Thursday, February 28, 2008

Vivian Cherry's "Helluva Town"

It's not very often that I open a book for the very first time, take a look at one of its spreads, and have an instinct to immediately buy it. That happened to me this week looking at Vivian Cherry's book "Helluva Town-New York City in the 1940s and 50s." I didn't have much cash on me at the moment, and the bookstore I was in is notorious for its inflated pricing. But this is a book I definitely want to add to my library soon.

I did, however, spend several minutes taking in all the images, trying to remember why her name sounded so familiar. As I later found out, it was one of the nudes from her tattoo series in the 90s that, once I saw it on her website, triggered my memory. It was at an exhibition titled "Where Do We Go From Here?" showcasing the work of members of the Photo League at the New York Public Library early last year. A lot about the Photo League and the exhibition can be read here.

The nude photo to which I am referrring can be seen here, but it's very different from her work in "Helluva Town" (which can be previewed here). Indeed, in the book it was her photographs from the last years of the Third Avenue El that stopped me dead in my tracks, so to speak. She has one picture taken from the train as it's going up Bowery, of a man standing on the platform at Canal, with the Manhattan Bridge entrance framed perfectly in the background, that is phenomenal (that I cannot find anywhere online).

The book does not need to be subtitled "New York City in the 1940s and 50s" in order for me to spot it from a mile away. Instantly, any black and white picture from this period pops out at me. I had an unusual thought looking at the book. I thought to myself "What if what I am photographing now--what I think will be worth looking at in 50 years--doesn't turn out to be that interesting?" Cherry's shots of children, in particular, made me think this. There's a real grit to the way kids used to grow up, before television, before video games, that I think photographs well (or ages well, I should say). I don't know why, but I find that children these days aren't very interesting, visually. All I know is that looking at the book made me wish I'd been in NYC when the Third Avenue El was still intact.

Lastly, on a totally different side note, I was taking a closer look at the image that's included in the opening spread (of the cows on the sidewalk, above) and I recognized something familiar. If you look closely there's a tower in the backround on the far left side, it looks like a bell tower outside a church. Somewhere I knew I had just seen that tower. Moments later I realized I had just walked past it during an assignment I had done. It's one of two towers that flank the Manhattan entrance/exit of the Lincoln Tunnel, on West 39th. My assignment was to photograph the empty lot north of the Jacob Javits Center between 39th and 40th. My picture can be seen here. In the foreground of my picture are some bricks and rubble, the remnants of the demoltion of the building in the Google Street View image (at left). In Cherry's photo up top, it's the building with the trucks backed up to it. In other words, for my photo I had to stand in Cherry's field of view half a century after she took her photo.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Did you see last night's lunar eclipse? Fortunately eclipses last a while, because Yvonne and I were being treated to dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant. We spent about two hours at the restaurant and when we got outside around 10PM the eclipse was still in full effect. Above is a sequence of images I shot during the eclipse of October 27-28, 2004.

I am somewhat of a space geek. Without a doubt, my favorite movie of 2007 was In The Shadow of the Moon, which I saw in the theater twice. I'm always checking out NASA's various websites for all its missions from the twin rovers on the surface of Mars to the Cassini satellite currently orbiting Saturn. It's amazing to me to think that yesterday alone we had a trifecta of events occur: a successful landing of space shuttle Atlantis, a missle launched to explode a crippled satellite, and of course the eclipse.

A few weeks ago I had to rent a 300 f/2.8 lens to shoot a concert at BAM. The assignment ended up getting cancelled. But I decided to go up to the roof with the lens and shoot that evening's full moon. The pictures are nothing to brag about, but I thought it was appropriate to share. I had to crop quite a bit to get in tight on the moon. But you can see some craters and whatnot. The picture was taken January 22 and was shot at ISO 50, 1/500th at f/5.6.

Partial Face Transplants

I came across something pretty funny the other day. Partial Face Transplants via the website Here's one of "HillBillary" Clinton. Immediately made me think of Sloth from The Goonies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Looking up Bowery from Stanton, June, 2003

In my previous post I talked about Stanton Street being an offshoot of the river that is Bowery. Above is a picture I took looking up Bowery from Stanton, during a warm June day when the current was calm. One of my favorite things about living on Stanton was this view up Bowery toward the Empire State Building. Like the World Trade Center was, the ESB is the perfect structure to look at from a distance in order to guage the haziness or crispness of any given day (clearly, the picture above was taken on a very humid day). I miss this old view up Bowery. Because sometime in early 2004 or so, construction began on a luxury apartment tower at Astor Place, which is about 9 blocks uptown from Stanton. A garish-looking building just by itself, it doesn't block the view of the ESB from Bowery, but it definitely cuts into it. The two images below, taken in late 2004 and early 2008, are from the same intersection, 1st and Bowery, and clearly show the building's obtrusiveness as well as the alarming rate of ChaseBankWholeFoodsification Bowery has undergone. At right is a picture taken further south on Bowery, from Delancey. While Paul Goldberger derides the building as a green monster in his review in the New Yorker, I've more often heard it referred to as the spaceship that landed in the East Village. I actually don't mind the bulding as much when I'm looking downtown at it, from 11th Street or so. But how anybody let it cut into that classic vista up Bowery is beyond me. Take the old Met Life Tower on 23rd, for example. With its high-pitched roof and nighttime lighting, it plays off the ESB wonderfully (even though it predates the ESB by 20-some years). It seems to me the Astor Place tower could have been an incredible opportunity to do something similar. Unfortunately, it is way out of context. As Goldberger put it best, the building is "an elf prancing among men."

Monday, February 18, 2008

The New Museum

I used to live on Stanton Street, just off Bowery. In fact, I lived in three apartments on that one block alone from 2000 to 2005. I always compared Bowery to a river with a strong current, and that little stretch of Stanton as being a kind of "offshoot" from the main river: calm, but not far removed from the action.

I'm pretty sure it was early 2006 when they broke ground on the New Museum of Contemporary Art, which is on Bowery just around the corner from Stanton. Even though I was no longer living on Stanton, I'd pass by there at least once a week to check out the progress. For my most recent birthday my wife got me a much-needed external 320 GB hard drive. The first thing I did was dump all my scans since 2000 onto it. In this way I now have what is essentially a searchable database of images, and now it's much easier to find a picture. My old method of finding images involved a lot of guesswork and digging through 20 or so backup CDs. One of the first searches I did on the new hard drive was for "New Museum" and the above pictures were several of many that showed up.

There's a method to my madness

Here is a screengrab of the chaos that is my computer's desktop. In an odd way, I am sort of proud of the mess. I spend a lot of time at my computer, and I like having everything in front of me. But every once in a while it'll get so cluttered that I'll create a folder, call it "old stuff" and just drag everything on the desktop into it to make room for new things. My apologies for shrinking the above jpeg down to 400 pixels. I wouldn't dare post it at 100 percent, as there's some sensitive intel on there.

Friday, February 15, 2008

First post

Welcome to my blog. I think I finally figured out this whole blogging-via-FTP thing. I have been giving a lot of thought to a new website, a more professional portfolio presence on the internet that represents my entire photographic archive. I am of course talking about, which has been sitting dormant and undeveloped for three or four years now. I have consulted some other photographers whose websites I enjoy looking at, have been gathering tips about web design, and I hope to have a rough draft up soon in the coming months. Until then, all I've got to offer is this blog. My thinking is that if I have an active blog associated with the site, then that'll make me a little more motivated to actually launch, you know, the main site. But I think I'll probably put up a few more posts before I encourage anybody to visit this blog.