06/18/16: smokers’ detritus #9A – blythe and the mermaid parade

This essay is numbered 9A. In terms of chronological time it is out-of-order. Several interesting events came before this one but I had to write this story soon after it happened. I was afraid if I waited the energy of the day would be lost. This day might have changed my art and my life. It might not seem apparent after your reading. I can understand that. If I am right it will become obvious in future essays written after this time.

coney island

I’m a big fan of Brighton Beach. I go all the time. I’ll use any excuse to breathe ocean air and eat Russian food. This past Saturday was the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

When it comes to taking photographs I’ve always preferred cloudy days. I shoot in black & white and don’t like the harsh light of the afternoon sun. The weather forecast for the parade was “bright and sunny” – not great for my mermaid pictures. I hoped I would find a few shaded spots, maybe under the pier or up against interesting walls. If I was lucky, late afternoon clouds would roll in giving me that beautiful soft-bright beach light.

I left my apartment late wanting to get to the boardwalk near the end of the parade, a little before 3:00pm. I hoped some clouds would roll in by that time. I promised myself if I wrote about the parade the essay wouldn’t include any cigarette photographs. I couldn’t help myself and I stopped to shoot the Smokers’ Detritus outside of 202 West 81st Street. After that I headed straight to the subway and kept my word for the rest of the afternoon. Brighton Beach. Russians smoke a lot. It wasn’t an easy promise to keep!

cigarettes at 202 west 81st street

I planned to take the Q train to the Aquarium. It’s the closest station to the parade without exiting directly into the crowds. At the last minute I decided to depart earlier, at the Brighton Beach station. I couldn’t stop thinking about the poppy-seed Danish I bought a week earlier at a nearby Russian bakery. My friends Marci and Paul took me to this place, La Brioche, and to say it is amazing would be an understatement. I’ve passed the store many times but never stopped. From the outside it looks like a typical boring modern café.

No way! Once you walk inside it’s like stepping back in time. It reminded me of the Jewish bakeries I visited with my dad on Sunday mornings when I was very young. Only better! Cheese Danish like I haven’t seen in fifty years. I didn’t know what to buy? I wanted everything. I especially love poppy-seed Danish so they were my first choice. Eventually I will try everything.

marci and paul coming out of la brioche

Today I bought two of the poppy-seed Danish (just in case I had to share with mermaid friends) and some kind of spinach-cheese thing wrapped in a flaky pastry crust. Oh my god! It was in my mouth the second I left the bakery and finished before I could make it to the end of the block. Now very happy, I headed over to the Brighton Beach boardwalk.

What a day! The ocean breeze soothed my soul the moment I stepped on the boardwalk. The heat of the sun felt good on my face. The low humidity created perfect weather for an afternoon walk on the beach. I saw clouds forming in the distant west. If they never arrived it wouldn’t matter. I could enjoy today as a beach day, forgetting my cameras and the mermaid photographs.

As I got closer to Coney Island, I could hear music from the marching bands in the parade. I began to pass groups of mermaids, noticing two nearby taking selfies. There was a tall blue construction wall surrounding the new Aquarium. I could use it as a background, to block the sun for my first mermaid pictures of the day. I asked the mermaids if I could take their portrait. They were so nice! I moved the two women against the wall, explaining the light would be better there. They understood instantly and I was able to get a great portrait to begin the day. I had them write their email address to send them copies of the photos. The address ended in “columbia.edu.” Columbia University. That’s my neighborhood! Both women would be perfect for my Intimate Portrait project. I hope they will be interested. Intimate models are a constant quest.

coney island mermaids

I photographed a few more mermaids but the light wasn’t working and the clouds weren’t getting any closer. The parade was getting closer and I knew it was time to get off the boardwalk before it became too crowded to move. A woman was standing alone on the beach, waiting for a friend to join her. The quality of the light was abysmal. At that moment I decided it was time to do a portrait series on the Coney Island beach. This woman would be my first photograph. I would have to discover the light and learn how to make my expensive digital camera “see” the detail and tonality I needed in these new images. I am already involved in too many projects but as far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as taking too many pictures!

woman on the coney island beach

I moved across the beach, slowly heading in the direction of the parade’s end-point, wandering in and out of the beach-goers, staring at the light on their faces – every now and then clicking off a few frames. I came upon a group of mermaids laying on a parachute – taking selfies with their camera with one of those sticks. I circled the women, hoping to find a situation worth photographing. The women taking selfies on the ground reminded me of my Intimate Portrait shoots. I asked if I could take their portrait – stand among them, above their bodies. I was surprised they agreed. I often feel I hypnotize my models to agree to anything I ask. I know that’s impossible. They must sense I’m someone to trust.

relaxing mermaids

The sun was strong. The light direct. It was difficult for the mermaids to keep their eyes open. In the bright light I could hardly see through the camera. I directed their heads to come together in a circle. It felt comfortable and natural standing, hanging above these mermaids – mingling with their bodies just as I do when standing above my models for the Intimate Portrait series. Here we were, surrounded by thousands of people on the beach yet the photographs felt intimate.

I finally got myself to the Coney Island Pier. It felt good escaping the sun. The light under the pier wasn’t as nice as I had expected but anything was better than the harsh sunlight. I stayed for a while, enjoying the cool breeze and taking portraits of the few mermaids who walked by. A beautiful young Latino girl stood a few feet away, taking selfies for at least ten minutes. I wanted to do her portrait but didn’t feel I should interfere with her personal time. A crowd gathered just north of the pier – mermaids, photographers and cheering fans. I decided to join them, hoping to find a few good pictures.

mermaid and neptune taking a selfie under the coney island pier

As I approached the gathering, I passed a lone woman, topless, sitting cross-legged on a large patterned sheet – the parachute jump looming directly behind her. It was the perfect scene. The light. The composition. It reminded me of black & white photographs I have seen of Coney Island taken in the early 1970s. I always see through my cameras in black & white but now I was seeing through my eyes without color. It was magical.

The beach was crowded but for some reason no one sat near this woman. She appeared at peace though at the same time, powerful. I was surprised she wasn’t completely surrounded by photographers. It was the day of the Mermaid Parade and every beautiful woman, especially those who are topless, are always encircled by the photographic masses. Maybe she was invisible to everyone but me? There was a ring of protective energy around her body – electricity – magnetism. I wanted to photograph her but didn’t want to break the protective bubble. What would happen? I feel people, even in crowds, have the right to their privacy.

blythe: the mermaid of coney island

I absorbed her calm as I passed and arrived to the raucous crowd, now spread out into small groups of photographers and mermaids. Mermaids in the surf. Mermaids on the rocks. Angry and nervous lifeguards trying to maintain order and safety. There was nothing for me here. My pictures are about calm. All I saw was insanity.

I turned back towards the pier and passed her again. The High Priestess. The Mermaid of Coney Island. She was still alone. The scene still appeared perfect. I felt drawn to this woman. I needed to take this portrait. It’s what I had been looking for – the reason for my entire day. As had I texted to my muse Abby earlier this week, “I’m happy but uncertain how to proceed with almost every relationship. At some point it will make sense. I might need a new friend… possibly someone who I haven’t yet met. I’m not sure.”

I walked up to this woman, through her energy bubble, moved my face close to hers and asked, “Is it okay if I take your portrait?”

blythe for the mirror project. coney island

I felt a wave of warmth flow out of her body with her positive response. I was surprised. I don’t know why. Her essence felt exactly as she looked sitting at peace on the beach. This sense of extreme warmth from any person is so rare it always comes as a surprise.

I fought the sun and the elements, trying to get the shot I wanted. Now and then I’d show her one of the images. It was difficult to see in the glare of the sunlight but we knew we were capturing something good. We’d talk in between shots until Blythe invited me to join her – to hang out for a while and talk.

I think we both felt close immediately. I wonder if Blythe is like that with everyone she meets? We spoke like old friends – about my photography and her career as a singer. I watched her face carefully as I do with everyone I photograph, watching how the light and emotions changed the appearance of her face over time. Occasionally I’d interrupt our conversation to take more pictures. We worked on some images for my “mirror” series. We’d shoot for a few minutes, stop and continue talking where we left off.

flask of sand from white sands national monument

We touched each other as we talked – to make a point like close friends do. Her skin was soft and smooth. Cool to the touch. It didn’t feel real. Blythe’s skin reminded me of the sand at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The grains of sand so fine the surface of the dunes feel like the skin of a goddess. Maybe embedded in the grains are the spirits of Indian women who once lived there. Laying on the dunes the sand envelops your entire being, cool to the touch but warming to the body. The memory of my afternoon at White Sands has stayed close to me for years.

blythe near the coney island pier

Time passed. I’m not sure how long we talked. One hour, two? Both of us had friends to meet. It was time to leave. We agreed to see each other soon – phone numbers shared. We hugged, and we hugged again before parting ways.

We text back and forth. Now friends on Facebook. One mutual friend… sort of. Emily Pope, who I photographed for my magazine VISION. I wonder if they are “real” friends or just a Facebook connection. Blythe and Emily both love Coney Island. Maybe they met on the beach? Someday I’ll ask.

Blythe and I will shoot soon for my Intimate Portrait project. I’m looking forward to furthering our special connection. I need to listen to her music. I have ideas for a video. I know we’re going to be friends.


Posted in art, cigarettes, nudes, portrait | Comments Off

04/26/16: smokers’ detritus #8 – shen wei dance arts

shen wei dance arts. "rite of spring"

I’ve always been registered as in independent. Ive always thought it was stupid I couldn’t vote in a New York Democratic primary but it never seemed important until this year. I believe Hillary Clinton could be one of the best presidents in history and I needed to vote for her, partially as a vote against Senator Bernie Sanders. It’s not that I don’t agree with his viewpoint – my politics are to his left. I’ve always considered myself to be a Socialist-Communist. I’ve never understood why people hated Communism so much? The politics of the Soviet Union, China and Cuba are not Communism. They are Socialist dictatorships. It’s not remotely the same thing. Either way, Bernie Sanders might have some great ideas but I think he’d be the most ineffective president since Jimmy Carter. Great ideas and great leadership are not the same thing.

A month before the primary, I went online and changed my registration to the Democratic Party, only to hear on the news if one wanted to vote they had to change their registration six months in advance. I was pissed! My registration card came in the mail a week before the primary and I figured “what did I have to lose?” I went to the polling station and there was my name on the rolls. I voted for Hillary. End of story.

west-park presbyterian church

I heard a month or two ago that Shen Wei Dance Arts had moved their studio into the old church on 86th and Amsterdam. It’s only three blocks from my apartment. I’ve passed that church thousands of times during the past four decades and it never seems to change, appearing abandoned with homeless people sleeping on the steps. Not long ago, Noché Flamenco moved into the space and I wondered if it was becoming a new dance center. The building was built over 130 years ago and has always been a Presbyterian Church. I was surprised to learn the congregation still held Sunday services.

My voting location is around the corner from the church. After voting I decided to head over to Shen Wei’s studio to see what was going on. I got to the church and attempted to open the side door on 86th street before seeing a set of doorbells. Before I could press the button listing Shen Wei the door opened. It was like a scene from a movie. The middle-aged Hispanic woman who opened the door was likely the care-taker. She didn’t say a word. I finally said, “I’m going to Shen Wei.” The woman opened the door and I began heading up the wooden steps only to realize I had never seen the inside of the church before. I headed back down the stairs and entered the sanctuary. I asked the woman if it was okay. She looked at me but there was no response. I took that to mean yes.

west-park presbyterian church. sanctuary

I could see there had been a lot of cheap renovation over the years and the stage was not original to the church. Still, it was a beautiful place and there was something wonderful about the simple quality of the room. As much as I love the great European churches and stained-glass windows I’ve always felt places of worship should be plain and simple. Instead of spending great fortunes on churches and synagogues that money should be used to feed and house the poor. It only makes sense.

I headed up the four flights of stairs and when reaching the top I could see into a dance studio lit by large north-facing windows. I didn’t see any people but I heard soft voices and the sounds of bodies moving across the floor. I could feel it was Shen Wei working with his dancers. Since the first time I photographed the company I’ve always felt a spiritual connection with Shen Wei and his dancers.

I spied Stephen Xue in the office and went over to introduce myself. I let him know I only lived three blocks away and it made sense that we worked together. Stephen seemed excited that I wanted to come in and shoot. I don’t know why that always surprises me. I feel it’s an honor when I company lets me into their rehearsals. I was the one who was excited. A few days later I was in their studio shooting.

kate jewett. shen wei dance arts

The first time I photograph a company in the rehearsal studio I try to arrive an hour after the rehearsal period begins. It’s not that I don’t respect the process. I want to get there when the dancers are warmed up and ready for photographs. As with my Intimate Portraits, shooting dancers in the studio requires a great deal of trust from the dancer-models. It’s not a performance. There are no costumes or makeup. They need to believe the moment I walk in the door I’m going to capture them at their best. It’s easier once they’re warm and shaken out the morning’s cobwebs. Once they get used to my presence I can arrive to a rehearsal at any time. I become one with the company.

Shen Wei wasn’t there when I arrived. Every company works differently. Jacqulyn Buglisi always leads her rehearsals. Pascal Rioult is there most of the time and so is Bill T Jones.. When I shot for ABT many years ago, Baryshnikov almost never attended a studio rehearsal unless he was dancing in the piece. Those were the days.

mikhail baryshnikov with kathleen moore. american ballet theatre

I walked into the studio. Through Facebook I already knew many of the dancers and had posted photographs of them after our past work together. Those shoots were dress rehearsals in big theaters so there had never been a proper introduction. Kate Jewett saw me walk in and introduced me to everyone. Alex Speedie, Chelsea Retzloff – they already felt like friends. It’s funny how Facebook changes reality. Social media can be surreal. I try to only see the good in it.

It took me a little while to find my place in the studio. The dancers were amazing. They seemed to trust me immediately. I could get close and not feel as if I was interfering in the rehearsal. The light in the studio was a problem. It was a dreary day and I didn’t get the quality or amount of light I had expected from the large windows. The lights in the ceiling were dim. To get the best light I needed to shoot from the side — a poster covered wall as my background. That didn’t make me happy.

chelsea retzloff. shen wei dance arts

I’ve learned when I’m having trouble I should always shoot close. I focused on the dancers I knew best. Chelsea was flying around right in front of me. It was dark. I was having a hard time just getting the camera to focus let alone finding the right moments and deciding on composition. Chelsea Retzloff really is a force on the stage. I couldn’t help but be inspired by her movement and emotion.

With time I began to figure it out. The light through the window became brighter. More important, as the dancers got deeper into the rehearsal their bodies opened up. There was something special in their movements. I moved around the studio as I photographed the rehearsal, winding in and out of the dancers as they performed across the floor. It usually takes me four of five rehearsals with a new company before I move on to the dance floor but today they all made me feel like I was allowed to enter their space. I was often in their face. I felt their bodies move behind me. Kate and Zak Schlegel were on the floor. I don’t know what piece they were rehearsing. The old wood made a beautiful background. I stood above them — my toes just inches from their heads. I couldn’t get enough space around them. I held the camera high over my head, putting the viewfinder on “live view” so I could quickly check after each picture as it was taken. Did they know I was there? I often wonder. I’m on my tiptoes hanging over their bodies, my white socks almost in Kate’s hair. Yet they go on as if I’m not there. Or do they go on, emotionally deeper into the dance knowing every move is being watched and photographed. It’s a question I rarely ask.

kate jewett and zak schlegel. shen wei dance arts

At the afternoon break the dancers all left the studio to get lunch. It wasn’t the nicest day. I wasn’t sure I wanted to sit outside for thirty minutes. I wondered how I’d feel sitting outside, in my own neighborhood, less than five minutes from my front door. I get into an intense mental state while shooting. Would sitting on my street, across from my local CVS and grocery store, take me out of that place.

I decided to go out. I know the corner the church sits on very well. There are bus stops both on 86th Street and on Amsterdam. Bus stops are some of the best locations for my Smokers’ Detritus series and I’ve shot on this corner before. Shoe’s on. Down the stairs. Out the door.

smokers' detritus. m7/m11 bus stop. 86th and amsterdam

There are almost always homeless people on the steps of the church and this day was no exception. The steps are greasy and dirty. I felt miles away from the beautiful moments I had just captured in the dance studio. I felt too close to home. Of course there was a great selection of cigarette butts around the M7/M11 bus stop on Amsterdam. For some reason the sidewalk around that stop is unusually disgusting! It had been drizzling so the nearby street garbage was basically mush.

I shot the best butts and moved around the corner to the bus stop on 86th. I get very focused when working on this series. Shooting extreme close-ups with a camera or phone is technically difficult. If the focus is off by one quarter of an inch the picture is ruined. Any camera movement is magnified. If I’m not concentrating I lose too many photos.

smokers' detritus. m116 bus stop. 86th and amsterdam

The sidewalk had some very nice textures. I think it’s the backgrounds behind the cigarettes that I love most about the Smokers’ Detritus series. After a time, the cigarette remains will all begin to look the same but the textures of the sidewalks and streets are endless. Near the cigarettes there are often bits of nature on the ground along with all the stains caused by human garbage… oil, gum, coffee, etc. Years ago I did begin to notice the textures in the street when the city repaved Columbus Avenue. The workers were using a new concrete combination that supposedly would last longer. There were so many bits and pieces of different colors and reflectivity in the mix. For a while I noticed how old sidewalks had larger pieces than the newer ones. Over time I began to look up again and forgot what was under my feet. Now my eyes are almost always on the ground.

I heard a voice. It was Chelsea Retzloff. She wondered if she could get a copy of a photo I took of her when she performed in Shen Wei’s Rite of Spring at Lincoln Center. Shen Wei Dance Arts was invited to perform during Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance’s inaugural season in 2015. I had been stalking Chelsea for a long time on Facebook. I thought she would be a perfect subject for my Intimate Portrait project. I asked her to do a shoot and warned her about the physical contact. She didn’t say no! We’re going to shoot in May or June when the company is back in town. Chelsea’s portraits are going to be amazing!

chelsea retzloff. shen wei dance arts "rite of spring." paul taylor's american modern dance

The dancers slowly returned from their lunch break, standing outside of the church, not quite ready to resume rehearsal. Some of us talked for a minute and headed back up to the studio. The dancers prepared to rehearse Folding. I believe I had seen a dress rehearsal of this dance years ago but wasn’t allowed to take pictures. I think when the dance is performed in New York City the women are topless for part of the piece and the company didn’t want me to have any pictures “like that.” To say the least I was extremely frustrated by that situation. The dance is beautiful. Having all of the dancers topless, men and women, gives them an androgynous look. I imagine that’s the point. Not to allow a dance to be photographed as it is meant to be seen seems a bit silly to me. Thank goodness when I photographed Boston Ballet performing Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura I was allowed to photograph the entire dance, including when the women were topless. Like Shen Wei’s Folding. Kylian’s dance is an amazing work of art and was the featured photo-essay in the fifth issue of my magazine, the VISION Art Journal.

rie ichikawa and kathleen breen combes. jiri kylian's "bella figura." boston ballet. pages from vision art journal #5

During the lunch break the light had brightened in the studio and the choreography during Folding allowed me to shoot at angles that worked with the windowlight. Shen Wei arrived to the studio. Were the dancers working harder now because of his presence or is it something about Folding that brings out the best in a dancer? It probably was a little of both. The picture possibilities were endless and I shot away, so focused on what I saw through the camera I had to be careful not to run into the dancers as I moved about the studio. They were all good enough to work around me and Shen Wei didn’t seem to consider me a distraction.

At one point in Folding, a group of dancers move slowly upstage while Alex Speedie has a long solo, standing mostly in place at the front of the stage. I moved in front of Alex in a way that made it seem like he was dancing for my camera. Maybe he was? When working with (Martha) Graham I often find incredible energy directed towards the camera while I’m close to the dancers. Alex was intense! I’m sure it was only a couple of minutes but I felt like we had an hour long photo session together.

alex speedie during a rehearsal of "folding." shen wei dance arts

I was aware of nothing in the room but the two of us. The dancers in the background became the shapes I used to balance the composition. For me it was a perfect photographic moment. Shen Wei said something to Alex I couldn’t hear. I think Alex wasn’t exactly at the right spot onstage. Alex said it was because the studio didn’t have enough depth. It is possible but that happened to be the place I was standing. Alex probably could have taken the proper position if I wasn’t in his way. I didn’t feel bad. It did make me feel like Alex had indeed performed for me. It felt right. I later thanked Alex for his concentration.

maria volpe rehearsing "folding." shen wei dance arts

Shen Wei and I spoke for a minute during a short break. He had been watching me as I photographed Alex. He said, “Your concentration is very strong.” I believe he then added, “You work like a poet.” It was an interesting comment. The way I handle shoots has changed very much since I began the Intimate Portrait project. It doesn’t matter if it’s a portrait shoot in the studio or outdoors, a dance shoot in the studio or onstage – I now approach my photography in a more intimate manner. I can’t explain it because I don’t understand the change myself. All I know is it’s working and making my photographs better. More important it has changed the way the people I photograph respond to me while shooting. They embrace the physical and emotional closeness. There is no question this has made me not only a better photographer but also a better person. It would be interesting to consider my new work as photographic poetry.

Posted in art, cigarettes, dance, portrait | Comments Off

04/23/16: smokers’ detritus #7 – soleil acevedo

soleil acevedo - intimate portrait project

I first connected with Soleil Acevedo on Facebook. I believe it was before she shaved her head but I’m not exactly sure. I do know I took notice of her new look when I saw a photograph of Soleil taken by her friend Brooke Trisolini posted on Facebook last March. In the picture, Soleil is hanging on the pole of a subway car with a few onlookers — a nearby couple watching and a few not paying attention at all. The combination of the photograph’s composition and Soleil’s focus on the camera struck me. I’ve seen many dance photographs taken on the subway and they’re all basically boring. This one had something special, enough so I had to comment. I let Soleil know, of all the dancer-subway pictures I had ever seen on Facebook, this was my favorite!

soleil on the subway. photograph courtesy of brooke trisolini

On occasion, I go to the Thursday night gallery openings with my friend Philip Stark. I don’t really love seeing art this way but on a nice spring or fall night it’s fun to wander around Chelsea, looking not only at the art but also the people. Each gallery not only seems to show a certain style of art but also attracts a style of viewers. There are galleries for hipsters, upper east-siders, New York artists who came of age in the 1980s, aging hippies, etc. It is an interesting site. Philip loves this whole process. I only go because I love Philip. It seems to be the only time we ever get together and if I want to see one of my best friends this is the only way I can do it.

Thursday, April 26th. I did my usual round of errands – B&H, Home Depot and Michaels before heading over to Chelsea. I’m learning which routes to take if I want to find the most interesting cigarette butts. This day was special. At the B&H camera store I bought a lens-extender. Now I could use a “real” camera instead of my phone for closeups of the cigarettes. At first I bought an off-brand extender that looked good, immediately testing it on some cigarettes outside of B&H. Bad! The extender didn’t allow the lens to speak properly to the camera. I know this might seem boring but it’s important. I immediately returned the third party device and bought Canon’s extender for triple the price. I can’t say it was worth the extra money but at least it worked! That’s really what matters.

flowers on 34th street - in memory of prince

The camera with the new extender “saw” the cigarette remains in a different way than the phone. I can’t put it into words but the pictures seemed more real to me. I still see my iPhone as some kind of toy… not a device to be used as a professional camera. I was loving the results as I made my way east on 34th Street, stopping to photograph some purple flowers in memory of Prince.

cigarette butts on west 24th street

Shooting all along my route, there were some nice butts along 24th Street. It was past 6:00pm and gallery openings only go until 8:00pm. I was already in the gallery district so I called Philip to check out his schedule. He was on the way and would call when he got close. I looked at my list of openings and decided to begin with Nir Arieli’s show at Daniel Cooney Fine Art.

invitation for nir arieli's "flocks" exhibition at daniel cooney fine art. (batsheva dance company)

Nir also photographs dancers and I admire his work. He is one of the few dance photographers who has a distinctive style, always molding the models to his own viewpoint. You can always tell a Nir Arieli photograph when you see one. The gallery space was smaller than I remembered it. I could tell some of the people in the space were dancers. That’s always obvious. Dancers don’t look human. I didn’t like the prints on the wall. Nir’s work is great but the printing looked like it was done by a headshot lab. I stayed a few minutes and left, waiting by the elevators for Philip to arrive.

Philip wanted to see the Arieli show and as we walked back to the gallery I ran into the choreographer Fadi Khoury. I took some wonderful photos of Fadi and his muse Sevin two years ago. Fadi has done amazing things with his company in that short time. We decided we should work together again. I’ve been working on a new project photographing companies in the dance studio and Fadi’s dancers will be perfect.

fadi khoury and sevin ceviker in my studio posing for the mirror series

Back in the gallery I took the time to take a closer look at Arieli’s photographs with Philip. I don’t think he noticed the printing as much as I did but he did feel the images were mostly bland. I love Arieli’s work and found a brochure of his photographs lying on a shelf, beautifully printed and featuring the photographs as I had always seen them. After looking at the brochure, Philip understood why I was a fan of Arieli’s photography. I only wished the prints on the wall were as beautiful as those printed in his brochure.

During this second visit to the gallery I had kind of “stalked” a woman who was also attending the show. It wasn’t amorous stalking. I felt I knew this woman, believe it or not from Facebook. She was exotic and appeared to have recently shaved her head, now with a short growth similar to a marine’s hair cut. I have two Facebook friends with this look and I couldn’t figure out which one she was.

Philip was ready to move on. I never talk to strangers. I’m too shy. I couldn’t let this woman go. I walked up to her, introduced myself and said, “I know we are friends on Facebook.” First I asked her if she had tattoos on her arm. Wrong guess? She was the other shaved head Facebook friend. “Did you recently post a photograph of yourself on the subway?” She replied, “Yes!”

soleil acevedo. perfect with no makeup. intimate portrait project

“I’m the person who posted that photograph was the best picture of a dancer on the subway I’ve ever seen!” Now she knew who I was. She is, Soleil Acevedo. It was quite the coincidence and it is why I find Facebook fascinating. Soleil called over her friend Brooke. Brooke is a dancer and photographer. Brooke took the photo of Soleil on the subway. Brooke doesn’t know it yet but I’m going to ask her to pose for the Intimate Portrait series.

Soleil and I did the cell phone thing. She gave me her phone – I called my phone. Now we had each other’s number. Sometimes doing this makes me feel old. I still like using a pen and paper though for this essay, since I’m out of town, I happen to be writing on my laptop. It doesn’t feel natural. We chatted for a while. Soleil is a charming woman. I told her we must shoot soon. When I first saw her on Facebook with that shaved head I knew I needed her to be part of my Intimate Portrait project. I told Soleil I’d call her to set up a shoot. She did seem truly excited.

The next day I sent Soleil a message on Facebook to see if she could shoot on Saturday, the next day. Soleil was available in the late afternoon. We were set.. Usually, at this point I send the model a link to my blog, www.paulbgoode.com/journal, so they can read essays about past Intimate shoots. I don’t want the models to be completely surprised by the intense emotions coming out of these shoots, let alone the physicality. For some reason I decided not to discuss this with Soleil. I waited until she arrived at my apartment. I have no idea why I made this decision. Something inside me said it was for the best. When Soleil arrived I would make tea, we would talk, look at pictures and then begin our shoot.

caitlin trainor. intimate portrait project

Soleil was late. New York City trains! It was okay with me. I was sorting photographs for the essay on Caitlin Trainor and looking at those pictures gave me inspiration for my shoot for Soleil. She arrived. I made tea. We talked. I finally explained what I wanted to do – what the Intimate Portrait project was all about – Soleil wasn’t too happy.

Soleil is private and doesn’t like her personal space invaded. I definitely invade the model’s personal space during the Intimate shoots. I used to be like her before I began this series. If a friend stood too close to me, I wanted to back away. If a friend touched me while we talked, I would jerk away. The movement was slight but my own reaction annoyed me. I wasn’t always like that and didn’t understand why I found touch an invasion of my privacy. I wondered if it had something to do with living alone for many years or if it was something deeper.

Soleil took a leap of faith, trusted me and we began shooting. Only for a few seconds did she seem distressed by the closeness of our two bodies and soon I was sitting on her lap, shooting away as I do during every Intimate shoot. I showed her some photographs in the back of the camera. I asked her if she was uncomfortable. In the pictures she looked strong and relaxed. Soleil said she was good at acting and that indeed she was uncomfortable, though at the same time willing to continue.

soleil acevedo. there is always laughter during an intimate portrait session

I needed bare shoulders, I always do, and once again Soleil pushed past her boundaries, removing her blouse, obviously more exposed than she wanted to be in her bra and jeans. But I shot on, stopping every few minutes, showing her the most recent photographs and making sure she was okay. I always worry when I do the Intimate shoots with a dancer I don’t know. I’ve shot dance for thirty-five years and I’m well known. I don’t want anyone to ever do anything for me because they feel like they have no choice. There is always a choice. I will always respect the limitations of a model. They should never do anything that makes them uncomfortable.

I was worried about Soleil and I wrapped her body in a blanket, one my mother knit for me 30 years ago. I keep it on top of my couch at all times. I wrap myself in it on cold nights when I’m watching television late at night. It’s a connection to a family I’ve rarely seen since moving to New York City almost 40 years ago. I’m not sure the blanket made Soleil feel any better but I was not stopping. Her pictures were special. Image after image was perfect. I needed her to like me – not as a friend but as a muse relating to a photographer. The friendship could come later. These pictures were important to me. Like my other muses, Soleil was making me a better photographer. There was something special in the way she used her arms and hands to frame her face and body. Soleil really was the perfect Intimate Portrait model.

soleil acevedo. reflection in compact

I could tell she needed a break. We had been shooting without makeup. I thought Soleil looked beautiful with a clean face – still so exotic but I did want to try some shots with mascara and lipstick. I photographed Soleil while she put on her makeup, using her compact for a mirror. I was surprised she didn’t put her blouse back on during this time. I hoped that meant she was now more relaxed. Of course I was happy because her bare shoulders made the photograph — framing the bottom of my images. Shooting these images I was still very close to her. My Mirror Series photographs also require touch and the Intimate Project is an extension of what I learned when first taking those images. I remember being smashed into Madison McDonough’s side while photographing her in my bedroom mirror, only to find out while walking her home after the shoot that she was only 16. Her spirit was much older but it did make me feel a little weird.

Soleil went back to my couch and began to shoot again. She felt more comfortable this time but I knew to be careful with the physicality. I kept my body off of hers more than I had with anyone since the beginning of the series. I’ve gotten used to muses like Alyssa Forte who want to feel the full weight of my body while we shoot. It’s difficult to take a step back after photographing women like her. When I work with Alyssa it feels like our bodies are one. We move as one. The photographs are part of a joint meditation. I wanted to feel that from Soleil.

alyssa forte. intimate portrait project

This shoot was unusual for me. Ha! I imagine it was unusual for Soleil too. What I saw through the camera was one of the most relaxed women I had ever photographed. During the last half hour I felt the tension leave her body. Still, when we spoke I realized she hadn’t let go. In some ways it was frustrating. After the Intimate Portrait shoots the models always feel like the experience was special – something positive. Every time I stopped to show Soleil the photograph I felt her discomfort. That’s not positive. It was hard to understand. The photographs were amazing appearing as if she was the most relaxed person in the world. So I moved on.

soleil acevedo. comfortable? intimate portrait project

Afterwards we spoke for a long time, at length about the difficultly of being a woman in New York City. Men on these streets can be real pigs. All that emotion I had hoped for while we were shooting now came out. The Intimate Portrait shoots can be a release for the models and I realized Soleil was finally letting go. She rarely looked at me while we talked. She needed to get things out of her head. I mostly listened and agreed.

When Soleil arrived that afternoon I gave her a book of photographs by Lillian Baseman. Baseman is one of my all-time favorite photographers. A friend had given me the book the week before and I already owned a copy. I knew Soleil was interested in photography. I wanted to give this book to a young photographer who would use it for inspiration. Soleil knew of Baseman. That surprised me. It seems that most young photographers these days have little or no knowledge of photographic history. I do my best to educate the people I meet. It was the perfect gift for her.

soleil acevedo. intimate portrait project

As Soleil prepared to leave I made sure she had the book. I wanted there to be something positive about the afternoon and I had no idea how she really felt about our shoot. Now, a few weeks later I’m still not sure. I told Soleil I have an old Nikon I’d like to give her. I have many old film cameras I’ll never use again and I want them to end up in the hands of people who will treasure them as much as I did during the many years and thousands of rolls of film I shared with them. I guess the Nikon will be the reward if Soleil is brave enough for a second shoot. If there is a next time I hope she will trust me to look deeper into her soul. If not for me, I’m sure a choreographer out there will recognize Soleil’s special quality and transform her into their beautiful dancing muse.

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04/14/16: smokers’ detritus #6 – aipad

smokers' detritus on west 83rd street

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.

hunters gate. central park. courtesy google maps

grace davidson for grishko

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.

jonquils in central park

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.

lori sucherman. union pier, michigan. august, 1971

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.

tunnels in central park

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.

erin arbuckle. central park. july 31, 2012

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!

ann bucklin with bow bridge. central park. 1978

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.

self-portrait with bow bridge in central 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.

woman's cigarette butt. 67th and park avenue

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.

harry callahan - eleanor chicago 1948; paul b. goode - larissa new york city 2016

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 jean-bart and julie grahame with unknown photographer at aipad

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.

cigarette remains in front of the park avenue armory

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.

cigarette remains with dog tag. 92nd and amsterdam

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.


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04/03/16: smokers’ detritus #5 – caitlin trainor

04/16/16: It seems none of my days go as planned. Lately it’s been this way too often. I was excited to shoot Carmen Salta and Caitlin Trainor together, first for my Intimate Portrait project and then out in Central Park for the rock/rope series. It was going to be amazing! But as with everything in my life right now, it didn’t go as planned. I’ve always been spontaneous but this is getting ridiculous!

caitlin with carmen: only in my imagination

I began this essay during one of my frequent trips to the Metropolitan Museum, two weeks after my shoot with Caitlin. I’m sitting in the modern art wing. Two men walk by and one exclaims to the other, “This is a real Jackson Pollock!” Really! What did he expect to see in the museum? I can still be surprised by an American’s lack of artistic knowledge. Our education system stinks!

2 men looking at jackson pollock's "autumn rhythm (number 30)"

I text Carmen two hours before the shoot asking her to bring pointe shoes. She texts back canceling the shoot. She’s sick. I wonder when she would have let me know she wasn’t showing up? It ends up being good for Caitlin. She’s running late and now doesn’t have to rush. I’m disappointed – not only about the pictures I’ve lost. I had dreamt about Caitlin choreographing a duet between her and Carmen and thought this shoot would bring them together. It’s a squandered opportunity and I’ve already moved on with my endless list of possible artistic collaborations.

04/26/16: Another week has passed. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my shoot with Caitlin. It was quite extraordinary. I’ve photographed her many times – both portrait shoots and as a dancer. This was the first time she felt like a muse. Since it was a shoot for my Intimate Portrait project this new feeling was emotional and physical.

caitlin trainor: intimate portrait project

This was the first time I’ve seen Caitlin completely let go during one of our photo sessions. There was no fear. The only other time I saw this in her was during a performance of her solo, Self-portrait, reflected, where photographs of Caitlin posing on my rooftop are projected on the background during the dance. Don’t get me wrong, there are photographs of Caitlin in my portfolio. But she had never had this energy before. During the Intimate Portrait sessions the models and I have a special connection – even after 100 shoots it’s something I’m unable to explain. Maybe there is a reason this spiritual connection is meant to remain a secret. All I know is it almost always happens. Caitlin is one of my best friends but I’ve never felt this kind of connection during our shoots. She always tried too hard – worried about her age – could never completely let go.

caitlin trainor: relaxing for the intimate portrait project

This time was different. I don’t know why. It didn’t come from me. During the past few months I haven’t shot much and I’ve been relying on the models to reach into my soul – pulling on the artistic side of my brain – making great photographs happen. Natalie Deryn Johnson and Alyssa Forte both do that for me. My newest muse, Soleil Acevedo, also has that power but doesn’t seem to understand why. There will be much more about Soleil in a future essay!

Caitlin and I hadn’t had a good talk in months so we sat and chatted for an hour before I picked up the camera. People transform in the environment of my apartment as does the light coming in my living room window. I’m always watching. Sometimes I see an alignment of light and emotion. Right then I need to pick up the camera and begin shooting. It is “a “need,” just like an addict needs their fix. Something happened to Caitlin in the light. The Intimate shoots are about being as connected as possible. She took off her top and we began our work.

I’m on the model’s body during these shoots. Physically everyone feels different. It’s about body shapes – waists and hips – the body’s temperature. It’s about trust and our ability to feel comfortable while working with this connection.

caitlin trainor becomes a muse

Caitlin and I have shot for the Intimate Portrait project before but I have never felt comfortable on her body. She has big bones with the matching musculature. My lack of comfort wasn’t emotional. We’re very close. I just could never find my place on her body. In the best of situations this shooting process is technically difficult. With Caitlin I always felt like I was on a bucking-bronco seconds away from a toss into the dirt.

I don’t know why it was so different this time? Unlike the other shoots, this day I melted into her body. At first it was a distraction. I wanted to understand the difference. I could see it in the pictures as we worked together. Caitlin’s face was different. There was no stress. All of her emotions, her secrets, opened up to the camera.

caitlin with her wedding ring

I don’t know for how long we continued to shoot. During the best sessions time stands still. I knew I worked hard – drops of my sweat falling on Caitlin’s body. The emotions were incredible. Caitlin was like a wild animal. There was both a sexuality and sensuality I had never seen in her before. It was as if she had lost control. Caitlin was aware of these emotions but didn’t know why they were streaming out of her.

I’m also a good friend of Caitlin’s husband and thought about him on and off during the shoot. If asked myself how would I explain it this shoot to him? There are no words. To explain how the shoot felt I would have to touch him as Caitlin and I had touched. Although I feel the model’s warmth, the photographs are still work. I’m taking pictures – my eye is smashed up against the viewfinder – focusing – struggling to keep the camera still – watching the light… but it’s more than that. The physical contact during the shoot allows me to feel the pictures as if they are something real. They are no longer a two-dimensional depiction of a model on paper or on a computer’s screen. Unlike any other work I’ve done, these photographs embody the physicality, a warmth and understanding between two people.

caitlin trainor: intimate portrait project

The contact allows that to happen. Looking at these pictures of Caitlin on my monitor, they are more than beautiful photographs. I also feel a physical connection to them, to her, allowing for a stronger emotional reaction to the images. You can also see it in the model’s eyes. It’s more than posing for a picture. It is about the merging of two physical bodies and the electric activity of two minds. (I’d love to have an EEG machine hooked up to both brains during an Intimate Portrait shoot.) With Caitlin it was unlike anything I had ever experienced during an Intimate shoot. It was as if she had released all of her emotions at once, those that she had once held back during our previous shoots.

The funny thing is that the shoot was secondary to the real reason Caitlin came over to my apartment that afternoon. The main reason I asked Caitlin to visit was to blow eggs out of their shells, helping me prepare for my upcoming Easter egg dyeing party. The shoot was an afterthought. As long as she was coming over, why not shoot. How we had the energy to blow out two dozen eggs after the experience of that shoot, I have no idea?

caitlin trainor: champion easter egg blower

Caitlin is the champion egg-blower. Let me explain. To properly dye eggs in the Ukrainian style the egg inside needs to be removed from the shell. Small holes are bored into each end of the egg, the yolk is broken and stirred with a thin metal wand then finally, and gently, you wrap your mouth around the egg and blow out it’s contents. It is not easy. A tuba player would struggle. For some reason this batch of eggs was particularly difficult. The shells were thin and the yolks were stiff. We needed every bit of our aerobic strength to get the insides out. Caitlin was frustrated and broke a few eggs. We laughed a lot. No worries. All the eggs ended up as frittatas.

caitlin trainor in central park

I had bought a new 70-200mm lens the week before and still hadn’t removed it from the box. The second reason I asked Caitlin to visit was to give me a chance to test this lens. I asked her if she still had the energy for more pictures. Her husband had made dinner and she was already late. I knew my question was basically rhetorical. Caitlin is always up for more pictures. We headed out to Central Park. At least it was in the direction of her apartment. It was already dark but I knew the path near my favorite location was lined with streetlights. I wanted to give the lens a real test. Would the auto-focus work in the dark with Caitlin dressed in dark clothes, posing against a dark background?

Of course, once we got there Caitlin had endless energy. She was all over the place. I was tired and could hardly hold up the heavy camera. It was so dark I could only see her as a moving shadow. I thought the lens kept her in focus but I wasn’t really sure. I don’t think I’ve shot in a situation like that since working with Jamie Rae Walker in 2009 – also in Central Park. During that shoot, Jamie didn’t move and that camera still couldn’t focus on her face. I had Jamie hold up her hand and wave, giving me some idea of where to manually focus. It was difficult. Caitlin never holds still. We shot over 800 pictures. It was a fun way to end the day.

jamie rae walker in central park

I know it can be silly but I’m trying to relate all my recent essays to the Smokers’ Detritus series. I needed to photograph a cigarette butt before Caitlin and I could say good-bye. I didn’t think I’d find any until we left the park but looking down at my camera bag, there was a discarded butt only inches away. The light was good. I shot the butt and I took a snapshot of Caitlin laughing at my eccentric behavior. I know that’s why she loves me. There’s nothing better than having an intense artistic experience with such a beautiful friend.

caitlin trainor after our shoot in central park

Under normal conditions this essay would have ended here. I’d pull out a fresh sheet of paper and begin the sixth essay in the Smokers’ Detritus series, talking about my visit to the photographic gallery show, AIPAD. But there is more to this story.

cigarette butt in central park

Thirty minutes before I began writing this essay, while sitting in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art, I visited the galleries showing the Jackson Pollock exhibition. I had seen this show a few weeks ago but I wanted to look at the work again. Three days ago, I had seen the Lee Krasner exhibition at the Robert Miller Gallery in Chelsea. Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock were wife and husband.

jackson pollock and lee krasner (photo: hans namuth)

I stopped to snap a photo of the wonderful mural portrait of Jackson Pollock working with Lee sitting in the background. Hearing what I thought might be a talk in the next gallery, I walked over to find a group of college students on a Jackson Pollock lecture-tour. I love sitting in on these talks. Typically I wander a museum alone, viewing whatever interests me at that moment of time. Taking part in these lectures forces me to look at art I might never have noticed.

The painting they were discussing was Pollock’s Full Fathom Five, one of his first “drip” paintings. According to the museum’s description, “An assortment of detritus, including cigarette butts, coins, and a key, are enfolded by the paint.” How perfect! The lecturer explained this addition of detritus by Pollock as a deliberate act. I imagined his process in a different way – the artist smoking while leaning over his canvas, tossing paint back and forth, accidentally dropping the cigarette on to his work, covering it with the latest splash of paint.

cigarette embedded in jackson pollock's "full fathom five" (detail)

Picking out the cigarette would have ruined his work. Why not leave it in place? Sometimes accidents lead to genius. As Pollock splashed and dripped paint on the canvas he searched for more detritus on the studio floor, adding it to his work – completely covering some of the pieces, leaving others partially exposed. I find it interesting that art experts always need to find a reason for everything in a work of art. As an artist, I know many creations have little meaning or prior thought. They are works created by spontaneous acts and emotions.

cigarette outside the museum of modern art

I had parked my bike on the 54th Street side of the museum and knew from previous experience there would be a choice of discarded cigarette butts nearby. I photographed several before riding home through Central Park. Like Pollock’s painting, I never know how my essays will proceed, but an artist needs to know when a work is finished.

Posted in art, cigarettes, dance, nudes, portrait | Comments Off

03/31/16: smokers’ detritus #4 – natalie at brighton beach

mussel shell and cigarette butt. brighton beach

I needed a day out of the city and away from the computer. Brighton Beach has become my go-to place for an afternoon of meditation and peace. I love picking up food from the Russian buffet at Brighton Bazaar, having a picnic on the boardwalk. I half-watch the Russian emigres stroll by, looking part American and half-Russian. Many still have that “Soviet” look, the men in matching sweat suits or black leather jackets appearing to imitate Sylvester Stallone. The women wear too much makeup for a stroll on the beach or shopping on Brighton Beach Avenue — too much gold jewelry.

my dig overlooking the illinois river. koster site

I always go alone except during Friday nights in the summer. Then the trips are as much about the Coney Island fireworks as they are about the beach time and Russian food. I love this alone time! I can walk forever without worrying about a friend getting tired or cold. In recent months I’ve spent much of my time at Brighton Beach photographing cigarette remains for my Smokers’ Detritus series. This is a solitary project. As with still life photography, it’s best to do it alone — no distractions. Photographing cigarette butts on the beach reminds me of my time as an archeologist — walking the barren land, concentrating on the subtle differences in the soil, searching for signs of the discarded remains of humanity.

coney island: friday night fireworks

I looked up the weather and saw the day was going to be a balmy 72 degrees. I thought of Natalie. We’ve talked about doing pictures for my Intimate Portrait project on the beach, Natalie partially buried in the sand. This might be the perfect day. I sent Natalie a text and she was free. We’d both take the B train and meet at the last stop… Brighton Beach Avenue.

manhattan bridge

I always get on the back of the train. It lets me off close to Brighton Bazaar. I just missed a B at 81st Street and took the next C, grabbing the A at 59th hoping I’d catch up to the B in The Village. At the 4th Street station I ran down the stairs, just in time to catch that B. I settled into my seat and pulled out TIME magazine for the long ride. As the train crossed over the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn, I snapped a few photos with my phone. I’ve been thinking about beginning a new photo series based on the subway and I’m trying to figure it out. I imagined Natalie was on a train at least 15 minutes ahead of me. I sent her a text saying I was 30-40 minutes from Brighton. Ten minutes later I received a video from Natalie, crossing the Manhattan Bridge. Now I guessed she was 15 minutes behind my train. I thought it was funny we both photographed our crossing of the bridge. I sent her one of my photos.

We texted back and forth during the ride. I sent her a photo of the people on my subway car. Natalie decided the man and woman should get together. From my observations I decided the woman was a real estate agent and the man a musician.

b train: subway riders in brooklyn

Natalie: “I think it’s funny – an unlikely couple.”

At Sheepshead Bay, one stop from Brighton Beach, I let Natalie know I was almost there and I’d pick up food from the buffet. She texted back, “I’m at Sheepshead. I want to go to the buffet. Pickled Beets!”

Me: “We’re on the same train!”
Natalie: “Haha! Love it – thought so.”

natalie on the brighton beach avenue subway platform

We were at opposite ends of the train. I’m at the back and Natalie in the front. We took pictures and exchanged our views from the train. Natalie and I had both taken the same A train from 59th Street, both rushed down the stairs and taken the same B at 4th Street. What was the chance of that happening?

We met on the subway platform, bought our food and headed over to the boardwalk for a picnic. The closer we got to the ocean the colder it got. The wind gusts were strong. This was not going to be a day for the easy Intimate Portrait shoot I had imagined. I hoped Natalie would still go through with it.

newport pack on brighton beach

Natalie spied hundreds of seagulls going crazy over the ocean. I had never seen a swarm like that, the gulls in a tight slowly moving flock close to the shore, diving like missiles into the water. They must have found a school of small fish and were now in the midst of a feeding frenzy. The gulls drifted west along the coastline. We followed them in awe before realizing we were freezing in the strong wind. Natalie and I headed back to the boardwalk, finally enjoying our Russian treats. I stopped along the way to photograph an empty Newport pack in the sand. In the harsh sunlight it reminded me of the photographs I’ve seen of Hiroshima after the nuclear blast.

coney island

The weatherman had predicted a cloudy day, perfect for my portraits, but the sky was clear. Natalie had never been to Coney Island so we took the boardwalk and headed in that direction. Even off-season Coney Island is a special sight. I like it the best without people, in the distance appearing as an apocalyptic wasteland.

natalie on the coney island boardwalk

By the time we reached Coney Island we were freezing. Natalie, anticipating a warm spring beach day, now used her beach towel as an extra layer for warmth. We made the requisite bathroom stop and headed along the shore back towards Brighton Beach. At least now the wind was behind us. We stopped for a moment to study the stiff foam left on the beach by the surf. I imagine it’s some kind of primordial soup — molecular bits of animal, fish, sea plants and human waste. It has the color of a sandy meringue. During my trips to Maine in the 1980s, I always called this foam “radioactive lobster residue,” probably having something to do with my frequent food comas caused by eating way too many fresh lobsters at one meal.

sea foam: radioactive lobster residue

We passed a young red-haired Hasidic man, alone, his payot blowing straight out behind him in the wind. It was a wonderful photo opportunity but I didn’t want to disturb his meditation. I didn’t pull the camera out from my backpack. I felt the need to remember this moment — a photograph lost. I quickly took a few pictures from a distance with my phone.

hasidic man

As we got back to Brighton Beach the clouds finally began to move in. It was now or never for our Intimate Portrait shoot. As I searched for the right spot on the beach Natalie seemed a little nervous about posing topless. At first I thought she was worried about the cold. I was surprised. The beach and boardwalk were almost deserted. She’d be laying in a shallow pit in the sand and I’d either be crouching above her or sitting on her lap. Someone would need an x-ray telescope to understand what we were doing. I told Natalie not to worry and began digging the pit to cradle her body.

natalie enjoying the ocean breeze

video: natalie enjoying the brighton beach breeze

Before we began, Natalie spent a few minutes enjoying the wind, dancing and moving in the breeze like only Natalie can. She crawled into our pit and I began shooting. It was brutal! Standing above her the wind gusts pushed me around making it difficult to hold the camera steady. I could hardly see with the wind and sand blowing in my eyes. What I went through was nothing compared to Natalie’s torture. The sand swept across the beach blowing on to her face and body as if she was the Sphinx during an Egyptian sandstorm. The sand was everywhere. Natalie could hardly keep her eyes open let alone focus on the camera. The camera captured streaks of sand flying across her face, looking much like raindrops during a shower — feeling more like micro-hail, stinging every inch of exposed skin.

intimate portrait of natalie on brighton beach

We forgot the cold. We were too occupied by the discomfort of the sand to think about anything else. It didn’t feel like an Intimate Portrait shoot with it’s feel of quiet meditation. This was a battle. It was Natalie and I against the elements. Somehow we kept shooting. I don’t know for how long. I don’t know how Natalie had the strength to pose. I finally sat on her lap. I couldn’t feel her body. My legs were too cold. Slowly I felt the warmth of her body, wondering if my camera’s auto-focus system was working properly — focusing on Natalie’s eyes. I still couldn’t see. Finally I had to end the shoot. I’m only willing to “torture” a model if I know the pictures will be great. This time I wasn’t sure.

sand on natalie's face: intimate portrait project. brighton beach

Our bodies, our bags, our food, my camera — everything was covered in sand. Thanks goodness I had packed a thermos of my famous green-mint-ginger tea. We needed it. I could tell Natalie was feeling better, no longer half-naked and once again wrapped in layers, her towel now an official poncho. We headed off the beach to Brighton Beach Avenue for grocery shopping. I knew a good place for coffee. Natalie needed it.

natalie at the fruit and veggie store

We stopped at my favorite fruit and vegetable store. This place has great produce at amazing prices. It’s where I buy my beets, cilantro, lettuce, and the fruit I use to make jam. Everything here is so fresh. Strawberries were one dollar a quart. I bought three to make jam.

The coffee definitely revived Natalie. I’ve never seen her that jumpy! We were about to head home on the subway but at the last moment decided we needed some more beach time. We headed back towards the boardwalk to finish off our leftover food — a second picnic.

picnic on the boardwalk

The wind wasn’t quite as strong but the air was colder now as the sun had moved behind the clouds. We sat on a bench with a nice view of the ocean and finished off our Russian salads and some delicious chicken and sausages. The food was crunchy with grains of sand. I saw Natalie and realized we looked like a pair of homeless people from the mid-70s. Her recently purchased California sunglasses only enhanced the look.

My pictures of Natalie sitting on that bench looked like she was sitting in dense fog. I realized the lens on my phone was covered with a thin layer of sea salt, collected during our walk along the surf. I hoped my portrait camera hadn’t suffered the same fate. It would ruin our pictures in the sand… the ones we just suffered for.

discarded cigarette on the boardwalk

I stopped to take pictures of a few cigarette butts near our bench. After all, that was my original plan before I invited Natalie on this adventure. It is the subject that ties this series of essays together.

later that night - the strawberries cooking for jam

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03/26/15: smokers’ detritus #3 – jackson heights

Today day began in an unusual way, but that’s what I expected. I’ve just come off three months of intense work, publishing the 7th issue of VISION (my dance art magazine) and photographing two weeks of Paul Taylor’s dress rehearsals. I’m exhausted. My brain is fried.

the cover of the seventh issue of vision magazine

Last night I didn’t want to go to sleep. It’s not that I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to stay awake and do things that didn’t involve designing magazine pages or retouching dance photographs. I alternated between cleaning the bathroom, putting up a few photos on Instagram and playing a dozen games of Spider Solitaire. By 5:30am I was finally ready for bed.

My street was noisy this morning. The honking woke me up several times. Once the cats see I’m awake I’m fair game for love and attention. Teel curled up at my head, Jasper in the crook of my arm – Madeline crawled up my leg and went to sleep on the side of my chest. I’m not allowed to move.

At 11:30am I finally crawled out of bed. I had a 2:00pm meeting with a dancer/choreographer who was coming over for tea. We planned to talk about shooting portraits of her and pictures of her dance company. I had hoped the meeting would turn into an Intimate Portrait session but deep inside I knew that was impossible. A few days before I had sent a “friend request” to this dancer and she accepted immediately. Soon afterwards she sent me a message assuming, since I am a photographer, I had “friended” her because she directs a dance company. The thing is, and I told her this, my interest was solely in taking portraits of her. When I first saw pictures of this woman on Facebook something about her look struck me. I knew she had a fire inside – something special! At the same time, I saw a woman who could never allow herself to pose for one of my intimate portraits. Those shoots take trust, freedom, and a certain sense of openness and spontaneity. Studying her Facebook pictures, as I do with everyone I contact, I could immediately see has erected a heavy blockade between her mind and her soul. I couldn’t imagine her letting go, accepting not only the physical contact of an Intimate Portrait shoot but also the freedom of emotion necessary to make these portraits successful.

alida: #1 intimate muse

She texted me to say she was running late. It didn’t matter. I was using my free minutes to finally look at the photographs I took of Alida Delaney two months earlier. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t looked at the photographs. Not at all! There were 2,000 images, blinks and all, staring at me from my computer’s screen. I hadn’t even deleted the blinks. Alida is not a blinker! There were so many blinks this time! Probably more than in all of our other shoots put together.

As I sat with the task of deleting the blinks, I began to remember my frustration during the shoot. Maybe this was why I chose to ignore the photographs for two months? I had used my busy schedule as an excuse but I now realized that was a lie. The recent shoots with Alida have been complicated. Graduating from college has changed her. She’ more dominant now. That’s good for her but not so for my shoots. The best intimate muses totally let go; they’re almost submissive, completely giving in to my photographic needs. I give everything I have in return. It’s an emotional collaboration. The successful shoots all work this way. Once a model tries to take control over an Intimate Portrait session the connection is lost. What was special is gone. I’ve learned to be very careful when choosing models for this series.

woman at the indian buffet

Authors note: I’m writing this essay while eating at an Indian buffet in Jackson Heights. I made the trip to find fresh turmeric root and to get some new cigarette butt photos. As I write, a chunky woman (to be kind) walks up to the buffet and says, “I can eat at buffets. I get a lot of exercise. I don’t get fat. I can eat whatever I want.” I found it funny she needed to announce this to the world. Back to my writing.

The more I look at Alida’s pictures the more I remember the frustration. I text her a couple of pictures; a funny one and a beautiful serious portrait. Even though there are some wonderful shots looking at the shoot still upsets me. Great pictures often happen as part of a series of similar images taken quickly together. I see an expression or shape of the body and guide the muse towards what I hope will be an amazing picture. Over and over this happened with Alida, but every time just as she approached what would be an amazing photograph, she got distracted and made a stupid face or giggled. Every time! I pushed her emotionally during this shoot. I needed her to go farther emotionally then she had during previous sessions. Over time my pictures of a model need to improve and mature, otherwise why continue working together? Maybe this time I pushed Alida too much? No! I know what’s inside of her. Deliberately, either in her conscious or subconscious mind, she wouldn’t let me have the pictures I needed.

alida: diva muse & funny person

Over the next couple of days Alida and I texted back and forth about the shoot. She didn’t remember how she felt on that day. I know she seemed distracted to me and I struggled as a photographer. So many times I was close to capturing her in a new way, with more emotional strength and better energy.

Alida is one of my all time favorite muses. After three years of shooting together we’ve become friends. Even though we don’t shoot much anymore I still consider Alida “Muse #1.” The Intimate Portrait project began with her. That’s something I’ll never forget. When we shoot again I know I’ll push her emotional boundaries. I think this time she will be able to let go.

teel and madeline in the hallway

The doorbell rings. Teel runs to the door. He’s the official greeter. The dancer (who will continue to remain nameless) gets off the elevator and walks in the wrong direction. She turns and sees me. She’s exactly the person I saw on her Facebook page; the striking woman with an emotional blockade. I ask her if she would like a cup of tea. She declines. My meetings are always casual. That’s the person who I am. This already felt too professional. Was she concerned because the meeting was in my apartment? I’ve shot for some very important clients in my space including every dance magazine. It’s a New York City thing. You work wherever you can.

I have two walls near my entranceway covered with prints from some of my favorite shoots. I brought her over to see the work I do. The wall is a mixture of portraits from the Intimate Project, my mirror series, a few rock/rope images and my favorite portraits. She quickly let me know she couldn’t do a shoot for the Intimate Project. I can’t say I was surprised. She tells me she could do one of the rock/rope shoots. I don’t tell her this but no one does a rock/rope shoot who hasn’t sat for an intimate portrait first. In fact for now I don’t do pictures of any person who hasn’t shot for the Intimate Portrait Project first. I’ve learned that a model who can open up for that project always photographs better afterwards. I can no longer accept anything less.

intimate project and mirror series pictures on the wall

The dancer seems sweet and we talk for a while about her company. She does have a passion for her work. As we talk I can see why I wanted to photograph her in the first place. That spark is in there. Unfortunately I don’t think she’ll ever let me see it. I wonder to myself if she puts up the same barrier with her own dancing and choreography? I tell her we’ll talk soon about the possibility of working together. I meant it when the words came out but as she walks out the door I realize that’s not going to happen. Did she feel the same about me? Not everyone can work together and I understand that. I’m sure there’s another photographer out there that’s right for her.

Now I sat at my desk with no model to shoot: nothing to do. Even though I knew she would never shoot with me I left the afternoon open just in case. I happened to be out of turmeric root so I headed out to Jackson Heights for a shopping and Smokers’ Detritus adventure.

cigarette butt on the steps down to the #1 station at 79th street

I packed my bags and headed to the subway, quickly photographing one cigarette butt on the steps of the #1 station at 79th and Broadway, then taking the 7 train to 82nd street in Jackson Heights, one stop past my destination. I thought it might be fun exploring that stretch of Roosevelt Avenue. Neighborhoods in New York City change quickly. This area has a large selection of Mexican restaurants and bars with a smattering of Korean, Chinese, and Indian establishments. I’m always amazed how segregated New York City can be. Walking for almost half a mile on this busy avenue I passed only a few white faces.

manhole covers with cigarettes along roosevelt avenue

I’ve been interested in how manhole covers collect discarded cigarette butts. You can tell I was once an archeologist! I imagine the wind blows the debris down the street until it’s caught in the ridges of the covers. Future archeologists thousands of years from now might uncover some of these manholes during a dig and believe they are sacred ritual places where priests sat and smoked together. The problem with science is sometimes it uses too much imagination when considering the data before it.

I decided I would photograph every manhole cover while walking along Roosevelt Avenue. Despite this mini-assignment my favorite cigarette picture of the day was a stream of Smokers’ Detritus caught in a wide crack of the sidewalk. As much as I loved this river of butts it also disgusted me, all this garbage on the streets of New York City.

river of smokers' detritus

This essay is just as much about the pictures not-taken as it is about the images I took during my Jackson Heights adventure. There are no photographs of the woman who visited me earlier in the day and there are no photographs of another striking woman I saw during my walk along the avenue. Passing a small hair salon, I caught a glimpse of a woman checking out the styling of her hair. She was dressed in what I believe was traditional Indian wedding makeup and garments. I wondered if she was a bride and today her wedding? I only saw her reflection in a mirror. This woman might have been the most photogenic person I have ever seen in my life!

gulzar hair salon: jackson heights

The window to the salon was crowded with knick knacks. I wanted to take a few pictures with my phone but at the same time I didn’t want to be noticed and couldn’t find a good angle to easily capture her image. This woman obviously knew shw was perfect and spent time making sure every single hair was in place. I stood there for a while and then moved on. I couldn’t help but stray back in front of the salon one more time. I almost walked in the door. I thought with the salon mirrors I could do one image for my mirror series, but only having my phone as a camera made me feel amateurish and stupid. Anyway, I’m much too shy to bust in on a stranger. I’ve only done that a few times in my entire life.

I let it go and moved on, stopping in the middle of the street to photograph a flattened cigarette pack. I sometimes forget how calm the other boroughs are compared to Manhattan. No one ran me over. No one honked or yelled. The cars sat and waited while I took the picture and we all waved to each other as I walked on.

marlboro pack. 75th street. jackson heights

I passed the large subway station and bus station at 74th street, hearing a commotion around the corner. I expected it to be some kind of protest march. This is Little India and with both Indians and Pakistanis living together a protest every now and then is normal. As I turned the corner there is was – a rally to celebrate Bangladeshi Independence Day. Scott Stringer, the comptroller of New York City was introduced and spoke at length to the crowd. I’m not sure why the CFO of a city would speak at such an event, that is unless he has his eyes on the next mayoral election?

bangladesh independence parade

Comptroller Stringer gave a rousing speech and the small group, very small, gathered for a parade down the local streets. I have to admit it was a lot of fun to watch. In the past I’ve seen the Halloween, Mermaid, St. Patrick’s Day, Gay Pride, Puerto Rican, Chinese New Year, Easter, Israeli National and dozens of other parades – this felt like a real neighborhood get together. No superficial pomp, no commercialism – it was real. Believe it or not, New York City’s Halloween Parade once had this feel.

halloween parade. greenwich village. october 31, 1976

I wandered the neighborhood for an hour before settling into a local Indian buffet. I thought it would be a good place to begin this essay. No distractions. While writing I could take as long as I wanted to eat my meal. The rice pudding was delicious.

turmeric root at patel bros.

After dinner I walked down the block to Patel Bros., and amazing Indian grocery store. I have a particular grocery list for this place; onion naan, beets, raw cashews, mango puree, cilantro and of course fresh turmeric root. With my bags packed with food I walked to the subway station on the corner, passing small groups of people carrying green and red Bangladeshi flags. New York City is an amazing place. In this neighborhood I stand out as an outsider. My grandparents were immigrants and it’s possible some of the families here have a longer American history than my own – my ancestors arrived from Russia around 1900. I’ve read that Indians are the second largest immigrant group in the country after Mexicans. Who knew? I love this place!

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03/20/16: smokers’ detritus #2… jackson pollock

eran bugge in paul taylor's "polaris"

I needed to get out of the house. I photographed four Paul Taylor dress rehearsals last week – 12 dances. Shooting dance four days in a row is normally no big deal unless it is the choreography of Paul Taylor. There is something about his dance that is always more complicated than the work of other choreographers. I’ve always felt his steps are danced on the half-beat, on time with but always just ahead of the music. Pairs of dancers fly across the stage, hitting their crescendos a beat apart. Which couple do I follow? When do I click the shutter? For a photographer who tries to capture both the movement and emotion of dance, it is a nightmare.

So here I am, sitting in a gallery at the Museum of Modern Art looking for both calm and inspiration. Yesterday I successfully found the necessary “calm” while photographing a rehearsal of a new dance by my friend, Caitlin Trainor. She was threshing out ideas with two of her dancers, Tamrin Goldberg and Allegra Herman, the stage a stairway in the Diana Theater building at Barnard College. I knew there would be great light through a wall of east facing windows. It was my first meeting with Tamrin but Allegra is already a muse who enriches my soul. I found Tamrin to be an amazing spirit. I was captivated by her the moment I walked into the room. This shoot was special!

allegra herman and tamrin goldberg

Tamrin – just so you know – you are going to be my muse.

I worked with the three dancers for two hours. It was the best rehearsal experience I’ve had in a very long time. I needed it. My shoots with Taylor are at Lincoln Center. I’m stuck in a seat with a tripod set in front of me for most of the afternoon. I must get certain photographs to show off the choreography and the talent of the dancers. There is very little time to think about taking photographs in my own vision.

tamrin goldberg, allegra herman, and caitlin trainor

The shoot with Caitlin and her dancers was the exact opposite. I moved up and down the staircase, my camera often in the faces of the dancers. We all occupied the same space and my movement was unrestricted. The pictures were all about my own needs. Caitlin loves my work. She would be happy with any images I give her. This shoot – I love it a lot!

Today is day #2 of my “mind clearing.” I walked down to MOMA through Central Park. The willow trees are beginning to turn yellow-green and daffodils bloom along the pathways. Despite the crowds I enjoyed the nature, not once stopping to photograph the flowers in bloom. I had already decided the pictures I took today had to be inspired by my visit to MOMA.

As I walked into the museum I saw a young man splayed across the staircase leading up to the galleries. A few professional looking people with “real” cameras photographed this man as a museum guard, showing no concern, stood nearby. I was surprised the guard was allowing this to happen. The body of the man on the floor half-blocked the stairway. As climbed the stairs and walked into the mezzanine’s large exhibition space I noticed half-a-dozen bodies splayed out across the floor. I then realized it had to be a performance art piece. Marina Abramovic performed in this same gallery. It seems no matter how hard I try I can’t get away from dance.

dancer at the museum of modern art performing maria hassabi's "plastic"

This performance piece is called PLASTIC, by Maria Hassabi. I didn’t love the dancers’ outfits and basically I didn’t get it. There were a lot of people in the gallery watching. I guess this kind of thing is nice for tourists. I’ve seen too much during my forty years in New York to appreciate this type of performance piece. I need more.

detail of jackson pollock's "number 1a, 1948"

I decided I would use this museum visit as inspiration for the Smokers’ Detritus pictures I planned to shoot during my walk home. There it was on the wall, Jackson Pollock’s Number 1A. The painting reminded me of the strings, twigs, hair and whatever, often provides the backgrounds for the cigarette butts I photograph in the streets. I took a few closeups of the Pollock and then needed to write. My plan was to head over to the gallery with Monet’s Water Lilies but somehow I found myself sitting in front of Dance by Henri Matisse. Once again drawn to the dance. I can’t get away from it. I have loved this Matisse painting for a very long time; before I moved to New York and began this life as a professional photographer and well before I ever photographed dance.

a woman photographing "dance" by henri matisse

This essay has an ending that hasn’t yet been lived. It’s 5:15pm. The light outside is perfect for shooting cigarette butts. The galleries are closing. I’m off to create my own art.

Later that night: Except for Home Depot not having the supplies I needed, the walk home from the museum was wonderful. Outside the museum, 54th street was full of cigarette butts. I kind of expected that. People smoke before entering MOMA and toss their half-finished cigarettes everywhere – hundreds lying on the streets and sidewalks. Hundreds, but no “Jackson Pollocks.” I photographed some of the detritus anyway.

kent cigarette remains on 54th street

I didn’t shoot while walking up Fifth Avenue to the park. I spied a few interesting cigarette remains in the street but there were too many tourists crowding the sidewalks. Crawling on the ground with my Iphone – I would have been crushed. That’s when I headed over to Home Depot. I figured I might as well get one errand done.

I crossed 60th street from Home Depot on Third Avenue back to the park. Where 54th had been too clean to be interesting for my Smokers’ Detritus project, 60th street was somewhere between a garbage dump and an ashtray. I was shocked an upper east side street near Bloomingdale’s and Park Avenue could be this disgusting! As the saying goes, “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.” This dirty street was a cigarette butt goldmine.

crushed newport pack on 60th street

It took me a long time to cross the two avenues between Home Depot and Central Park. Cigarette butts in every variation of decay lined the curbs. The sidewalks were so dirty I wasn’t sure I wanted to stop and take pictures. I couldn’t help myself. My poor knees. I did photograph the most worn cigarette box I’ve yet to see in the streets. That was a good find! Still, no “Pollocks.” I knew I had to get into the park while there was still light.

Smoking isn’t allowed in the park. You’d think it wouldn’t be a good place for my series. Think again! In the center of the park, up near where I live, I rarely see a spent butt. Along the edges of the park it’s different. I can also find subject matter under benches along the pathways that cross the park and especially at the southern end of the park where the tourists congregate. I followed a path from the entrance at 60th street towards the Central Park Zoo, hoping to finally find my modern art piece. There is was between the benches – a perfect mix of human and nature’s detritus – lines and wiggles, splashes and blotches. A Jackson Pollock on the streets of New York. I took my pictures and thought this photo essay was finished.

smokers' detritus in the style of jackson pollock #1

I stopped at Bethesda Fountain for a few pictures. It was almost dark and the remains of light on the fountain were beautiful. Behind me, under the 72nd street concourse, I could make out the shadows of homeless people in the darkness. The lights in the tunnel are usually on at night but this area, with the beautifully restored mosaics was shrouded in darkness. Maybe the timers for the lights hadn’t been reset for the spring time change? In the center, a man was splayed out on the ground, not unlike the dancers at the Museum of Modern Art. Every few seconds he let out a loud moan, sounding much like an injured wild animal. I’ve heard this sound in the desert at night. It’s eerie and unnerving. I wondered if I should help him? Maybe I was being overly cautious but the situation appeared to be dangerous. If I walked into the dark tunnel I could have been trapped. I’ve walked through Central Park at all times of night for almost forty years and this was the first time I felt danger. I know not to go against my instincts. They rescued me many times during my trips to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Another man was standing at the edge of the passageway, his back towards me, staring at the man on the ground. I decided to let it be.

bethesda fountain

At the foot of the steps leading to the fountain, not far from the moaning man, I saw a cigarette on the ground. A Marlborough – the final ashes lying nearby, torn off by the wind. It sat on top of the remains of nature, a mix of the fall and spring. This bed of debris was the butt’s final resting place and the perfect background for this subject.

smokers' detritus in the style of jackson Pollock #2

I thought once again about Jackson Pollock. Only in recent times have I begun to appreciate modern art. I don’t know much about him. I know his work was partially inspired by his studies with Thomas Hart Benton and exhibitions of Picasso’s work during that time. I know he was married to the artist Lee Krasner and painted many of his famous works in a large barn located in East Hampton. In 1948, when Pollock painted Number 1A, 1948, he must have been completely surrounded by nature.

I looked this up. Google can be a wonderful research tool. When a famed art teacher named Hans Hoffman asked Pollock, “Do you work from nature?” Pollock replied, “I am nature.”

My Smokers’ Detritus pictures from today are perfect.

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