I wonder what a road feels like.
A road is the thing that takes us from point A to point B and back again. It speeds by under the tires of our big fuel guzzling SUVs without even a glimmer of appreciation. Sure, perhaps we’ll glance out the windows at the trees whizzing by, ooh and ahh at the houses and scenic views, but mostly they go unnoticed.
Today I left the house with a new word in my pocket. Its a word that should have been so simple that I could have completed it by the time I reached the corner, but something wasn’t there today, I couldn’t see anything through my lens, no matter how far I walked, especially when it came to seeing that word. I walked farther along until I came to a pretty busy road that runs through a park, one of the biggest roads in Queens. It gets pretty wooded, the two lane black top snaking through a forest which most of the area would look like if not for the work of man.
The word I had come to look for had already slipped so far from my mind that I could barely even remember it. I carried my camera in my hand listening to the whizzing cars rush past me. In between them, the silence of the woods returned only to be shattered within seconds by another passing car. As I walked, I became aware of the road. My eyes drifted along and I began to notice not only the road, and as I said, how ignored and unloved it was, but even worse what was left along side of it. Trash littered the curb, things tossed out a car window, discarded by the owner.
We live in a society being eaten alive by our own garbage. I don’t want to interject my own feelings on global warming or how we’re beating our planet to a horrid death, so I’ll just leave it as saying I was appalled by the litter around me.
I looked at all the trash around me, I looked at it through the lens of my camera, and when I was done, I did something I never do when shooting, I destroyed what I found. Using a plastic bag I found at my feet, I cleaned it up. I picked up the trash laying along the road, stuck it in the bag, and threw it all in the garbage can supplied by the nice people who run the park
My life is in a bad place right now, I have little control of my fate, I’m desperately looking for break, praying for a way to get back on my feat, with very little that I can actually take control of. But this… this I was able to fix… so I did.
Yes, I know it will be back tomorrow, and no I wasn’t able to get all of it, but the bits that I did not only made me feel good, but made that stretch of road that much nicer to look at … if someone else would ever decide to slow down and appreciate it.
Oh … and I left the toilet… it was too big to carry.
Spring is our yearly second chance.
We die through the winter, everything becomes cold and bleak, and even a fresh white blanket of snow eventually turns to a ugly gray eyesore piled up on the curbs of New York City. The wind chills you through to the bones, and I at least, make my way through the streets muttering “There is no reason for weather like this…” and usually a profanity or two.
But soon, the winds die down, the sun peaks from behind the clouds a little longer each day, and you’re not so pissed that you forgot your gloves at home. Winter has left us, and spring has arrived.
Every year around this time I watch the ground. Yes, contrary to what some people think, there are actually patches of ground here in New York City. I’ve always had a piece of it right outside my back door, well, my parent’s back door. Its a small section of property that we here in Queens call “The Yard”. My parents have always taken pride in their yard, it’s a mix of a quiet place to eat BBQ – or actually any meal cooked in this household between June and September when it’s not raining – and a small slice of nature that my parents tend to, consisting of a few flowers, some tomatoes plants and lots of ivy. There’s also a cherry tree that my brother Mike somehow picked up, I don’t remember the story, and remnants of the old magnolia tree that I spent countless hours playing on in my youth.
In my mind, it’s the most beautiful yard in the world.
It’s also the yard that I’ve watched the winters of my life fade away, and the springs sneak in before the summer heat.
What a perfect place to go with my new camera, right? Only one catch, of course, I hate taking pictures of flowers.
I told this once to someone I love once. They bore me, I said, not moving, giving you all the time in the world to frame it, switch lenses, get closer, work on that really nice shot. She said to me, that I should look at it as a thing all photographers need to do, and every really good shot of a flower as one step closer to never having to take a photo of a flower again.
So hopefully these will get me closer to that goal. And if not, I’m not too worried, because no matter how hot the summer gets, and how cold and nasty the winter winds blow, I know all I have to do is wait for spring to return home, and I’ll get another chance.
I’ve always wanted to crawl through an abandoned building. I’ve secretly wished I lived near old run down farmhouses, I’ve dreamed of the photos I could take there.
For personal reasons, I’d rather not say anything about where these are from, it’s still too painful.
My father just sang Monty Python’s “Keep On Looking On The Bright Side Of Life” to me, so I think I’m gonna try that for awhile, he usually isn’t wrong about these things.
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.
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.
Max Creek sings “Blink goes the eye… and a moment slips by…”
How true. We don’t even fully appreciate how lucky we are to see what we see at the exact second we are meant to see it. But I guess that’s the job of the photographer isn’t it? To drag the experience from fleeting into frozen in time.
Truth be told… despite skill… despite everything else… there’s a hell of a lot of luck involved. Sure you can be set up right where you wanna be, right where you know you’re gonna get that shot dreams are made of, but if you pissed off some supreme cosmic being that morning, you might not get squat.
Like I said, it’s the right place, but just as important is the right time. Case in point… “The Steps Down”.
This stair case and I have a history of sorts. It’s a few short blocks from where I was born and raised, however it’s in the part of the neighborhood I was told consider “shady”. It leads from the street above the sidewalk in the underpass below. Besides riding my bike past it when I was a kid, I’ve done a few things there I don’t want to pubicily comment on. It’s always been graffiti strewn, usually with broken bottles around it, but the new 24 hr gym that bought the building across the street from it seems keeping that down.
So after a pretty annoying Sunday evening, I carried my stuff to the staircase. I set up and took a few shots, hoping I had captured what I set out to.
I was pleased. Judging from the comments on Flickr I guess some other people were too.
But like I said, it’s the right place… and the right time.
I took this staircase today, trudging from my parents back to the tree house where I live. As I guess you can probably guess by now, the graffiti was gone. It was all completely painted over. No, I didn’t have my camera, and even if I did, I doubt I would have taken anything anyway. This moment for me is forever solidified in the colors and textures of the image above. I’m just thankful I was given the opportunity to see it when & how I did, and to present it to you.