BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY

Photography of New York by Dave Beckerman

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Month: February, 2000

The Grumbling Begins

23 February, 2000 (19:17) | No comments

Well, inquiries continue to come in. How can I buy a print? I would like to see a catalogue. Do you ship to Spain? And I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. Seems like I need to take the next step and really put together a shopping cart and on-line credit processing. What about returns? What’s my policy if someone gets the picture and hates it? I’ve been writing back to people that if they send it back to me in its ‘original condition’ within 5 days of receiving it, I’ll refund their money. Seems fair, but where are they going to send it back to? My P.O. Box? Ain’t gonna fit. I find myself thinking about stuff that always annoyed me — like ‘there’s a restocking charge’ etc. Why should there be restocking charge? Crazy. I guess it for the time it takes me to walk to wherever its been delivered to, unpacking the print, and putting it back into my excellent storage system beneath the bed.

What Was That on Your Lap?

22 February, 2000 (19:17) | No comments

Almost forgot — saw something truly weird on the #6 train today. Get on the train, and notice an attractive, well-made up woman in business garb sitting down across from me. I’m standing near her, and notice something white, on her lap. I’m not really looking down at her. There’s just this sort of white blur. But after a few seconds, I wonder what that white thing is, and look down, and she is holding a full roll of toilet paper on her lap. Very symetrically supported by each hand on each side. The train is quite crowded, and no one knows what in the world to make of this. I look at her and smile. She smiles back knowingly. What she is knowing I don’t know. She has a large bag with her and easily could have put the toilet paper roll in the bag, but doesn’t. After a few minutes, she sniffles, and rips off a small piece of the roll and gently wipes her nose. Then looks up at the hard-stoney faces around her, and smiles again. This is too much. Is she doing some kind of performance art? What in the world is going on. Doesn’t make any sense. She looks up once and a while at these morning faces — and then resumes her position. My camera is in the bag. I was very tired this morning, and didn’t feel up to shooting on the train. But even if I had it out — who would believe this. What would she have done if I took the camera out of the bag? After a few stops, she calmly gets up, carrying the roll in front of her and strolls off. That’s it. Just another one of those things that happen, that are beyond my comprehension. Perhaps somethings are simply not meant to be understood.

Prints Sold for First Time

22 February, 2000 (19:13) |

Well this is a bit startling. During the last few weeks, requests for prints are coming in through this web-site. Something that I hoped for, but had no idea would actually happen. It brings up a lot of issues. Should I enable the site to take credit cards? All sorts of business issues — such as Return Policy. What’s fair? I think that for the most part the images on the web don’t really do the prints justice — and in many cases, the actual framing/cropping on the web is not the exact same thing as the final print. (Of course I think the final print is better, or I wouldn’t have done it that way, but do I need to go through every image again, and try and make the cropping etc. exactly match the final print?)

Yesterday, I was cursing myself because I had taken such bad technical notes on a few prints. And in one case, I had actually sold the only Artist Proof, and had to go back and recreate the printing from scratch.

Its not like there’s a flood of orders or anything. But mostly, of the hundred pictures or so that are on the site, I really only have extra prints of about 10%. In short, most prints are made to order, and if I get requests for 5 separate prints in one week, that forces me back into the darkroom — close the one window in the house with velcro and a thick black cloth, cut off the air supply, and prepare to sweat and asphixiate. The only thing that makes the process bareable is playing really loud music while I print (best printing music: Anything by Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and if in a more tranquil mood — Paul Simon). But as you expose the print, I use a beeper to count the seconds, and the music must be turned off.

For me, the printing process is the most painful. Not only because of all the physical limitations of the apartment, but ly because it is mentally exhausting. Another creative act.

I’ve been printing black and white since I was about fifteen and had a darkroom in the back bathroom in the Bronx. Those were by no means fine art prints. I had no idea what printing was about, except that it was exciting to watch the image appear in the Dektol. (Some of those very early prints still hang in my sister’s house. Technically awful. But they continue to last in the family.)

I probably made my first ‘Fine-Art’, technically adequate print about 8 years ago. (I think this was Benches). It had the full range of tones, had that luminous look that Ansel talks about.

Ansel describes it as a ‘performance’ of the negative. Well put. There is a little ballet with the fingers, with pieces of cards, with wire-hangers, with pinkies flapping. Bring this part down a bit. Move the whole thing to the right. Is there anything extraneous? Does it have the impact? What will it look like when it dries down (usually you need to account for this %10 dry-down effect in which high areas that may look completely without texture, develop texture when dry.)

The printing process, compared to the shooting style I’ve developed, are at complete ends of the psychological spectrum. Shooting is quick, and almost unconscious — at its best. (As my friend Dirk cautioned me, ‘You can’t try to be Zen-like — you just are’

Printing is more cool and calculated. An editing process. A re-evaluation. In short — ‘A Performance of the Negative’.

So the next time you walk by the Upper East Side of New York and see a middle-aged guy with his head sticking out the window gasping for air — its probably me, and I’ve just finished printing a large order.

What I’d Like To Do

13 February, 2000 (19:11) | No comments

I find that when I’m in relaxed, and open — almost anything I see seems worthy of a photograph. Anything that is not posed. I recently received an e-mail from a would be model, asking if I would do work for her portfolio. Although I suppose this is the fantasy for a lot of photographers, its never interested me. If I were to use a model, it would be to do the type of natural seeming shots that Douisenu?? got in trouble for. Ideas that simply are too difficult to really do candidly. Maybe someday I’ll try that — but I would not try to pass them off as authenticly candid shots. One idea I had was to take two models — man and a woman, and have them carry on an argument on a crowded subway platform. I was had a very excruciating argument with a girlfirend while waiting for a bus. And I guess would like to recreate this painful scene.

Those of you who have been following this diary know that I also work three days a week at an advertising agency as a computer programmer. One thing that has happened during the last month while I’ve been on this part-time schedule, is that the programming job has become even more painful, in the sense that I’m now more and more removed from what’s going on there. Not what I expected to happen.

I’m finally reading Angela’s Ashes — what a book. If I ever thought that I had it tough as a child, this makes my childhood seem like heaven. It’s one of those books that resonates, and shocks, and makes you laugh at the same time.I haven’t seen the film, but understand that a lot of the humor of the book has been left out — which I could understand, as its in the narrative voice, not the plot, that this is carried.

No doubt we were poor growing up in the South Bronx. My mom used to water down the soda without telling us to stretch it further. As kids, me and my sisters used to wonder why the Coke always tasted so much better at our friends house, until we found out we had been drinking diluted soda for years. And there were times when we went hungry. When there wasn’t enough food in the house. I can remember pressing my nose up against the steamy window of the delicatessen across the street from us. And sometimes, the owner would call me in and give me a free hot dog.

I’ve also had money — and sat in fancy restaurants where waiters hung around waiting to fill your glass with wine the second you took a sip. Or gone to the Lotus Sphere conference where millions were spent to impress us with the glories of the next version of Lotus Notes. These displays of ostentatiou — or what used to be conspicuous consumption — often made me ill.

I like to think that I both sides of life in America can be reflected in my work.

Subway Musings

4 February, 2000 (19:07) | No comments

3. Of course, its obvious that I have a fixation with the subway. Not only in New York, but anywhere. This has to be one of those weird fetishes, that I’ve always thought were so stupid in other people. Like the guy who collects stamps or the woman with all the dolls she ever owned on and is now a hundred years old. In general, I don’t collect things. At least not the physical objects. Nevertheless, the subway, being the underground, has associations for me — some of them mythic, like the River Hades (sp?) that you took to get to hell. And the ferryman with his 3-headed? dog. There were some of these myths that made impressions on me when I was in my more literate years. The sub-way. The underground - way. The place where the unconscious of the city flows (or doesn’t flow) and pulsates with its own pulse, like my pulse. And there is the Kafkaesque aspect of this underground. At least in New York. Or as Bill Cosby once said — ‘A Nut In Every Car’. And a lot of times that ‘Nut’ is the person running the train. Or perhaps the whole system.

In short — free, invisible access to the entire subway system for a few weeks. To be able to go where I want. Shoot what I want. And not be afraid, of either the police or the criminals that ride that mighty congested stream. To be able to visit and properly — perhaps with the view camera and lights — shoot the closed and abandoned stations. To walk through parts of the 2nd Avenue tunnel (which was built, but will it ever be continued…)

And the greatest dream of subway invisibility, would be to be able to shoot the faces from these trains that often haunt me — with freedom — and with framing (not from the hip) in panoramic styles with a lovely medium format camera. Just bunches and bunches of these long, medium format negatives that match the feeling of strips of people that you have on the Number 6 train.

Photo Wish List

3 February, 2000 (19:06) | No comments

Ok. So here is my list of subjects — themes, that I would most like to shoot if I could be invisible for a day in this order:

1. Any fancy Korean run fingernail cleaning joint on either the upper west- or east side of Manhattan. These places, in case you’ve not been there are a combination of extreme tastefulness, and the grating of cuticles. I’ve always been interested in places where women become more beautiful — or at least more physically acceptable. I’m probably treading dangerous p.c. water here — but I can assure you that men’s hair cutting places which might be equally interesting, are nowhere as luxurious. So there you have it. Something that will probably never happen. Plus, even with permission would be difficult to shoot.

2. A day in the life of a Garbage Truck and its crew. I would love to follow a NYC Garbage truck crew around for a few weeks — probably on a motorcycle. I’m especially interested in a shot of the guy hanging on to the back of the truck, which has a slow enough shutter speed to show the motion on the side, but want to be moving at same speed as subject so that he is not blurred.