So we took a trip up to the house to turn the water off for the winter. It was pretty damn cold and nasty, and honestly, I don’t want to know how much colder it could get. My readers know how me and the winter don’t get along.
Moose wanted company on the ride up, moral support as he calls it, and promised me exquisite autumn landscapes painted with the beautiful brushes of mother nature. He got the company, I got cold and rain.
We got to the house, did what he had to do, I’m still not sure what it was, but we poured antifreeze in the drains. The bottle promised that it would protect to -50 degrees, again, I don’t want to know how cold it gets up there.
I walked around the house and property as Moose poured the fruit punch looking stuff down the drains and took shots of the wet trees just starting to turn. Everything around me seemed to be in a weird place, balancing on the edge of summer and fall. The cold rain wasn’t heavy, just annoying. We wrapped up what we came to do, locked up and headed down the bumpy road that lead back to civilization.
“There’s a waterfall not far off the road. You wanna stop?” Moose asked. I looked out at the drizzly day and thought about it. “No.” I finally responded. “But you know what? We passed a cemetery on the way in. Can we pull over there? I know everyone thinks I have a sick thing for cemeteries, but there was tree in it that really gave the place some character.”
“Sure.” Moose responded.
A few minutes later he stopped the car and I walked across the road to the Claryville Cemetery. The rain had stopped, but the sky was still overcast and gray. I walked up to the tree I saw as we passed, and took some shots. I wandered along the roads, lost in the world of framing, light and exposure. I was snapped out of the sound of Moose’s footsteps.
“You see the dates on these things?” He asked. “They’re pretty old. 1825. 1850. 1840. 1874. They have been here a long time.” I began to notice the dates and he was right. These stones had seen many autumns underneath this big old tree. Moose and I walked around, and then headed back to the car.
“Thanks for stopping.” I said as I took a photo of the old church on the edge of the graveyard.
“No problem, kid.” Moose responded. “Hey, look at the tree in the middle of it. It’s perfect, I mean, how could we not stop?”
Saturday was German-American Day in New York City, and the heart of the entire event was the parade down Fifth Ave. Germans, German-Americans and anyone else with a hankering for beer and wiener schnitzel stood along the parade route watching the festivities and waiting for Oktoberfest in Central Park to kick off afterwards.
Moose & Wilbur were there, doing sound for the event. I had my own gig that morning, and after packing up, I headed up to meet them. I told them I’d come by to help pack up, but I also realized the perfect advantage I’d have standing next to the grandstand. I grabbed coffee for us all, and made my way into the restricted area. As the parade approached us, I made my way right next to the announcing platform. I stood next to the barricade, ready to shoot. As I raised my camera, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and some one say “Excuse me.” I turned and there was a parade official standing there, looking a bit puzzled. I really wasn’t looking forward to getting grilled about who I was or why I was inside the VIP area, but I knew the fact I was with the sound company would get me out of trouble. They wouldn’t like I wasn’t taking photos, but I could at least keep my spot. The German man looked at me and shook his head. Finally he spoke.
“Did you not get your press pass?” He asked. “We really screwed this up this year, they all went out Friday and no one got them.” He reached into his pocket and in one swift motion, hung a “2009 German-American Steuben Parade” press pass around my neck. Nearly stammering, I stuttered out, “Thanks, no, I didn’t get it.” I nodded, and then took the big step. The step which separates the boys from the men, the step which separates the cool kids from the dorks.
I stepped off the curb, and into Fifth Ave.
My feet were all ready on the double yellow line when I looked back. The German who had given me the pass had moved on, and I could see Moose at the soundboard. He saw me, and his face lit up. He laughed and grabbed Wilbur, pointing at me. I held up my pass to show him & Moose smiled big, and then waved me on, his way of saying “You’re in the river now kid, you better start swimming.”
So, I swam. Before me, I could see the first marching band and the Grand Marshall approaching. I lifted my camera, look through the lens and caught them dead on. For the rest of the day, group after group, band after band, float after float passed me, or I passed them. I walked all along the street shooting them. They stopped and posed for me, I thanked them, and they continued on. I was able to move around the sun, beating the light that sometime ruins shots, and I found the best places on the street to shoot from. I used position, and placement to my advantage because I was able to go where I wanted… I had a press pass dammit.
I didn’t get back to the truck until after the last float had passed, and I had wandered through the crowd taking some last candids. I threw my camera in the bag and started packing up the gear. Moose and Wilbur joked about how the big press guy took time out of his schedule to help out. As we were rolling down the tailgate Moose asked how the shots came out. I told him I didn’t know.
“I do.” He said. “Incredible as usual.”
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 blessed.
When I was young… knee high to grasshopper some would say … I somehow stumbled upon Midnite Sound Studios. Midnite Sound was recording studio in the backstreets of Queens and home to Moose, a man that could turn a simple sound into the heavenly voice of angels, whether he had made it, or someone else. Not only was Moose a master behind the myriad of knobs, buttons and dials of a recording console, but he’s also perfect with a set of drums and a vocal mic.
Through the doors of Midnite Sound walked in musicians from all sorts of genres.More than a few nights blues were in studio A as death metal was in studio B which had been cleaned up from an afternoon of recording traditional Hindu prayer songs.
Midnite Sound began, for me, as a place to sneak beers that I wasn’t supposed to have yet, smoke a little pot, which I really wasn’t supposed to have yet, and have fun. I did do all that, however, something else began happening, almost without me noticing it at first. I fell in love with music. To me, the blues were just as interesting as the death metal and just as enchanting as the Hindu prayer songs. It became my passion, the most magical thing in my life. I helped Moose as much as I could, just to get closer and deeper into the music. There were weekend gigs, the recording sessions, and the late night jams with Moose, Tom, and Ron that were havens for deep, rich explorations. Through it all, the music was my mistress and I was it’s slave.
Then of course, I was introduced to The Grateful Dead, and all the rules were re-written. What I though I knew about music was re-defined. I began to crave music more and more, and over the course of my life, it’s been the one lasting consent. Whether it be Miles Davis or Max Creek, music has to be surrounding me or I can’t function.
Today, Midnite Sound is gone, a victim of the “I can do it myself” computer age. I think back and I choke back a tear, not just for the loss of the place I often called home, but because I would have been a madman in there with my camera!!!! But Moose is still… well he’s still Moose, and he’s still playing and I’m still considering myself blessed.
Cry Baby plays a monthly gig in a neighborhood bar that those displaced by the loss of Midnite Sound take over for the evening. Moose plays drums, and sings a tune or two, but usually lets Heidi do what she does so well. Her voice is sublime as it cuts through the heavy groove around her. Rob is nothing short than a powerhouse on guitar, his every note perfect impeccable. The bass has changed hands over time, but this last Saturday night it was Dan Prine who held down the bottom end and rattled your teeth.
The band is great, the music is great, but I get more out of them than just a great night of electrifying jams. The cool thing is, they let me practice as they play. They never bitch and complain as I scamper around, camera in hand, taking shot after shot. I learn as I go… I change modes, shutter speeds, flash strength. I study each shot and why it didn’t come out and I use it to better my ability.
The band doesn’t seem to mind.. in fact, I’m now faced with Rob trying to pose for me.
Great music, great friends, great photos… didn’t I say I was blessed?
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.