September 29, 2009

Pigeon Art. $4500 (a bargain)

With the economy in the toilet, I've been spending far too much time going to the countless galleries in Soho and Chelsea. After each visit I have the strong urge to throw my cameras off a high cliff and get a job in a factory. Why bother? If Richard Prince can rephotograph (yes, rephotograph) old Marlboro ads and sell them as his own, why can't I snap any stupid photo, make it big, and sell it? At least I actually take my own pictures. So, I decided to create my own masterpiece. I'm giving away my secrets for the sake of this post. First, I spent at least 4 minutes stalking the perfect pigeon in Central Park with my point and shoot. I then spent an agonizing 45 seconds in photoshop working tirelessly, perfecting the color and contrast of the image. Now, I'll blow it up to approximately 4x5 feet and scribble some mindless crap on it with a crayon. Voila... art. Give me $4500. A bargain comparatively speaking. The art world is a total crock of shit. See my previous post "Who calls what art."

Avian #54

Avian #63

September 28, 2009


I was editing my snake trip photos this morning and found these snaps of a lake I stumbled upon while driving on back roads. Tucked deep in the middle of the most economically depressed county in the nation they have this beautifully manicured park. It had a very Asian feel. I found it extremely odd that it was even there.

This is a more typical scene down there. Old dilapidated building, a rusting pickup or two in the yard.

Roadside target practice. I realize that most states have the same problem, but on this one stretch of road, about 30 miles long, I challenge you to find a single sign that has fewer than 4 bullet holes in it.

September 25, 2009

Two shadows, two birdhouses

The other day I was with my friend Anastasia. She was a bit under the weather so we drank hot tea, nibbled on fine Belgian chocolates and made shadow puppets in the sunlight coming through her window.

Alien snail shadow puppet

While walking through the West Village I spotted a birdhouse in a tree. I found it odd that it had an enclosed porch. Even more curious, was that it had another little birdhouse attached to it. Maybe that little birdhouse should have had one attached to it as well. Then another and another, until microscopic.

September 24, 2009

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...

Yesterday I got up at 6:15, didn't bother to shower, brushed my teeth, splashed some cold water on my face, grabbed a few cameras, a tripod and took a long walk in the neighborhood. It's been a long time since I was up at that hour looking for a nice shot. It was a bit overcast which I like, and I loved the dim light cast on the closed storefronts. I went down a side street and noticed a broken window (top photo). I peered in to find a man sitting in the dark smoking a cigarette, arms crossed in front of him. "Robbed?" "Yes" "Get much?" "About ten thousand in cash and cigarettes". "Man, I'm sorry". He shrugged his shoulders... "Waiting for the police?" "Yes". I stepped back and took a snap with my digital camera and then a "real" photo with 2 1/4 (film). I poked my head in again and he explained the thieves had broken the big lock, lifted the grate, smashed the window and made off with all the goods. A few minutes later I was on another street close by and noticed a bunch of produce sitting unattended in front of a closed store. No one in sight. I waited and took some photos. Here are boxes of fruit and no one bothers them and a block away some thief breaks into a bodega and ransacks the place, all within a block of each other. Obviously the first crime was much more lucrative than stealing a box of fruit, but still. You'd think someone would snatch a mango or two....

Sums up my thoughts to a tee

A great article about life choices. There are no right choices.

September 23, 2009

Film vs Digital deception

I've been trying to immerse myself in more creative endeavors. I've always loved shooting medium and large format film and have missed it greatly since I started shooting digital. Another photographer on the blog "The Ingoing" also expressed that she missed shooting film and gave similar reasons why. We both liked the anticipation of "wait time" between shooting and actually seeing the outcome, or, I should say, the uncertainty of the outcome. The need to be more precise, the organic quality and process and finally the ability and superiority I feel over those who rely on the latitude of the raw digital image to save their asses using digital files. Shooting film requires FAR more technical knowledge, period. Especially using transparency film. I like that I get 12 frames on a roll and can't rely on blasting frame after frame until I finally see a nicely exposed image on my little screen. It takes a good technician to get a correctly exposed image on film. A friend recently shot some images of the city at 11:00am (crappy light) and later made it look like it was shot at 6:00am by darkening the sky, adding a reddish glow to the clouds, combining 2 images taken at two different exposures to make one good one. To me, that's bullshit. Some dodging and burning is one thing, normal and expected. Creating an image is cheating. Be a photographer, get your lazy ass up at 4:30am, drive to the location and take your "first light" shot if you want that look. Don't use gimmicks, photoshop and deception to pretend you did. And most importantly, it's NOT just about the final outcome, it's also about the process, the craft, the sacrifice. If that weren't the case, why bother with mountain climbing? Have a helicopter take you to the top and drop you off so you can say, "Yeah, I've been to the top of Everest". You have, but you cheated, you chump!


I was in Times Square the other night and noticed all these food delivery guys weaving wildly through traffic and people on their bikes. They seemed to be going way too fast. I snapped a few of them (my "panning skills" are a tad rusty) as they sped along. Sadly, I was sort of half hoping I'd catch the Pulitzer winning shot of the poor fat lady vacationing from Iowa getting slammed to the ground by one of these guys. Didn't happen, they're pros.

September 22, 2009


I have been tinkering with wire for over a year. A friend of my sister's makes these incredible puzzles out of stainless steel wire. Small, intricate and precise. I went to the Calder show at Moma and he used to bend wire into the shapes of faces and dancers. His sculptures were not so intricate... Much more free form. I started bending with a certain gauge wire and a certain type plier given to me by my good friend Paul who bends coat hangers. After moving last March I packed away about 50 of these things. These are some of the latest, but not best. These are mostly made riding the subway on the 40 minute ride downtown. Hard to be precise while shaking around on the subway. I don't claim that they are in any way art. It occupies my mind during the ride. That's about it. Oh, they're small, only about 2 inches high.

September 20, 2009

Easy snaps

Every once in awhile I'll glance up in the sky and see a plane flying really high. So high I can't hear the engines. I always imagine some random person sitting in their seat, looking out the window, staring down at Manhattan. A $3 Pepsi in one hand, a $4 bag of Rold Gold pretzels in the other. I've flown over cities countless times and I wonder if people look up and think the same things. I'm always curious where they're going.

I snapped this in City Island. Reminded me of an old art photo from the 40's.

Fishnets lit with a single hard light usually produces a graphically pleasing prize.

September 17, 2009

My Giant Sneaker

Not long ago I was taking a bus back to NYC from a visit in Va. I always feel like a chump saying I took a bus. Sounds like I'm poor. Lots of poor college students with huge backpacks ride the bus. Actually, the bus is just as fast as the train and costs up to $80 less (depending on departure time). The train leaves and arrives further away from both destinations so it's actually stupid to take Amtrak.
So, I'm on this bus and just outside Philly I look out the window and see this massive billboard. I got excited and almost jumped out of my seat... I shot that billboard. That's my shoe photo up there, 60 feet long and 20+ feet high. Right there on Rte 95, for all to see, huge. I think I told the person next to me and they didn't seem to believe me and/or, thought I was crazy. Their thoughts were obvious, "Gee, must pay really well... you're taking the bus".
I sat in my seat smiling. I was proud of my GIANT sneaker picture.

September 16, 2009

Social studies

I see this guy around town. Here he is in Times Square playing his accordian to people passing by. He never takes off his helmut. He plays a mean StarWars theme. The police chased him off. A few days later I saw him on the Highline. Odd schtick.

I was walking down Washington Street in the West Village. Right near the UPS facility there is this wide expanse of street. Nothing around. And still, some dope managed to hit this sign and bend it over.

I can't stay away from Coney Island. I watched this man hand out tickets from this tiny little ticket booth. I imagined him with his bottle of soda and ticket despenser, sitting there for hours at a time. What a weird job sitting in that little booth.

September 13, 2009

Look, I opened a restaurant.

No matter how old a man gets, at some point he'll always revert back to being a pubescent teen. Doctor, lawyer, politician... photographer... doesn't matter. Someone says something like "Gee, that's a hard one" referring to a quiz or question and every guy in the room will either think or actually say out loud "That's what she said last night." Pretty much any comment with the words hard, long, huge, thick or any possible sexual connotation will bring about a thought or comment from the immature, boyish mind of a man. I saw this store in Chinatown yesterday and couldn't help but post something stupid... "Look, I opened a restaurant!"

September 11, 2009

Skulls and shadows.

I love the New Yorker magazine. I rarely laugh out loud at cartoons but I found this one to be hilarious.

Some shadows snapped at dusk.

On the way back from my snake trip I stopped by my friend Tom's house. He nails skulls to tree stumps. I love that.

September 7, 2009

Snakes alive #2

Just back from the jaunt down south with the serpent handlers. I left on Friday morning, driving straight through, stopping only once to use the bathroom and grab a cup of weak "rest stop" coffee. I went directly to my favorite preacher's house and we spent a few hours catching up and looking over his latest batch of freshly caught snakes. One in particular was too big to get your hand around. He keeps them in large aquariums in a shed beside his house. He has a large padlock on the door for fear that someone might get in and steal these snakes that took him so long to find in the rocky hills near his home. I did a quick count, one very large yellow copperhead, a few smaller darker ones and at least a 3 large rattlesnakes. As you glance into the aquariums the snakes stare back at you, coiled, ready. A few seconds later the hum of the rattles fills the room. It's immediately obvious they don't like having you so close. Standing on saw horses in the middle of the shed is the handmade coffin he's been working on for the past few years. It's a dark reddish mahogany color and he's made the whole thing from timber pulled from the woods behind his house. I asked if it was done yet and he said "Almost, cept the inside". He cleared away some items from the top and opened the lid. Inside were pieces of white satin. He had started to staple the material to the lid but hadn't finished. It is obviously a work in progress, though he hadn't done much with it since the last time I was there a year ago. My father told me a story long ago of a friend of his who had built his own casket in his garage and was later buried in it. Seemed oddly nice and comforting knowing you made this bed, box, vessel, casket you would spend eternity in. We talked until around 6:00pm when I realized I had to hustle to make the first service of the homecoming on time. It's only about 30 miles from his house to the snake handling church but on those twisty roads it takes almost an hour.

I drove like a maniac and arrived with plenty of time before chuch started. People were milling about in front, talking, hugging and shaking hands. I saw a few men open their trunks and pull out the wooden snake boxes and carry them into the church. They set them among the others at the altar totaling about 7. You could hear the faint rattling as soon as you walked through the doors into the church. A few men were at the altar pointing and commenting on the snakes inside the boxes. The church service started at around 7:30 and the quiet spoken preacher had to raise his voice to get everyone's attention. The first words out of his mouth was a warning to everyone NOT to take photos if you weren't a member of the congregation...Or, unless you were a friend of the church (like me). He talked about how many times people had come and taken photos only to find them later published in some magazine with a horrible article describing them as nuts or fanatics. He warned that if any photos were used in a negative manner you would be banned from the church forever. Then everyone was asked to stand up, reach out to anyone close by and tell them you love them and give them a hug or handshake. As this was going on a few men went behind the altar, sat behind their guitars, basses, organ and drums and the music began. Men and women gathered on the wooden floor in front of the alter and began to dance, twirl around and stomp their feet. Hands in the air and eyes closed, praying and chanting. After about 10 minutes of loud, rhythmic, repetative, folk inspired playing, a man went up to the alter, flipped the latch on one of the boxes and reached inside. He stroked the snakes body and held it over his head as he prayed. It stretched itself out towards the ceiling, sort of hovering above everyone, rising up toward the twirling ceiling fan. Later a preacher told me he thought the snakes liked the wind the fan gave off. The next three days with these people was incredible to witness, to say the least. Each service lasted between 5 and 6 hours. The first night I left the church around 12:30am. I was exhausted from driving the 400+ miles to get there and after another 45 minutes of those twisty roads I pulled into a church parking lot, climbed into the back seat and cracked the windows. I woke up at 7:00am. I was the way you feel when you're camping. I washed up in a bathroom and brushed my teeth using bottled water. I drove another half hour hoping to meet a group of old men I had photographed a year earlier at a music store playing bluegrass. They had breakfast each saturday morning at "Bud's Place" near Tazewell, Virginia. I pulled in and was glad to see them all there sitting at a table, smoking and drinking that weak coffee with loads of sugar and CoffeeMate. They guaranteed me Bud's had the best biscuits I'd ever tasted. They were good, but tasted like any other biscuit to me. I left them around 9:30 and spent the rest of the day shooting the local scenery along those twisty-turny back roads. At 6:00pm I was back in that same  church. Saturday night they ask everyone including me NOT to take any photos, which was disappointing. Seems some of the old timers were showing up and didn't want their pictures taken. I decided to experience the service like a true church goer so I stood up front and sang, danced and clapped my hands with all the others. When the snakes came out I was closer than I should have been but I had no fear. Odd thing to be next to a man holding a 4 foot black rattler that could easily reach out and give you a death bite. After the service my preacher friend asked where I was staying and I replied "In the car". He was very kind and offered his couch so I went back to his place, another hour away and crashed on his couch. I was up the next morning at 5:35am and quietly left to take more snaps of the local scenery. Sunday's service began at 1:00pm and it was a low key, quiet group comparatively. The service was somewhat sedate and evidently God did not tell anyone to "take up serpents" because no one even approached the boxes. The service ended without a single snake coming out. Perhaps they were preoccupied that a pot luck dinner was outside waiting for anyone who wanted to partake. A bit later, many people had left or were leaving when I heard someone strumming a guitar and singing. A few people had moved back into the church and an impromptu service had started. I grabbed a camera just in time to see someone pull a large black rattler from a box... God had evidently spoken to someone at the last minute. After the service, I said my goodbyes and started the long drive home. The rain was coming down in buckets and with my wipers on high I could barely go over 20 mph. After a few hours I pulled into a rest stop and slept awhile before heading back to Va. 
Lastly, I wish I could post some photos of the serpent handlers on this blog.  I have some really great images. The problem is, these people have a moral standard they live by which is much more strict than my own. They've let me come into their church and homes to take photos. They trust me. By having certain photos that I've taken on this blog, although artsy, I don't think they would appreciate being on the same site as many of the photos.  And, I have to respect that.  Pictures? You'll have to wait for the book and/or gallery show.  

September 3, 2009

Snakes alive!

I'm writing this sitting quietly at a little card table in my sister's apartment in a gated community in Virginia. It's nice and cozy and comforting here. It's a short stopover. I'm headed south. I left NYC this morning on one of my southern snake handling journeys. A few years ago I went down to some very small towns near the Kentucky-Tennesee border to seek out snake handling preachers. I had seen a movie long ago and then a little story on 20/20 or Dateline about the subject and found it very intriguing. In nearly every town I would ask the locals if they knew of a snake handling church nearby. They would all scratch their heads and after what seemed like 3 minutes they'd say "No, I don't believe I do." Or, they'd reply "Well [pause] there usta be one down thataway but I think it's gone now." I sensed they were being secretive and didn't get any further until I was in one small town, at a gas station, when I walked in and a woman said, "You're not from around here." I replied, "No, I'm not. I'm looking for a snake handling church." She told me she thought there was one was a few miles down the road, over a creek and up on a hill. "A little blue church," she said. I went there the following Sunday at 1:00 and sat through a service. Very interesting, but no snakes. The preacher was very cautious but after some lengthy conversation he invited me to his house the next day. I showed up and he talked in great length about his love of the church and his snake handling. He showed me hundreds of news clippings and polaroids in a scrapbook of people handling snakes, and countless photos of people lying in bed with limbs swollen from being bitten. I went back again the following day and was surprised when he handled a large copperhead and a rattlesnake in front of me in the doorway of his shed. He prayed to Jesus as he held the "serpents" over his head. He held both at once and after a few minutes returned them to their boxes. The next day I had to drive back to New York but the memory of him, handling of the snakes and his devotion to preaching the "literal" sense of the bible was etched into my brain. I thought about it the whole 14 hours back to New York and for months following. That was in March. I gave that trip to myself as a birthday "adventure" present. Seemed much cooler than sitting in a big soggy raft for 8 hours on some river with nine other "white water" losers. I did that once, and thought it was long boring and not so thrilling. I wanted to pull out my pocket knife, pop the raft, and drown myself and all aboard. One minute of violent thrashing in a rapid, holding on for dear life and then 40 minutes of floating down a calm river... yawn.

I made plans to go back down and just before Labor Day last year the preacher called me and said "Stephen? I think you oughta come down here.... Big homecoming. It'll be something to see." I drove down to a little church on the side of a dark, winding country road. As I walked in I could hear this high-pitched hum.... Like locusts or cicadas might sound. I looked up at the alter to see seven or eight of the same type wooden pine boxes I had seen in the preacher's shed. As I got closer the hum got louder--each of those boxes contained at least one or two rattlesnakes. There are screens on the tops of the boxes and you can see the snakes through them. The service started like any other country type service might... singing and bluegrass music played by about seven members of the church. Then the preacher got up and in a southern drawl gave his sermon, telling everyone how to be a better person. Then the music started again and people got up to dance. They were spinning around, heads pointed towards the ceiling, looking very trance-like. This went on for about an hour and I must admit I was getting anxious to see the snake handling. The preacher told me the last time I was there that sometimes they'll preach for weeks and never be "called upon" to take up the serpents. Even if the snakes and boxes were there. I became terrified that I had driven 12 hours, rented a car, and stayed in a crappy, run-down, over-priced hotel, and these people weren't going to be "called upon." I was about to start speaking out loud in a soft, spooky voice, like the ones you use at Halloween talking to a kid... "Y'all take up serpents." Well, no sooner did I finish that thought when a man stepped up to one of those boxes and flipped the latch. He opened the box, reached in and pulled out a large rattlesnake. His hand was right around the middle of the snake, its head pointed away. A few minutes later another man walked up and took the snake from him, then another member took it, and it was passed around before someone returned it to its box. Pretty soon, five or six men had one or two rattlesnakes in their hands, all gazing at them and mumbling prayers. Some dancing with the snakes, others standing still, holding the snakes up, looking into their eyes. I was sitting there, mouth wide open in awe. It was amazing. The service went on for a few hours with snake handling only taking up about a half hour or so in total. They only come out when someone is called upon by the Lord to handle one. I went to a second service the following day and witnessed a similar, but smaller, event. After that service, I drove back to New York with 6 hours of video and a few thousand frames. The most amazing thing I'd ever witnessed. Now, here it is a year later and I'm headed down again. I don't know if they'll let me shoot and don't know if there will be handling. I'm compelled. I must go. This time I'm going ghetto... sleeping in the car, eating cheap, and shooting like a banshee. I've got video cameras, digital cameras, and film cameras, I'm set. Let the serpent handling begin... More later. Sorry for any typos...too tired to edit.