OXIDATION ON VACATION
I had the opportunity to take a few days off and choose a little vacation activity that was without compromise. For some a beach and a book does the trick. For others sweating and skiing might be a happy getaway. For me, walking and shooting is my meditation, so that’s what I did. This past weekend I lucked out on the gritty streets of Manhattan with a glorious 50 degree weekend in February. I walked and shot till I couldn’t take another step or store another pixel.
My recent preoccupation with rust had me more than a little distracted as the Big Apple, the center of the universe, the home of the best of the best and the worst of the worst… offered plenty of peeling old and worn among the appealing new beauty. So I landed at Kennedy, dropped the bags at the hotel and hit the street while there was a bit of overcast light in the sky.
My first stop was to the usual garbage that seems to endlessly overflow throughout the streets of New York City. I imagined a waiter at one of the many delightful eating establishments came to my photographic table and offer me the special: a plate of sooty black tar slush with a luscious piece of orange on the side.
What I saw was soft marbled mountains of sparkling ice set off by a spot of bright textured color. Something so atrocious to others was gorgeous to me.
On every street in Manhattan there are treasure chests filled with priceless jewels. Some refer to them as dumpsters. I found the most extraordinary rusty hooks with the bright white vinyl caps still intact.
Also in abundance on the $24 island of rock are loading docks. On every street that has a monument stretching to the sky there is also a gateway leading to its bowels below. In the right place at the right time, one get’s to blend cosmetic office building marble with corner guards leading to scars and scrapes. Among us rust hunters, this kind of visual combination is a rare find.
Years ago as a resident of the island and with a less adequate camera, I befriended all the Gargoyles, Lion Heads and Archimage I could find, seen on the tops of the skyscrapers. Returning to Manhattan this past weekend, I was happy to see frieze friends again, but now I was able to appreciate them more clearly and grasp the sharp essence of their protective image.
“Excuse me waiter… can you bring me a plate of rusty macaroni and if you could put out your cigarette in the corner… that would be lovely.” I stood and stared at this freckled nest of noodles and shot it from a dozen angles. Little puppy links hugging each other in a massive litter embrace. I imagined this one up on my wall at home about 6′ high and 8′ wide.
Down the street was the famous Post Office located across from Penn Station. Its massive row of columns on the front diminished the long iron gates along the side. In the center was a perfect square of iron against a sharply cut wood post. I marveled at the perfectly centered hole exactly in the middle, the precise placement of the washer and silver second washer nut and bolt emerged from the middle. My OCD soared as the perfectly straight and level nut needed no correction from my mental wrench.
I ducked into B&H Photo to blast myself with toys and knowledge and after I was complete and gushing. I relaunched onto the street, ready and loaded to shoot. Right outside the store was this dude standing like some kind of photo ghost. I imagined that he actually was there from another time and that was his spot for his spirit. For decades his essence has been standing there holding his old camera, appearing only to the oddest of photo buffs.
Me getting my rust on must have made me uniquely qualified to see him and just after I took the shot, I checked the image on the monitor found on the back of the camera and when I looked back over to where he was, he had turned into a pair of pigeons and flew away.
Wandering back to the east side I strolled through Penn Station. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to catch a guy picking his nose, another sleeping on an escalator and a cop on the way over to wake him up. I call this one, “Three Men in a Garden”.
A little deeper into the station I got lucky again to capture a squatting homeless man followed by a praying Hasidic. How does one describe the priceless thrill of mingling with grimy people and rustic texture? Manhattan for me is like being on the carnival ride or being onstage with all the characters who pose for photos in my path. Oddly in this frantic city, I feel completely relaxed, invisible and anonymous.
I’m not sure if the lure is the feeling of being there on the ride, among the characters I shoot or the feeling of not being anyone at all.
When I left Penn Station I walked into an ocean of yellow taxis where I saw a very small man in a fur hat, with the most orange beard carrying the brightest blue bag.
Then around the corner there was a giant and his girlfriend shopping.
Every once in a while when I wander and shoot, I get blessed with a welding shot. I don’t know… it’s just great to stumble upon a well protected steel worker making colorful sparks.
And then the glorious rust get’s in the way again. Bright blue crowd walls stacked on a thick rusty sheet of iron makes for some great compliments. Sneaking up on rusty iron doors to catch the bent metal amid the graffiti. Delicious peeling fire escapes, wonderfully assertive broken pipes, drippy diamonds of rusty dabs followed by swollen blemishes of rust oozing from fleshy concrete. Crescendo with corroded curves and protruding pipes in hollow holes followed by brilliant barbed wire against a bright blue sky… and with all that, you get the picture.
Despite the hunt for rust, one can’t ignore the melting ice exploding on silhouetted scaffolding in the sunlight; it looked like mist being born to me.
Walking through parks to get to the other side of town in search of that raunchy rust gave me more characters to shoot than anyone can ever dream up. The pigeon man is supposedly famous for his relationship with those flying rats, and on the other side of the park a concert was seducing frozen listeners worshiping the infrequent bit of sun in winter with classical music that actually drew tears.
Children danced in gold shoes while students celebrated in their best Hello Kitty Headbands. While all this was going on above ground, underneath, subway riders stole a snooze.
On the other side of the park was a plethora of perky poles and pipes riddled with ridiculous red rust on rails and rounds revealed through rocks.