Today is my birthday. And the greatest gift I could receive, besides the good health of my children, family and dog… is the ability to walk around, shoot the odd, interesting and beautiful… and then put it to words.
Long ago, when I lived in Manhattan, I’d visit and capture many of the New York Sky Lions. This past weekend, I visited once again in the frigid cold and said hello to my high roaring friends as well as greeted the many characters, sights and sounds that make New York City the best ride there is.
I was in search of The New York Peanut Butter Company to stock up on some Mighty Maple, when the cold forced me into many unexpected warm places. Along the way, there was this tiny florist filled with the oddest flowers. I grabbed a couple of shots of those strange stems.
The hunt for Mighty Maple continued only to find that the store didn’t open till later on that day. Behind me was the metaphor of remembering how to roam those streets. It’s like riding a bike that you never forget, just on this day it was a cold bike ride.
If you know Marshall’s and TJ Maxx, then you want to know Century 21. You want to know them for two reasons. One, is that Century 21 is like the grand-daddy Disneyland of all off-price clothing retail stores. Complete with endless floors and racks and rows and lines to the cash register. The second reason is how it’s located right across the street from Ground Zero.
Where two buildings came down, four amazing towers rose up in their place. In 2001, I went to this exact spot, a few weeks after the towers got hit. I can’t describe the ferocious feeling of horrible offense, the depressed destruction, sooty smell or the floating ash snow that continued to fall for weeks… but I can describe a place where I never expected to see spring back with such vitality.
I think there’s some bible story about this guy who built a well in the desert. And the controllers of that time who destroyed his well in an attempt to force him to comply with the mass control; to pay the price and drink the public water like everyone else. Each time his well got destroyed, he would go further out into the desert and dig another.
And each time they destroyed the new well, he would just go further out and dig deeper for another. Demonstrating determination and the fortitude to recover, no matter what.
Four new icons where two once stood that say this nation will never be beaten, never give up and will always be willing to go further and dig deeper in order to bounce back bigger than before.
Next stop was the Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue Festival. I decided to spare the sight of the pig on the spit and just move the story along, passed the Pork Party to the Rolls Royce Showroom that was located across the street from the Swine Shindig.
I squinted at the sticker on these cars as I was curious to know the price of The Spirit of Ecstasy. With all the commas, zeros and decimals, my brain wanted to read $350,000,000 though I found out later these four-wheeled chariots that get a person from point a to point b… are a mere $350k.
The Spirit of Ecstasy is the name given to the hood ornament found on the front of the Rolls Royce. I also find it in wandering, writing and capturing the flood of bizarre that washes over me each day.
I continued to walk through the dark, frigid streets and somehow found myself in the wholesale flower district and stopped into a little shop of horrors to get warm. Now I shoot a lot of dumb flowers all the time, for no good reason and without ultimate purpose… but have always been curious to find one colorful in a certain way, that it looked better in black and white.
As a designer, I’m always looking for the rationale behind every creative decision. As an artist, I’m always looking for the opportunity to express preference for no good reason other than because I just liked it. This guy below, I walked past from across the street and had to snap the shot. I just thought the lights and shadows were sweet and the scene was timeless.
Below, another nostalgic friend who I dubbed, “The BatGoyle”. Years ago, I collected many mushy and fuzzy shots of it and other high-flying statues, as I would shoot the shaky frieze. But this time I deftly pressed the shutter and composed the shot giving it lots of room to sit and scare the crap out of any evil spirits in the vicinity.
And then there is the proverbial, “what are they looking at” scenario. Down an alley, some folks were shooting a picture of something that I had to investigate. When I walked over, I too had to own the towering black zig-zag wearing the razor wire boa.
Down the street from countless coffee shops, restaurants and bookstores stood this odd little store front promoting Valentines Day for Men. The sign said, “A Valentines Day to Kill For” and the merchandising window display was a murder scene that obviously took place in this bathroom. Blood or something red was spattered everywhere.
If getting the pass-er by’s attention with a show stopping offering of skin care and grooming supplies, was their objective, they certainly made the cut.
I stopped into several bookstores and reluctantly viewed the photos of great masters. They were undeniably extraordinary. I don’t like photo galleries and I don’t like reading those gorgeous photo books. It puts my brain on fire and get frustrated not knowing what they were thinking, what they were trying to communicate, where did their inspiration come from at that moment.
Deep, deep down… I’m unimpressed. I see their masterpieces as irrelevant to me and acknowledge their greatness but am painfully motivated to find my own path to taking one’s breath away and freezing their site on one of the images I just happen to capture.
Despite my frustration with them doing what I think I could easily do… I remember what I saw and leaped out into the Manhattan street and looked for my own timeless images that would someday appear in a book, that would cause someone elses angst and admiration.
And so I begin my quest. Torn between learning from great masters and someday wanting to be a master myself. I recall the words of the Zen Master, as he placed his order with the hot dog vendor… “make me one with everything”.
I patrolled the streets looking for images that looked like they could appear in some over-sized book, with large shiny pages, sitting on a plywood table top in the back of basement bookstore bearing the name of some obscure word, run by a pretty girl with thick woolen hair wearing an over-sized man’s sweater.
I patrolled the streets in search of story. A sense of place as they say. Something that would draw a viewer into my humble frame in order to investigate my frozen moments.
I connected with the strange and obscure and invited them to come out and play.
And I sought to capture the sadness of the impoverished masses sharing the frigid road we all walked on that day.
And no matter how hard I sought to be that somber, solitude driven, black turtle neck wearing photographer, my stone friends peered down at me from the roof tops and collaborated with those heads stuck in keystones above archways. They all chuckled and shouted “shoot me”.
On this day, NYC was indeed Icy and its throngs of homeless street folk found shelter in every warm shadow that was cast.
It was so cold in fact on this day, that the coats of dogs were not warm enough to sustain them. Four legged fashion broke through to a whole new level at the dog parks where over protective owners shielded their pooches from the frigid elements.
Even the flying rodents had to take pause to watch the furry friend’s freezing fashion show.
But pigeons were not the only thing sitting on fences. It seems that the artist gangs who turn garbage into art had been busy at work beautifying this particular neighborhood.
I’m not exactly sure what was being created but it was bright and colorful and made me smile and shoot away.
And then it got too cold again for us to be outside and shelter we sought. Endless odd coffee houses filled with beautiful people and pets, once they were unwrapped from layers of hats, gloves and scarves.
And then… back out to the streets once again. Everywhere and anywhere in New York City there is art happening. Whether it’s garbage on the tops of fences or impossible graffiti on bleached brick walls… every turn holds a new exhibit to view, a new gallery to enter.
For some, the streets grant fame, fortune and discovery. For others, the streets take all a person has and then eats you alive.
For others the streets of New York are nothing more than a place to walk the dog. A place a person has always lived and can’t imagine living anywhere else.
And others still, the streets become a blank canvas to be painted on or an empty stage awaiting the next freaky performance. As Freud would say, “sometimes a street is just a street” that provides jobs and the spark of endless work to keep it all together.
There’s something for everyone and everything for someone.
New York is a great place to visit if you can keep your wits about you. New York is a great place to live in, when beauty, art, talent and business combine… or just when insanity becomes the norm. Regardless if you’re a visitor or a resident, it’s always nice to finally find a warm place to rest and go home in the end.