January 26, 2011

State of our Union

My friend Nemo sent me this funny little story regarding the "stimulus package":

It is a slow day in the small Saskatchewan town of Pumphandle and streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody is living on credit.

A tourist visiting the area drives through town, stops at the motel, and lays a $100 bill on the desk saying he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs to pick one for the night.

As soon as he walks upstairs, the motel owner grabs the bill and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the $100 and runs down the street to retire his debt to the pig farmer.

The pig farmer takes the $100 and heads off to pay his bill to his supplier, the Co-op.

The guy at the Co-op takes the $100 and runs to pay his debt to the local prostitute, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer her "services" on credit.

The hooker rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill with the hotel owner.

The hotel proprietor then places the $100 back on the counter so the traveler will not suspect anything.

At that moment the traveler comes down the stairs, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, picks up the $100 bill and leaves.

No one produced anything. No one earned anything... However, the whole town is now out of debt and now looks to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a "stimulus package" works.

Two turkeys

I was walking through Inwood Hill Park early today when I came upon this big old tom turkey standing erect in the forest. I believe he was searching for a mate. I crouched, clucked a few times like a hen and pulled out my trusty Lumix camera. I was able to snap this photo just before he spooked and flew off. Quite the sighting here in Inwood.

Today I was standing in front of my building testing out a lens my friend Todd sold me a few days ago. I had a suspicion that it might be front or back focusing and not as tack-sharp as I had hoped. I was snapping photos at different apertures up and down the block at various things like trees, buildings, cars, planes, etc. etc.
Just as I was focusing on one of those decorative cabbage-like plants covered with snow, a woman who lives in my building walked up behind me and this is pretty much what transpired.

Crazy Neighbor: Umm, excuse me, I don't want you to take any photographs of me.
Me: What?
Her: I don't want you to take any photos of me.
Me: (Staring at her like she's crazy) You must be kidding. Don't flatter yourself. I didn't take any pictures of you. And, why would I?
Her: Well that's just rude. I've seen you taking photos here many times before.
Me: I'm a photographer, I'm testing out a lens I just bought. And again, I didn't take any photos of you.
Her: Well, I saw you aiming your camera in our direction (she was speaking to some people on the street).
Me: You're so confrontational.
Her: Yes I am, I just don't like having my picture taken.
Me: Lady, I was aiming at buildings, the street and other things. I assure you, I didn't take your picture nor have any desire to. And, neither does anyone else.
Her: Well, that's your opinion.
Me: No, I'm pretty sure anyone would agree with me on that one.
Her: (walking away yelling over her shoulder) Don't take my photo...
Me: (yelling back) Don't flatter yourself!
Her: (yelling from a distance) Fuck you...
Me: (yelling louder) No, fuck you, you crazy bitch!

I gotta get the hell out of Inwood before I go postal.

January 24, 2011

My Urban Safari





Me and Julia

On Sunday I took my wonderful goddaughter Julia to the Museum of Natural History. I'm actually embarrassed to admit that I hadn't been there before. We scarfed down a few pieces of pizza for energy before our vast urban safari. I had been to the museum in D.C., which is amazing, so maybe I figured it would be similar. And, it was. It has a giant blue whale hanging from the ceiling, some giant stuffed elephants, a load of dinosaur skeletons, fossils, stuffed animals, and stuff that's fallen from space. Thankfully they also have a very informative short film narrated by Meryl Streep explaining how much humans are screwing up the earth by killing off most of its animals and their habitats. Maybe some of these kids will become politicians later and change the course of the planet. We can only hope!
I was amazed by the dioramas. These wonderful windows into the vast African savannas. I put my little point-and-shoot camera close to the glass and for a moment it was as if I was actually on safari (okay, that's a stretch, but it was cool). Excited as we walked up to each window, Julia would grab my camera while still around my neck (I bent over) and shoot her own "lower version." Most of which included the display frames, people in front of the dioramas, the floor, etc.
We spent a wonderful day together on our urban safari.

Sad day...

Saturday morning I woke up around 9:00 and staggered into the kitchen to turn on my electric tea kettle to make French press coffee. My morning ritual. I usually wake up in a good mood feeling like I have a clean slate to begin my day. I had nothing pending and being that it was 16 degrees outside I could justify staying at home sitting at my computer all day editing and purging images.
I turned on my phone while waiting for the water to boil and as it found its signal I heard the buzz that I had received a message. That always sparks an instantaneous Pavlovian response of a knot in my stomach knowing that someone had sent me something during the night. The message was from my friend Ron and said, "Holy Crap, Anita Bethel died." I couldn't believe what I was reading. I set the phone back down and tried to process what I had just read.
Anita Bethel was both a client and a friend who worked for Fairchild/Conde Nast in the photo department. In fact, Anita gave me one of my first jobs back in 1995 when the company was just Fairchild. She may have actually saved me from moving back to Virginia because before shooting for Fairchild I was pretty much broke and only had one or two other clients. I was giving serious thought to leaving New York and the assignments she gave me prevented that from happening. I remember taking my portfolio to her and how kind she was flipping through my amateurish pages (compared to what she must have seen from others). She hired me to shoot a portrait a few days after our first meeting and shortly thereafter I was doing multiple jobs a day for them. A portrait at 10:00am for HFN, a fashion presentation at 2:00 for WWD. Nearly every time I came to the office she greeted me with a big smile and a hug. And, she was always so supportive and complimentary about the photos I took. Perhaps sensing my insecurities, she would often call me to tell me how great everything came out. She was an easy audience and I could always make her laugh out loud with some "behind the scenes" tale of a recent assignment she had given me. Once in the late 90s she sent me to shoot a portrait of Nick Nolte. When I went to the office to pick up film and Polaroid (remember that?) we got into a discussion about who might win in a fight between Nick and Tommy Lee Jones. While shooting him later that day I told him about our discussion and asked him who might win that fight. I had him write down the answer on one of the Polaroids I had taken. When I got back to the office I handed her the Polaroid. It said, "Anita, Tommy Lee is my brother... Nick." She howled and thought it was so cool that I had gotten her an autograph and had mentioned our fight discussion.
A few weeks ago I spoke to her and we had agreed to have lunch or dinner in the near future. Neither of us followed up on it and now I have great regret that we hadn't. Sometimes clients are just clients... and sometimes they evolve into something much more special. Like Anita.

January 18, 2011

Life as an Artist

I've always had the fantasy of living the life of an artist (or, artiste). I imagined myself living in some cavernous 6th floor loft in Soho, floor to ceiling windows, a wardrobe of old t-shirts and worn out jeans, staying up til 3:00am, waking up at noon, smoking hand rolled cigarettes, eating sliced mangoes with my fingers and shooting a different beautiful muse every day. I've always wanted to be something more than just a commercial photographer shooting what someone "told" me to shoot day after day.

Surfing the web yesterday I ran across these words of wisdom from Father Guido Sarducci that hit the nail right on the head.

WWD & Zoe

Last week WWD had me shoot a fashion piece as well as some photos of Rachel Zoe as she styled her new clothing line. They told me I would be asked to sign a release because Bravo would be filming the shoot. I knew she had a TV show, though I have never seen it. I also knew that it was a reality show so I was expecting some sort of major drama. My assistant Victor and I arrived at 8:00am and set up. Rachel and her large entourage showed up around 10:00. Camera crew, PR people, stylists, seamstresses (3), models (4), makeup, hair, catering.... It was quite the production. I have to admit, I had a knot in my stomach waiting for something "TV worthy" to happen. Introductions were made and the shooting began. I was completely and pleasantly surprised. Rachel, her husband Rodger and everyone else was so cool and there was no drama at all. One of the better days I've had of shooting fashion. A really fun day.

The photos from that day ended up all over the web quickly, The Huffington Post, New York magazine, Glamour.

January 16, 2011

BYO everything

A few years ago I started bringing my own maple syrup to restaurants because I despise the taste of fake corn syrup-based syrups like Log Cabin and Aunt Jemima. I was always slightly embarrassed and reluctant as I pulled out my little container and poured it over my pancakes. Sometimes people would look over and roll their eyes. They probably thought I was diabetic. I think there's a Seinfeld episode where Jerry brings his own maple syrup to a restaurant.
Today I went to a nearby diner and knowing I was going to have scrambled eggs I decided to bring some amazing salsa I recently bought at a local market. The diner's salsa is crappy watery stuff from a jar. I also brought some Starbucks instant coffee and ordered a cup of hot water and half&half to go with my meal.
I foresee in the near future going to a restaurant with a bag of food and just ordering water. Maybe I've taken this BYO? thing too far.

The other day I was walking to the post office when I noticed a large shadow going across the ground. I naturally looked up and spotted a very large hawk landing on a fire escape. I didn't have a zoom lens but snapped a few shots for documentation purposes in case I told the story later and someone told me I was crazy. He sat there for a long time preening and looking around watching the pigeons, probably picking out his next meal. I've seen Pale Male (famous red tailed hawk) many times in Central Park but I've never seen a large Hawk in Inwood... much less one landing on a fire escape.

I've received many negative remarks about my last blog entry about the "mousetrap." I was hesitant about the post. I thought it was funny though very juvenile. Perhaps not my best entry. I feel I should apologize, but I won't.

January 14, 2011

Waterboarding vs

So I woke up this morning with one of those brilliant ideas where you reach for a pen and piece of paper on your nightstand to scribble it down before you forget it...

Remember all the hoopla over waterboarding prisoners in Iraq? Personally I think it was too involved and a stupid form of torture, and I also think they should have tried it out on Dick Cheney first to see how effective it was. Anyway, I may need to send this idea I had to the Department of Defense.

Say that while on patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan, soldiers come across 3 guys burying a bomb in the sand on the side the road. Before they can grab their AK47s they are captured and taken to a nearby base for questioning. Inside the base a team of CIA and intelligence officers put the ringleader in a dark room with a pillowcase over his head. They bring in an interpreter who starts questioning him in Pashto (their native language). The trembling prisoner says nothing. Hours go by and even though they want to waterboard the guy they know they can't. They don't even have a board anymore. Plus, even if they did, it might be leaked to the media or the guy might die of a heart attack in the process. This is where my great idea comes in.... You take off the prisoner's pillowcase and have the interrogator wear a black ski mask. You have the prisoner stand up while another interrogator slides down the prisoner's dusty beige desert pants. You let 20 or so minutes go by to increase the prisoner's anxiety. Then you pull out a mousetrap and hold it up to his stern, dusty, bearded face. His eyes follow it back and forth as you wave it in front of him. In Pashto the interpreter says, "Hey, Achmed, tell us where you make these bombs or we're going to rub this mousetrap against your balls." Achmed stares down at the trap, defiant. Little beads of sweat start to appear on his forehead. You then put the mousetrap about 5 inches from his testicles. The hooded interpreter says slowly, "Listen here camel breath, I don't think you understand. Where are you building these bombs?" He will probably still say nothing. Finally, an agent pulls out a pencil and taps it against the fake cheese on the trap snapping the pencil in half. Achmed's eyes bulge... You reset the trap and slowly push it within an inch of his nads....
Just before that trap touches his little nad hairs I guarantee he'll start babbling all the secrets he knows. He'll implicate his mother, his friends who taught him how to build bombs, everything that fills that dusty little head of his....

And, if the prisoner refuses to talk, go ahead and snap his nuts. It won't kill him and it has to be a hoot to watch.

The mousetrap: America's best weapon against the war on terror. Simple and effective.

January 6, 2011

Take heed my friends... seriously

So many of my close friends call me frequently and express their discontent with their jobs, significant others, quality of life and overall unhappiness. My friend Kelly in Vancouver sent me this interesting bit of information. Hopefully my unhappy friends will read this and take heed... or maybe even make some drastic changes.

Take time to read this... slowly
The 5 Regrets of the Dying

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared.

I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.

Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.

Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end.That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called "comfort" of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Have a great week unless you choose otherwise.

January 3, 2011

And the lame-assed reply

Anonymous said...

You just have to know where to look. I'm in the business of helping people and all I see is people who want to help other people. My glass is 1/2 full.

Yeah, yeah... now I have to go on a search to find the good things we've done? I'm not talking about some rich philanthropist like Bill Gates tossing money at starving Africans or Oprah building a school for girls in Botswana, I'm talking about America... as a nation. I would have hoped that all these wonderful things we're doing would have been a tad more obvious. Which is precisely my point. Big, powerful, rich nation and no one seems to be able to pinpoint a single thing we (as a nation) are doing for the betterment of the world without some ulterior motive (such as oil).

Here's an idea: Pour that 1/2 glass of water over your head to shock some sense into yourself and then go find some good answers to my original question. Not one or two flimsy answers but some good concrete things the U.S. is doing around the world.

Enlighten me... please!

Anonymous said...

talk to me about the positive actions of americans....demonstrate how we are helping suffering humanity, how are YOU? In actuality, we all are.....helping.

I always enjoy comments on my blog regardless of what they say. Almost everyone calls me or sends me a direct email telling what they do and don't like regarding my blog. I received the above comment on my post about how America is screwing up the world. So, by all means, I'm all ears. Post a comment or give me a reference as to all these "good" things America is doing or has done in the last few decades to make the world a better place. I'm truly hoping to be enlightened. So far, all I seem to be able to find is mountains of evidence regarding our gluttony, consumerism, imperialism, massive consumption and willingness to hop into any war with any country that has oil under it. You don't see us going to war with North Korea do you? Why? Because there's no oil, simple as that. So please, "anonymous commenter," enlighten me. I'm all ears.

January 1, 2011

Leaving Inwood

My time in Inwood will hopefully be coming to an end soon. I've been here almost 2 years and I've seen, shot and experienced all I want from this place. There are only about 3 restaurants that I enjoy going to and from my experience the Dominican people are not fond of Caucasians. Or, as I jokingly call myself to my black friends on Dyckman and Nagle, "El Diablo Blanco" (the white devil). They almost sneer at me as I walk down the street with a camera around my neck and they rarely attempt to speak English when I'm waited on in a restaurant or store. So, I've given it much thought and decided to leave here. Perhaps they'll have a parade after I'm gone.

Walking around the other night I happened upon this nice bullet hole in a store window which reinforced the idea to move. Not to mention the INCREDIBLE amount of litter and trash that these people leave lying around. Something odd about the Dominican culture that they don't like or believe in using trash cans. But, I must add, from a "photographic" point of view it's been very rewarding. I have taken thousands of interesting photos while living here.

If you're ever in the market for an area where the people are filthy and hate you... try Inwood, it's great!

One of my few New Year's resolutions is to start looking for a place in Brooklyn. Never lived there and it might be a fun a stimulating new place to live.
Inwood skyline
Dyckman and Nagle shadows... Where my "boys in the hood" and I hang out.