in public.

And with all that – thank you all for your birthday wishes.  And I hope that you all enjoy the attention you get on your day more than I do.

— Dave

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Ralph Kramden and the LCD

Honeymooners Tattoo

Taken in Nathans – Coney Island with A640 p/s in 2006.  The cup that Ralph is holding says: “Safety Award to Jeff P.”  His full name is on the cup (and he may have been a bus driver) but I’ll leave the last name out.

Switching to the A640 (no RAW mode) was a pretty big equipment mistake.  I could live with things that are inherent in the digital point and shoot, but I couldn’t live with the image quality.  I do remember why I bought it though – I’ve always liked that swivel LCD for street shots.  Similar, maybe better than the right-angle finders that the original street shooters were fond of.

Now I see that Nikon has the swivel LCD on their new DSLRs.  That is something that Canon should do right away.

I wonder if anyone has invented a universal LCD for digital cameras.  It wouldn’t be hard to do.  You’d just plug it into the video output jack and attach the LCD with a bracket to the camera base and swivel to your hearts content.  Is it more complicated than that?  Can you buy small battery powered LCD screens with decent resolution?  When I was doing my high-angle stuff back when – I had a cable run out from the camera to a portable DVD player and would do the composing on that.  It worked pretty well until it died.  It still plays DVDs but it won’t show output any longer.  I tried switching cables etc. and never could figure out what happened.  Anyway – just a thought if there are any electronic wizards out there.  I think I’m going to search the web to see if any attachments like that exist.  Another more sophisticated possibility would be to run the output to eye-glasses which have LCDs in them.  That I know exists.

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If nothing else – that is a heck of a tattoo.  (Full crop after noise ninja and a bunch of futzing).  Back to the picture – don’t you wonder what the story was behind this?  I wish I knew.  Was this a bus driver who really had received a safety award.  Do they give such things out?  How long to do something like that?

At any rate, I’ve spent the day experimenting with Noise Ninja.  What I find is (not much of a surprise) that I can easily fix shots from the 40D taken at 1600 with a minimum of work.  At 3200 – yes – but it involves more post-processing and it’s tricky – even with some of the nice hints that have been suggested such as bopping into Photoshop and using “find edges” and reversing it etc. and running it through Ninja etc…  And I also have to remind myself not to get too crazy with the pixel peeping stuff and remember to print the stuff at normal sizes before jumping to conclusions.  But I’m still working with some of the jpgs from ’06 to see if I can get decent results from 400 ASA stuff that I shot on the subway.  One thing that helps the overall look is after you go through all your normal NR stuff – throw in some film grain from LR3.  I’ll post some examples of that soon.

Falafel Guy on 86th

I have to admit, that sometimes I do get sick and tired of photographing in New York.  Tonight, for example, I’m walking around just looking at things that might be interesting in terms of light and shadow and I stoop to take a shot of a silvery falafel stand.  It’s true, I’m aware at the time that I’m taking my time about it, and very obvious but there’s nobody in the shot and I’m in that what the hell mood.  But as I snap the shot (which is overexposed) a young guy runs into it with his hands in front of him to block me.

You can’t take pictures of the stand, I hear a voice say.  It’s private property.  It’s not allowed.

Oh, actually it is allowed.

No, it’s not allowed.

You don’t want me to photograph your stand?  I just thought it looked very nice.

What for you want to photograph it?

My friend (we’re really all friends, aren’t we) I’m like a painter.  I’m just looking for interesting things and your stand, it has a very nice glow at night.

It’s not my stand.

It’s not yours?  Who’s is it?

It’s my uncles stand.  I’ll ask him.

So he walks back to a stout stained figure that appears suddenly in the darkness.  I show him the image on the back of the camera.

No.  You are not allowed to take pictures here! Erase that or I will call the police on you.

Blah blah blah.  More back and forth, with me trying to figure out what he’s so touchy about.

The fruit guy who has a stand next to him stops by, and people begin to gather around to see what the commotion is all about.

I look at the picture on the LCD and it really doesn’t do much for me – so I show him as I delete it.

Now the owner loosens up a bit.  He says,  I’ve had a lot of trouble with people taking pictures of this stand.

Trouble, I ask.  What kind of trouble.

And he goes into a long story which I can’t entirely follow but I think a photographer from the Daily News was doing a piece on dirty stands and published a picture of  his stand in the newspaper and that he got tickets because of that.  He kept repeating $400 over and over.

I pretend to be sympathetic with his plight.

Ah… yes.  Now I see.

The fruit guy chimes in: do you want to take pictures of my stand!  It’s very clean.  Everything spic and span.  No tickets.

No, I have a lot of shots of fruit stands – but thank you anyway.

He strolls back to his fruitstand – disappointed.

The crowd disperses.

I suppose that nature photographers have their own problems with snakes and such – and it might have been worse if my first shot had been any good because I have refused to delete images before.  But I’m in no mood for it with these guys, and we all shake hands, and as I’m walking away the owner says: bring me some of your pictures next time so I can see your work!

I don’t turn around but continue my wanderings with a sour taste in my mouth.  His stand did look pretty dirty.  His loss.  There is of course a misconception amongst the general populace that you can’t photograph anything that belongs to them without written permission.  That just ain’t true and besides, it ain’t the point.  The point is that you roam around searching for mystery, beauty, a touch of a visual hymm, and you wind up arguing with a greasy falafel guy.