March 31, 2011

Looking up, looking down

Walking through Central Park with a friend the other night, we came upon a group of people sitting on the rocks high above Wollman ice skating rink. It was like a little party up there enjoying the view.

After having lunch with Ron last week we stopped in front of Chelsea Market. Ron looked up and pointed out how the rain had collected on the glass awning hanging over us. Must give credit where credit's due.

Yesterday afternoon while walking through the West Village I noticed all these air conditioners protruding from this building. I couldn't help but wonder if one had ever broken loose, dropping to the ground squishing some poor unsuspecting person on the sidewalk. Which got me wondering about the other hundreds of thousands of a/c units sticking out of similar buildings. I'm sure most of them having much less stringent rules on mounting than this place. Makes me a bit wary (or paranoid) of walking down the sidewalk.

March 30, 2011

The Turn Around..

I read not long ago in Time Out New York magazine that Carrot Top Pastries has some of the best muffins in NYC. I needed to go to the green market on 207th street for my weekly fix of Fuji apples (12), so I figured I'd hit both places since they were in the same direction. It was freezing outside. As I walked along I started to wonder if spring will ever come or if there may have been some cataclysmic global shift causing the tsunami in Japan as well as an indefinite continuation of winter here in the city.
I got my apples and continued on to the bakery. They had carrot, chocolate chip and bran muffins. I opted for carrot and foolishly asked for a decaf coffee but got regular after a snide smirk from the counter person. Finding a table in the front window I took off my camera, coat, hoodie and gloves. I got comfortable and pulled out a newspaper. My first sip of coffee scalded the shit out of my lip and tongue... Hot as lava. A minute later, after wiping the tears from my eyes, I reached into the little paper bag and pulled out the greatly anticipated muffin. It looked like any other muffin and, to my dismay, it tasted like any other muffin. I just walked half a mile to get scalded and eat an average tasting muffin? I didn't finish it and tossed it in the trash.

On the way home I decided to stop at the local diner to get an egg sandwich. Something I never eat. I ordered two scrambled eggs on a roll with cheddar ($2.75). Walking home I decided to eat it on my stoop in the sun. A little picnic. I unwrapped the aluminum foil and took a bite. I set the sandwich resting in the foil on my knee for just a second to loosen my coat and before I could grab it, half of it fell on the ground. The other half was bland and needed salt & pepper (not in the bag). I tossed it in the trash.

So far my morning was not going well.

About 1:00pm my friend Ingrid showed up. We had planned on taking some photos but didn't really have any ideas. Being too cold to shoot outside I decided to put up my trusty gray blanket in the hall outside my apartment. I set up a light and made a little makeshift studio. We would shoot a few frames until we heard a neighbor leaving or coming up the steps and quickly Ingrid would dart into my apartment. After 45 minutes or so of this I was taking down the blanket and once again the gaffer tape ripped off the paint on the wall. I had to do a quick touch-up job before my building super found out.

A real estate agent showed up while we were shooting to show the apartment across the hall. As they were leaving they didn't lock the door. We took the liberty of going inside and shooting some crazy photos for about 30 minutes. Beautiful light, much better than my place.

Finally, back in my apartment without any better ideas and light fading, Ingrid hopped up on my stove. She's a hoot.

After a disastrous morning the day turned around to be quite nice ending with a great Italian dinner of angel hair pasta with red clam sauce at my favorite place on Carmine Street.

March 23, 2011

Frank and the Lunatic

Yesterday I went to a bunch of fabric stores looking for a location for a book cover I'm shooting next week. I roamed around the fashion district asking shop owners if I could possible shoot in their stores. Most of them refused and the ones who agreed told me I could only shoot for a few minutes (which won't work). Understandably they didn't want to interrupt sales with a big production going on. The last place I went was a dingy, cluttered shop down below Canal Street. After leaving the store, I zig-zagged my way north through Soho and the Village taking pictures. Walking up Elizabeth Street I stopped in front 10 Bleecker Street where I lived in back in 1996. It was a huge loft and probably the most amazing apartment I've ever lived in with its two huge bathrooms, floor to ceiling windows, Sub-Zero appliances and island in the kitchen. As I stood there reminiscing and scanning the buzzers to see if I recognized any of the names, I remembered that the famous photographer Robert Frank lived directly across the street from me back then.

Just as I was thinking this, I turned around to see Frank and his wife walking out of his apartment locking the door. I read recently that he was now living in a new apartment in the area that was more "age friendly" (he's 87) but apparently he had kept the old place as well. Without thinking, I rushed across the street with my hand extended and introduced myself. As I shook his soft, mushy hand I said, "Hello Mr. Frank. I used to live right there across the street," pointing up to the arched windows on the 5th floor. He looked confused but smiled. "I used to sit on my doorstep and take photos of you sweeping your stoop." Now he looked really confused and his wife smiled cautiously with the look of "this guy is crazy." Then I realized that none of this made any sense to him so I ended it quickly with, "Well, I just wanted to shake your hand, I'm a big fan...." and then I mumbled something about his book Americans as he turned and walked away. I suddenly felt this odd feeling, like the one you must have when you know you've just blown an important job interview.

As I watched him hobble away with the help of his wife and cane I realized a couple of things: What a complete lunatic I just sounded like and that I had just broken my own cardinal rule of never bothering a celebrity.
Hell, I should have just broken all my rules and asked for an autograph....

A quote from NPR:
Frank spent his time off wandering New York and photographing what he found. "Like a boxer trains for a fight," Frank says, a photographer needs to practice by getting out and taking pictures every day. "It doesn't matter how many he takes or if he takes any at all. It gets you prepared to know what you should take pictures of or what is the right thing to do and when."

March 22, 2011

Lucky to Be Me

and happier than I look...

Today was my birthday. Being a cold rainy day I decided to go see a movie. I called my friend Ron, who like myself (semi-retired/unemployed), has the good fortune to be able to see a film in the middle of the day. At the Film Forum they are showing a documentary on the eccentric, bike riding photographer Bill Cunningham, who roams around the city on his vintage Schwinn (#29, the last 28 having been stolen) taking photos of the most fashionable characters of New York City and Paris. I found the movie to be fascinating, funny, inspiring and oddly heartbreaking at times. We both enjoyed the film very much and decided to grab a late lunch at my favorite Cuban place on Thompson street. The food was and is always amazing. A great way to spend a cold rainy birthday.

I'm extremely fortunate and appreciative to have received calls, cards and emails throughout the day from so many friends and family members wishing me a happy birthday (not to mention some very generous gifts and delicious baked goods).

Thanks Mom & Dad, sister & brother, Mike Breen, Rebecca, Bruce Galbraith, Michael Gambardella, Mike Ault (who sang happy birthday), Aly, Nancy Lynch, Ron, Jennifer, Nancy Stam, Randy, Nemo (who also sang), Ingrid, Tatiana, Haley, Todd, Rita, Ella, Richard and a few others I may have forgotten. It truly meant so much to me to hear from everyone.

Here's the kicker.... I'm embarrassed to say that I can't remember anyone's birthday (and I'm not a card sender) so even though it makes me very happy to get all these birthday wishes I feel extremely guilty that I rarely reciprocate.

I really need to try harder.

March 17, 2011


Today started out cold, wet and rainy and I really didn't feel like going anywhere. I had a lot of work and editing that needed to be done but I had promised to do some photos with my beautiful friend Haley who is updating her portfolio.

Packing too much equipment as usual, I took the A train to 168th street, transferred to the 1 train downtown to 96th street. Getting off the train I stopped at Starbucks and grabbed my usual Grande decaf, adding 4 sugars, some half-and-half and a shake of nutmeg and cinnamon. A wimpy sounding drink but pretty damned tasty on a cold crappy day. (My friend Richard used to smirk at me every time he saw me making this delicious concoction.) A block away I found Haley's apartment and dragged all my gear up the stairs, spilling my Starbucks along the way. It was a real pain in the ass. This is precisely why I love shooting jobs where clients pay for my assistants to carry everything for me.

Never knowing what type of furniture or lighting one might have in their apartment, I brought along a battery powered flash unit and a gray blanket I picked up at the local thrift store for $3. I taped it to her brick wall and set up a simple light bounced into a white kitchen wall (one must improvise). Minutes after we got started she was called into work which was disappointing considering the ordeal I went through getting there. We had to shoot fast and furious and we didn't really have much time for variations. But later, after looking at the images I was pleasantly surprised.

These were the result... I'm glad I went out on this cold, nasty day.

March 15, 2011

The Other White Meat

I'm already anticipating the negative emails regarding this post.

There's a lot more meat on a pig's head than you might imagine. Evidently, a delicacy.

A few weeks ago I drove down to Pennsylvania to take photos of a family butchering pigs on their farm. Wanting to shoot more "realistic" vignettes of normal rural life like Pentecostal preachers, fair goers and coal miners, this journey seemed to fit perfectly into my latest bucolic themed projects. My wonderful and generous friends Nemo and Carol understood my need to shoot this event and were very nice to let me stay with them. Not to mention feeding me delicious morning coffee and a tasty salmon dinner. I also have to give great thanks to everyone in the Hockenberry family who were so kind and willing to let me photograph whatever I wanted without question.

After a 20-minute ride along beautiful country backroads, I arrived at the farm at around 7:30am. As I pulled up I could see the family grouped around a big iron kettle, a fire roaring underneath, steam rising up. It was cold and extremely windy. I parked next to a camouflaged four wheeler, grabbed a camera bag and made my introduction. After a few minutes of small talk Jason said, "Well, let's get this thing going." Four of us walked around to the side of the barn and as he was pulling open the wooden door Jason suggested I not use any flash, saying it might spook the pigs. Being so early, the barn was nearly pitch dark inside, illuminated only by a shaft of light coming from an opening in the far end of the building. I immediately set my ASA to 1250 and hoped it would be adequate for a decent exposure.

Jason went into a stall with one of the pigs while his father went into another carrying a rifle. A rush of anxiety surged through me, not knowing if I wanted to witness what was about to happen. Jason gently nudged the first pig around the corner to the stall his father was in. The older man stood motionless watching as the pig rooted his nose around the hay of his new surroundings. He pointed the gun at the pig's head at very close range and I felt my heart thumping in my chest. I had my camera resting on a fence board for stabilization aimed at the stall but was tempted to look away. Before he could get off a clean shot the pig lowered his head again pacing around while his father slowly moved to get a better shooting position. This ended up being a long, drawn-out dance of avoidance. Five minutes seemed like forever and then finally I watched the pig look up at the man and heard the shot. The pig stiffened for a moment, falling onto its side and at the same time Jason rushed in to slit the pig's throat. I kept shooting as the pig thrashed around for a minute or two before finally stopping in the blood soaked hay. Oddly, it wasn't as horrible as it sounds. The pig was rushed out of the barn in the bucket of a Bobcat and hung up by his heels. Head down, dripping blood, suspended a foot off the ground.
And the butchering began... That's life on a farm, like it or not.

March 11, 2011


Today I went to the movies with my friend Ron. It was a crappy rainy day, neither of us was working and it was also the last day the movie "Public Speaking" was showing, which I really wanted to see. It's a documentary by Martin Scorsese about the writer Fran Lebowitz. A gruff talking, Jewish, lesbian (presumed) who always wears men's style suits and tells it like it is. She's a hoot. Basically, most of the movie is her sitting in a booth at the Waverly Inn talking about everything that annoys her. And she's very annoyed and she doesn't mince words. For example: Kids that are over 3 years old and still riding in strollers drives her crazy. People who stroll and she can't walk past them on the sidewalk. She laughs at the fact that gay people have made great efforts to be allowed to marry and to be admitted into the military. She finds this comparable to striving hard to be a slave. Both activities being miserable things to desire and actually work at achieving. She goes on and on about her disdain of tourists and how Times Square has become a stupid sterile attraction built just for them. How boring NYC is now compared to the way it was back in the 70s and how all the cool people with good taste died during the AIDS crisis. She also admits to being extremely lazy, unmotivated and sloth-like... sadly, to that, I can relate.
It found it very entertaining. And, being a 1:30pm show, attendance was sparse. I love that.

After the movie we parted ways after a brief Starbucks fix and I jumped on the uptown train to meet my friend Haley for hummus on the Upper West Side. During the wait on the platform I snapped all sorts of characters.

Happy kids on #1 uptown train

Purple velvet/velour 3/4 coat, camo slacks and nerdy round glasses. You can only pull that off in NYC.

Lady next to me dozing off with a scary zombie face.

Asian woman eating pizza but dipping into some sort of sauce. Sometimes when people eat on the train it stinks up the whole subway car.

March 3, 2011

Moronic Mormons

So I'm browsing the web this morning to get my fix of news from around the globe and there's a story about a star basketball player at Brigham Young University who was suspended from his team for having sex with his girlfriend. Seems that students at BYU are on some sort of honor code and you can't do that. Along with drinking and growing a beard. First off, I'm surprised that knowing this was a violation he would have ever admitted to it. And secondly, I'm amazed that the imbeciles at BYU actually think that ANYONE at the school is abiding by these stupid archaic rules. And thirdly (is thirdly a word?), I'm very surprised that his fellow teammates didn't rally to his defense and admit that they too were having sex with their girlfriends. Where's the camaraderie? (Spell check also says "comradery.")
Seems this isn't the first time for BYU either. Last year it lost players Harvey Unga and Michael Loyd for "honor code violations". One saying, "The Mormon thing wasn't for me." Gee, no shit. Who does it work for?
The whole team should just quit. Stage a walkout. What college is dumb enough to expect their students not to drink and have sex and grow beards if desired. Didn't Jesus drink wine and have a beard?

Living in the 21st century with 18th century ideals.
Those Morons..... I mean, Mormons.
No wait, I was right the first time.

Just to toss in something visual: Here's the nice view I had off the terrace while waiting on Lady Gag to let me shoot my 8 frames.

March 1, 2011

The Big Visit

My good friends Amber and Kelly came into town last week from Vancouver. Away from family, kids and work they did more in 5 days than most people do in a month here. They went to yoga daily, galleries, walks in Central Park, the Staten Island Ferry and nearly every store in lower Manhattan (most of them twice). They bought new clothes, new glasses and ate out every meal.
I was Pennsylvania shooting a family butchering pigs for the first two days of their visit so I missed out on some of the fun but they dragged me around for the last 3 days of their great shopping/eating extravaganza. I didn't so much shop, I'd walk into a place like Ralph Lauren and flop down and wait in what I call the "man seat". Where every guy sits while waiting on his spouse, wife or other female friend. Then it was off to the next store... a whirlwind. And, after a full day of running around, they would revitalize themselves with yet another cup of caffeine and sugary treat and start again. I didn't get home before 2:00am the whole time they were here.
They seemed to have a great time and that's all that matters. They're wonderful friends.

Long exposure of the wash-wake off the back of the ferry... like the blast from a spaceship being thrust into the darkness (okay that was a bit over the top, but you get the visual here).

Goofy songs

When I was younger every once in awhile I'd be driving down the road by myself listening to the radio when some goofy song like Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You" or Journey's "Open Arms" would come on. I'd sing along at the top of my lungs and I knew every word. I'd even harmonize... But, if a friend was with me, I'd say something like, "What is this goofy shit" and change the station. I considered myself somewhat of a "cool listener" and I was embarrassed that I liked such sappy songs.... I enjoyed long drives by myself, and secretly, I sang.

So, yesterday I was walking down to the corner to hang out with the locals when I caught myself whistling Katy Perry's "Firework". Holy shit... I've never heard that song in its entirety in my life, nor do I want to. But, somehow this tune got into my head and I actually turned red and embarrassed at myself once I realized what I was whistling. I even had to Google her to find the name of it so I could explain this phenomenon on this post... "Cause baby you're a fireworrrrk". I've lost my mind.

Now, this is more about the power of brainwashing because I actually DON'T like "Firework" and would readily admit it if I did, because at this age, I don't give a shit what anyone thinks of me. But, I'm amazed that just by osmosis it had the ability to infiltrate my brain, pass all the cool music filters and even go as far as to make me whistle it... damn.