The roof on my 8 family 4-story Pre-War Apartment in Crown Heights has been a place to garden, eat and chill for the last couple years. We used to garden in the huge, un-used backyard space but found that it’s north facing position with some big trees didn’t allow enough light to grow food ( it also was a mosquito breeding ground as well as had rabid ghosts from the dog fighting they used to do back there in the late 1980’s). So, I took the garden sky bound a couple years back. One flight up, its been a a great source of pleasure in a myriad of ways. A little green space in the concrete jungle goes a long way.
The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens had their Cherry Blossom Festival last weekend and the Cosplay (costume play) that transpired was much more vibrant and colorful than the trees themselves (they actually have yet to bloom). I wandered around in jaw dropped amazement at this sub-cultures breadth and was shocked to see how its practitioners sat so comfortable in what seemed to be such a strange skin. The first day I was delighted to watch the proliferation of obese kids with bad acne dressed in neon blazing cartoon character regalia make the BBG their stomping grounds. The gardens were thick with kids playing handheld multi-player video games, posing and kibitzing with others also dressed as their favorite characters and watching them collide with the Japanese locals and tourists alike who were came simply to get family photos under the one or two flowering trees was a joy to behold. But, as I slowly discovered and going back the next day began to fully understand, there was something much deeper going on. Embraced by “geek culture”, dressing up as a favorite Manga (Japanese comic books), Anime (Japanese video cartoons) and other characters not only is a serious hobby and passion for some but, more interestingly, a bridge for peoples with social anxiety/awkwardness/Autism to belong to a like-minded community and a vehicle to help socialize with the seemingly unfriendly world around them. Charles Battersby, a long time cosplay practitioner, professional writer and Video Game Journalist noted that many of his fellow cosplayers self-identity as autistic or “Special” and said, “Cosplaying requires obsessive attention to detail and an encyclopedic knowledge of fictional universes. People who have those qualities for whatever reason often use cosplaying events as a way to come out of their shells and meet people who share their interests.”
An article in a local paper about this years event profiled a woman who had this to say about the effect cosplay has had on her life, “Before cosplay, I didn’t have a life besides schoolwork and just going to bed,….After cosplay, I had more friends, I got out of my house more and my parents actually saw me smiling”. Gender fluidity also prevails in the community and many people dressed up as characters who don’t share their own gender. On that subject, Battersby informed me that its the specific qualities of a character one may relate to and if an affinity develops gender be damned. A recent documentary about men who like to dress as characters from the cartoon My Little Pony chronicled this sub-culture and brought this unique sub-culture further into light. There is a review and discussion article about it here. And in this NYT article , from 2011 special series about children living with autism, cosplay is mentioned about young people with autism navigating the world of love.
Passover on Monday night was pretty incredible. Intimate gathering of 10 people lead by an ex-Chasid turned globetrotting DJ, great crowd, raucous singing, bottomless wine, delicious food, topped off by a tipsy daredevil bike ride with an old Jackson Hole snowboarding buddy in for the weekend and $1 slices. Signing autographs as Bruce Willis to drunken Bed-Stuy residents at 3am is always fun.
Tuesday nights sedar was a whole other dose of bitter herbs. My good friends hosted at their amazing space around the corner from me and I invited an unknown entity to experience a Crown Heights hipster/ex-Chabadnic sedar and it may of been a bit too much for her. She over did it on multiple fronts and boom…fainted, boom, smacked her head and then, boom, my nights transformed. After 20 minutes of deliberation, my night goes from the 10 plagues of Egypt and wild retelling of the Jews exodus from Slavery to an ambulance run staffed by Hasidic jews to a Brooklyn hospital. I made the best of the affair and probably had too much fun photographing these strange environs and talking to people who were sadly languishing away in this strange thing which is the modern American medical system. One man had been waiting 11 hours in the emergency room to be treated. My legitimate entry into this fairly private world of hospitals gave me the opportunity to make a small series of images on my iPhone, my first.
And, just this week, my photography class was featured in an article in an Australian newspaper. The reporter wanted to learn techniques to make better photographs while being a tourist. Here is the link
From the article:
FIVE MORE EXPERT TIPS ON PHOTOGRAPHY
PHOTOGRAPH THE PEOPLE
New York is home to eight million souls . . . photograph them! Yes, the architecture is incredible, but it’s the people, the mix of classes and ethnicities and their proximity to you that makes NYC unique. Capture real moments.
GET CREATIVE WITH PERSPECTIVE
When photographing, don’t just walk around and shoot. Investigate a subject, walk around it to find the best angle, crouch down or try a high vantage point.
DO A SERIES
Come up with a concept for a series of thematically linked photographs. For example, hot dog vendors, apartments with a ½ in their address, etc. It’s more fun and has more impact than boring tourist shots. Working on a series gets you thinking.
SHOOT WITH A CONSCIOUS EYE
Interesting juxtapositions of life are all around you. Keep your eyes peeled. If you are looking for interesting stuff you’ll start to see it. See that Muslim woman handing out flyers for erotic massage? The homeless man on the mobile phone? The glass skyscraper towering behind the 250-year-old church? Think about what you are seeing and what it means.
Try to make visually complex images by layering images with content, whether conceptually or aesthetically. The Statue of Liberty is beautiful, but a monkey could shoot it. Put it in context with other stuff – a sunburnt family from Nebraska, or some recent migrants who are emotional as they see the statue for the first time.
“TAKE a dash of “Mad Max,” add a pinch of “Jackass,” sprinkle both over a wet batter of art students, bicycle messengers, anarchist welders and militant anti-globalist vegans, then let the mixture bake for, say, a decade in the oven of Brooklyn, and the resulting dish should taste a little like the Black Label Bike Club.” from the New York Times article in 2011.
This club hosts an annual event called “Bike Kill” and its simply nuts. “The annual Black Label event called Bike Kill, which one member, a disc jockey known professionally as D. J. Dirtyfinger, described as “a full day of freedom, via mayhem, on the street.” With jousting competitions and displays of bicycle finery, Bike Kill is a “pure celebration of being creative with bikes and on bikes,” he said, adding, “It can’t really be explained — you have to be there.” from the same NYT story.
I missed most the event but shot a small survey of these strange creations this sub-culture builds and ride. For some beautiful shots of the event, here you go.
For some more badass images on the antics of this raucous affair, here is a great link.
Sven Gustafason and I did a story for HOUR Magazine on one of the largest and most historical public parks in Detroit and its current iteration and rebirth. Here is a post with more photos and an updated and more in-depth version of Sven’s story.
To me, there might be no better microcosm for the Detroit experience and the city’s crazy historical arc than Palmer Park. At once a postcard of pastoral beauty and rich history and a tawdry, occasionally violent tableau of a city come unglued, the park exerts a powerful pull.
Made up of 296 acres of sweeping meadows, tennis courts, a defunct public pool (recently remade as a splash park thanks to a private grant from a local auto supplier), a pond with lighthouse, an historic and shuttered log cabin, and a mystic forest dotted with several-hundred-year-old hardwood trees, Palmer Park is defined as much by its current and former inhabitants as its physical features.
America’s first mile of paved concrete roadway was laid alongside the park, on Woodward Avenue near Detroit’s northern border with its more affluent northern suburbs. The park owes its name and very existence to the generosity and civic-mindedness of U.S. Sen. Thomas W. Palmer, a real estate and lumber baron. Over time, it has seen the gamut of big-city tabloid fodder: periods of violence and decay, a mass duck poisoning, homicides, an exclusive shuffleboard club, a gay scene that once included thriving residential and business districts, and a log-cabin streetcar shelter torn down to accommodate the widening of Woodward and the automobile.
Today, Palmer Park is surrounded by some of the city’s wealthiest, most architecturally stunning and stable neighborhoods — and also some of its most poor and blighted. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, grew up in an ornate mansion, now demolished, in the nearby Palmer Woods neighborhood, a place of curbless, winding streets, towering trees and palatial English Tudors architectural wonders. Yet on any weekend night, prostitutes, many of them transgendered, line the residential streets directly across from the park in force. The neighborhood directly to the east suffers from stunning levels of abandonment and poverty and all the ills that accompany them in Detroit: arson, crime, blight, illegal dumping.
My first encounters with the park were inauspicious: first when I drove past a man who upturned the contents of an entire plastic trash bag at the edge of the woods and, years later, when I ran past a squalid homeless shantytown deep in the eerily quiet woods. People I interviewed for our story in HOUR Detroit told me about the dark years when transgendered hustlers mugged their johns for drug money, or how its gay-scene denizens ran check or credit card scams to buy new clothing to try and out-fabulous everyone else. The park grew increasingly violent starting in the 1980s, when many of its gay residents began to flee. Many of the gay men I spoke to spoke of how the gay scene there had become fractured; violent incidents do still occur.
“People stopped caring the way they used to,” said Kelvin Sellers, a massage therapist who’s been staging volleyball games there every night for nearly 25 years. He now describes the motley group of volleyball players who gather there from far and wide as “one big family.”
Some 15 years years ago, I set up an appointment to view a unit listed for rent in the historic apartment district near the park. I turned right around upon arrival, having found a neighborhood largely gone to seed, its stunning apartment buildings in obvious decline.
In the years since, I’ve gotten to know the place much better. Now I routinely run and bike through the park and take my kids there for festivals organized by the group People For Palmer Park. The forest is awe-inspiring, filled with massive, majestic oaks, beech and other hardwood trees — some of them classified officially or unofficially as “old growth” — and the meadows bring a welcome bucolic respite to an area sorely underserved by green spaces. In recent years there have been marked improvements to the network of trails, making Palmer Park the only such parkland with actual wooded, dirt trails for many many miles.
As we reported earlier this year, Palmer Park is seeing a renaissance. Crime is down. Tennis academy classes and little league games fill the tattered courts and baseball diamonds with activity. Volunteers have cleared brush and improved trails that criss-cross the woods. It feels much safer and cleaner than it has in years. Architects are raising money to seal off Sen. Palmer’s old log cabin to the elements and raccoons and one day reopen it in his memory, as a place to hold events and hold children’s storytelling.
“I was amazed what good shape it was in,” said Jason Fligger, one of the architects working to fix the place up. “I was expecting it to need a lot more work. The old hand irons were still sitting in the fireplace when we first opened it up. There’s something about a log cabin that people seem to respect or it just doesn’t interest people. It somehow doesn’t stir their destructive side. They go in there to check it out but they don’t damage it.”
In the apartment district, Kathy Makino-Leipsitz is getting close to reopening the Palmer Lodge, a four-story Tudor Revival apartment building and one of 11 big apartment buildings she plans to rehabilitate with her husband. Workers have recently dug a below-ground patio to make room for what she hopes can be a bar, cafe or bistro to front Woodward and welcome people to the park just steps away.
At the same time, security guards employed by her development company told of unbelievable levels of criminal activity in the neighborhood.
“I pray we can get the neighborhood to where people wanna come here,” Makino-Leipsitz says. “That’s the one thing we don’t have control over.”
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I am not going to go as far as to pronounce these “Equivalents” as the great Alfred Stieglitz did in 1925, equating different cloud shapes with different human emotions (see video below). But since college I have been shooting them and as we all know, there is something epic and transcendental about them. For me, they always seem to bring about feelings of my mortality, of the cosmos, thoughts bigger then myself to say the least.
These were shot on an evening in July this summer from my roof in Crown Heights. Minimal post-processing was done on the images. They were shot with a Canon G9.
A cool video featuring Georgia O’Keefe about Stieglitz’s Equivalents.
Dedicated to Lola.
Now that summer has arrived and we are at a nice, comfortable remove from winters chilly embrace, its seems to be a good time to reflect on its beauty.
I shot these images last winter over New Years weekend. Our family cabin, in Waters, Michigan, about 3.5 hours North of Detroit, is a nice A-Frame tucked into some woods a short walk from Guthrie Lakes. Just upstream from the lakes is a pond encircled by a broken down, rarely used nature trail. Its boggy habitat, with a couple seemingly abandoned beaver dens, lots of dead trees caused by the expanding waters and meandering streams. I have been walking this trail since 1985 and even after so many years, its still a place of great enchantment, of stillness, silence and solitude. This winter day, the temps were hovering in the teens and outfitted in waterproof and warm winter gear, I traipsed around the lake for the afternoon, knee deep in snow in many places, pausing occasionally upon a fallen tree to roll a smoke and even, unabashedly, assault warblers with my own. I shot 24 frames.
These images were shot on a Mamiya C330, a medium format film camera from the 1950’s. It shoots square, has amazing close up abilities because of its bellows and the lens, a wide angle, has superb sharpness. These were shot on a single roll of 220 B&W Kodak Plus X film.
Popped up out of the subway the other day at 125th.street in Harlem and was assaulted by so much amazing culture. Incredible up there. Going back with film.