A long time ago in a place far, far away, my most excellent friend Katy said to me, “Barry, so many words, so many pictures, you should start incorporating your pictures and words into videos or slide shows so we can get in and out of your blog faster.”
During a visit to Chicago I had a chance to walk the streets and snap some folks. Please enjoy my first slide show from a selection of street scenes taken walking around on a Monday. I shot lots of great buildings and did the 360° tourist thing on the top of the Hancock Building.
The most significant repeated image was of the homeless; at least where I was walking they were there. And of course I was very interested in the typography on all their signs. How do they know when to use all caps for a title? Or even the use of decorative fonts… or even humor when soliciting funds seem to be a frequently occurring theme.
Anyway…take a peek and please tell me what you think.
Press play and make it full screen. Thanks Katy!
And my most excellent friend Laurie requested the individual photos so she can dine on them at her own delicious leisure. Here ya go Laurie.
A long time ago during one of many hunts for the elusive Manhattan Sky Lion, I found myself on Wall Street, and in the distance I saw a single stylized lion-head sculpture, mounted high on the side of building.
From blocks away I steadied my zoom and captured her. In front of that distant wall, grew a construction site where an even taller building would soon be erected, covering up that rare lion forever. Now it was mine, an image that I saw, a view others will never see again unless I chose to show it to them.
Later that day at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, my daughter and I put the final touches on ourselves before heading downstairs to attend a relative’s wedding. As she prepared, she lifted up her hair and on the back of her neck flashed a tattoo of a sensuous stylized heart.
At a completely different and unrelated time, inside Kennedy Airport, my other daughter, arrived home from Israel, and after greeting her affectionately, she lifts up the back of her shirt to show me her brand new brand, a simultaneous allegiance and challenge to our tribal traditions, touting a Star of David proudly emblazoned on the flat canvas at the base of her spine.
Throughout my life, countless friends and companions dazzled me with epidural delights, from celtic symbols on feet, long feathered peacocks on hips balanced by fluttering hummingbirds above breasts, roaring boned barn fires burning up from the butt, and endless ink in private places, designed to seduce, remember, affiliate, tell a story, express artistic freedom, and control the visual packaging of one’s body.
As for me, I still have not found my skin graphic that permanently shouts how I will always feel, what I will always want to say, a memory of the past that won’t depress me, or any mark without a reason that I will identify with forever more.
Flash forward to this past weekend, there was a tattoo convention in town. I resisted going because the light is so much better outside for shooting. However, it was so hot on this Sunday, that I retreated to the air-conditioned venue for cooler inspiration.
I marched the aisles with my 85mm looking for unusual dark perspectives and non-staged spot lit poses. What I found was an odd mix of folks who love to put tattoos on those who love to get tattoos. Beyond the buzzing sound of dozens of vibrating needles, was the din of calm and quiet, as the dance of intimacy between art and flesh went all Rock N’ Roll.
Across the floor, bodies were contorted to expose just the right angle to get lit and stamped. Serious artists donning surgical gloves signed skin and colored characters on legs, thighs, shoulders, rears and everything in between.
For some it is an addiction of guilt and pleasure. For others its just a transaction in exchange for plain ole pain, as sharp needles carrying indelible ink piercing the skin. I walked and watched with amazement as common individuals transformed themselves to extraordinary masterpieces.
Also, the procedure of coloring on a person is usually carried out in private, or in the smokey shop near a bar, dock or gritty avenue. On this day, everyone was out in the public view which really is the essence of a tattoo. For why would one get a tattoo if it would not eventually be seen by others, unless just admired privately by the bearer.
I was consumed with the concentration on the faces of the artists, aimed at the complete submission by the bodies of work. It was hard to tell who was being honored more; the crafts-person leaving their mark, or the signed human who would carry the art for the rest of their days.
Forlorn faces worn by those who have passed, movie stars striking a pose, and wild animals ready to pounce, appeared on anatomy like a montage of aspirations, inspirations and fond memories. Sure there was the usual barbed wire arm cuffs, and Polynesian plume on puffy shoulders, but mostly there was the essence of people being changed, by the ones making the change happen.
Occasionally as I stole a photo here and there, an artist would leer at me, unable to give chase for the ink would dry.
Other times, the painted on patrons would stare, as I made permanent in my camera, the expression of their surrender.
Throughout the convention hall there were faces and bodies of every shape and size. I imagined for some the exterior package of their vessel was not consistent with how they would like to see themselves, or saw themselves from the inside.
Me and my camera put the eye in ink. I wondered about the artists getting their nose up close to someones ass in order to dot out a fragrant flower. There was a woman with her chest revealed to the world like the Grand Teton, in order to get tagged from just the right angle; nobody noticed, nobody cared… it was just flesh meet ink.
When my friends heard that I had shot the convention, of course they wondered if I had found an image suitable to be my mark for ever and ever. Disappointed they were to hear that I walked out just as unmarked and lily-white as when I walked in.
I thought about many things though. I thought about contacting some major sponsors and soliciting some form of payment from them if I was to wear their logo for the rest of my life. Shouldn’t Apple Computers pay me if I had their trademark on my forearm? Or shouldn’t Intel pay me for showing the world that Intel was inside me?
I wondered if in the future, instead of delivering ink just under the skin, if it would be possible to insert inert wireless pixels that could be organized in an array and activated from a website offering a collection of images to choose from. This way people could go out wearing permanent tattoos of their choosing, just for the night.
And as their beliefs and commitments change, so could their body billboard. Hell, people could sell sponsorship space on their bodies, like Nascar profits from a logo on a fender, or a tennis player with hat.
I suppose if I had to get one, I would choose the one that chose me. A glimpse of that lion head on the side of that building on Wall Street; something that I own that no one will ever see again unless I choose to show it to them.
Sometimes watching the news can be a bit much. If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t read. We choose what we want to think about. Sometimes I turn the volume way down and step away from the distant dreary drone of death and disaster in lieu of sinking deep into the cushy love affectionately offered by the couch waiting to embrace me.
When I choose to think about summertime, I think about beautiful women revealing their all, on beaches made for healing one’s soul. I think about feeling the sun toasting my skin as the cool breeze puffs me like a thick soft towel made from Poseidon’s breath.
That applause of clapping palm trees muffled by crashing tide, and the occasional soft gust whispers right in my ear. I close my eyes to better imagine the waves crashing in and out, in and out, and feel the hair on my arm dance with the damp wind.
Deep in through my nose the whiff of salt fishy coconut settles my mind and I drift off like a gliding seagull lifting and falling against the breeze…
A surfer dude sports a man bun atop his head as he walks the beach along his son the protegé. The dad turns away for a second to pick up some trash on the beach left by those less conscious of the beauty we’re all responsible for. The surfer stands back up to deliver a do-not-litter lesson to his son, and the small child is gone.
The frantic father looks all over the immediate area of the disappearance but the boy is nowhere in sight. Hysterically he retraces his steps trying to think where he went wrong or what could have happened. He steps out on the street and yells to a biker passing by, “… have you seen my son? he’s gone…”
The biker takes his hands off the handlebars and looks around, then yells back. “No man, I haven’t seen him but did you hear about the coup in Turkey?”
The frantic father runs through the streets calling for his son but no one turns, no one helps, no one hears his cries. He jumps into a museum for help, “… excuse me, but I have lost my son. He’s a small boy with a wet suit on just like the one I’m wearing. Have you seen him?…
The ladies at the reception area look at each other and then turn back to him, “… no we haven’t seen him but did you hear about the truck driver who was shooting as he plowed into a huge crowd in France and killed over 80 people!?”
Realizing the ladies were of no help, the desperate dad ran through the museum in case his son had wandered in. On the second floor he found some ladies looking out from a balcony. “… excuse me ladies… have you seen my son… I’ve lost him and I’m terribly worried…”
The ladies turned toward the fallen father and replied, “… no we haven’t seen your son, but did you hear that Donald Trump just chose a running mate, and he’s supposedly worse than Trump. Together, the two of them are going to repeal abortion and take away women’s choice over their own body!”
Then the three ladies just turned back toward the sky and continued their discussion about the Bravo show Million Dollar Listing of New York, and debated what the next step would be for Luis Ortiz, the cute latin realtor who decided to quit real estate for good.
The panic-stricken papa ran out of the museum distracted and delirious. Out in the street he saw a woman carrying a boy and the frenzied father yelled out to her as he ran past. “… excuse me ma’am have you seen my boy… I lost him at the beach… he looks just like me… he’s wearing a little wet suit…”
The woman replied ,“…I haven’t seen your son but you can have my little monster… I’m tired of taking him to the emergency room, I was just going to leave him behind a dumpster…I got to get rid of him… he makes my boyfriend drink too much, and beat him, and I need to keep my man happy so he keeps paying the rent…”
The frantic father ran away furious, determined to find his son…
Down the road a piece, the distraught dad came upon three men on bicycles. “Excuse me gents, I’ve lost my son and I’m going berserk trying to find him. Have you seen a little boy in a wet suit?”
The three men looked at the panic-stricken big man standing in the wetsuit, then turned back to the bicyclist in the middle who spoke, “… no man, we haven’t seen him, but did you hear about the cops that were shot by a sniper in Dallas? Five were killed and like 10 or 11 shot or injured…”
The surfer dude shook his head and looked down in despair, but continued his search…
Desperate, the father ran back to the beach thinking his son couldn’t have gone far without being noticed. The dad remembered talking to the boy about situations he may find himself in… and what to do if the boy was in those situations.
Beside himself and in a fit of fury the surfer dude cruised up the beach searching tirelessly. He passed by a couple of people in a tent with their dogs and yelled out to them. “Excuse me… but have you seen my son? He’s a little surfer dude… looks just like me… and he wandered off… have you seen him?”
The dogs started barking as the surfer shouted his raving request. The woman in the tent yelled back over the barking dogs, “no man… we haven’t seen your kid… but did you hear about the massacre at the gay dance club in Orlando, Florida? Like over 50 people were killed! They’re saying it’s like the biggest mass murder in American History… right after the Wounded Knee Massacre, the shooting in Bath, Michigan, the massacre on the Virginia Tech Campus, Sandy Hook, and all those other atrocities where people went postal!”
In shock, the man thanked the woman and continued his search…
The surfer dude shuffled on the beach trying to remember what he told his son in the story. He thought he said something like, if you ever get lost on the beach, look for the man or woman sitting in the giant chair. Tell them you’re lost… and they’ll help you find your way back to me…
In the distance the surfer dude saw the giant chair where a life guard was standing waving both his arms over his head. The surfer dude started to run to the chair. On the way he passed other surfer dudes who were all alone, except for their boards.
Running to the big chair, the surfer dude passed a strange man standing on the beach. For a second he thought that he was a bad man, waiting for unsuspecting parents to take their eyes off their kid for just a half-second… and he would swoop in and steal those kids.
But the surfer dude quickly dismissed the villain, knowing in his gut that his boy was at the foot of the big chair waiting for him.
Sure enough he was there. “Dad, I did what you taught me… I lost you, I didn’t panic, I looked for the giant chair and waited for you there. Where have you been… I was waiting so long…?”
The surfer dude picked up his little man and told him of his adventures while looking for him. He told the boy that no matter what horrible thing was going on in the world, nothing was more important to him than finding his son and he swore he’d never lose him again.
Just then a crack of thunder woke me up. I squeezed the sleep out of my eyes and realized I had fallen asleep on the couch with the news running on TV in the background.
Sometimes watching the news can be a bit much. If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t read. We choose what we want to think about. Sometimes I turn the volume way down and step away from the distant dreary drone of death and disaster in lieu of sinking deep into the cushy love affectionately offered by the couch waiting to embrace me.
It’s time for a new car. My lease is up and I’m looking at the continuous showroom that patrols every road. Obviously the Cadillac Escalade Pickup has everything anyone could want for $72k. The prestige of a Cadillac, the size and utility of the SUV, including the convenience of a pickup truck.
Unwilling to pay that much for a depreciating investment, I resort to the envy of shiny new BMWs, economical shiny new Hondas, aspirational shiny new Infinities, juicy muscular shiny new Subarus, ridiculously cheap shiny new VWs, and the shiny new non-conforming Mazda 9.
While driving and dreaming of my next container, I wondered how much of a new car decision is based on the way we want to be seen while driving the car. Do we invite the stereotype that comes with driving a truck, or do we choose to welcome the usual mid-life crisis/genital size comments that come with driving a fast low sports car?
Then I realized that a vehicle is just the vessel folks wrestle with, until someone makes it their own. Prior to that it’s orphaned and inanimate. When one takes ownership, gives it a name, presets the stations on the radio, fills the glove box with personal what-ifs, registers it, and fills it with gas for the first time… we become the soul that possesses it.
Watching for new potential cars to possess, I wandered and weaved and found myself at the corner of “Pull Your Own Part” and “Cash for Your Crash”. Colorful fenders hung on rusty wrecked racks like bright automotive dentures waiting to be selected by mechanics seeing themselves as plastic surgeons, installing fresh faces on mouthless mounts.
Desperate to immerse myself in towers of trash, and collide with every make and model, I called the fender place to ask permission to come and shoot my Canon in their yard. First rejected and denied, then the owner told me about this other place that would let me walk and shoot as much as I’d like.
It seems that down the street from Fenders R Us, was a place sort of like Disneyland for Dents. You walk in the dirty greasy entrance, pay your $3 and exit into a universe of Car-casses like no one has ever seen before. Aisles and rows of cars and trucks from every manufacturer whoever had an assembly line.
I couldn’t figure out if I was privileged to see what happens to cars after they pass away, or if I should turn around and run from what was obviously Detroit’s secret death camp. I proceeded in like an accidental tourist, past a motor pulling mortician pushing a wheel barrel down a narrow avenue of autos.
Shoppers for stoppers, tires, dipsticks and doors, examined the perverse piles still trying to impress, with their mighty hoods raised high, twinkling an occasional glint from the last remaining chrome on a dangling side mirror.
Elders from our car-guy sub-culture toured trucks with apprentice mechanics hunting for horns, leaning on Lincolns, and fumbling with Fords. The stench of motor oil hung in the air like the bad breath of tow truck exhaust. I could almost hear the screeching brakes heard before the crashes that brought them all here.
The chassis circus almost seemed like it was performing gravity defying feats as the mangled metal mysteriously floated above the ground resting on rims and mired on Michelin.
Wheel wells winked at me with bright rusty disc brake beauty. Headlights stared straight ahead anxious for the night. Bucket after bucket of unbolted beast, shed wires, vinyl, rubber and steel.
The whole scene looked like the endless trashy piled spread of dirty unfolded clothing that might cover the floor of some junkies bedroom.
The sun started to cook the yard and the thrill of my fantasy walk through Ouch-schvitz started to wear off. I was too hot to shoot another sedate sedan, to tired to portray another pick-up, too pooped to pose another coupe.
It was time to return to my world of shiny and new and forget about this hell of shells, this termination garage where honking honeys go after they lose their souls. The last thing I saw before I departed, was a lonely bucket seat who had lost its drive.
This chairman looked like a homeless recliner, who recalled all the asses it carried for so many years, as it bitterly watched me leave. I walked out through the tiny greasy room where I paid my 3 dollars hours ago, and put this place in my rear-view.
I now look at new cars a little differently and appreciate their peak. I see how their pride shines as they roll forward to own the road. I now notice how they command the envy of humans who want them for a new shell.
I now see that I am the soul who enters my next protector, my mighty vessel to journey in, which gets me from here to there.
Late one night, this past week, a bizarre event occurred. I had been thinking about how busy I’d been and how I had neglected my art. Too busy to shoot. Too busy to write. Too busy to just giggle about something silly that filled me with glee.
I laid there in the bed, bingeing on Season 9 of Greys Anatomy, when I looked at my cell phone to see if anyone had tried to text me, or if anything interesting was going on with Facebook or Instagram. That’s when I saw it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I burst out laughing as my mind went crazy thinking of creative captions for the outrageous image.
I chuckled as I stared at an absurd artist who decided it would be a good idea to fill an enema bag with blue paint, then take the tip from where the liquid comes out, and insert it into his now Cyanus. He then proceeded to position himself over a large framed canvas, squat and release his creativity all over the picture, because he just had to indiGO, like a modern-day PicASSo.
I was awake to the wee hours of the night, snickering to myself as I read over two hundred posts, from creative artists around the world who attempted to name this type of art. Naturally, I was a huge contributor to the thread.
The next day I tried to show some friends the post and the comments, but it had mysteriously vanished. Apparently the Facebook Gestapo felt that showing off this guy’s bluteus maximus had crossed the line, from putting the art in shart, to some sort of fecal decal.
I share this story with you all because it seemed to wake me up and get me out on the street again. Despite my stifling self-talk including, “there’s never anything to shoot”, “it’s too hot”, you’re too tired to do this… go home, have a Corona and watch more Greys…”, I grabbed my camera, got out anyway and shot my butt off.
Enjoy my day of discovery in the alleys of downtown St. Petersburg. And for all you artists out there in need of motivation, try to find that guy out on the internet making his blue poo platter. I swear you will laugh yourself silly and the creativity will just explode out of you.
Bless me further for I have sinned. It’s been almost 3 months since my last blog posting.
Somewhere between celebrating my birthday, celebrating the birth of my second grand child and opening my new studio and gallery, the blog went to a back burner.
Certainly I can write about what its like to age within the vicinity of 60 yrs old, or how it feels to watch your baby make a baby, or how impossible serendipity rewarded me with a little shop located two blocks from the Gulf of Mexico; but all that seems almost cliché’. (not)
I won’t even go into the sheer glee of actually sitting in my new studio gallery while typing this, with a Chocolate Rugelach on my left, a bottle of Fiji water on my right, and how I’m head bopping to the tunes of Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris and Bill Evans on the Bose.
Yeah… I’m getting old. Yeah… it was truly a miracle to be present for another new human to be created. Yeah… all the best things in life conspired to gift me with a little shop to play in. But all that aside, walking mile after mile on the streets of Manhattan is what I care to share.
It’s such a nothing to put one foot in front of another, see life, and freeze it. I walk, I look, I think about my old aching body, I think about my babies and my grand babies, and how I need to collect the time views of Manhattan to cover my walls in the new studio.
A moment ago, my little shots were a secret. Pictures stored on portable drives or hanging in my home that no one ever saw. A moment later I’m perched behind a huge glass storefront where one can gain access through the door that jingles with an antique tinkle every time someone enters.
I sit and tap letter keys, wishing someday I could tickle ivories and play piano like the greats. I look up and look around and remember every picture captured, every moment of time frozen, as I take one step closer to Ansel Adams or Salvatore Dali…in my mind.
While strutting around Greenwich Village, I pass The Bitter End , New York’s Oldest Rock Club, and snap away at the hopeful musicians, singers and entertainers waiting in line for their shot at fame. As I pass them all, my attention gets pulled in by a fine artist sketching something across the street.
Whether it’s performing or fine… we are all artists.
A moment later, I’m walking into the Apple Store in Soho in order to see all levels of creativity at once.
Somewhere near Parson’s, The New School, a woman with torn jeans and purple hair strolls, and convincingly behaves as if she resents the attention she gets because of her appearance.
Back around and down W. Broadway, further into Soho, a man attempts to paint an entire building with a very tiny brush.
Later that day, I turned a corner and walked into a demonstration. The folks from India were protesting the Caste System. I stood there and shot away wondering about this idea, it’s source and how a change like this would affect and release an entire culture.
Can you imagine social separation and being labeled and limited by your family occupation, or by the name of your ancestors, or a geographic region? I suppose people have lived and died over the years based on the strength of their beliefs.
Perhaps it’s time to see things a little differently.
Speaking of culture and religion, on the other side of town, closer to Lafayette St. and 10th, there’s a really old church.
Then back down Houston Street into Noho, a cooking class is taking place. Did I ever tell you about the time I took a chocolate candy making class in Belgium, taught by a woman speaking only French? I was the only English-speaking American, surrounded by the rest of the class, a bus load of Korean women.
All of us acknowledged that there was no language barrier as we all understood the word Mmmm…
About a decade ago, when I lived in New York City, I swore every time I walked out my front door, it felt like I had jumped on a ride called Manhattan. Sometimes I felt like I could just stand still and the events would pass right next to me on the left and the right.
Every block had different stores, every street held different adventures, celebrities hiding in ebbing crowds of people, jack hammers banging, cab horns honking, and the offensive smells of the homeless on one side of the street… and on the other side of the street… the haunting fragrance of fresh bread, basil and oregano.
Most people living there do have jobs, and more than likely their jobs drive them to drink.
I think it was over by 7th Ave. near Washington Square Park… some kids were playing handball. How is it possible that games like Stick Ball, Handball, Street Hockey, Skelley, pitching pennies, mumblety peg, flipping cards, and a million other games of the street have disappeared from existence.
For some who grew up on these streets, playing handball behind a chain link fence is just a fuzzy memory.
And for some, they just refuse to forget and leave this city for it is their home. Their body betrays them, their mind abandons them, and the shops they used to buy food at for their family, get covered with graffiti tagged armor.
And just as the gangs use art to make up their territory, women continue to use make-up on their faces, to seduce any and all unsuspecting onlookers. I mean when you think about it, humans have been tagging their territory and painting their faces for one reason or another, since the beginning of time.
And also since the beginning of time, folks (Jews) have craved Knishes, Sour Pickles, Rubens, Pastrami on Rye, Hot Dogs, Mustard and Sauerkraut, Dr. Browns Black Cherry Soda and loud abusive wait staff.
At the center of the universe, the greatest city in the world will grow and get bigger and taller. As long as the demand for these Deli-cious memories exist… Katz’s will have a home at the foot of it all. Have I ever told you the story about when I was little, and how there was a deli in my neighborhood that had a contest to guess the weight of a giant Salami hanging in his store front window?
People came from miles around to guess the weight of the Salami and the prize of course was that they would win this 4 foot tube of processed pleasure. One Saturday I rode my bicycle over to the shopping center for lunch, and opted for a hot dog at the deli, over a slice of pizza.
As I sat there stuffing my face with the hot juicy dog stuffed in a soft steamy bun, I watched the people come in to the deli, and write their weight guesses on little pieces of paper with their name on it… fold it, and drop the pieces of paper in a jar.
I devoured my dog, when a heavily jeweled woman walked in fresh out of the beauty parlor. I watched and listened and she verbally guessed 18 lbs, and Ben, the guy who owned the deli said, “Oh man…that’s close… but not quite.” So I took the opportunity of being in the right place at the right time and applied a little incorrect math, and wrote my guess on the little scrap of paper and dropped it in the jar.
I figured if that lady was close, at 18 lbs, I’d guess a half pound over. And since there are 12 inches in a foot and 12 oz. to a pound (not)… I’d guess 18 lbs. 6 oz. ! A few weeks later, Ben called my house and I was the only one home and he told me I won the Salami!
Soon, my mom came home from work, and I told her, and of course she didn’t believe me, and I somehow convinced her to drive to the deli, so we could pick up my greasy trophy. Together we went in to the deli, talked a little with Ben, and somehow managed to get the beef bat into the car.
My mom was usually pissed at something, but this time she seemed extra pissed, and I asked her if she was okay. She turned to me and smacked me across the face and said, “What the fuck am I supposed to do with all this Salami?! Sometimes Barry I just don’t understand you one bit!”
Did I ever tell you about the time I was almost homeless? I lived across the street from this College that was always having fancy academic events, and I would occasionally sneak in to them and stuff my pockets with fruit and cheese cubes and run back to my little basement apartment under the stairs in this tenement.
Times were tough then, but a lot has changed. So when I walk the streets and see the homeless, I feel a special compassion for the incidents that must have led up to their situation. I often give them food and money, especially if they let me take their picture.
Some day I think I might have an exhibit in my new studio, and fill the walls with the best shots of the homeless and do a fund-raiser for them… wouldn’t that be cool.
I walk and I shoot. It’s nothing glamorous nor anything a more aspiring person would enjoy… but it’s what I do. I shoot for scenes but always feel frustrated that most scenes portray everything in general and nothing in particular.
What’s worse, is that after I shoot, sometimes for weeks, months or years I don’t see what’s really in those photos till I look at them again. Like take this photo for instance… I only saw a balloon sculptor with a bunch of kids in awe of some silly twists on a rubber tube filled with exhale. But after a long period away from the photo, I returned to see the mom looking one way… and her little dog looking the other; neither one of them looking at the balloon guy.
And then I noticed that, one of the yellow lines in the street, got caught in an unfortunate location coming off the thigh of the sculptor. At least that’s what I think it is.
And this photo that nearly caused me to have an auto accident as I performed a radical u-turn and pulled into the lot to shoot. I shot it just because. I do lots of things just because. Isn’t it valid to not have a reason at the time? But months later I look at it and realize it’s a mural on the side of furniture store and the mural is all about furniture. Either due to the lack of it, this girl is laying on the floor leaning on the dog… or she prefers the dog to lean on as furniture.
And what about the curtained window between her legs… never saw that before! Either way it feels like I was void of vision when I shot it, but time and distance has given me wisdom to see. What if everything we see when we first see it is void of almost 100% of what it really has to offer?
In leaving a restaurant in San Francisco I snapped fast at nothing. And now I look at this dreamy pic and see two doors opening to the light. I see twenty white dots like seen on the top of a black domino. And I wonder why exit signs promote the departure of one place but never the arrival at another. Why don’t exit signs say instead, “Enter”?
And this picture I looked at forever and love it every time for no good reason. The guy in the front is making kettle corn in a kettle. The guy in the back is barbecuing ribs on a barbecue. Smoke is everywhere and popcorn guy protects his face from flying debris. Today, all I can see is that one kernel that got away. As if all that corn was bound for consumption but one special kernel blasted itself free.
Another car accident avoided as I pulled a u-ee to grab this shot out my driver’s side window. I’ve looked at this photo so many times and always saw the same obvious psychedelic wheel behind two lovers shooting a selfie. I honestly can’t see anything more here, but do like the shot better than the first day it was taken. And sometimes I see a father and daughter standing in front of a braided rug… but who knows…maybe next year I’ll some thing else.
Maybe the two of them are shooting something in the distance far in front of them, and they both are oblivious to the wall behind them?
Underneath the last building Frank Lloyd Wright built before he passed away… a woman sat waiting. I find my attention wants to be drawn to the two lights above her trying to form a smiley face with her shadow and the silhouette. Also, I never noticed how her ankles and fingers were so nicely interlocked and inline.
Now this shot I always thought, was just an odd collection of images. When taken out of context, what’s that guy painting, with his gloved hand at rest, and his easel box on a tripod?
When I took this shot, all I saw was the poor old guy in blue sweats smoking a butt like a boss. I really never even noticed that the guy next to him walking away had his red butt out, much less how it matched the red ices the kids are eating. More evidence that most of us may look at things but never really see all that’s there.
Another shot I just grabbed and continue to glare into for deep meaning. As of today, I cannot find anything hidden, juxtaposed or ironic. Perhaps in a year or two I will find something deep like the fact that this is a photo of a jewelry repair shop that offers photography services. Or is it a photography studio offering jewelry repair?
So the strangest thing happened the other day. Because I walk and shoot, I naturally find many homeless people along the way. I never feel that I’m exploiting their situation and actually wonder all about them. I wonder about why some have really nice sneakers. Or how the signs they hold are uniform in size and so nicely written. So anyway, I get this email the other day from one of my readers. He said he wanted to use one of my photos as a featured image in a blog on homelessness, that he was writing for his church.
It made me feel good that these images I capture can be used to raise awareness to a human condition that is not usually seen by many much less discussed. And all of this is connected to how little I saw in it, when I first shot it… and who knows how long after I shot it that the reader found their perceived value in the shot.
Today when I look at the image below, after having consumed too many Christmas cookies myself, it occurs to me that maybe the poor guy just ate too many Peanut Butter Crunch Bars, slipped into a sugar coma and just needed to lay down.
Crooked glasses, balding, lonely and in his late 50s, Sal drags around 65 pounds of gut flap, spare tire and man boobs, that he just doesn’t need. Every flight of stairs he walks up causes him to lose his breath. The short breath combined with a new chest pain, sends him off to see his doctor.
The doctor concerned about cardiac disease, performs a number of tests which makes Sal feel fat, weak and vulnerable. Sal decides for the umpteenth time to swear off sweets, cheese, alcohol and fresh breads. For about a minute his resolve takes hold and he feels it within his grasp. Then, a minute later it slips away as he remembers he has a first date that night and the ugly, inadequate fat feelings return.
On a break between stress tests, Sal finds his favorite remedy to make himself feel better. Historically the cure for all bad feelings has always been the carb addict’s trip to the local patisserie. Barely able to eject himself from the tiny door hole of his low riding sports car, Sal squeezes free and waddles into the bakery for relief.
Gazing at gigantic cupcakes with mountain tops of whipped twisted frosting soothes Sal into a euphoric high. Heavy salivation quench his parched throat. Wide eyes fixate on long eclairs with custard oozing out of the tiny holes on the ends. He could smell the butter wafting from sugar shiny glazed danishes. All sound drones out as his fingers touch the glass guarding stacks of chocolate chunk cookies and every other conceivable cake covered with creamy heaven.
A sixteen year old girl pops her head up from kneeling behind the other side of the display glass. “Can I help you sir?” Her skin is tight, smooth and perfectly rich with caramel color. Her eyes like dark little coffee beans dancing atop round cherub cheeks. Sal turns around and sees he is surrounded by other chubby men and women waiting for the girl to dispense their fix.
She’s only there for the summer and will escape the public eye in the fall when she returns to school. On the rare weekends when she doesn’t serve obsession at the bake shop, she goes to the beach with her family and looks forward to wrestling with her brother at the foot of the gulf.
Most days she rides her bicycle to the bakery but these days she must walk due to an unexpected flat tire.
The caramel girl and her family live behind a very busy airport, next to a ground shaking set of railroad tracks, on the fringe of an industrial area in the poorest section of town. She knows where to walk and where not to walk. She knows to cover her ears when the planes fly so close overhead.
Despite where she lives, she feels grateful to have any home at all. All the homeless people in her neighborhood serve as a constant reminder of her abundance.
Just past the dead looking homeless, rests a shirtless bearded man in a Nike hat who always waves hello.
Around the corner from the poorest section in town is a most expensive hotel. On this day Richard turns five years old and his parents throw him the biggest party any five-year old has ever seen. Similar to an elaborate catered wedding, 50 children arrive in ties, jackets and dresses, carrying expensive wrapped gifts, and are directed to assigned seats in the big ball room of the luxury hotel.
As if the affluent affair was not enough, Richard’s parents arranged to have all the mighty superheroes attend the gala. The first to arrive was Captain America who drops off his Mercedes with the valet and quickly checks his email before entering the party. In line behind him and turning into the valet drop off, is Superman driving a Lexus, and Batman in a Hummer.
As Richard’s party gets going and the final super heroes arrive, a heinous villain arrives at a movie house down the street. Over her shoulder, she carries her swollen purse into the tall theater. The woman is broken in her mind and is unable to feel many things that seem obvious to most people. Covered in a shapeless ragged hooded poncho she drifts into the darkness with her wriggling cargo.
During the work week she performs her job with abstract precision as a corporate marketing executive who approves funding for small business promotions. She needs to listen to the ideas of small retailers who want to sell the product her company manufactures… and she either approves or rejects the promotional funding for the idea. When she hears a really good idea, she rejects the funding, steals the idea and presents it to her bosses as her own.
On this day she has a problem to solve. It seems that her cat had gotten itself pregnant and recently delivered a litter of kittens. The woman found that she could free herself of the unwanted fur babies by taking them one at a time in her big purse and when no one was looking, just removing the infant animals and discarding them where ever she sat.
She left one on the patio seating area at the Iranian Coffee Shop, one stopped on the street at a red light next to a body shop, one in the middle of a car wash as she drove through, two she let go in a parking garage on her way into Nordstrom’s to do some shopping, and this last one she took into the movies with her.
Once the lights went out and the movie began… she removed the kitten from her bag, and abandoned it on the sticky inclined floor. Void of remorse, she left the theater when no one was looking. Later that day, the handicapped girl at the movie theater who is responsible for tearing the tickets of admitted movie goers, found the kitten and decided to adopt it.
That night, the handicapped ticket taker brought the kitty home and helped her Aunt prepare for a blind date with a man she met online. Over the course of many weeks Aunt Mary flirted with Sal, via email and text. They had agreed to meet at the Italian Festival that evening and see if there was any chemistry between them.
At first, Mary was hesitant to agree to meet Sal as she was coming down with a little cold. Also, she was not in the best of shape and didn’t want to turn Sal off with how she jiggled and wheezed. She hoped that Sal would not notice her shortness of breath, the clingy phlegm that made a noisy stretch after each cough… and she prayed that he liked big women with bangs.
She waited for over an hour, on the bench they agreed to meet at. When she realized Sal wasn’t coming she felt a pain in her heart. In an effort to feel better she decided to stop at the bakery on the way home and get some of her favorite desserts. She hoped that the caramel colored girl behind the counter would be there to help her choose something sweet.
This past weekend I had a chance to wander down by Tampa’s Bayshore Blvd. I put myself in the usual magical state of conception and cried out to the heavens, “show me a sign”.
Just when I thought it would be another ordinary day of walking, wandering and pressing the button, I did indeed stumble upon a sign. I had been strolling among the gorgeous Tampa Bay mansions, and right there on one of the front lawns appeared my mission, like Moses finding the burning bush. The sign on the lawn read, “Stanley Please Come Home”.
I stood awestruck in front of this beautiful home and wondered who exactly was Stanley? Why did he leave? Was he a person or a pet? Who were these people in the home? Did they do something to Stanley to make him leave? Perhaps he’s an elderly person with dementia who had gotten lost?
Maybe he’s a child who resented his parents demand to brush his teeth before bed, and after being forced to write 250 times, “I must brush my teeth before bed”, he conspired to run away from home the next morning. Perhaps Stanley is a young romantic, whose girlfriend moved out-of-town, and he left town in pursuit of her?
Regardless of who Stanley is, on this day, I decided to walk and shoot and look for Stanley and maybe find him and bring him home.
I crossed the street and walked along the Bay Blvd. looking for clues as to where Stanley may have gone. I thought of asking some local folks if they knew Stanley and if they had seen him.
I tried to interrupt a jogger with my inquiry to no avail. Then I stopped a few cyclists with the same question, “Excuse me sir, have you seen Stanley? There’s a house back there who’s looking for him and wants him to come home.” They gave me a funny look and got back on their bikes and rode off.
Frustrated, I decided to start knocking on doors. The first house I came to belonged to Lenny and Bill. They were a married couple who had made their fortune up north, by buying old houses and restoring them.
I knocked on their door, Lenny answered, a tall, heavy balding man in his 60s. “May I help you?” he said. “Yes, I’m sorry to disturb you but I’m looking for Stanley, is he here?” Lenny smiled, took a stylish puff off his vapor cigarette and said, “… we have no Stanleys here, but will a Lenny or Bill do?”
The next house I went to belonged to Tim and Crystal. Long ago he was a poor salesman selling accounting services till one day he decided to leapfrog ahead of the pack. He planned a dinner, invited the wealthiest people in town, and pitched them his idea to start a new kind of accounting company.
To Tim’s amazement, they all love the idea and together committed to give him several million dollars to start his new company. When he went to pay the $1200 check, his credit card was declined, and right on the verge of wealth and impoverished embarrassment, he used his silver tongue to delay the payment till his guests left.
Tim came back the next day, paid the check, eventually received his seed capital and off he went to become one of the wealthiest men in the state. Over time, power would corrupt him absolutely, he would have several affairs with beautiful sensuous women, till he met the best of the best and decided to end it all with one. Her name was Crystal. He left his wife and his life for her, and bought a fresh start in Tampa.
I knocked on their door…Crystal answered in a soft looking tight T-shirt, bra-less, wild wavy hair, fat juicy lips, Greek piercing eyes, and tight short shorts…bare feet beautifully pedicured. “Hello, can I help you?” she seduced. “Yes, I’m looking for Stanley. Apparently he lives at a house down the street and they have a sign out in front on the lawn; practically begging for him to come home. Have you seen him?”
She shifted her weight with a cruel jiggle as she prepared her reply. Crystal squinted and squirted out the sexiest dimpled smile while using her breath to say, “…well… my husband is not here now, and there’s no one named Stanley that lives here, but if you’d like to come in, we can have a drink and discuss where he might be hiding.”
I began to sweat as the temperature by the Bay started to rise. I politely declined wanting my mission to find Stanley not to be distracted… even by a sexy Greek siren. So on to the next house I went.
The next house I came to was owned by a beautiful older Russian woman whose husband had passed away many years ago. He was a prominent attorney in Tampa and left her well off after his demise. When she was younger, she use to be a concert pianist and had baby grand pianos in almost ever large room of her home.
Furthermore, throughout her house, were extravagant collectible paintings on the walls and rare nude sculptures on pedestals sprinkled throughout the hallways. As I approached her front door, I could hear Tchaikovsky pounded on the keys, spilling out her open windows.
My knock stopped the music and she marched to the door opening it in a huff, sweaty, beautiful high cheekbones, hard mascara outlining intense eyes, cleavage in my face, and in a thick deep accent she rolled out, “Yes? May I help you?” I stared for a second and swallowed, “umm… yes, one of your neighbors apparently has lost someone named Stanley and I’m trying to help them find him. Have you seen him?”
She smiled, twinkled her Georgian baby blues and invited me in for wine and cheese. My view was fixated between her breasts, watching the sweat drip down toward her belly; I’m guessing it came from playing the piano so violently. Though she seemed like an extraordinary person, I politely declined and returned to my journey.
The last house I went to was owned by Marty and Louise, two high school sweethearts who grew old together. Marty’s parents supplied chemicals to photography labs before everything went digital. Louise’s grandfather had apparently invented one of the synthetic sweeteners found in almost every diet food.
I stood in awe of their home and marveled at the difference between their usual living quarters, and the typical cinder block or cracker shack home found commonly around Florida. I opened the beautiful cast iron gate, leaped on their porch and knocked on their door.
A slender handsome man, 60s, with a full head of gray hair, opened the door to greet me. “May I help you?” he grinned with country club charm. “Yes, I’m helping one of your neighbors find someone named Stanley. I’m taking the initiative to knock on a few doors to see if I can help them find him.”
He smiled and asked me how many houses I had been to before his. He also suggested that maybe Stanley was a dog or cat and expressed sadness about the loss of anyone’s pet. He wished me luck and off I went to wrap up my search.
I suppose Stanley could be a dog or cat. In fact… I quickly realized I had no idea who or what Stanley was. I decided to search the nearby alleys of Hyde Park for animals. I walked up and down the alleys like a diligent pet owner, shouting, “Stanley! Stanley! Are you out here! Stanley… your parents are worried about you. Stanley come home… please come home!”
I passed beautiful porches with white columns and matching white rocking chairs. I looked up through tropical trees as the sun beat down on me. I passed beautiful sculptures hidden in the back yards of these large mansions. Even the mold growing on trashed wooden doors seemed affluent and outstanding.
The only living thing back in those alleys was a squirrel who bravely looked down at me as I walked past. “You’re name wouldn’t happen to be Stanley would it?” The fuzzy little rodent just stared at me like I was nuts… then twirled its bushy tail and ran off.
Tired from hunting through bright alleys and sweating with the rich and famous, I popped off the residential blocks and walked back across the street to the Bay. I walked and questioned a few more passers-by, then headed back to the house where my mission began.
On the way back to the house, there was a sleeping man sitting on a bench with his head resting on a suitcase. Could it be?! Could this be Stanley? I walked up behind him and shouted, “Stanley! Is that you? Your people are looking for you. You should go home… Stanley! Wake up…”
He didn’t move, he didn’t wake and he didn’t respond. Standing near this guy, I could look over and see the house where it all began, and went back across the street to stare at the sign again, to see if maybe there was a clue that I might have missed.
As I stood there and stared at the sign, I watched the flag above it wave in the wind. The picture on the flag looked somewhat familiar so I waited for the wind to flip it around in order for me to get a good look at it. Sure enough a gust blew off the bay and the flag flipped around and I could see the bright blue flag showing the moniker of lightning.
Suddenly I realized that the flag was waving the logo of the Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey Team. Then I looked again at the sign and wondered if maybe Stanley was a fan of the hockey team and maybe the image of the lightning was intended to spark a familiar memory if Stanley was to walk by.
Defeated, I returned to the Camaro and blasted the air conditioning till it got cool. I turned the radio on and prepared to head home without ever knowing what would become of Stanley.
Just then, the DJ came on the radio warning people not to drive around the Amalie Arena that afternoon as there was a big party planned to celebrate the upcoming game for the Tampa Bay Lighting Hockey Team, and traffic was going to be horrific. The DJ continued to talk about the hockey team and how they were in the championship finals and it would be a great win for the team that was playing that night.
Miraculously at the end of his break and before the DJ played his next song… he shouted out, “come on everyone, let’s meet out at the Amalie Arena and cheer on our team, so that the Tampa Bay Lightening will bring home the Stanley Cup once again.”
Long ago, in a place far, far away, I lived in an urban tenement building basement, gotten to through a little Hobbit-like doorway under the stairs. The only window was in front, allowing people to look in as they passed, and from my angle, all I could see were people’s legs as they walked by. I kept the curtain drawn at all times rationalizing privacy but deep down thinking solitude, and of my escape to a better place.
Unable to afford cable, I owned a cheap TV with an even cheaper DVD player, and would just watch movie after movie. Each night before I’d go to bed, I’d put the same movie in the DVD player and listen to it as I would drift off to sleep. Aboard my tiny twin mattress actually made of springs, in a tiny dank bedroom, tucked in the back of a dark basement apartment, beneath a crumbling tenement, I’d watch this DVD with my eyes closed, every night before bed for almost 2 years.
The movie was Cast Away with Tom Hanks. I heard a rumor that it took the writer 5 years to write it perfectly, with over 250 rewrites. Though the entire movie was filled with great life-lesson metaphors, my favorite part was the incessant crashing of the waves on the shore of his tiny island. Each night, Tom Hanks would look out on the water, wondering when he would be rescued from the solitude of his tragic paradise.
Years later, I find myself on any number of pristine beaches, often sitting there, looking out on the same scene that sent me to dreamland every night, so many years ago. The difference in my scene from the one Tom Hanks endured in that movie, is that every once in a while, unexpected odd visitors would stroll across my view.
This past weekend, no DVD was necessary to transport me to that peaceful place, as I was there, perched on a lounge chair with my camera aboard my belly. Each time someone would walk by, I’d quickly raise the camera and capture their image and wonder where they came from and where they were going.
I wondered about the matrix of coincidence and what brought them to the same spot I was in, at the same time I was in it.
A father and daughter stroll across my view. I thought of how this little girl holding her daddy’s hand was learning about security, safety and protection. I wondered how this will define their relationship, and as the two would grow old how he would spend his whole life being her protector.
Then I thought about the day in their future when the tides would turn, as a little girl grows into a mature woman, she would be walking along her now needy senior father, holding his hand, in order to give him the same feeling he had given her when she was young and defenseless.
I wondered if she would be angry and resentful that his natural aging and inability to protect her, now made her vulnerable, or would she find the compassion to protect him as he protected her all those years.
Soon, another couple arrived from the other direction, also holding hands. In matching tropical reds, they marched in unison. They first met long ago, in a Sporting Goods Store somewhere in Ohio. Both standing near a tall rotating rack of books about rock climbing, they caught each other’s eye.
He commented on her blue eyes and striking tattoos. She, shocked that he was even speaking to her, blushed and said nothing. For decades they carried on a secret relationship in their separate worlds. They raised their separate families with their separate spouses and eventually endured their separate divorces.
Thirty years later, they decided to have a reunion and planned to meet at this beach. Now, after decades apart, together again, they can do what they always longed to do but were unable. A small thing to most, but to them the most unattainable joy, a simple stroll while holding hands.
Other less romantic bottle carrying couples also crossed before me…
Tiny struggling paddle boarders almost crash into giant white bikini walkers…
After a while, two ladies walked across from the other direction.
The tall one, a successful Real Estate investor, turned her lack of romantic opportunity into hard work and a disciplined plan toward her future financial independence. For years and years, she rented out rooms in her house, bought new houses, repaired them and rented those out, and continued to collect homes till her assets and their respective tenants could support her lifestyle without working for others.
Now wealthy and retired, she vacations by cruise all around the world, and invites friends of various ages to keep her company as she explores distant shores.
I drifted off listening to crashing waves, similar to how I used to in the basement apartment. The sun had moved and began to cook the part of my shoulder peeking out from under my umbrella’s shade. As I opened my eyes and moved out of the burning light, I woke to find two ladies standing in front of me staring out at the water.
This was the beach that they and a group of their friends would often visit, party and give in to their hippie bohemian mood. For years the gang of ladies would gather and gab about husbands, boyfriends, children, politics and sex. Then, one day, one of them was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. About four months later she died on a Tuesday.
The funeral was held near that same beach where those once tight young nymphs used to gather and gossip. After the funeral, still clad in black, two of the ladies decided to return to their spot where so much joy was had by them over the years.
These two ladies from the surviving gang of women, stood quietly, looking out, remembering the best parts about their dear departed friend.
Moments later, a woman strolled across my view, who continues to try to achieve perfection in her appearance, even though she is well into her 70s. She still habitually eats a shake for breakfast, a handful of broccoli dipped into a thimble of dressing for lunch… not more than a few almonds as an afternoon snack… and some vegetables for dinner.
On Tuesday and Thursday, she works her arms and legs at the gym, abs every day… and shoulders and back on Wednesday and Friday. She has always had many admirers, even at her age now, but all this has merely been an apparatus to become strong enough to fight off unwanted attention, hide her fear of loneliness, and demonstrate an extreme need to control her world.
To me, regardless of the reasons for her life ritual, I thought her leathery bronze skin looked marvelous within her pink bikini, against the green gulf water backdrop, beneath the aqua sky.
Next came a slender couple sashaying across the beach like they owned it. They had come from the tennis court and decided to cool down with a stroll on the beach. Everything about them pranced with happiness as they walked in lock-step and just looked cool. Thoughtful and athletic they just kept on walking forward, letting go of their past behind them.
Lastly, came the shellers. Stopping, bending, examining, comparing… each looking for the perfect shell. One that is untouched, with the perfect color, the perfect shape and is completely different from the millions of other shells on the beach.
I asked a few people what going to the beach meant to them and remarkably they eventually came around to repeat the same phrase, “… it’s just the place that makes me happy…”.
These days, I don’t think much about the time I had spent years ago in the basement of my Hobbit home. I’ve let it all go to make room to appreciate my now. What was once an image on a TV screen that put me to bed each night, is now the dream of my daily reality.
Where do you go to get your happy?