I’ve attended AIPAD a bunch of times during the past twenty years. Five years ago when I decided to become a full-time artist, it became a yearly event for me. AIPAD is “The Association of International Photography Art Dealers.” From what I can tell, it’s member galleries are supposed to live by a certain code of ethics. I guess that means if a photographer creates an edition of five prints, a gallery better not sell a sixth. Hmmm! Wandering through the booths at AIPAD, seeing multiple copies of master prints and contact sheets selling for $10,000, I oftenwonder about the ethics of the galleries. I’ll write about that on another day. The show is at The Armory on 67th and Park Avenue. It was a lovely spring day and I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a walk through Central park. Certainly another chance to merge the Smokers Detritus project with my daily life.
My block on West 83rd Street is a cigarette graveyard. I had no trouble finding good subject matter in front of the local fire station. It’s always a good spot for interesting cigarette remains. Walking the few blocks to the park I entered a little know entrance at 81st and Central Park West named “Hunters Gate.” After some research I found out it’s one of the twenty original entrances to the park, each named in 1862 by the parks’s Board of Commissioners. I’ve shot many pictures near this spot including an ad for Grishko featuring the young dancer, Grace Davidson. Grace was the perfect natural beauty for this setting. I wonder what happened to her?
I walk these paths several times each month. They lead to my favorite location in the park. Flowers were blooming everywhere and I stopped to look at a group of Daffodils. When I was in high school I knew them as Jonquils. The flower store near my girlfriend’s house always had them in the spring.
I must have brought her dozens of bouquets during the three years we were in love. I think of her every spring when I see these blooms. I know she wanted to marry me but I wasn’t the right person. Lori did marry the right man and had three sons. Unfortunately, I heard she passed away seven or eight years ago from Leukemia. Life’s twists and turns are often unexpected.
The path leads to a pair of tunnels. The light is always perfect in this location – night or day – any weather. I photographed Caitlin Trainor here a few weeks ago. I’ve always felt there is a history to this spot. Something spiritual. Native Indians must have performed rituals her 500 years ago. I don’t feel like I’m in New York City when I’m shooting here. I don’t know why it took me so long to find this place. It’s only a few blocks from my home. I believe my first shoot on this spot was with Erin Arbuckle on July 31. 2012. She already was my muse at that time. Erin is a true muse – an ethereal beauty who was an inspiration every time I pointed my camera in her direction. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I wonder if she can handle one of the Intimate Portrait shoots? If she could it would be an amazing experience resulting in some very special pictures.
I’ve never been afraid to walk or ride through the park, whether it be during a snowstorm or for a summer stroll at 2:00am. Central Park is the reason I moved to the Upper West Side almost 39 years ago. My first apartment was in the East Village and my brain definitely belongs there, only I couldn’t stand all the concrete. I needed some green. I had to move uptown. My apartment is only a few blocks from Central Park to the east and Riverside Park to the west. It’s the perfect location. I’ve made thousands of trips into both parks, enjoying all the nature both places have to offer.
When I was a fashion photographer in the late 70s and early 80s I did many test shoots in Central Park. There weren’t many people to interfere and at the time you didn’t need a permit for personal photography. Ann Bucklin was one of my first muses and I loved every shoot we did together. She was crazy and fun. We always laughed. She had a lot of spunk. Ann was so strong she sometimes scared me… in a good way. I think the photo at Bow Bridge was taken in 1978? I have no idea where that dress came from? I do remember it was the best picture in my portfolio at the time. I was in love with Ann but never let her know. When it comes to love relationships I’m always very shy and usually have to be hit on the head to open up. I wonder if she knew? Ann, if you read this essay I still love you!
I stopped for a self-portrait and then headed across 72nd street. The park is always crowded now. Bethesda Fountain is always full of tourists and performers. It’s like Times Square. I miss the days when I could sit at the fountain and meditate. I guess some would call this progress. It’s happening all over Manhattan. Sometimes I feel like I live in a theme park.
I realized if I didn’t get myself out of the park I would never make it to AIPAD. Seeing the show was important. I left the park at 68th Street and raced over to Park Avenue. There weren’t many cigarettes on the ground. The doormen and street cleaners obviously do a better job on the East Side than in my neighborhood. Some things never change.
In the median on Park Avenue, just across from The Armory, there was the perfect cigarette butt. I normally don’t shoot in the sun but the placement of this butt was perfect. I could get The Armory in the background. I had to half-hang into the street. The cars and taxis didn’t care if they ran over my leg. I know I was being a crazy person but give me a break! Drivers in New York don’t care about anything but going as fast as they can to make the next red light. I ride my bike everywhere so I”m used to it. I don’t have to like it. I crawled on the ground and managed to get off a few shots before I realized having the use of my leg was probably more important than this one photograph.
AIPAD is quite an amazing show. The four long aisles of booths feature galleries from all over the world. For galleries and collectors, this is a place to sell and buy art. The show isn’t really meant for people like me, photographers who want to get an idea of what the galleries are showing. Here the galleries feature the pieces they think they have the best chance of selling. This changes over time. Years ago it was almost always classic black and white photography. Beginning in the year 2000, current color work began to creep into the show, dominating the show by 2012. After that things began to change with the economy. The prices of classic photography by the masters skyrocketed while more recent work was a tougher sell. The old work began to occupy much of the wall space. I love seeing these photographs but unfortunately it doesn’t give me an idea which galleries might be appropriate for my work.
I do appreciate “classic” photography much more than work done after 1980. This year at AIPAD the walls and bins were filled with some of my favorites. Photographs by two photographers I love, Ruth Bernhard and Harry Callahan, sat side-by-side. I didn’t learn about Bernhard’s work until I frequented photo galleries in the 1980s but Callahan has been one of my favorites since I began shooting seriously in high school. I probably knew about him early on because he had lived and worked in Chicago, often photographing his wife Eleanor. I sometimes wonder if the photographs of his wife are part of the reason I felt the need to have muses. They are special. A portrait of my muse Larissa, taken for the Intimate Portrait project, reminds me of one portrait of his wife. I love both images and how it they always remind me of where my photography began.
My good friend and photographer, Leslie Jean-Bart, met me at the show. When he arrived I had already wandered for an hour and the distraction of a friend was a relief from the intensity of viewing so many images. Leslie’s work was featured in the fifth issue of my magazine VISION Art Journal. He is doing some remarkable work, photographing reflections in the water at Brighton Beach and Coney Island. We ran into Julie Grahame, the publisher of Acurator, an online photography magazine that has promoted the careers of many photographers. Julie is incredibly knowledgeable about what makes a photograph great and her reviews of my own work have helped me immensely.
Leslie and Julie sat and chatted while I continued to wander the exhibition booths. I found a portrait by Man Ray I had never seen before. The emotion of this photograph seemed different than any of his images I had previously seen. Though Man Ray used his solarization technique it seemed less abstract than his other work. Maybe it was taken during the time Lee Miller worked as his apprentice. I feel her hand in this work. At first I thought the photograph was a horizontal image mis-mounted vertically. I soon realized I was wrong, but still, weeks later, I want to turn the photograph on it’s side. I wonder if I love it so much because of the model’s hand. Hands have become a necessary element in many of my Intimate Portrait images, beginning with my first shoot with Elise Ritzel. The way she used her hands in the photographs changed the way I viewed the project. It became as much about shapes as it was about emotions. Take away the fabric and the solarization from Many Ray’s photograph and this image could be my own.
Leslie was frustrated by the lack of new work. I understood his feelings. Leslie’s photographs are ready gallery shows. He has the prints. I probably need six more months before I’m ready to show my work to the curators. I have been selling some prints on my own but there is nothing like a gallery show to get an artist’s career moving forward.
We managed to get through the entire show and headed home. My original plan was to photograph cigarette butts while I walked back up the East Side but now I had a companion. I didn’t want him to wait while I searched for the perfect butts along Park Avenue’s curbs. I should have known there would be an endless selection of cigarette remains right outside of The Armory. Leslie, with his good nature, allowed me to photograph the best of this smokers’ detritus. If I wanted, he would have let me shoot away for an hour but I knew that wouldn’t be fair. I would have another chance later after we parted ways.
Leslie’s a great walking partner. I don’t have many friends like him anymore. After we separated at 96th and Broadway my gaze quickly fell to the street. Now back in my neighborhood there were cigarettes everywhere. Either no one ever sweeps the streets or there are so many smokers the cleaners can’t keep up with the thousands of butts tossed on to the street every day. It took me almost an hour just to make it to 92nd and Amsterdam. Fortunately it was getting dark and since I was using my phone as the camera, I needed daylight to get the image quality I wanted.
When I’m shooting for the Smokers’ Detritus series I always look for abstract designs or other detritus elements to make the photographs more interesting. Between 91st and 92nd street, there on the ground was something new – two cigarette butts and a dog tag, license number 3182503. I looked it up on the NYC Health Department website. Inactive. Expiration date 02/09/2016. I wondered what happened to the dog? Did the people move away? Did the dog lose the license? I hoped the dog didn’t die but I know that happens. I have many pets. Were those cigarettes smoked by the dog’s owner? No one lives forever… especially smokers.