Photoblog Journal Feb Mar 2000

2-3-2000

I’m not sure where I left off. Interesting web developments lately. Apparently lots of people have been ripping off my images from the site and using them as graphic material on their own sites. Always thought that might happen. But was surprised to see some of my stuff showing up as the main splash screen for a site. Anyway — will say that they were used with a better feel for graphical use then I had used. Wrote to the perps (too much Law and Order lately) and all were apologetic, and offered to link to my site and put copyright notices etc. etc.

Made me wonder though, since these I had just come across accidentally.

Ironed out, mostly my problems with LinkExchange — they had kicked me off for a while because of a popup window which is against their terms.

Yesterday, after walking around for two weeks, or so with Nikon, went back to Contax G2. Like meeting an old friend. I was immediately shooting from the hip again, on my way to work. Mostly what I remember was garbage men who were about 3 feet from me swinging by on back of truck.

Ok. So here is my list of subjects — themes, that I would most like to shoot if I could be invisible for a day in this order:

1. Any fancy Korean run fingernail cleaning joint on either the upper west- or east side of Manhattan. These places, in case you’ve not been there are a combination of extreme tastefulness, and the grating of cuticles. I’ve always been interested in places where women become more beautiful — or at least more physically acceptable. I’m probably treading dangerous p.c. water here — but I can assure you that men’s hair cutting places which might be equally interesting, are nowhere as luxurious. So there you have it. Something that will probably never happen. Plus, even with permission would be difficult to shoot.

2. A day in the life of a Garbage Truck and its crew. I would love to follow a NYC Garbage truck crew around for a few weeks — probably on a motorcycle. I’m especially interested in a shot of the guy hanging on to the back of the truck, which has a slow enough shutter speed to show the motion on the side, but want to be moving at same speed as subject so that he is not blurred.

2-4-2000

3. Of course, its obvious that I have a fixation with the subway. Not only in New York, but anywhere. This has to be one of those weird fetishes, that I’ve always thought were so stupid in other people. Like the guy who collects stamps or the woman with all the dolls she ever owned on and is now a hundred years old. In general, I don’t collect things. At least not the physical objects. Nevertheless, the subway, being the underground, has associations for me — some of them mythic, like the River Hades (sp?) that you took to get to hell. And the ferryman with his 3-headed? dog. There were some of these myths that made impressions on me when I was in my more literate years. The sub-way. The underground – way. The place where the unconscious of the city flows (or doesn’t flow) and pulsates with its own pulse, like my pulse. And there is the Kafkaesque aspect of this underground. At least in New York. Or as Bill Cosby once said — ‘A Nut In Every Car’. And a lot of times that ‘Nut’ is the person running the train. Or perhaps the whole system.

In short — free, invisible access to the entire subway system for a few weeks. To be able to go where I want. Shoot what I want. And not be afraid, of either the police or the criminals that ride that mighty congested stream. To be able to visit and properly — perhaps with the view camera and lights — shoot the closed and abandoned stations. To walk through parts of the 2nd Avenue tunnel (which was built, but will it ever be continued…)

And the greatest dream of subway invisibility, would be to be able to shoot the faces from these trains that often haunt me — with freedom — and with framing (not from the hip) in panoramic styles with a lovely medium format camera. Just bunches and bunches of these long, medium format negatives that match the feeling of strips of people that you have on the Number 6 train.

The Paris subway by the way — is much less interesting to me. It is well kept. Makes more sense (even though my French is pretty poor). And is clean and efficient. It doesn’t fill me with these associations of hell. (On the other hand I don’t have to take it to work every day.)

2-6-2000

ideas to shoot — continued….

4. Any supermarket.

That’s right. I don’t care if its in Manhattan, or Key West. Maybe this is just another subculture, that goes undiscovered. Can you imagine being able to spend a week or so simply shooting the bag-packers, and the checkout people under neon lights? Maybe its the places where the two classes meet that interest me? Is that what it is? The rich people on the upper east side (myself included) pick up our food and walk to a place where there is practically no skill involved — and meet the check out girls and the old men bagging our stuff. And in the background, is a window, where the really down and outers stop by and drop off hundreds of cans for deposit.

There is, by the way, enough light, at least in the Food Emporium near my house, and often when I go shopping I have the G2 hanging around my neck. People get used to seeing you that way, and don’t get so alarmed. Once in a while, I try to get a couple of shots during the checkout process. But to be able to really bring the camera to your eye, and compose — the shot of the five checkout girls gossiping at the same time, while the guys in the back are struggling with the can depositors.

And all in the world of objects. Things. Cans. Boxes. Frozen things. Fifty types of macaroni. Two hundred varieties of yogurt. Marketing, marketing, marketing. And check out girls making $6.50 per hour. Anyway, I guess its one of those jobs that will soon be obsolete. Slide your own food through.

2-8-2000

Really tired this afternoon. Not sure why, since I didn’t do much of anything at work today. Struggles with setting up an NT server etc. Computer’s — the more I work with them, the more useless they seem (and yes, that is my professional point of view), and I understand the irony of the fact that I’m sitting here in Dreamweaver, typing my journal which will then go out to the world via FTP. Anyway, let’s get on with #5…

5. Any woman hailing a cab (other people’s ideas)

This idea for a photo essay was suggested by my friend Dirk, who subsequently returned to Belgium to live where people who think of such weird things live and apparently flourish. As a matter of fact, he recently asked me (after five years of silence on the subject) whether I had made any progress with this endeavor. And I had to say, ‘Not really’.

It’s true, that there is a certain gesture that is particular to each woman (and I suppose each man) but men hailing cabs just doesn’t do it somehow. Much like, I don’t think I’m ready for the women on the Price is Right to be switched with manly presenters. But more to the point — it is a very hard thing to do. First off, you want to catch the woman’s expression as well as the hand gestures. Since I refuse to use telephoto lenses (which just seems like cheating to me), you must stand within 3 – 5 feet of the woman and basically take the damned picture when it is clear that you are not taking any other person’s picture. No ability to disguise what you’re doing. You have — for some bizarre reason — decided to document this civilized gesture.

I think this essay is going to have to be left to someone else.

“Women hailing cabs! You finally see the light! How can that be difficult? They can’t move, they can’t run. And if they move, you know that within seconds their arm will shoot up in the air again. ” — Dirk E.(Belgium)

Had a bit of a run-in this morning. Back to work — with G2 around my neck. A little shooting on the train — kid and mother. Maybe something decent, maybe not. Off the train, and stopped to shoot a bit from the waist. Then continue through the turnstile. Something touches me on my parka, and says ‘Excuse me’. I continue through turnstile.

– Excuse me?

I turn around. The man on the other side, looks at me deeply in the eyes, and he’s not a small fellow by any means. Still, seems a bit formal. Well dressed. And says, ‘Did you just take a picture?’

I can’t figure this guy out. He was behind me the whole time. What does he care if I took a picture. I can only guess that either he’s some undercover cop. Or undercover MTA guy. Or else in a witness protection program.

I look him back in the eye, and say – “No.”

Turn and keep going.

I can count the times that I’ve been asked that question on one hand. And I’ve lied almost every time. True, I did take a picture this time — but of what ??? I don’t know. Did it come out? I have no idea. And why is it this guy’s business, who wasn’t even in the shot.

I’ve come to the conclusion that you must decide, at the time, what is appropriate, and what is not.

You must be able to judge the situation, and decide whether being honest is going to get you messed up, or not. And that’s all there is to it. My job is to try and get interesting pictures where people are not aware of your presence. If there is something unseemly about that — then so be it. I certainly don’t try to make people look bad. In fact, for the most part, I’m looking for images that are simply different — people doing what they do. I don’t want to either elevate, or denigrate anyone (except for that shot of the French waiters…)

* * *

2-9-2000

My good friend Dirk, who lives now in Belgium — and I have been corresponding recently about the subject, I think, of what is art. Here are a few snippets:

I was basically making the argument that the role of the artist was to find what was unique within themselves, and to nurture that and express it, and that by doing so they would be able to communicate universally. A bit pat — but something that I’m working on. But of course, when you are really doing it, you don’t try, you just do it.

Anyway — Dirk gave me an interesting, and literate response to my search for uniqueness. Here it is:

Excerpts from Dirk’s letter:

“But in my book even that one special thing that you do better than anyone else is equally fundamentally un-important.

As far as I can see contemporary art suffers rather than benefits from this constant quest for uniqueness.

First of all, it’s not because it is unique that it is art.

Secondly, to ask if ‘this’ or ‘that’ is art – and/or great art and/or unique – just leads to nothing, and certainly not to art.

Still, in one way I agree with you, but in the context then of what Quentin Crisp says: we are all unique (already), but – if we so desire – we need to polish up our identity, and present our polished selves to the world if we want to be noticed, notorious, or recognized, or … famous.

But our uniqueness is not something you can tack on to your (beautiful) self, but rather something that’s inside you and that you need to bring to the surface, a bit like the statue that is already in the stone …

What makes a ‘great work of art’? That’s of course a hopeless debate … Schopenhauer feels that it is the universal values in it which allow the creator and his public to communicate in a somewhat ‘timeless’ experience, and that the elation we feel is directly related to this stepping out of everyday time-bound reality. Interesting theory. In any case, I disagree with your emphasis on the uniqueness and individuality. That is not enough, and for a truly great artist of no concern: it is automatically so.

Do you think Bach worried if his work sounded like Bach, and Ansel Adams if his pictures looked like an Ansel Adams? I don’t. Not that I believe in group art. Dostoyevsky by committee is of course impossible.

(Did you know that Dostoyevsky saw himself as a writer of detective/murder stories, and that he ‘transcended’ his goal in a way that, I’m sure, he himself could not explain either, ergo, there is a case of an artist who discovered a statue inside that was bigger than what he expected: you only need to be driven, the rest takes care of itself.)

Then again, to my mind, a new work of art does not have to be ‘something (very) different from what they’ve seen before’. That’s just a common Western obsession. If you listen to music of (the contemporary) Arvo Part (Tabula Rasa) it sounds downright medieval, with often nothing more than fifths and octaves, and it certainly could have been written ‘long ago’. Yet is is very beautiful, and unique. But it’s not ‘artificially’ unique, it’s not ‘calculated’ unique, it’s not ‘manifesto’ unique, it’s unique simply because of his strong personality.

The dilemma of the artist, as I see it, is simply to perfect his style and his chosen skills to the point that what is already inside comes to the surface; the dilemma being that this takes a lot of effort, without any guarantee whatsoever that there is something ‘worthwhile’ inside. There’s always some statue inside, but it may not be bigger than a lump of sugar. The dilemma being that you don’t know where you are on the scale, and not even if you are very succesful, I think. The fan club is never big enough: at Harvard all the professors stocked up on champagne around September, but only one – or two – got the Nobel Price, and the next day they were astonished to realize that there is life outside Harvard, if someone else got it. It’s like ‘happiness’ and even ‘misery’: where are you on the scale? The problem with it, I think, is the value judgment. Am I good (enough)? You really don’t know, and if you get to the point where the world has an opinion about you, you still don’t know. So the only thing you can do is live your life – and exercise your folly, if you so desire … In my present state of mind I choose for throwing myself hard at the piano playing – realizing full well how cosmically unimportant it is – and I really don’t worry if I’m good or as good as … I experience I’m getting better thru practicing (and I enjoy that) … I could lament that I should have done this when I was 10, but that’s water under the bridge now + at 10 I could not have practiced the things I practice now … In fact I do it because it improves the quality of my life, because it gives me hope (not naive stupid hope, but hope nevertheless). And self-generated hope is a very worthwhile kind of hope.This reminds me of (I paraphrase):

Man stands in his life, grotto,
Always with a sense of being enclosed.
He dreams of sun and open air and freedom.
The way out is always narrow And arduous to cross
He fills his lungs with air.
He swims.
He reaches the point where If he goes any further He won’t be able to return:
Point of no return.
Will he continue?
Will he go back?
There is a picture of hope.
(This is from a book of Off-Off Broadway; can’t remember the author).

Thank you Dirk!

* * *

2-11-00

6. The Bronx

Saw a documentary about Walker Evans last night. Although technically, a lot of his best work is with the large format camera — the idea of what he wanted to show — America — without either glorifying or denigrating its citizens, was very inspiring. It was amazing to me that when ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’ with writing by James Agee (one of my favorite authors) — only sold 600 copies when it first came out. And that it wasn’t until the sixties when the book was re-issued, that Walker Evans achieved enough recognition to have a steady income.

I would like to do similar work in the Bronx.

I know there is a book called, ‘The Forgotten Bronx’ or something like that — but the picture quality is awful. I would like to do a duotone type of book, exploring both the parts of the Bronx that have been destroyed — as well as the parts that are still flourishing.

Since I was raised there — and know it pretty well — there are so many areas that would be exciting to photograph:

– Woodlawn Cemetery (I grew up across the street from there)

– The Tremont Avenue area — my Grandparents lived near there.

– Fordham Road — the commercial crossroads of the Bronx

– The Train Yard near Lehman College

– The projects on University Avenue

– Allerton Avenue (the little Italy section of the Bronx)

– I’d probably skip the Bronx Zoo and Botantical gardens. They could exist anywhere.

etc.

2-13-00

I find that when I’m in relaxed, and open — almost anything I see seems worthy of a photograph. Anything that is not posed. I recently received an e-mail from a would be model, asking if I would do work for her portfolio. Although I suppose this is the fantasy for a lot of photographers, its never interested me. If I were to use a model, it would be to do the type of natural seeming shots that Douisenu?? got in trouble for. Ideas that simply are too difficult to really do candidly. Maybe someday I’ll try that — but I would not try to pass them off as authenticly candid shots. One idea I had was to take two models — man and a woman, and have them carry on an argument on a crowded subway platform. I was had a very excruciating argument with a girlfirend while waiting for a bus. And I guess would like to recreate this painful scene.

Those of you who have been following this diary know that I also work three days a week at an advertising agency as a computer programmer. One thing that has happened during the last month while I’ve been on this part-time schedule, is that the programming job has become even more painful, in the sense that I’m now more and more removed from what’s going on there. Not what I expected to happen.

I’m finally reading Angela’s Ashes — what a book. If I ever thought that I had it tough as a child, this makes my childhood seem like heaven. It’s one of those books that resonates, and shocks, and makes you laugh at the same time.I haven’t seen the film, but understand that a lot of the humor of the book has been left out — which I could understand, as its in the narrative voice, not the plot, that this is carried.

No doubt we were poor growing up in the South Bronx. My mom used to water down the soda without telling us to stretch it further. As kids, me and my sisters used to wonder why the Coke always tasted so much better at our friends house, until we found out we had been drinking diluted soda for years. And there were times when we went hungry. When there wasn’t enough food in the house. I can remember pressing my nose up against the steamy window of the delicatessen across the street from us. And sometimes, the owner would call me in and give me a free hot dog.

I’ve also had money — and sat in fancy restaurants where waiters hung around waiting to fill your glass with wine the second you took a sip. Or gone to the Lotus Sphere conference where millions were spent to impress us with the glories of the next version of Lotus Notes. These displays of ostentatiou — or what used to be conspicuous consumption — often made me ill.

I like to think that I both sides of life in America can be reflected in my work.

* * *

2-19-00

Glad for the snow in New York yesterday. Spent many hours in Central Park with the Nikon. I walked away from that saying that I would never use the view camera again. I have shot with the view camera in similar situations, and simply never done well with it. Too slow for my metabolism. Also, I really like shooting while it is snowing, and being able to capture the actual snow falling, which is difficult with the view camera, given the slow shutter speeds you usually use.

Anyway — been busy with the site the last few days adding the Audience Favorites stuff. This should be interesting. I have been thinking of adding posters, calendars etc. to the site, and this would be a good way to find out what people like. I mean, I have some idea — based on e-mail etc. — but I love the idea of having the rankings changing constantly in the Favorites View — and possibly later on the home page will change to display whatever is the highest ranking Audience Favorite. The viewer then actually has control over the content of the home page. Good idea? Stupid? Too democratic? Who knows.

And apologies to all for falling down with this DAILY diary — but I will get back to it again soon.

2-22-00

Well this is a bit startling. During the last few weeks, requests for prints are coming in through this web-site. Something that I hoped for, but had no idea would actually happen. It brings up a lot of issues. Should I enable the site to take credit cards? All sorts of business issues — such as Return Policy. What’s fair? I think that for the most part the images on the web don’t really do the prints justice — and in many cases, the actual framing/cropping on the web is not the exact same thing as the final print. (Of course I think the final print is better, or I wouldn’t have done it that way, but do I need to go through every image again, and try and make the cropping etc. exactly match the final print?)

As orders do come in I realize that I probably need to start cutting my own mattes — and over mattes. (I’ve been having this done commerically, and its too expensive.) I’m operating out of a typical NYC studio apartment, which is to say a shoebox. It is filled to the brim with darkroom equipment, matte boards, trays, mounting supplies, etc. and there is barely room to walk around anymore. (And of course I can’t move because of the high rents in New York, plus I hate the idea of moving that gigantic Zone V1 enlarger, which weighs as much as a small car.)

I spent the last few months, simply trying to get the web site going. Trying to use the search engines to drive traffic to the site. Trying to get audience reaction to the work. Lately, I look at the web logs and see that I’m getting about 15,000 page views per week (Advertising budget: less than $500 total). People are viewing about 12,000 images per week.

So the artist as reluctant business man must emerge. My friends are laughing at me — because I complain as orders arrive. More printing. Re-arranging the apartment to print. Re-arranging when the printing is over. Every time someone orders something for the first time I need to think about the Limited Edition angle. How many should I cap this limit at. How popular will a particular picture be? When I set a limit, now I need to start keeping records. How many were printed so far? How many sold? I generally don’t have the stamina to print more than 5 or 10 prints at a time of the same image. How good are my notes for reproducing the print, six months from now when I need to do it again.

Yesterday, I was cursing myself because I had taken such bad technical notes on a few prints. And in one case, I had actually sold the only Artist Proof, and had to go back and recreate the printing from scratch.

Its not like there’s a flood of orders or anything. But mostly, of the hundred pictures or so that are on the site, I really only have extra prints of about 10%. In short, most prints are made to order, and if I get requests for 5 separate prints in one week, that forces me back into the darkroom — close the one window in the house with velcro and a thick black cloth, cut off the air supply, and prepare to sweat and asphixiate. The only thing that makes the process bareable is playing really loud music while I print (best printing music: Anything by Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and if in a more tranquil mood — Paul Simon). But as you expose the print, I use a beeper to count the seconds, and the music must be turned off.

For me, the printing process is the most painful. Not only because of all the physical limitations of the apartment, but ly because it is mentally exhausting. Another creative act.

I’ve been printing black and white since I was about fifteen and had a darkroom in the back bathroom in the Bronx. Those were by no means fine art prints. I had no idea what printing was about, except that it was exciting to watch the image appear in the Dektol. (Some of those very early prints still hang in my sister’s house. Technically awful. But they continue to last in the family.)

I probably made my first ‘Fine-Art’, technically adequate print about 8 years ago. (I think this was Benches). It had the full range of tones, had that luminous look that Ansel talks about.

Ansel describes it as a ‘performance’ of the negative. Well put. There is a little ballet with the fingers, with pieces of cards, with wire-hangers, with pinkies flapping. Bring this part down a bit. Move the whole thing to the right. Is there anything extraneous? Does it have the impact? What will it look like when it dries down (usually you need to account for this %10 dry-down effect in which high areas that may look completely without texture, develop texture when dry.)

The printing process, compared to the shooting style I’ve developed, are at complete ends of the psychological spectrum. Shooting is quick, and almost unconscious — at its best. (As my friend Dirk cautioned me, ‘You can’t try to be Zen-like — you just are’

Printing is more cool and calculated. An editing process. A re-evaluation. In short — ‘A Performance of the Negative’.

So the next time you walk by the Upper East Side of New York and see a middle-aged guy with his head sticking out the window gasping for air — its probably me, and I’ve just finished printing a large order.

2-23-00

Well, inquiries continue to come in. How can I buy a print? I would like to see a catalogue. Do you ship to Spain? And I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. Seems like I need to take the next step and really put together a shopping cart and on-line credit processing. What about returns? What’s my policy if someone gets the picture and hates it? I’ve been writing back to people that if they send it back to me in its ‘original condition’ within 5 days of receiving it, I’ll refund their money. Seems fair, but where are they going to send it back to? My P.O. Box? Ain’t gonna fit. I find myself thinking about stuff that always annoyed me — like ‘there’s a restocking charge’ etc. Why should there be restocking charge? Crazy. I guess it for the time it takes me to walk to wherever its been delivered to, unpacking the print, and putting it back into my excellent storage system beneath the bed.

Got back a bunch of contact sheets today — mostly from the last winter storm. And there are one or two shots that look amazing (again in my humble opinion). But need time to print them. I once put a shot on the web that I had never actually printed — and got an order for it. Big mistake. The print was hard to print — and I ended up printing it differently than what was on the web. I think that I might need to have another section on the site which is UNPRINTED shots. That way I could put up images a lot quicker — but not accept any orders for them until they’ve been printed. Who knows. The exciting thing is really not knowing what’s going to happen with all this.

Sorry for the grumbling, but like I said at the beginning of this — its all pretty much un-edited grousing, with the ups and downs and might be fun to look back on someday. And its not really all that personal so far. For the most part, unless this is related to photography, I keep most of my personal life out of it.

I know get about two or three e-mails a day asking me questions about the shots, or asking for more information about me. Each time I write back, I think my life story changes a little. Maybe at some point, I’ll publish all these e-mails under the heading of themes from a life or something.

I realized that for a few web sites that I’ve submitted my work to — they want a self-photo. Woke up this morning, and tried doing something artsy by shooting myself in the bathroom mirror, which is covered with paint droplets. Focusing on the paint droplets, with the reflection of my face, half-covered with camera, and neck and shoulders in soft focus.

Then I walked around trying to get something interesting by shooting my reflection in various store windows. Probably a waste of good film.

Anyway, I did realize that there is a common theme to a lot of what interests me (the list of that I’d like to shoot):

—–> The Sanitation Workers, The Women having Nails Done, the idea of Doormen in NYC etc. can you guess what it is? Its about class relationships. It probably goes back to my version of ‘The Potato Eaters’. Especially with Doormen, or represent some mythic portal gatekeepers between the wilds of the streets, and the safety of the upper classes. The women who file your nails — servants and masters. Is it the result of all the socialist leanings in my family? Its certainly nothing visual. What is there about the doorman’s life that is visual? (I don’t mean the high-tech doorman sitting behind desks with video monitors) but the guy, stooped over, who opens the door for you — rushes ahead and presses the elevator button. Makes chit chat. And ushers you up into your hi-rise.Maybe not good to try and analyze this too much. But I feel the same way about the subway — where all the levels (classes) of society rub up against eachother. Whatever it is, its been very powerful drive for a long time. I think back on some of my old work, and realize that I was interested in the same thing. Once, I was driving around, stopped at a light, and a bum (they used to be called that) came up to the window and asked me for a light. While I was giving him a light, I took his picture. Where is that negative now?

* * *

Almost forgot — saw something truly weird on the #6 train today. Get on the train, and notice an attractive, well-made up woman in business garb sitting down across from me. I’m standing near her, and notice something white, on her lap. I’m not really looking down at her. There’s just this sort of white blur. But after a few seconds, I wonder what that white thing is, and look down, and she is holding a full roll of toilet paper on her lap. Very symetrically supported by each hand on each side. The train is quite crowded, and no one knows what in the world to make of this. I look at her and smile. She smiles back knowingly. What she is knowing I don’t know. She has a large bag with her and easily could have put the toilet paper roll in the bag, but doesn’t. After a few minutes, she sniffles, and rips off a small piece of the roll and gently wipes her nose. Then looks up at the hard-stoney faces around her, and smiles again. This is too much. Is she doing some kind of performance art? What in the world is going on. Doesn’t make any sense. She looks up once and a while at these morning faces — and then resumes her position. My camera is in the bag. I was very tired this morning, and didn’t feel up to shooting on the train. But even if I had it out — who would believe this. What would she have done if I took the camera out of the bag? After a few stops, she calmly gets up, carrying the roll in front of her and strolls off. That’s it. Just another one of those things that happen, that are beyond my comprehension. Perhaps somethings are simply not meant to be understood.

3-16-00

A number of people have written to me to ask what’s happening lately, in that I haven’t been keeping up with the journal. I’ve been busy redesigning the site to enable a whole bunch of new features, including the ability to order custom screensavers, keep a collection of your favorite images from the site together, order prints on-line etc. So my programming hat has been on for the last few weeks. Someday, I’ll have to write a book about how much of a maze this has been… but I don’t think anyone interested in photography would care, so I’ll spare you.

Suffice to say that if all goes well, most of these features will be finished by end of March, and then I’ll do a mailing and let people know about them. If you’ve gotten this far, and want to see what it looks like you can click here

The the ordering of custom screensavers does work. The ordering of prints is not really complete as of yet.

And I am still shooting. And there is also the possiblity that my job at the ad agency will be ending soon. In which case I’m going to try and pursue this photography business full time for six months and see if I can make a go of it.

I don’t mind rice and beans.

Had another fateful experience on the #6 train yesterday. Was very tired. The train was packed. I get on, and struggle to get a seat. The camera is in my bag, which means that I don’t expect to shoot anything. And unbelievably, I hear the most beautiful singing — in French — three part harmony — an acordian, a guitar, and a mandolin, at the other end of the train. It reminds me of Paris again. My tiredness starts to leave me. I wonder if I can get up and somehow make my way down to the other end. No. Too many people. Too bad. There are three young guys singing, and playing like all hell. Beautiful stuff.

I get off at 59th street, disappointed that I missed the opportunity, and guess what. They get off also. I rush up to them all excited, “Hi, I’m a photographer. Do you mind if I take your picture…”

One of them passes his hat to me, as if to put money into it. I laugh, and say something stupid in broken French. “D’argent — You want d’argent? ” The other guy gets excited. “You speak French”

– Une peu.

And I begin taking pictures. And they walk with me. And we pass one of those cracked security mirrors and they all begin making faces in it and I’m shooting away — feeling like I was in a Richard Lester movie (Hard Day’s Night) — and they ask me how to get to Central Park… and disappear.

I had left work ten minutes early that day. And ten minutes later, nothing would have happened. Or something else. Who knows.

* * *

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December Photo Journal 1999

12-25-99

Probably a strange thing to try, but the idea of starting an on-line, journal related to this photography might be interesting. That remains to be seen. Like any journal, this will be somewhat rambling…

I’ve been shooting in the subways for almost 8 years, and I’m pretty much sick of it. I think that originally, I wanted to show that you could apply Ansel Adams type techniques to the most urban parts of New York, and wind up with beautiful photographs. Instead of the grainy stuff I was used to seeing, I would try and use medium and large format cameras. Pretty difficult to take a view camera onto a crowded subway car. Number one, you are not allowed to use a tripod in the subways, at least not without permission. Number two, how can you expect the average New Yorker to react to something so outrageous?

The best that I got during this period was actually the Empty subway car. This car, by the way, was only empty for about five seconds.

– The following is updated many years later.

In those days, you could do crazy things like that.  Remember, it’s a large contraption, and you look like some sort of strange alien when you place the black cloth over your head to see the frosted glass viewfinder which shows the image upside down and backwards.  Depth of field could be achieved to a greater degree with various tilts, and the detail from a 4 x 5 inch negative is remarkable, not to mention the long grayscale.

The image may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  Not a sunset or a shot of the Empire State Building – but an idea of merging two styles – and having the guts to take the chance.  I actually took three shots while I was there.  The first one still has people in it but they are moving rapidly and it was a five second exposure and that’s too long for any interesting blurs.  This is the second of the three.  And I did one more as people were getting on the train but that had the same issues as the first.  Just streaks.  With that I left at the next station, the camera on the big wooden tripod, balanced on my right shoulder while I left, and then on my left as the weight sunk in.

Over the years, what I called Subway Car Interior (mundane title for all the planning it involved) turned out to sell fairly well, and now as I revise this in the digital age, to hold up as something of an historical artifact in many ways.

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Another highlight, was the shot of the Man and Woman, which was taken with a Rolliflex Twin Lens. None of the work that I did was hidden — as Walker Evans had done. I always felt too sneaky to actually put a camera inside my coat as he had done. Instead, the camera was out in the open, sitting on my lap. Actually propped up on my briefcase. My theory was that after a while, true New Yorkers would ignore you.

In general that was true though I got my share of dirty looks.

Part of my fascination with the subway, was that I had always had a deep phobic reaction to being caught in these crowded trains. I don’t exaggerate. I thought that by trying to capture this phenomena, it might help me get over my phobia which it did. Go figure.

Another reason for shooting as much subway as I did, was simply because it was there! I took the same train to work every day, and if I was going to shoot, this was about all that was available during my normal work day. One trick that I used was to measure the width of the various subway cars. I always knew ahead of time how far it was from one door to another, or from one side of the train to the other. And of course, the lighting didn’t change much. Open up as much as you could. Use the slowest shutter speed you could manage. Hope for the best.

After a few years, I switched to an auto-focus camera (the Contax G2) because it had interchangeable lenses. This gave me the ability to shoot with a wide angle lens which you really need on a crowded train. The problem with the G2 was that it was a bit noisy. So it became important to pick a train that was noisy. The best of all was when you got a subway car where the p.a. system was out of whack and was continuously squeaking and groaning. The other thing was that in general, it was impossible to shoot while the train was actually moving (due to slow shutter speed). Almost all the shots on this site were taken while the train was still. Usually at that moment between when the doors closed and the train took off. Example from the G2.

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Another idea I once came up with was to dress and act like a tourist! After all, I was sort of a tourist. New Yorkers take everything for granted. I bought a big, cumbersome map of New York, had it sticking out of my jacket pocket, and wandered around looking at the tall buildings. I had noticed, while I was in Paris, that tourists were tolerated. If you were a tourist, it was okay to take a picture of most anything, and the denizens simply chalked it up to another annoying American. Wouldn’t the same technique work in New York. I once visited the Empire State building and pretended not to speak English (of course, all the while snapping away like crazy). At the top of the building was a man selling stamped coins or something, who tried desparately to explain to me how much these trinkets cost and why I needed one. I kept shaking my head and explaining in some language of my own devising that I wasn’t interested. A couple next to me got into the act, telling me that each trinket cost FIVE DOLLARS. Counting them out on their fingers. Finally, I pretended to understand and said in an accent — ‘Too Much’. And went on.

I was always looking for techniques that would allow me to get close to my subjects. It didn’t seem to be fair to use long lenses, and I’ve never used a lens longer than 90mm (on a 35mm camera) to photograph people. I was influenced by whatever I read about Cartier-Bresson. I read that he basically walked around with a 35mm and a 90mm lens (of course with a Lieca). If that was good enough for HCB, it was good enough for me. And there is something to be said for that simplicity. I’ve also stood clear of zoom lenses.

When I first started shooting seriously, I used a Canonet which had one fixed lens (was it 28 or 35??) and forced myself to get closer or further by walking. I probably stayed with this camera for about a year.

12-26-99

A few days ago, I stopped by one of those photography stands that seem to be all over the streets of New York. Mostly selling black and white tourist type photos. I asked the woman who was managing the site, whether these were here photos. She said, ‘no.’ She sells them for someone else. I asked her, did she think it was possible to make a decent living doing this sort of thing. And told her I was contemplating it. She took one look at me and said, ‘No. You couldn’t do it.’

– Why not? I asked.

– Because you need to be a big bastard to do this. And you don’t look like a bastard at all….

What was I going to say — ‘I can be a big bastard! Really I can’

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I have to admit, although I’ve never seen myself as a saleman — and am generally pretty shy about pushing my self into the fray — since I decided to try and sell, I’ve spent 99% of my time with what could be called marketing. Or to be more exact, figuring how to get myself listed with the various search engines. It seems like a game. Alta Vista, for example, seems to throw my main page away — but some other engines have picked it up. The main keyword that I’m shooting for is ‘Black and White Photography’. If I ever switch to color, I’m going to be in big trouble. Fortunately, since I’ve been shooting for twenty odd years in black and white, and never had the urge to take a color shot, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

Putting the site together has been interesting, since I have that computer background that I’m trying to get away from. The hard thing, is how to give a feeling of what the prints look like in real life. That was why I decided to make the main images 300 x 500 pixels (larger than on most sites) and include hi-res images that could be loaded. My logs however show that for every 5000 regular size images that are looked at, perhaps 200 large images are clicked on. Makes me wonder if its worth it.

I also played around with a Java Applet that allowed you to zoom in and out and explore different parts of the picture, but a few people told me it crashed their computer. So much for that.

So far I’ve spent $100 on marketing. That was to buy a RealName keyword.

And of course, the big thing still remains, which is to put a shopping cart and credit card processing on the site.

12-28-99

I’ve recieved a lot of letters from photography students asking for advise. A favorite quote is from Walker Evans, who was giving advice to another photographer, Ben Shahn. ‘Look Ben, there’s nothing to it. F9 on the shady side of the street. f45 on the sunny side, twentieth of a second. hold your camera steady!)

Film speeds have changed since then, but still, good simple advise.

12-31-99

I know this is going to annoy alot of people — it annoys me to have to do it, but I added banners to the site today. It’s part of the LinkExchange program, where if I agree to show others banners on my site, then, given some ratio or other my banner shows up on other LinkExchange sites.

Here’s the banner people will hopefully be seeing on other sites.

If it works, I’ll keep it. If not, its gone. All part of the grand experiment of how do you get people to your site without spending big bucks (or any bucks at all up until now.)

The real problem is that the place where I get the most hits, namely as each image is shown, is the last place you want to be hit with a banner. For now, I’ll resist that idea, and just keep it on the home page, and other pages where it won’t get in the way of the images.