I used to tell this neat little lie when I was a kid.
See, my birthday is November 12th. Veteran’s Day is the day before. Schools are closed, as are banks, government offices, etc. When I first joined a union, it was floating holiday, but I think we gave it up for the day after Thanksgiving or some other day that was more convenient to be off. I grew up with a dad that always told us trivial historical facts, dates, names, places, etc, stuff that never really got you anywhere except when you knew that November 11th was Veteran’s day before the rest of the kids in your class did. I of course told my whole class one year that the school was closed so my parents could get ready for my birthday.
I don’t know if it worked ever, but it made me feel cool.
Today’s Veteran’s day, and yes, I know what tomorrow is, I rather not be reminded. I have too many bad birthdays to enjoy them any more.
Today I had off, not because of a union contract, rather because I am one of the millions of newly unemployed Americans. So after I went on another fruitless interview this morning, I decided to head to the New York Veteran’s Day Parade. Today was a special Veteran’s Day in New York. The USS Intrepid, a World War II aircraft carrier that served as a museum was rededicated by the President Of The United States. Afterward, the parade would stroll down Fifth Ave. I was too late for the ceremony, and knew I couldn’t get close enough anyway, so I set off for the parade.
I got there shortly after the start of it, and found a nice spot across from the main viewing stand. The crowds were deep, and it was mostly a crowd that stopped by on their lunch break. They were enthusiastic, and cheered as the parade came by. I moved around and shot as I had with countless parades. I tried my best to capture the jubilation and excitement on faces, in movements. I found myself at an intersection, where a member of the NYPD control pedestrian traffic. I looked around, then slipped behind him into the parade route, on the other side of the barricades. I didn’t turn my back to see if he noticed, but I did hold up my camera, as if to show I had it, and to try to show I belonged there.
Once inside the parade itself, I went “butt-ass-wild” taking shot after shot of participants as well as viewers. I was lost in the moment, caught up in the excitement of it all.
Then I saw Smitty.
I don’t even know if that was his real name, but I noticed it was sown on his jacket. He stood against the railing, American flag tucked unto his buttons. His eyes were red, and he chocked back the tears as he watched everyone stream by. I turned to see what he was looking at, and all I could see was the parade. I looked back at Smitty and I realized maybe what he was seeing, was not only the parade, but what wasn’t at the parade. Those who weren’t there today. Maybe those who didn’t have time to come and cheer. Maybe those who were off, and would rather be loafing on the couch then battle the fall wind and head into Manhattan. Maybe he was seeing the men and women who never made it home to be in a parade like this. I’ll never know. I raised my camera and took Smitty’s picture. I reached out and shook his hand. “Thank you.” I said. He nodded and I moved on, capturing what was there, and never forgetting what wasn’t.
I took a lot of shots… too many to put them all here. Enjoy this slideshow of all my 2008 NYC Veteran’s Day Parade images
The worst part of autumn is rain.
Autumn rain brings wind, and wind rips the leaves from the trees, stripping away the rainbow cloaks they get to wear for a brief time. The streets of New York City become carpeted in fallen leaves, now soaked and heavy with water. Shortly after the rain stops, doors open and out from the warmth and comfort of their homes come people prepared for battle, armed with rakes and shovels. They quickly begin their work of clearing away the wet mess left strewn across the sidewalks and lawns, stuffing wet colorful piles of leaves into black garbage bags. The bags get tied up and placed at the curb where they’re thrown into the backs garbage trucks and promptly disappear.
And then fall is over.
The weather gets colder. The friendly nip of the wind develops into a vicious icy bite. The once magnificent trees are now nothing more than bare skeletons. Night falls earlier, and it always seems to be dark and cold.
Christmas comes quickly, and for a brief time the winter is almost lifted by the twinkling colorful lights hanging in windows. The cold is almost chased away by the warmth of the holiday spirit. Before you know it though, the holidays are over, and New York City shivers through a few more months of winter.
I hate winter. I hate the cold. I hate autumn rain because I know winter is right around the bend.
So despite my dislike of the current situation and my tendency to worry about the future, I decided to walk out my front door and see what I could see. What I found is that the rain had stopped momentarily and the wind was gently blowing through the trees. I strolled down the colorful blocks of Queens as leaves slowly fell from their lives on the branches to their death on the sidewalk. I felt as if Mother Nature herself was throwing me a ticker tape parade.
It was beautiful. For an afternoon I didn’t think of the winter ahead, I just enjoyed the autumn rain like I had never enjoyed it before.
As I’ve said before, I strongly believe we are not just meant to see things, but we are meant to see them when we see them.
Isn’t it wonderful that we live in world that’s constantly changing. The sun moves through the clouds across the sky. Trees and flowers grow, bloom, and eventually die. The wind blows the wildflower seeds across the swaying grass to find a safe place for them to take root. A bird lands on a branch and shakes off the leaf which drifts down to the ground below.
I had walked through Lutheran Cemetery so many times in my lifetime it would be impossible to count. As a young boy, I rode my bike through it, and it served as a convenient shortcut from Middle Village to Glendale especially on foot. I know this might sound creepy to some, but when you live in the “cemetery belt” of New York City, it’s just a way of life. So nothing seemed out of the ordinary when I walked along the cobblestone paths yesterday. I had a little over an hour before the gates closed, and the sun hung low in the autumn sky.
Almost immediately I felt as if I was entering a place I had never been before. Sure, I recognized some of the statues and stones I had photographed in the past, but everything just seemed different, alive almost. I saw things through eyes I had never seen through before. I took a few photos, I was more focused and direct then ever before.
I saw what I wanted, and I got it.
It was a good day.
I was sitting in one of my favorite NYC bars one spring night. Nancy Whiskey’s is a great bar by the mouth of the Holland Tunnel. They make a great burger, however I don’t know if the taste is anywhere nearly as good as the ambiance. Nancy Whiskey’s is the only bar I know with a loft. The loft has a pitch so great, you can see it in your beer.
I was just finishing up my beer and my burger when I heard the people behind me joking about smelling smoke. They laughingly said the last place they wanted to die was in this bar, and I remember thinking to myself that there were a lot worse places to die.
It was obvious the fire was not in the bar itself, rather somewhere else in the tightly packed streets of lower Manhattan. Nancy Whiskey’s has large open front doors so the faint smoke in the air outside was drifting in. I downed the last of my beer, paid my tab, grabbed my camera bag and headed out. Any thoughts of not finding that fire was quickly erased when a NYC firetruck sped past me, lights blazing and sirens screaming through the night. I walked in the direction of the passing truck and only after a block or two could I see the commotion.
Let me explain something to those who don’t live in a big city. When there is a report of smelling of smoke, the FDNY sends out a truck. Then another one. When there is confirmation of smoke, another two trucks arrive. By the time actual flames are spotted, the entire block is filled with big red trucks and men waiting to do what the need to do. Now many people are quick to laugh and say that the fireman have nothing better to do… but it’s not that at all. Here in NYC – as I guess in other major cities – we are so crowded together that one tiny fire can lead to a disaster in minutes, thus the always heavy response.
So back to that night. The streets were closed off, as fire personnel ran hoses, set up equipment, etc. By the time I got as close as I could, the flames were pretty much gone, but the men still worked to make sure all was safe. I shot as much as I could of what was going and was pleased with some of what I came away with.
The rest of the shots are here..
The blaze was out and even though two firemen went to the hospital for smoke inhalation, both were released the next day. There was no serious damage, and a few months later, you couldn’t even tell where the blaze was.
The story would be great if it ended there… but it didn’t.
A few months later, I got an email from a guy who ran a website called Ten House.com. It’s the “official” website of the FDNY fire company “Ten Truck”. Take some time and visit the site, you’ll see that with the proximity of the house to the World Trade Center, it’s a miracle it’s still there. Anyway my photos of the fire was seen on Flickr and they wanted to include on the site. I gave permission right away, and my shots are in the gallery section of the website.
The story would be great if it ended there… but it didn’t.
A few months later, I got a email from a firefighter, who was member of Ten Truck, and was there that night.He saw my photos and wanted to know if he could purchase a large print to hang in the firehouse. I got it printed and arranged to meet with him there. I arrived and they were out on a call, so I hung around until they returned. I met the fireman who contacted me and he quickly introduced me around as “hey, here’s the guy that took that great photo of us at work.” I wasn’t sure if he could tell, but my feet weren’t even on the ground. As if that wasn’t enough, one of the fireman shook my hand and said “hey, I use that picture as my desktop at home.”
I hung around briefly with the men, who did have things to do, so I handed over the print. They asked how much they owed and responded something like “It’s for all you do.”. They guys thanked me and one of them told me to wait. He disappeared in the back and returned with a FDNY Ten Truck t-shirt. To this day, it’s the best thanks I’ve ever gotten for taking a photo.
I took one that day… just one..
Strolled around Williamsburg today. I dunno, maybe it was that I stayed up to the wee hours last night reading the blog of the HDR master Louis Trocciola but I just kept seeing all the great color and detail around me.
Now I’m in no way trying to copy his work, even if I tried I couldn’t get close. Visit his blog, and look at his images and let me know when you jaw finally closes. I’ve also been learning a lot at my favorite photo stomping ground Your Photo Forum from the HDR masters there, Jake Easley and Lincoln Palmer. Their stuff will blow you away. They’re both great guys too, and I’ve gotten lots of help and advice from them.
For now anyway, I’m still trying to find my way in this art form. Not every image will work as an HDR, and if nothing else, I’m getting better at taking a photo and making a mental note to run it through Photomatix when I get home.
Here’s what I saw today…
What is it about the places we’re not supposed to go? What is that thing that resides in all of us – no matter how good and well behaved we are – that pushes us across the line, under a hole in chain link fence, or inside a door that’s usually locked? Ok, it doesn’t hold true in such an extreme for all of us, but it’s human nature to do what we are told not to.
So immediately I was curious as I walked through Forest Park last week and saw two police officers stop by the side of the park path, get out of their car and enter the woods. They walked down hill and disappeared from view. The natural voyeur in me kept me there waiting for them return and was disappointed when they came back empty handed. They drove off, and I just had to know what they were looking for. As soon as they were out of site, I followed the path.
My sense of adventure was overcome by my stronger sense of self-preservation as I descended lower down the embankment of an abandoned railroad crossing. A overpass carried the park road over the tracks. The tracks themselves almost seemed to stop a few feet on either side of the overpass, they actually continued, probably for quite some miles, but the woods had eaten them and they were now lost on the forest floor. I stopped and looked around, deciding it was unwise to continue any lower. The cops had been looking for something, or someone down here, and come up empty handed. I certainly did not want to be the one who found it, especially with all my camera gear. I decided to return again, with a friend, so someone could watch my back.
A week later, I was back, this time with my friend behind me. We descended down the hill and under the underpass. This was clearly a place for the despondent – the addicts, the homeless, those with no where else to go. Today however, it was empty except for the two of us. We walked around and I shot the graffiti strewn walls. We carefully walked along, stepping on the dozens of empty plastic baggies once probably filled with heroin or something other reality escaping drug.
I realized as we explored that the police were obviously checking to make sure that no one was down here, either shooting up or setting up a home. We both quickly decided that this was probably not the best place to spend a fall afternoon – a warm bar with a cold beer would be a better place for us.
We climbed back up to the park road and left the world under the underpass behind us.
Why does the world hate mimes?
There are 52 unique muscles in the human face and she was using every one of them that spring afternoon to convey all the emotions she could with out her voice. As the crowd streamed around her she practiced her craft mimicking, teasing have playing with the people passing by. A few stopped and watched and drew delight in the ones that didn’t stop, just walked along. Those were the ones she performed with, imitating, following, using a comic foil for her act. A few would notice, and turn and she would instantly switch to something else so they never had any idea what went on.
I watched for a while, and took her photo as she performed. I thought she didn’t see me, but in the end she did, and even posed for me.
I don’t know why people hate mimes….
I never wanted to sing. Actually I never really wanted to be anyone in the band. Being in front of a crowd for any amount of time turns my knees to jelly and makes me wish for a mystical cloak of invisibility. My best friend asked me to be his best man and from day one I dreaded the speech I had to give.Even today, I don’t really remembered what I said, I just remembered I wanted nothing more to hand that mic to someone else and get a Jack ‘n’ Coke.
Even early on, I was drawn to the spotlight however. Not really the spotlight itself though, but to the edge of it. My natural curiosity brought me to that line, never over it. I always wanted to see what was going, watching it all, imprinting it into my memory.
And now I have a camera, makes it easier I guess. Well, in some ways. The great thing about spotlights is they tend to make if difficult for the person in the spotlight to see what everyone else is doing. Now it’s up to me to slowly sneak my way to the back of the crowd and take the shot that totally captures their spirit without them knowing it.
Growing up, my mom was always the one with the camera. I get whatever talent I have from her. But mom was always part of the party, she was always laughing with us, not being the social introvert I’ve grown into. We always goofed around on holidays and Mom’s slogan was “do that again!!” so she could take a photo. Someone, usually my sister would call out “And act candid!!”
Of course there is no way to “Act candid.” Furthermore, there is no way to tell a complete stranger to pretend he/she doesn’t know his/her photo is being taken. So, when I see someone I really want to capture, I linger, make myself disappear and try to take a shot I’m pleased with.
Here are some I’ve been pleased with… in no order…
Mike and Shea
There’s more, but that’s enough for today. I’d say something stupid like see you around, but I guess the point of this is that you don’t see me, that I see you, and I see you being you.
What cracks me up the most about this, is the fact that I actually subscribe to “Time Out NY”, which for the non-NY readers, is a weekly magazine that tells everything that’s happening in Gotham this week, I got my issue last Tuesday, like clockwork, and I still didn’t know today was the New York City Century Bike Tour.
I was up early, Dallas caught an early flight home and I was feel too melancholy to be able to go back to sleep. Sitting around on such a beautiful day was driving me nuts so I grabbed my gear and headed outside with no destination in mind. I really didn’t think I’d take a lot of photos in reality, probably just wander around bit, too lost in thought to be inspired. I walked along Cooper Ave as a bicycle passed me. Then another. Then five or six more. I took a closer look and saw that they all had numbers on their shirts, with a little “NYC Century Bike Tour” on it, and I realized maybe I’d have something to take pictures of after all.
I walked along Cooper and up Cypress against the sporadic flow of the riders. I started taking shots, but then I stopped myself. I realized this was a great time not only to take photos but to learn to take photos. I started paying attention to the sun & shade. I looked at the long curving street, and decided my best vantage points. I experimented with various camera settings, I predicted what a certain shutter speed or aperture would look like, and sometimes, I was actually correct. I stood, I sat down, finally I lay down along the curb to shoot up as they raced past me.
Through it all, I was struck by the happiness of the riders. I got a lot of “thank yous”, tons of smiles, some thumbs ups, some peace sign, and one person even picked their nose for me. I moved further and further along the route, eventually entering the bike path in Highland Park. I took photo after photo of these amazing athletes as they sped past.
I shot a lot on “Sports” mode on my camera, which is a mode I use a lot actually, however, it’s never really in the presence of sports. This is my trust fall-back when I shoot live music, in fact the only other time I used this mode for it’s intended purpose was when my brother Mike ran a marathon in Vermont.
Some of the shots came out ok. I have a ton more that I haven’t even processed. I’d love to get in touch with some of these folks, I mean how often does one get to see themselves doing something they really enjoy doing?
New York City, huh? Where else can you go for a walk thinking you’d find nothing interesting to see and return with over 600 shots?
Slideshow of the shots I have done can be found Here
Here’s me… getting into it…
It would ultimately turn out to be the coldest day of 2008 and the year had barley just begun. I didn’t have work, though I didn’t bother telling anyone that, so I decided to drive around and enjoy the quiet for a bit, and of course, see if I could find some photos.
I drove through parts of Queens, into Brooklyn, not really sure where I was headed. I eventually wound up in Greenpoint, and drove up and down street after street looking around. It was afternoon, the sun was low in the sky and like I said, it was freezing outside, only complete morons would be out in the fresh air.
So of course I parked my car and walked into the East River State Park on Kent Street. Surprisingly, I found some other people there. A bunch of teenage boys did tricks with their skate boards and looked at me with a sort of disdain that I had somehow violated their sanctuary. I traveled past them to the short of the East River.
Across the river the city was engrossed in the afternoon rush, millions of people thrust themselves into subways and buses to get back into the safety and warmth of their homes. But here in the park, the waves of the river just washed slowly against the shore. Seagulls found their dinners in the rocks and remains of the pier. A perfect example of the peace and tranquility that could be found inside the noisiest and vigorous city on the planet.
I sat and enjoyed it for a while, until, despite the fact I was bundled from head to toe, the cold began to creep into my bones and I needed to move to get warm again. I took some shots of the shore, the birds, the waves. The sun sank lower and lit the skyline of Manhattan in a brilliant light. A walked a little further and notice the reminisce of an old pier jutting into the water, and old forgotten relic of days gone past which some one had decided to “redecorate”.
After I photographed it and moved on I had noticed more and more of the graffiti, especially once I left the park, walking past the skateboarders who seemed thankful for my exit. Some of it was colorful, some of it was plain. Some was artistic, others was just downright offensive. I turned and walked down a deserted street. Along one side of the street ran an abandoned factory, it’s floor after floor of broken windows . This too was embellished by a street artist.
I continued down the street which dead ended at the river. At one time it looked as if a pier had run out from the street into the water, but now only a few beams remained. It had become now a jumbled, tangled mess of garbage, twisted steel and old forgotten wooden beams. A fence had been put up to keep out trespassers, and of course it had a large hole in it, so I ventured in. BY now the sun had really begun to set, the cold had become even colder, and I was no longer feeling as brave as I did when I wasn’t on a deserted street in Brooklyn with night quickly approaching. I snapped one photo, before getting back to the safer side of the fence.
As I drove around the streets, night had fallen and the colors I had seen earlier had all melted into the yellowish hue of the city street lamps. I threw some Miles Davis into the CD player and drove into the night, eager to discover what I could find there.