What makes a person take a photo? Since the invention of the camera, people have been choosing what moments to immortalize on film, or in my day and age, in a million pixels. Sometimes its an easy choice, a birthday, a wedding, Johnny coming home from the war, a moment we want to remember every single detail of, no matter how minute, so we press the shutter and save it for eternity.
Maybe it’s our way of beating the system. It’s our attempt to stop our kids from growing. Its our way from keeping our loved ones alive. It’s the only way possible to stop the sun from setting on that magical day we’re having.
But what if there is no birthday cake or bride and groom or happy child running through the daises? What if it’s just a field of wildflowers? Or a tricycle? Or swing set next to a tree? Then what makes a person take a photo?
I was asked this question, and I had no answer. Instead I went back to taking photos of that swing set, because I had this nagging feeling something was there, but for the life of me, I had no idea what. So I kept shooting thinking maybe I’d find it.
I was lucky enough to escape the city for a day with friends to a country home which was only 3 hours away from my front door but felt as if it was on the opposite side of the earth. My cell phone didn’t have signal, there was no internet connection, and to be honest, I didn’t miss either. We spent the morning working replacing the beams under the house, crawling around in the muck and the mud, and finished filthy but proud of our work. The massive amount of grass was mowed after the tractor was fixed twice. I built a bonfire, flashing back to my years in Boy Scouts, and I’m bursting with pride that it went up with one match. I fed the fire to a tremendous blaze, and as noticed by my friends, I raised the tempature of the entire Catskill Mountains by nine degrees for the night. My real goal, however was the get it big enough to be seen from space.
Despite all the technology that was left behind, my shiny Nikon D90 seemed grossly out of place. Even so, I gripped it tight as I strolled through the grass and woods. Through my lens, I saw more than the grass and the woods, something harder to describe. The country house I was brought to was a special place, just an ordinary house to most, but to my friends and their family, it was home filled with memories of laughter, love, all those moments that make life worth living. I felt an odd pressure as I shot, a challenge to capture that spirit, and maybe that’s why I took so many photos of the swing set, maybe that’s what I was seeing.
Or maybe it was just shadows on a rock that caught my eye. I really don’t know. But as long as I have friends who love me enough to take me up to their magical country home to try to capture it’s spirit, and – dare I say it – fans who want to see the results, I’ll keep shooting.
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..