Sept 2, 2001

I don’t have anything new to put here, so here are some excerpts from e-mails received pertaining to the Agora show — the first one is from my friend Andy who hitchhiked with me through Canada when we were both 19 and who I hadn’t seen in 10 years.

Andy writes

“Good quote by Jacques Barzun discussing the romantic movement and imagination in particular:

Out of the known or knowable, Imagination connects the remote, reinterprets the familiar, or discovers hidden realities. Being a means of discovery, it must be called ‘Imagination of the real.’

“These qualities pertain to the photos you chose for the show, especially reinterpreting the familiar.

“We are born romantics, you and I. I think if you decided to press the Travelocity button and did the night ferry crossing to St. John again, you would still see a necklace of light on the bosom of darkness… [One of us had written a poem that night about the crossing to St. John comparing the lights in the darkness to a shining necklace... I thought that I had written it, but Andy thinks he wrote it.]

Dreamers never die.”

* * *

These excerpts are from J.C. who visited the gallery a day or two after the show:

“I went to see your prints at the Agora Gallery… I got off at the 5th floor first. After looking around, I finally saw your orphan print. Too bad it was displayed in such a poor location, it looked like an interesting print. The girl at the desk on the 5th floor mentioned that more of your work was upstairs. we went to 6 and I really enjoyed your prints. The detail in Promenade blew me away! There is something special about a photograph taken with a view camera. I was glad that I didn’t come on Thursday night. Although it would have been nice to have met you, today I was able to look at your prints undisturbed; the gallery was empty.”

[Afterwards he walked outside and saw other street vendors selling prints where the same vantage point was used to shoot the Promenade]

“… At another street vendor selling B&W photos, they had their Promenade
print. After seeing yours, their print looked terrible. The more we looked
at your print, the more ‘little’ details we saw. It is a very beautiful print.”

* * *
In those days — Promenade, Marsh etc. I used to feel that the very good prints used the tonal range to reveal some secret, or more exactly to draw you in to some secret world. It was the same world we saw every day — but good prints would reveal something. The tonal range, from the edge of blackness to the edge of visibility in the high tones were on the verge of imagination. I was always fascinated by fog, and storms, because of the way that they through a veil over the ordinary. I have seen ‘Turtle Pond’ in Central Park hundreds of times. But the only print that made it into my imagination, was that day that they were firing cannons across the lake for July 4th — and the mist obscured the Pagoda across the pond. Images that through a veil over the so-called real world, might reveal another world. The world of your own imagination.

I have felt the same thing about Shadows! As if the shadow in ‘Steps of the Met’ is the alter-ego the fellow walking up the stairs. And I haven’t changed all that much. I realize now that when I was walking around taking pictures of ‘stoops’ and corners of broken down edifices — it was the shadows cast that fascinated me. In ‘Flat Iron and Equitable’ it is the brooding form of the Flat Iron on the right against the barely visible lit tower of the Equitable building that fascinated.

The only thing that has changed through the years is that sometimes I feel that I can achieve the same effect without the help of a storm, or nature. ‘Strange Highway’ or ‘Man Blanket’. The mystery of the real. Or the ”Imagination of the real.’

* * *

In terms of the history of photography, I wonder whether this isn’t really a throwback to the old Pictorialists that were so disliked by Adams and Weston (although Weston had his brush with pictorialism). The guys who liked to photograph everything through veils — and tried to emulate painters. One of my latest pictures — Tree and Sprinkler was actually a conscious (sp?) attempt to emulate Seurat…

* * *

9-3-01

I think it has taken a few days for me to recover mentally from the gallery show. And now I’m ready to vent a little. I really wasn’t sleeping well for a day or two before the show, and didn’t sleep well for a day or two after the show.

My feelings this morning are about the great chain of money and artist and how they can embrace each other or spiral down into oblivion together.

Truthfully, it often seems to me that it is very easy to tell someone how wonderful or beautiful their work is — but these same people often don’t realize the connection between that thought, and buying something. In other words, by actually purchasing a print, you are not only paying a very real compliment — but you are helping the artist to create new works. You vote with your wallet.

So everyone walks away from the opening with a grand feeling of having seen Dave as a semi-center of attraction. How many people walked up to me and said ‘How proud the were of me.’ But let us speak of other things besides boosts to the other’s ego — let’s speak of brass tacks, and farthings…

Fee for the privledge of hanging 5 prints — $1850
Other fees for cards, etc. — $200
Total Cost: say $2000

$2000 to have a bunch of people look at 5 pictures. Now one picture sold — and my guess is that is all that will sell. The gallery takes a 40% commission from $600 so I get $360.

$2000 - $360 = $1640.

That means that at the very least — this little show has cost me $1640. I could rent an apartment for a month and show all my pictures there for that sort of money.

So what are you really paying for? Exposure? I have no idea who other than my own friends and family were there. Were there any art critics there? Any photography collectors? If anyone like that was there, they didn’t introduce themselves. I suspect that this was just a chance to get out of the house for a night and say that you were at an opening reception.

(btw — thank you to one or two people who bought smaller prints off the web after seeing the prints at the show. i need to put that into the equation.)

In short — this sort of thing is worth it the first time — to get the experience. But next time, I would never pay an upfront fee, and I would make sure that I could have more space! Maybe, as a friend suggested, I should get a couple of other photographers together and organize our own show. Sort of feels like those old Mickey Rooney movies? Hey! Let’s put on a show!

* * *

9-4-01

The journal seems to be filling with quotes from emails lately, probably because I don’t feel I have anything much to say. Here is part of an email from D.P. in Great Britain. I sent him ‘Card Players’ which he had ordered, and then as a surprise threw in ‘Bike’ on RC paper. I think I like to put in an extra print for the overseas buyer because I feel they are paying for the postage, and an unmounted RC print doesn’t weigh much and is a nice surprise.

“Thanks for the prints, safely received today. It was kind of you to send me the extra print.
I can see why you like it [Bike] , the quality is superb. Interesting to find that it was printed on RC paper - I don’t think you could improve it on any other paper. Having been making prints for more years than I care to think about, I have used most papers in my time. I have always been sceptical about the resin vs fibre argument. It is my contention that the material is not important, it is the skill and care of the printer that matters. Top quality work can be produced on RC papers as well as fibre…”

The only real reason that I switched recently from RC paper to Fiber paper, even for the ‘Open Editions’ is that I think the fiber paper will last longer, and I like the finish better. I also think the blacks are a bit richer. But it is absolutely true that you can make very fine prints on RC paper (so long as it’s not that thin glossy junk they give you at the local one hour lab) and it does save a lot of time in terms of processing and washing.

It’s funny because it’s such a big thing in the fine art world — are those prints fiber or RC? But for the average person, I’m not really sure they would know the difference.

Here’s something that my friend B.Q. suggested — he thought some people might be interested in seeing my contact sheets. Why? I’m not sure, but he seemed to think it might give people an idea of how I shoot.

Well, why not. Recently I’ve been scanning my negatives in order to make contact sheets rather than doing them in the darkroom. I don’t have the process down exactly because I don’t like to put the negatives in the negative holder (they can get dust on them, and I can’t fit an entire roll into the negative carrier) — so I lie them down on the flatbed, but set the thing to use the negative transparency unit. In short, the contacts don’t lie entirely flat and are slightly bowed, but good enough for me to have an idea of what is worth doing a print of.

So here’s a recent one: 9-03-01b

The date is the day the film was processed by me. The notes on the top are about how it was developed. The problem with showing contact sheets on the web is that the file size would need to be very big in order for you to real see anything much in them.

3:40pm — There must have been something in my coffee this morning. I knocked out 28 fiber prints which are now crowding the washer in the bathroom. And three or four are new things. There’s one of the pigeons flying around me that actually has some character to it. I’ve tried this shot about fifty times through the years, but this is the first print that has a nice pattern or randomness and there’s the train tracks in the background leading to nowhere. Yes. I like this one. Let’s see what it looks like when it dries.

Here’s another contact sheet where I’ve actually printed something from it that is on the site — #9 — Wall and Pipe.

* * *

9 PM — Ordered a lightweight folding table. This is part of my new scheme. Stay tuned…

* * *

9-5-01

Ed Begley in Twelve Angry Men

“You’re like everyone else. You think too much, you get mixed up. Know what I mean?”

* * *

9-6-01

The time is fast approaching when I will need to decide whether to return from my unpaid leave of absence to the dark world of corporate advertising. In point of fact, that date is etched in stone — Sept. 21st. True, there was a flurry of sales at the end of August — but they petered out. Coming as they did through the web site, I remember writing at the time that since I had no idea why they were happening then, they’d probably die off and they have.

You know, the site itself, between processing charges for the credit cards, and my isp and my nice cable modem, costs about $150 per month. Just to pay for that means that I’ve got to gross at least $225 per month.

Remember the last scene in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’? Butch (Newman) and Sundance (Redford) are badly shot up, and are reloading — and about to go out and face the Mexican federales? And Butch tries to tell Sundance that he has another scheme. Sundance is fed up with Butch’s schemes. But finally asks what it is, and Butch talks about Australia. They speak English there. And, oh, the place is filled with banks, just waiting to be robbed.

Well, I’ve got another scheme that has been in the works for a while. It’s not Australia — it’s the Met. For years, I’ve been toying with the idea of setting up a stand in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue. And now — as the Gallery shows and the web have not panned out — at least not enough to live off — this idea came back to me. It happened on one of those mornings, as I was returning from Central Park. I noticed a fellow photographer selling prints outside the Museum. I remembered his face from almost five years ago when I had first contemplated doing this. M. is selling truly beautiful fiber prints — not framed — but in archival mats. And he told me that it was quite possible to make a living doing this. That recently, a court battle over the rights of artists to sell on the streets of NYC had been won — that it had been declared an expression of free speech (possibly by the Supreme Court) — and that nowadays, the cops were not hassling you at all, so long as you were the artist.

So, that’s the idea behind the aluminum table. And now I’m about to embark on a big printing session, geared towards this locale. I should be ready either this weekend, or next at the latest.

Off we go into the darkroom to knock out another twenty 8 x 10′s of Promenade, and one or two other prints that would be popular with tourists. I need to find out before the 21st deadline, whether this idea is feasible — but I will tell you that if I have the least bit of luck, I think it will work out.

* * *

Transcript from recent phone conversation between me and an old friend.

Friend: Hi. I didn’t think you were going to pick up.

Me: Why?

Friend: You know, you’ve got that caller i.d. and I always show up as unknown or something.

Me: I figured I’d take a chance that you weren’t a salesman.

Friend: Actually, I was thinking of trying to sell you something.

Me: Forget it, buddy.

Friend: Actually, just called to say ‘hi’.

Me: Hi.

Friend: I’m just looking at your home page.

Me: Yes?

Friend: Something looks wrong.

Me: Hmmm.

Friend: Did you know that the fonts are mixed up? You are using different fonts on the home page.

Me: I didn’t know that.

Friend: Aren’t you using a style sheet.

Me: Yep.

Friend: Hmm. That’s strange, it seems like the fonts near the ‘New Picture’ area are different.

Me: I’ll tell you something, I could care less.

Friend: Also, when you click on the picture it should take you to the same picture in the new area.

Me: Why. Who says so?

Friend: (Laughing) You know it should.

Me: If you want to see that picture, you’re going to have to hunt for it.

Friend: That’s crazy.

Me: Hey, I had to walk the streets of NYC for 50 years to find that manhole cover…you could click a couple of times to find it.

Friend: Oh, there it is. I really like that one. And the one with the flag is good too. I didn’t think you were political.

Me: I’m not.

Friend: But its a picture of a flag.

Me: Yep.

Friend: I like the way the light is coming through where the stars are. And you know what I really like, the windows in the background, they look like stars also.

(phone rings in the background on his end)

Friend: I’ll call you back.

Me: Okay.

* * *

8:30 pm — Busy day. Did about 40 prints today (fiber). That was tedious indeed, although I did get a better print of FDR Night than in the past. I’m going out to get a mocha frap as a treat.

9-7-01

Matting and getting ready to go and stand outside the Met with my prints. I’m almost ready now, but probably won’t do ’til Sunday. Since I’m walking over there, about six blocks — the setup has to be pretty lightweight. I hope the aluminum table I got won’t blow away in the wind.

Not very glamorous the prospect of selling on the sidewalk — but I’m determined to give it a try. You don’t have the overhead of the galleries — and you have more control over your display and what you show.

Here’s a weird thing. My sister’s car was stolen and stripped. Of course in NYC that’s not the weird part. What was strange was that the car was actually found and it was on Featherbed Lane and University Avenue in the Bronx. That’s where I grew up and went to grade school. Featherbed Lane got its name because during the revolutionary war, Washington’s soldiers slept out there. I guess on featherbeds. There was a churh on the hill, where a bunch of kids once tried to toss me over the wall into the courtyard which was a 20 foot drop. I guess things haven’t changed all that much up there.

9-8-01

Took a stroll out to the Met this morning at 8:30am. All the vendors were already set up, well almost all of them. Tomorrow, I will go out there at 7 a.m. Hope that’s early enough.

Interesting — last week the site received 23,000 page views. That is a new record. But no sales during that week from the site.

From an email during that week:

“I just wanted to let you know that even that I do not yet own any of your work, I absolutely love it. Your photos are just gorgeous. Thank you sharing your work with us all. ”

* * *
9-9-01

Back from ‘the Met’. In a nutshell. Very promising. I sold about $300 worth of prints. What I learned on the first day was that there are really two crowds out there — souvenier hunters, and people who want original art. Here are the prints as I remember it, that sold — Card Players, Empty Subway Car, Paris Wedding, Girl with Ball, Window…

I don’t remember the other ones. My display was pretty bad and I was situated between two portrait painters which I don’t think was a good idea. But the surprising thing was that none of the smaller prints at $20 sold. Almost all prints that sold were in the larger sizes. Compared to selling on the web — it was fantastic. You could show the work that you liked and chat with people about it. I was out pretty early — about 6:45am. And of course nothing gets started until about 10pm. But all in all, very promising.

Next step is to print larger prints, figure out how to get them there, and stay away from the more usual shots.

9 - 10 - 01

So yesterday may have been a turning point. I asked one or two people who bought things what caught their eye as they walked by my little table — and they all said, “Your stuff was different.” In other words, there were people, maybe a small group, but they were looking for something original and different. And the people who were able to hold the prints and talk about what they liked about them — and mystery of mystery, these were the same things I liked about them.

I had thought that I would need to go out there with pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building — but this was not true. Compared to my two gallery shows — these people were more appreciative. No wine. No cheese.

What turned things around, was when the wind started to blow around 4pm. My prints were starting to blow around, and I decided to simplify the display even more. I took off the grid I was using to hold up one picture. I removed many of the pictures from the table, and just put one picture flat in the middle. But my little sign about myself got more exposure that way. And people began to stop by.

Today, I go back into work (the advertising job for a few hours as a consultant) but I think I can go back in a position where I can begin to think seriously about not returning. After two years of selling sporadically through the web — this was a revelation.

One other thing that impressed me — how friendly and helpful the other vendors were to me, especially the other fellow — Miguel who was selling fine art photographs. Several people arrived at my table after buying prints from him, and then plucked down money for my prints as well.

Now what happens during the winter months — I have no idea. How many days you need to stand out there to make the rent. I’m not sure. But I’m very encouraged. And oh yeah — there was even a nice order through the web when I got home. Another thing - selling at the prices I’m sellling at, I’m really going to have to buckle down and start cutting my own mats — something that I’ve never quite gotten the hang of. I’ve been buying my mats from LightImpressions — which are pretty expensive.

* * *

Got a few shots back from the Agora show — thanks Bob — here they are:

* * *

9-11-01

What a horror. The World Trade Center is destroyed. I was at home — one hundred or so blocks away — peacefully answering some emails. My sister calls and asks if I had heard what happened. No. She says that we are under attack. That NYC is under attack. I say — c’mon. You’re kidding. She asks if I have the t.v. turned on. I go and turn the set on and see the replay of the plane crashing into the tower. She asks me to come over, but of course I grab my camera and tell her I’ll stop by in a little while. I walk out to the East River, and start walking downtown. You can, of course see the plume of smoke from the downtown area. There is no real panic, but there is a kind of heightened awareness between New Yorkers. You hear bits of conversations… that other planes are on the way. That there might be an atomic bomb…

They keep comparing this to Pearl Harbor, but its really not the same since you don’t really know who did it — and even if you did — its not a country (is it?). As a life-long New Yorker — I can only hope that the bastards behind this can be caught and destroyed.

I keep walking until I get to the 59th street bridge. I end up spending a few hours wandering around — realizing that this is a day that is different from any other day in my life or the life of the city. The closest feeling is how I felt as a kid when Kennedy was shot. Something very important and tragic has happened.

I spend some time at my sisters. Neighbors stop by. Everyone is very helpful. Lines are long at the stores. The ATM machines are out of cash. But on the upper east side, the restaurants and bars are packed. People don’t hide in their houses. They want to be out with others.

After wandering around by the river, I go to the 59th street bridge and spend an hour or so there — you can see the plume which looks like something from Hiroshima. There are hords of people crossing the bridge on foot to get back into Queens. Finally, foot weary and out of film, I walk back to 2nd avenue and get picked up by a cab which is already full of people and take it back to the house. I notice, that for the first time in my life, the little Indian-run deli where I usually get my iced-coffee and bagel is closed up.

9-12-01

Walked down to Canal street, which was as close as I could get to the disaster. Even a day later, it was difficult to stay there too long without wearing a mask to breathe through. Broadway downtown was empty, desolate, and you could see all the way down to where the WTC used to be. I took many pictures of people with their hands covering their mouths to screen out the dust. The most amazing thing I saw, as I was starting to walk uptown — there were about fifty Chinese crowded around a newspaper that was plastered to the wall. It was the kind of thing I remember seeing in pictures of China. And as I was stooping down, a young woman arrived with a newborn baby and joined the crowd. This was a fantastic image — and as I walked away, I just thought about the irony of the destruction, and the new life that was in front of me and hoped carefully placed that roll of film in my bag.

9-13-01

Have been receiving numerous emails from around the world offering empathy for what has happened. Have also received a few requests for pictures of the WTC. I have a few, but I can tell you that the idea of offering them for sale gives me the creeps. But I imagine that there are plenty of postcard companies increasing their production of their WTC pictures.

This, from D. in the U.K.

“Dave,

I hope that you have escaped the terrible attack on your city. I was a young child in London during the blitz and so the scenes bring back unhappy memories of the terror of that time. Also I worked in London at the time of the IRA bomb attacks. Although these were not as devastating the effect on people is the same. I hope that everyone learns the lesson not to support terrorists of any kind in any way.

All of us over here have the people of New York in our thoughts, ”

* * *

Many emails quoting from the Bible — or mentioning God. I had a conversation with my dad about this yesterday. He was a young soldier during WWII and took part in the liberation of at least one concentration camp at the end of the war. How, he wondered was it possible, that so many of the survivors were still able to believe in God. Or in modern terms, how was it possible that men could kill innocent civilians on Sept. 11th — in the name of their God?

I respect anyone’s belief in their faith, but am also unable to understand all of the terrible things that have been done in the name of God. I understand that it is in the very nature of religion that it cannot be rationally understood — that is what faith is about. I also understand the answer that is given by religious authorities, that these evil things that are done are not done by God, but by man. It seems as if the good things are attributed to God and the bad things to man. But there is evil in the world, and it has often been done in God’s name. Tremendous good has also been done in God’s name.

I guess I believe that the fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.

Anyway, towards the end of my conversation with my dad, I said — if you took away religion, people would still find ways to hate each other. The north would hate the south. The blond-haired people would hate the dark-haired people. Or, as in a Jonathan Swift story, the people who broke the hard-boiled egg at the fat side would go to war with the others who broke the egg at the thin side. Or the black/white episode in the early Star Trek series. Do you remember that one? There are two humanoid aliens who have been at war with each other for centuries. Both are half black and half white — split vertically from head to toe. To Kirk, they both look the same. He can’t understand what they are fighting about. Finally he asks them what is different about them? Frank Gorshin says — “Captain, isn’t it obvious?”

Kirk looks at both men. He can’t see the difference. Frank Gorshin says, “Why Captain, I am colored black on my right side and white on the left. That traitor is black on the left and white on the right!”

* * *

9-14-01

Today, the city is filled with flags. With people who are holding pictures of their loved ones. The smoke still rises from the twisted metal. The enormity of what has happened is sinking in. My first reactions, probably those of a photo-journalist — were to get out and cover the story. But that is fading, and my thoughts turn to what will happen next. My hope, my agnostic’s prayer, is that in the retribution that must be exacted, that we as a people do not sink to the level of the killers that we abhor. I have heard friends calling for the destruction of entire countries and peoples. As I walk through the city, I have heard snippets of dialogue — anger and rage — and remarks about turning the mountainous country of Afghanistan into a flat place.

In short — and this is tricky — returning evil for evil will be a disaster. Yet the country must be protected, and aggression must be met with strength.
But I do fear that the world as we know it, will not be the same.

* * *

From CNN:

Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, has said, “…The Taliban have isolated bin Laden and have taken away his fax machine, satellite phone, cell phone, computers, and his Internet access.”

I would strongly suggest that they also turn him over to the U.S.

***

Someday I hope to be able to use a lot of the quotes from these journals…

Here are a few good ones from Cartier-Bresson, who, did very few interviews, and yet is quoted widely.

“Avoid making a commotion, just as you wouldn’t stir up the water before fishing. Don’t use flash out of respect for the natural lighting, even when there isn’t any. If these rules aren’t followed, the photographer becomes unbearably obstrusive.” - HCB

“Memory is very important, the memory of each photo taken, flowing at the same speed as the event. During the work, you have to be sure that you haven’t left any holes, that you’ve captured everything, because afterwards it will be too late.” - HCB

I can’t tell you how many times I walked away from that moment, replaying it again and again.
9-15-01

Spent last night walking around the city — where candles were lit everywhere. This morning, visited one of the emotional epicenters — Union Square. Many religious groups out there using this opportunity to recruit — Jehovah’s Witnesses etc. I ended the morning sitting down with some Tibetan monks and meditating. I took a few pictures. Afterwards, one of the followers asked me if I would send her pictures, which I said I would. I can tell you that after a few hours at Union Square — I felt that many of my previous pictures posted on this site were trivial.
9-17-01

I’ve put a few preliminary photos that have been taken since Sept. 11 on the site — but these are not actual prints. And the scanning quality is not what it should be since my negative scanner has been busted for sometime and I’ve scanned these negatives in via a flatbed scanner — by placing a sheet of glass on top of the negs. and using the transparency setting. It’s okay for proofs, but not much more. Still, a number of people had asked to see what I’ve been up to so I posted them.

As I was taking them, I was thinking about the difference between the normal type of shooting I do — and this shooting. And the difference is that many times I asked myself, “If you didn’t know anything about the WTC, would you know what this shot was about?” And the answer to most of the shots I’ve taken is no. You need to have a few lines of text explaining the context. In other words, some title, or description is needed.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it’s just something that was spinning around in my mind, when many of the photographs were taken, and after when examining them. I wasn’t always thinking this way — the shot of the two Chinese women who are staring at me was taken quickly and without much thought — just something about the way they were standing, and the man on the left covering his mouth. Why it is that I am drawn to covering the Chinese, or the Japanese, or the monks from Tibet (I haven’t developed that film yet), or the Indians rather than the so called average American — I don’t know. Maybe its because of my own feelings of being an outsider, somewhat alienated from the normal business of America. Maybe its being a Jew in the United States. Maybe I ate too much Chinese food in the Bronx growing up. I am told that some of the first meals I ate were at a Chinese restaurant. When I go to get my morning coffee or tea, I go to a little Indian-run deli on the corner. Normally, there are many cab-drivers there in the morning, with the turbans — and I guess they are Sikhs — which I don’t even know how to spell. But lately they have all disappeared. Have they decided to remove their turbans? If I were religious and wore a Yalmulka (sp?)- would I remove it because it made me a target? Probably.

I notice that the small arab-run grocery has put a gigantic American flag in the window. But the store is mostly empty these days.

2:30 PM

Just returned from picking up my pictures at the Agora Gallery. Everything was pretty normal on the way down. I was in the building for about ten minutes. When I came downstairs, smoke was pouring from the subway on Prince street and Broadway — and there were a few fire trucks around. I lugged my five framed prints around to get closer and took a few one-handed pictures. People were standing around watching — but it was no big deal. I heard someone say let’s go get a Frap and they went into the nearby coffee shop.

On the way downtown, I passed the firestation on 85th street. The sidewalk was filled with flowers. All of these flowers and pictures of the departed (they call them missing) reminds me of the pictures I have seen of shrines in India. The normal grave stones are no longer sufficient. Candles and flowers, cards and momentos, and now dna samples of the lost souls. The call has gone out to pick up toothbrushes and combs of the lost; underwear that hasn’t been washed; anything that may contain dna traces of those who have been vaporized and pulverized and mixed in with the concrete ash and melted steel.

The mayor, and other officials continue to say this is a recovery action. I don’t know how much longer they can hold to that line as comforting as it may be. Everyone wants to do something, but what? My sister, who is a social worker volunteered to be grief counselor. They took her name, and said they were full up. Maybe in a month or so they might call her.

* * *

Here are lyrics to a song written by a close friend the day after the WTC:

“What a day, what a clear blue sky
What a day on which to die.

Out of the blue, there flew this plane
A single second of endless pain.

Five thousand friends, husbands and wives
What a way to lose their lives.

Where is my sister? Where is my son?
They went to work and they are gone.

What is the reason? What can it be?
You can’t explain its cause to me.

Call it revenge. Call it jihad.
You killed your brothers in the name of God.

You’ve made me sick. I want to kill.
I want your poison blood to spill.

We will not rest, we will not sleep
Until your terror is buried deep. ”

And this from today’s New York Times — by Tamar Lewin

In a shooting rampage on Saturday, a gunman in Arizona fatally shot the Sikh owner of a Chevron gas station, and, 20 minutes later, shot at but missed a clerk of Lebanese descent at a Mobil station… The East Valley Tribune reported that Mr. Roque shouted — ‘I stand for America all the way,’ as he was handcuffed.

* * *

All I can say, is that the world as we know it, will never be the same. Life will go on, and the shock will pass but I still find myself struggling with the role of the photographer during these times. It’s true, that my first impulse, was to run out and cover the horror. But even on the day when I walked about five miles to get down to Canal Street, I passed beneath several of the bridges by the East River, and took pictures that reminded me of early pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge taken by Walker Evans — and in looking through the negatives tonight, these are the ones that appeal to me.

Just for the fun of it, I looked at all the pictures in the New York Times today — I was curious to see if there were any that you knew were about this event without a caption, or without obviously being shots of the destruction. Very few. It is ironic, but it is really the pictures of the pictures of the missing that immediately tell you this is the WTC disaster without actually being about the WTC. In other words, photographically, its the idea of the missing person that is most visually symbolic of this disaster. True, the country is filled with flags — but that could be any patriotic time. The pictures of the missing are the visual equivalent of the Yellow Ribbon.

9-18-01

Just had word that Igor Z., a computer support guy, a Russian immigrant, that I worked with and often kidded around with at the ad agency is missing and I presume dead.

He is the first to perish that I knew personally, and when I heard about it through Instant Messenger, it brought tears to my eyes.

He worked on the 90th floor.

Now the face and personality of someone that I worked with every day for several years — the hopes and dreams — crushed. I sit here with my head in my hands, just picturing the way he would come into my office and ask me questions all the time, and I would playfully shoo him out.

He was a heavy-set guy, with a baby-face and light-blue eyes. There was always a kind of puzzled look on his face when he came in to ask me a question. I wasn’t his immediate boss, but I was the computer guru that lots of people came to when there was a problem. He had to support the Lotus Notes system, which no one in the world can understand — and he was constantly coming into my dark little office and standing sheepishly at the door with another question. And I would never give him a straight answer. Maybe I thought I was Socrates or something, but I worked and taught many programmers and I always wanted them to think for themselves. Igor wasn’t going to have any of that, he had things to do, and users were complaining and he wanted a straight answer which eventually I would give him.

He was married. And while he was at the agency had a child — so the child must be about three years old now.

Like all the Russians I knew, he was filled with plans for starting his own company. I would sit with him and correct his English on the web page for his new support company. He came to me constantly with questions about how to get properly listed in the search engines. About how to design his site.

And I think back to the chain of events that forced him out of the agency.

About two years ago, there were various shake-ups in the technical department. New Chief Information Officers came in with wild plans to save money and upgrade our technology. Most of those CIO’s are long gone, leaving a trail of pain behind them. Good people were forced out. Crazy plans were started but not finished.

One of those plans was to get rid of support staff and outsource everything. So Igor and others were fired. And then there was the scramble to find a new job and he ended up at the WTC. But no use going down that tree… So Igor escapes from Russia to come here and be pulverized in the symbol of capitalism. I can only hope that it was quick, and that he didn’t suffer too much. Five thousand dead, and all of their faces rolled up into the face of Igor, standing in the doorway of my office, demanding an answer to something… And now we’re all demanding some answer.

* * *

I find a lot of Bush’s phrases odd — and the one that I noticed was his use of the word ‘evildoers’. Tonight, just for the heck of it, I thought I would read a bit of the Quaran, which I found on-line — and this phrase jumped out at me:

From Sura 2

“Line 11. When they are told,
“Do not commit evil,” they say,
“But we are righteous!”

12. In fact, they are evildoers,
but they do not perceive.”

Is it possible that Bush’s speechwriters are actually trying to give a message to the Muslims?

* * *

Five minutes reading of the Quaran makes it doubtful that this book has anything to do with what happened on September 11. Much of the beginning seems straight from the old testament:

Here’s the Garden of Eden:

“We said, ‘O Adam, live with your
wife in Paradise, and eat therefrom
generously, as you please, but do not
approach this tree, lest you sin.

But the devil duped them, and
caused their eviction therefrom.
We said, ‘Go down as enemies
of one another. On Earth shall be
your habitation and provision for awhile.’”

* * *
And the Jews as being the ‘chosen people’ (given our history, I would rather not have been chosen)

“47. O Children of Israel, remember My favor which I bestowed upon
you, and that I blessed you more than any other people”

* * *

Cecile B DeMille’s Ten Commandments:

49. Recall that we saved you from Pharaoh’s people who inflicted upon
you the worst persecution, slaying your sons and sparing your daughters.
That was an exacting test from your Lord.

50. Recall that we parted the sea for you; we saved you
and drowned Pharaoh’s people before your eyes.

51. Yet, when we summoned Moses for forty nights,
you worshiped the calf in his absence, and turned wicked.*

52. Still, we pardoned you thereafter that you may be appreciative.

53. Recall that we gave Moses
scripture and the statute book,
that you may be guided.

* * *

All religions are like fingers on the hand of God -

62. Surely, those who believe,
those who are Jewish, the Christians,
and the converts; anyone who
(1) believes in GOD, and
(2) believes in the Last Day, and
(3) leads a righteous life,
will receive their recompense from their Lord.
They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.

Seems like a pretty inclusive statement to me.
* * *

79. Therefore, woe to those who distort the scripture
with their own hands, then say,
“This is what GOD has revealed,”
seeking a cheap material gain.
Woe to them for such distortion,
and woe to them for their
illicit gains.
* * *

9-19-01

Woke up this morning, prepared to spend the day printing… but quickly discovered that my pc was infected with a very nasty virus/worm. This happened even though I am running Norton Anti-virus with definitions that were current yesterday — and a firewall. And this was a very, very scary virus because what it did was write javascript to all html, htm, and asp pages, and a few of those pages were uploaded to my site yesterday. The virus is called w32.nimba@mm

You can read about it at symantec.com. Anyway, things seem to be cleaned up now and the site is clean. More, later… just got a call from Agora Gallery, asking me if I would like to bring some pieces down today because one of the artists who was supposed to show tonight couldn’t get their artwork there.

I said I would. I don’t really expect any sales, but exposure is exposure. So between the virus and the gallery, most of today is shot.

* * *

10:00 pm

Visited the local firehouse again tonight. This time I went in and shook hands with one or two of the firemen, and felt tears welling up as we talked which surprised me. I was really only saying the same trite things I had heard others say, but the warmth I felt towards these men moved me. He must have seen this in my eyes, and began talking about different levels of levels of sadness, and that he had experienced many of these levels. I wandered around a bit, found a pair of fireman’s old boots surrounded by a wreath and photogaphed them for a while..

As I was leaving, a little girl was being carried on her father’s shoulders, and I heard her ask him, “Daddy, why do they have all those flowers, don’t they know this isn’t a cemetary?”

9-20-01

Did twenty 8 x 10′s of ‘Benches’ and fifteen prints of ‘Flat Iron Tilted’ — so I have enough to mat and ship some orders that have been hanging around since this crisis started, and some stock for the next time I go to the Met. I’ve noticed lately that its been easier to get decent prints from my Plus-X negs. than from my TMY negs. Given the faster lenses I’m using now, I may actually go back to Plus-X. It’s sort of a toss up because the resolution is better with the new films, but the tonality of the old films seems easier to achieve. I also have some rolls of the new Delta 400, and may give that a try first.

Tonight was the second opening at Agora but I didn’t go. Was too exhausted from printing today.

* * *

9-22-01

Agora Gallery is going to use my shot of the flag (towards the end of the new shots) — for their newsletter. It is odd that the last picture I posted on the site before the WTC was this shot of the flag (taken about two weeks prior to the event).

Here’s the blurb I wrote for them to use:

“This photo was taken somewhere around 93rd street in NYC. What caught my eye was the way the light was glowing behind the stars, and the geometry of the windows in the background which seemed to echo the stars. At the time it was nothing more than an exercise in arranging shapes, lines and tones. The events of September 11, mean that, at least for me, the flag cannot ever be viewed again with the same artistic detatchment.”
* * *

Now this was amazing, a guy wrote the following to me a few days ago:

“This is so wierd… My brother called me up and told me to check out pic # 12 on your site. That’s me! I’m the guy on the left. I thought that was pretty cool. -Peace”

Turns out that this is the guy on the left in the picture: Subway, Two Men.

His brother is a photography student who ran across this picture. The guy was quite friendly about it and I told him I would send him a print. In a city of 8 million people — amazing.

* * *

9-23-01

I do best to approach sideways, like a crab. Straight on, I am like everyone else. So I slowly return to a style where important things appear on the edges, where it isn’t so clear what the print is about, and where, in a good print, I myself am not entirely sure. I take away the little section about ‘Things After Sept. 11″ as being an unnatural line of division. And add a print to the new section, where it holds up on its own.

9-25-01

Several people have asked me recently and not so recently whether it is worth it to build a website for selling photography. Here is a draft of something I’m working on now…

How to Make a Living Selling Photography on the Web

By Dave Beckerman

Yes, you too can make a living selling photography on the web, and now I am going to tell you how. In this article I am going to tell you, gentle reader all the secrets that I have learned — for free. Yes, I give my learning away for free because I am quite certain that not a single person in this entire world would pay their hard-earned, or even their easily-earned money to have this knowledge. This brings us to rule number one:

People on the web don’t want to pay for anything

And this is the first lesson to be had on the web — nobody expects to pay for anything. For someone to move their finger to the ‘Add to Cart’ button is like asking the viewer to leap over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle. This is especially true for selling pictures but not for all merchandise.

Pictures are not shoes

Seeing a picture of shoes on the web, is just not the same as owning them. In order to get your full money’s worth from a pair of shoes, it really helps to have them on your feet. The same is not true for pictures. You can get quite a lot of value simply by looking at the picture on your computer screen. You don’t need to have it hanging in your house in order to really appreciate it. You may appreciate it more if it is around the house, but how much more is open to question.

I would call this the ‘Hey, I Can See It Whenever I Want Anyway’ syndrome. And to continue the analogy with shoes, you get absolutely no more value if you go back to a site and view a pair of shoes over and over again. They are not aesthetic objects (well not primarily) — but pictures are different. You can download them and use them for wallpaper. You can revisit the site and look at them again. You can even print them out, true the quality ain’t great, but so what and then hang ‘em in your cube at work.

Hey, I Can See It Whenever I Want Anyway

Pretend that you had a button inside your head that you could press which would instantly take you to the Museum to view Starry Night — pretend everyone had such a button — would it really be necessary to own the original? So, it may seem at first like a natural thing to do, selling pictures on the web, but it isn’t so natural. Speaking of natural, the one type of picture that human beings will pay for is to see other naked human beings. In fact, these types of pictures are perfect for selling on the web, because we don’t want to have them proudly displayed in our living room. We only want to see them on the computer screen. The problem with the human being is that there are very few of them who would pay a subscription to see “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” on the monitor. Pretend that Ansel Adams was still alive. Can you imagine a fine art subscription service on the web where you got to see, in the privacy of your own home, a new print by Ansel Adams each week? I say that no one would pay for that. But they will pay to see as many naked bodies as there are stars in starry starry night.

Sign Up Now for Twenty Years of Photographs which will constantly be added to, and which may possibly bring subtle understanding or amusement to your life. Order now, and we’ll give you access to the secret vaults where images by undiscovered artists are just waiting to be revealed to you.

Yeah, right.

Show Smaller Pictures That People Can Barely Make Out

When I first put up the site, I thought that people would want a chance to really get closer to the prints, and study them in detail before buying them, so each print could be seen in two sizes — the normal sort of size say 500 x 300, and a size that was double that. I soon discovered, through reading statistics about the site, that for every 3000 normal sized pictures viewed, there was one click on a larger size. Now there could be many reasons for that I guess — such as the larger pictures take too long to load. Or maybe the button for making them larger wasn’t clearly indicated. But my hunch is that people simply don’t see any point in lingering over a computer image as they would if they were standing in a museum. Either the point of the photograph is blunt, and clearly understood, or you can click and look at the next image. Why would you want to explore an image on a computer screen? Doesn’t make any sense. In fact, at one point, I think I made the images on the site slightly smaller, and sales went up.

Decorate or Die

I can divide my sales into two categories: Decorative and Non-Decorative. Let me define the terms, Decorative means that you can put it up on the living room wall without causing the kids any emotional trauma. Non-decorative means that the image may contain some thought provoking or at the very least either too clear, or too unclear subject. Neither is very beneficial to sales. A line in a Dylan song comes to mind, “Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine” — well if making a living on the web is important to you, then put up a lot of beautiful prints — a walk in the park, a sunrise, a sunset, and most especially someone walking in the park during a sunrise or a sunset.

Now here’s another fundamental difference between selling pictures on the web, and selling them let’s say in a physical store, or in a gallery or on a street corner — and this is a big thing:

The web buyer is simply ordering a print. The person on the street corner is buying and taking possession of the print. The web buyer places an order and it is up to you, the lucky photographer to search through your inventory and see if you have that print, and if not make it and make others in case you sell more of it. The photographer who walks out to the corner with his prints, sells one to a passerby. Transaction finished. The web-seller has highly sophisticated (read likely to break) software that takes the order, and notifies him that he has an order and now he must find out whether that picture is in stock, and if not, makes it, and then packages and ships it. And oh yes, drop it at the post office for the larger sizes anyway. And then go and use the software again to actually charge the credit card. Hopefully the package arrives in one piece.

After six months of labor on my site (I did the programming), I received an order by check for a picture. Be;ing excited, I sent the picture and then deposited the check which of course bounced, so not only did I not get the money for the picture but the bank was nice enough to charge me for the bounced check.

In contrast, it took me exactly one day of selling on the street to make ten times the amount I made in those first six months on the web.

COST PER SQUARE INCH OF ART RULE

Oh, THE PRICE POINT. This is the single most important thing that I can tell you. People on the web use a formula for deciding whether to press the ‘Add To Cart’ button or not — and it is called the Cost Per Square Inch rule. Take the cost and divide by the total surface area of the print. This will give you the Cost Per Square Inch of Fine Art (CPSIFA). Confused? Thought that the size of a piece of art might be related to what the artist thought was the proper size. Forget that. Here’s a concrete example:

Print Size = 8 x 10 inches or 80 square inches. Cost is $30. If you divide $30 / 80 = 38 cents per square inch

Now let’s say that you sell that print at 11 x 14 for $35

Print Size Square Inches = 154

35 / 154 = .23 cents

So although the price has gone up, most web-users have already been able to calculate that this is a far better deal.

CONCLUSION

Now, if you take into account the decorative factor, and at that to the equation, you can see that a picture of a sunset, that is quite large, and sells for a reasonable amount, will be the most popular picture. And of course that leads to the real core of the issue, if this is true, why sell hand-crafted, labor intensive prints at all? Why not just sell posters? Posters are the obvious way to go, because as the reader has surmised, they will give you the least cost per square inch of fine art, and from the web-sellers point of view are the cheapest to produce. But I will take it one step further, and come to the real thesis that I’ve been driving at, and this is — coffee cups with your fine art photography on them.

I know, this sounds like some crass comercial scheme (o.k. it is) — but the coffee cup with the picture of the sunset, will do best of all. The main reason is that like a pair of shoes, it cannot be fully experienced via the web. You must own it. Second of all, coffee cups, and mugs are already very succesful items in most souvenier stores, so you don’t really need to be concerned about developing a market for them. And the most important reason is this — you don’t even need to put your own photographs on the mugs. What will work quite well are little slogans such as ‘I Love New York’ or ‘I Love…” and you can fill in the city.

ADDENDUM

After writing this entry, I just received the following email, I kid you not, which I quote verbatim:

Selling your pictures on the Internet is the fastest,
easiest way to increase your sales.

Whether you’re shooting digital (or film) you should
consider eS*****s.com as a great online proofing
solution.

The more people that can view your images, the more people
will buy them. It’s just that simple.

In addition to our great e-commerce solution, we also give
you ways to sell more stock, sell more accessories and save
on camera gear and more.

* * *

Filling out my quarterly NYS sales tax, I came across a statement that says that those who have experienced problems because of the attacks (and they are listed carefully) may not have to pay penalties. Then there is this line:

Please note that this list is not intended to be all inclusive and that taxpayers experiencing circumstances not described here may also be eligible for such relief. Furthermore, the perpetrators of the attacks and anyone aiding in the attacks will not qualify for the relief provided by the extended deadlines.

I am quite pleased to know that New York State will not allow those who have murdered Americans to file late taxes without penalty.

* * *

9-26-01

For those of you out there that think I have any idea of what I’m doing — this morning should prove that its been mostly a combination of luck and trial and error. I spent most of the day printing various shots taken since the WTC, and I have to say, they are pretty awful. Each in its own way. I guess I did proofs of about seven or eight shots, and didn’t like any of them. For example — the shot of the three Tibetan monks — I must have spent a few hours on that one. Tried it with every paper I have. Either the grays were off, or the blacks of their robes were muddy, or the highlights were washed out, and I’m not even sure that its such a great shot in b&w.

Anyway, I don’t want to get into it right now — but it was a pretty frustrating day. Oh, and the one shot that I thought had possibilities, I realized afterwards that you could see people’s phone numbers and names, and I couldn’t put it up on the website because there’s too many nuts out there.

There’s one, where the missing posters are in the background and there’s this strange shadow coming down the steps that might be o.k. I’ll see after its dried. But all in all — I think I was on a better streak before all the tragedy.

A woman from asked if she could purchase the rights to use a picture to make postcards to send to her customers. She said her entire budget was $200, and that she could only offer $100 for the right to make postcards. A friendly, nice woman, but I told her that it wasn’t worth it to me to have a high quality digital file floating around out there for $100.

In case anyone is interested, I have been having so many problems with TMAX 400 lately, that I’ve switched to Tri-X which I haven’t used in twenty years. Don’t have results back, but I’m hoping it will be a bit more forgiving with me. It’s not that my exposures have been way off, its just that all of a sudden I’m having trouble with TMY in high contrast situations.

9-28-01

Quite the heated discussion when the relatives got together to break the fast last night. I guess it all started when my dad asked one of his innocent questions of the group, “What do you think should be done?” .

Here are excerpts from a letter to my dad with his responses in caps:

Dad,

I have heard many theories — the Muslims in general are very poor, and unhappy that the U.S. lives so well; that they hate the Jews and hate the U.S for supporting the Jews; that the U.S. invaded holy sections of Saudi
Arabia; and that it is cultural, and we are ruining their culture by spreading our own decadent U.S. culture. Suppose all these things are true.. The Germans believed that the Jews were the cause of all their suffering. Look what happened.

This idea floating around that we needed to ‘understand’ the terrorists, and the causes of ‘terrorism’ made me feel as if I were sitting in a garret in the Warsaw Ghetto trying to figure out why the Nazis were treating us the way they did. What could we do to understand their motivations and appease them in some way and show them that we were human beings just like them. Why don’t they like us?

BRILLIANT PARAGRAPH!
IT IS AS IF SOME INDIVIDUALS ARE UNABLE TO COMPREHEND THAT THERE ARE PEOPLE
IN THE WORLD WHO ARE “EVIL?-ARE OUT TO KILL THEM AND THEIR CHILDREN. IT IS A
STRANGE BELIEF THAT RATIONALITY PREVAILS IN THE MIDST OF VIOLENCE AND
POTENTIAL SLAUGHTER. CAVE MEN KNEW WHAT THEY HAD TO DO TO STAY ALIVE. SOME OF
THE CURRENT “CIVILIZED” INDIVIDUALS HAVE NEVER BEEN CLOSE ENOUGH TO
A HEIGHTENED SENSE OF MORAL BEHAVIOR AS A FUNCTION OF KILLING “THEM/:, i.e.,
IN OUR TIME AND THE CURRENT SITUATION, THE “THE INFIDEL”

We all have our idealogies, and apparantly they are as important as life itself. I think from what I see, that even if there were another bombing, and relatives were killed, that would only strengthen peoples leaning on their idealogy.

I THINK NOT. IF THERE IS ANOTHER LARGE BOMBING, SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE CONCERNED WITH CIVIL RIGHTS, WILL RECOGNIZE THAT THEY COULD BE NEXT, AND WOE TO THESE CIVIL RIGHTERS, IF SOMEONE NEAR AND DEAR IS KILLED. QUICKLY, I ADD, I TOO AM CONCERNED ABOUT CIVIL RIGHTS, BUT I WANT TO STAY ALIVE TO FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS.

How can you tell whether someone has an idealogy? It means that their reaction to any issue can be predicted. I could predict that X would blame this on the corporations. That Y would blame this on the past actions of the U.S. And that Z would be non-violent.Perhaps my reaction could have been predicted too — but I doubt it.

I’ll be honest with you dad, I arrived with a slight headache — and I left with a slight headache. And I will tell you that you were the only one there that I would like to share a foxhole with during a real crisis.

A SERIOUS RESPONSE FROM YOUR FATHER: I WAS VERY MOVED BY THIS COMMENT. THANK
YOU

One other thing — maybe I travel in different circles, but I can tell you that almost everyone in the circles that I travel with would be happy to see military action, and see it soon. They expect it, and they desire revenge. Did Y ever sit down and talk with a young National Guard soldier who spent several nights at Ground Zero, walking over body parts? Did Y talk to the widow of the Russian immigrant who is dead at age 29 leaving a wife and three year old child. I have two other friends who came that close to being dead. It seemed lost on some people that civilians were
the outright target.

UNLESS I AM WRONG, ALL WARS START WITH PARADES AND PATRIOTIC SONGS.
ONCE THE BODY BAGS BEGIN TO ARRIVE, THERE IS A BEGINNING UNDERSTANDING OF
WAR. I THINK MY STRONG REACTIONS HAVE MUCH TO DO WITH MY WAR EXPERIENCE.
[my father was in the army and fought in europe during ww II. he has seen a lot, including the liberation of concentration camps]

DURING THE EVENING, MUCH LIKE YOU, I FELT THAT I WAS IN CHURCH, AND THE
CHOIR MASTER WAS SIGNALING US THAT IT WAS TIME TO SING, WHILE OUTSIDE THE
BOMBS WERE FALLING, AND I COULD SMELL DEATH, AND BURNING FLESH. I WOULD
FEEL BETTER, IN THIS SITUATION, WITH A HAND GRENADE AND RIFLE IN MY HAND. GUESS
IT IS OBVIOUS: I NEVER REALLY GOT THE WARRIOR MENTALITY OUT OF MY SYSTEM.

SHORT, SHORT STORY. YOUNG WRITER, LETS CALL HIM JIM, GOES TO SEE A FAMOUS
SOUTHERN WRITER (BILL IS HIS FIRST NAME; I FORGOT THE SECOND NAME). JIM HAS
GIVEN BILL A SAMPLE OF HIS WRITING. JIM COMES BACK TO THE HOUSE AND ASKS
BILL: “WELL, WHAT DO YOU THINK? CAN I MAKE IT AS A WRITER?

BILL IS VERY ENCOURAGING AND THE YOUNG WRITER LEAVES FEELING VERY GOOD. THE
PHONE RINGS. IT IS THE PERSON WHO SETUP THE GET TOGETHER BETWEEN JIM AND BILL.
HER HER NAME IS RUTH, AND SHE ASKS ASK BILL, “WELL WHAT DO YOU THINK? DOES JIM HAVE
IT.” BILL MUMBLES SOME POSITIVE STATEMENTS, BUT RUTH PERSISTS, “GIVE IT TO
ME STRAIGHT. DOES JIM HAVE IT OR NOT.?” BILL ANSWERS, “NO, HE REALLY
DOESN’T HAVE IT. HE IS TOO FAR FROM THE DIRT AND ANXIETY OF LIVING.”

THERE WERE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN THE ROOM WHO WERE TOO FAR FROM DEATH, KILLINGS
AND WAR.

DO YOU THINK THAT WE SHOULD SAVE THESE EMAILS? THEY COULD BE INTERESTING,
OVERTIME.

Love,

DAD
* * *

Well, its saved here.

9-30-01

My attempts at ‘capturing’ the events of the day, gave little artistic satisfaction, so I will stop trying. For years, I have wandered about, without trying to get anything in particular. Without knowning what would strike me or why. Sometimes this might be the gleam of sunlight on water-soaked boards, or the posture of a man. Once I gave in to the events, and abandoned that approach, my photography turned from something instinctive to something planned and obvious. It was as if my pictures had turned into foreign movies that required subtitles. So, after the great shock and horror, I am slowly returning to my old way of working, which is to simply wander about and not try.

It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity — Sri Krishna in The Bhadavad Gita.

["The word dharma means many things, but its underlying sense is 'that wich supports,' from the root dhri, to support, hold up, or bear. Generally dharma implies support from within: the essence of a thing, its virture, that which makes it what it is". -- Diana Morrison from The Bhagavad Gita, Nilgiri Press, copyright 1985]

* * *

Printed Subway Car (Empty) today, and a few other prints, and seem to be getting back on track. The odd thing is that I’m still using three different papers to get control over some of these prints — Ilford VC Fiber, Gallerie Grade 2 and Gallerie Grade 3. The VC Fiber, even when I’m giving it just soft light, is often too contrasty. It is almost like a Gallerie 5 if there is such a grade. Also finally got a small print of Grand Central Arches which I’ll put on the site soon. This print, which I really like, just never translated well via the scanner. But I have hopes that this one will. Also changed the site around and am offering some limited edition prints at much lower prices. The inexpensive print of Promenade is being bought pretty frequently now, but I feel that I need to be able to sell at least one or two limited editions per month, even if they are only $75 each.


August 1, 2001

Scenes from New York City:

I’m walking back from the Ad Agency where I’ve been doing a few hours a week consulting. I’m wearing jeans and a tee shirt. My camera bag, which really doesn’t look like a camera bag, is carried cross-wise, from one shoulder to hip, with the bag behind me. As I pass an old black woman smoking a pipe, she grins at me, showing many missing teeth. She stops dead in her tracks as I pass, and grins broadly, “You’re an artist, aren’t you?”

I just nod, and continue on to the train. As I walk, I try to figure out how she knew that. Are there sort of crazy prophets walking around who are more sensitive than the rest of us? She reminds me of the oracle in Moby Dick who says that only ‘one will survive.’

But New York City is like that, isn’t it?

Yesterday, I walk out to the park by the East River. Before I get to the park, I stop at the entrance, where you can look down at the FDR highway, and then see further on, the East River in the background. I mean to try and take this shot, where there are these sort of levels of design, but as I put the camera to my eye, I notice down below, in this sort of long alley that’s created by the FDR highway, and the street, a blanket, folded, sitting on the road. And there’s a hat on the blanket. And I lean over the railing and see a basketball and then… a black guy with his shirt off, walking back and forth with his arms in a strange jutting out position, and a pained expression on his face.

If this doesn’t beat all. Now the homeless are exercising down below, in this alley way, and the rich upper east siders are jogging on the walkway above. I watch as the man below walks down the corridor, as if he were pulling a wagon. His arms and legs are stiff. There’s a kind of shadow created by the highway, which splits the alleyway below in half. Now I have something interesting — the cars speeding by at one level, the water in the background, and down below the black shirtless guy walking back and forth with his arms and legs at weird angles.

I don’t know what it all means, but I feel as if I’ve been lucky to be there at just the right time.

* * *

The leave of absence from the ad agency will be up in October. Unless something dramatic happens soon, I will have a tough decision to make, because so far, I haven’t been able to make a living from selling the photography. Not even close. After the Agora show, from which I’m really not expecting much — I’m going to decide whether to enter the art fair circuit or not… or even take my wares out on to the street outside the Metropolitan Museum. Basically, I believe I can make a living at this, but it means mass producing lots of tourist type pictures. From talking to some of the people who do this, they tell me that its almost impossible to sell a print for more than $25. On the other hand, its a cash business, and you can make enough in a good weekend or two to pay the rent so long as you have enough pictures of The Statue of Liberty and The Empire State Building.

* * *

Another suggestion from someone I met today was to try and get a book published — something about the subway. This was from one of the first people who bought some of my prints (S.K.)

8-3-01

Everyone in NYC seems to be on edge lately. O.K., you may say that people in NYC are always on edge. Yesterday, I walk into the Jewish bakery near my house. There’s a guy in a suit wearing a Yarmulke — and there’s this weird energy in the store. I’m just standing there, calm as can be, waiting to buy a roll. The two people who work in the store are down at the other end. Suddenly, the suited guy starts yelling. He’s ranting about not being able to stand this bullshit — actually he says, B.S. anymore. Just give me a knife he bleats. And reaches over the counter where he picks up an enormous knife, and waves it in the air. He yells, I’ll just do it myself. There’s enough bullshit in this world, and I don’t need anymore from you. His hands are shaking with rage, and he lifts the knife and plunges it into some noodle pudding and begins to divide it into neat squares. At the same time he is reaching into his pocket for money, and pulling out a five dollar bill, yells — Here! Take whatever this costs and give the rest to Godammed Charity! He takes the pudding, or whatever it was, drops the knife, and exits stage right.

One of the Hassidic clerks walks up to me, and without blinking an eye says, “Can I help you with anything?”

I know that the most dangerous place is your bed — [more people die in bed than anyplace else, ha, ha] — but I’m starting to believe this bakery must be connected through some cosmic vortex with the Post Office.

The last time I was in that bakery, a distraught woman threw a bunch of change at the clerk, and then broke into tears.

Quotes from Henry Miller (The Rosy Crucifixion, Part 1) -

“I definitely did not want to become the artist, in the sense of becoming something strange, something apart and out of the current of life.”

“Buildings emptied of their automatons are even more desolate than tombs; when the machines are left idle they create a void deeper than death itself.”

I walk back into the agency after an absence of three weeks to fix some program which has gone haywire. Nothing has changed. I am removed from the people in the cubes, and their problems. I can see myself gliding by, and they are exactly as they were before. The place is like an antiseptic ant hill. And it feels like a long, slow-motion tracking shot as I walk past the cubes. People smile, at me, and say things like, “Welcome back” and I say that I’m only in for the day to fix something. And my office door is unlocked now, and I’m standing in the doorway — and on my right, are three or four pc’s — with those geometric screensavers — and there’s nothing in the office that is actually mine. No pictures. No posters. Just scraps of paper with scribbled notes about programming code lying scattered on the desk. I’m back in the tomb again.

* * *

After a few years of having my negatives developed and contacted at Doggerel Labs- I decided to begin developing them myself again. I think the original reason was simply that I was very excited about what I was shooting and didn’t want to go through the trouble of going downtown, dropping them off, and then going back again the next day to get them. If I shot something that I was excited about, I wanted to see what they looked like in an hour or so. So I picked up some XTOL film developer, which I haven’t used before — but that’s what the lab was using and I was happy with their results. Did a test roll which was ‘thin’ — and then did a real roll which was a touch contrasty — but both rolls are printable — and I’m about 10% off right now. But was interesting was how much cheaper it was — I figured out that I could do a roll of film for about 40 cents. The lab was charging $7.50 just for development. It also gives me some control over the negatives which I guess I was missing also.

Another factor was that I’m simply shooting less film with the Leica — so its not such a big chore to develop a couple of rolls each week, and now that I have more time…

Contact prints have never helped me that much — I generally do better looking at the negatives on a light box… If I really want to see what the thing looks like I can scan the negative (assuming that I get my negative scanner fixed).

8-4-01

Standing on line at the post office this morning, waiting for the ‘retail windows’ to open up so that I could buy stamps for postcards (I guess I’m going to send out about fifty invitations to the gallery) — a man walks to the front of the line and stands there for a second. Huh? What does this guy think he’s doing? The man who was directly behind him tells the interloper to go to the back of the line. The fellow looks at him and starts laughing — “Hah, hah, hah! Just wanted to see what you miserable bunch of people would do if I jumped the line! What a miserable lot you all are!”

The line at the post office -

An enormously obese man with walrus mustache, sweating and panting and looking at the tee-shirt I’m wearing (one of my old Lotus Notes tee-shirts). I look him in the eye, and he looks away. A few seconds later, he looks at my shirt again. I catch his eye again, and he begins to wheeze and mumble.

And there’s the crazy woman I’ve seen lately — a black woman in a coat that’s been painted with oil paints. Her hands and face are covered with colorful paint. Her eyes are closed and she has a beatific smile, inching her way towards the window.

A Chinese man who has been nervously filling out forms the whole time he’s on the line. Yet, when he does finally get to the window, the postal clerk tells him he has the wrong forms filled out and he starts filling out forms all over again.

A man reading something by Herman Wouk — with a hair lip.

And a police officer.

And the line always reminds me of purgatory.

* * *

I write an email to my father in which I casually mention that The irony of it, is that “my art” is improving by leaps and bounds.

He responds: “TRANSLATE; EXPLAIN THIS IN BRONX ENGLISH”

My response:

in baseball, you would say, that i had found my swing — that i have a lifetime average of .250, but this season i’m hitting .333. maybe it was a slight adjustment in stance that made the difference. Maybe its simply that i’ve seen all the pitchers once, and now i know what to expect. explaining a ‘good season’ is hard — but I’m having one.

in the language of playing and instrument, it means that technique, fingering, reading music. is no longer something that I’m conscious of — and that I’m able to express what i feel without worrying being aware of what finger goes where. that my ‘playing’ has become as natural as talking.

and in photographic terms, it means that I’m capturing and able to show how i feel about life through pictures. that i look at what i’m shooting and have very strong emotions about it. not just that i’ve managed to put all the tones in the right places, but that i’ve caught something about the human condition.
* * *

Developed two more rolls that I had sitting around — these were the ‘good things’ that I didn’t want to ruin — and they look pretty good. I don’t really know until I do some printing — whenever that will be. I’ve been setup to print for at least five days now — but keep going out in the morning to shoot — and have such a good time that by the time I return, I just don’t feel like printing.

This morning was funny — I was standing near a water fountain watching birds — sparrows and pigeons — drinking from it. Inch by inch I slid forward, until I was a few feet away (I’m using a 90mm lens) — but the whole process probably took fifteen minutes. I truly felt like I was stalking wild game.

Anyway, came home — developed the negs. and sure enough one of shots has caught a pigeon just about to land on the fountain — perfectly framed — and really nice and sharp. My shots of birds, nature, etc. usually end up in the garbage, but I am fascinated by the water fountain and the life that goes on around it. This must be some childhood memory — because I can remember exactly the feel of the water fountains on University Avenue where I grew up, and how much fun we had around them during the summer.

Then there were some people bringing their dogs by to drink. Anyway, I must have spent an hour by the water fountain — and afterwards was thinking there was a coffee table book in it. When I get in this mood, anything seems like a coffee table book:

Other ideas for coffee table books:

Lamposts around the world; Curbs; Backs of Television Sets; Korean Nail Places of the Upper East Side (This is my favorite); A Day in the Life of a Drinking Fountain; Close ups of the food in the frozen food section of the supermarket;

* * *

Got around to printing some of the new things today. I wonder whether you can feel the same excitement that I do in seeing the print for the first time as I turn on the light and look at it in the fixer. When it’s a print that I’ve never done before — I often find myself muttering things, like — wow, that is great. The best of the new things are when something has been caught that is slightly dreamlike. Probably the best print of the day is of the homeless man, sleeping in a strange position, and I’m looking down at him from about thirty or forty feet. Because of the angle of the shot, and because there is no reference point, it seems as if he’s asleep on a wall. And there are so many strange details — he’s holding what looks like a letter in one hand, and there are some out-of-focus pieces of the railing, which add to the overall sense of something not quite real.

Another one of the same guy doing a weird exercise — very small in frame — and on the left a car passing by, was better than expected.

There’s a few from the water fountain that have some promise — but I doubt whether they will be as surreal as the man on the blanket.

Giving titles to the prints is sometimes difficult — because I want to keep the title as factual as possible so as not to force the viewer into seeing what I think the print is about. I guess that’s why some people simply give the prints numbers.

8-7-01

Went out to do some shooting but the heat was blistering, and I headed back to the apartment. On the way back, I passed a neighbor, a woman in her fifties who was sitting in the heat on a folding stool watching her car. She explained that this car, a Volvo something or other was only one day old and already there was a scratch on the front bumper. She rattled on and on about the damned trucks that come by, and how each one was a potential threat to her new car, and how even if she kept it in a garage that wouldn’t help because she had kept her last car in an expensive garage and it had been scratched unmercifully, and why did trucks need to come down these side streets anyway? I thought she was going to have a fit as she showed me the scratch, and explained that her husband had told her not to get a new car, but that she had always wanted one and didn’t see why, just because she lived on a side-street in New York City, she couldn’t get what she always wanted.

I guess she’ll be out there all night watching her new shiny investment, but it won’t help, because even as we stood there, an enormous van passed by and just about took off her side mirrors. Ah, possessions. Who owns who?

8-10-01

It’s been very hot, and I’ve been mostly staying indoors. But tonight I’m walking up 2nd Avenue — its dark — and as I cross the street, in the headlights of cars heading south, is an apperition like figure — running. You can catch a glimpse of a summer dress — and long blond hair — and the dress is low cut — low enough to see that this is a guy jogging up second avenue, against traffic. As I cross a side-street, he veers towards me, and a taxi turns at the same time, and the guy in the dress is almost hit by the cab. And I hear someone say that its just a guy, looking for attention. Just another night on the upper east side.

8-11-01

Have been doing a lot of printing — all from the same 10 rolls of film shot with M6 over the last month or so. Either my standards are dropping, or I’m seeing and capturing things better than usual. Did four new prints today, and five new prints yesterday. As they lie drying on the screens, I’m often excited enough not to wait for them to dry properly, and take them off and look at them closely under the light. Very simple subjects. Just odds and ends of things that I pass by, and yet I hear myself mumbling, ‘That’s got something.” The prints are getting to a point where I can no longer describe in words why I like it. I have to hunt around for associations, memories that they evoke.

8-12-01

Had a couple of orders for small prints recently. Not exactly enough to pay the electric bill, but still better than nothing. This quote is from a fellow in England who emailed me to enquire about shipping a print to England:

Dave,

Thanks for your reply. Selling prints is a problem. I know of one photographer who sold a print via a gallery and the purchaser demanded their money back because they hadn’t realised that it was a photograph. They said that they could take their own photographs!

Reminds me of the remark that quite a few people make when they see my work: “Oh, black and white. I love black and white pictures. So elegant.”

Although I’ve been shooting in Black and White for a million years, I would never say that I love Black and White. I’ve seen plenty of stuff in Black and White that stinks. I guess that the person is really just feeling something new, that they’re not used to seeing — and I shouldn’t be that sensitive — but that is my true reaction when someone is standing in front of one of my prints and says they ‘love black and white.’

* * *

Brilliant idea Beckerman — bought a postage scale. Now I can weigh the packages, put stamps on ‘em and drop ‘em in the nearest mailbox rather than standing on line in the post office to have them meter them. Brilliant. Should have done this two years ago. Retail is definitely not in my blood.

8-13-01

I’m not going to create ‘limited editions’ anymore — at least for any of the new things I’m doing. I may be shooting myself in the foot, but ‘Limited Editions’ are a marketing gimmick which goes totally against the my grain. I will, of course continue to stay within limits for those early prints that are ‘limited’ but new prints are simply going to be done in the size that I think is best, and at a reasonable price. I’m going to go through all my other prints from the past that have never sold, and remove the ‘limited edition’ thing from them. The basic reason is the artificiality of it. One of the obvious things that photography is good at, is making many prints from the same negative. The new prints will all be printed and signed by me — and I am going to switch to fiber paper for all future work. I like the results, and I can more easily guarantee the archival quality of the prints. This is not such a strange idea, and many of my heros do not do limited editions. Of course they are famous. But c’est la vie. So you can look forward to seeing in the next few days, the prints which have never been sold, and are labeled as limited edition, to becoming open editions.

I know that galleries want to only sell limited editions, or else prints by famous people who don’t need to do limited editions, but my mood right now is simply to sell prints, limited or not.

8-15-01

Thanks to Bill M. for some ideas about how to deal with the limited vs. open print.

Funny how one things leads to another. I was sitting at the desk writing postcard invitations to the Agora show, when I began to think about some very close friends that I hadn’t seen in ten years. One friend, Arthur.G — I just didn’t know how we had drifted apart — never a real fight — it happened around the time that I first got into the world of computer programming. Arthur G. and I had worked on screenplays together before that — and had all sorts of hairbrained schemes to get rich through the years — and at any rate I was sitting here with the postcards and wondering again how to get in touch with him. Quite honestly, I wondered if he were still alive.

I ended up finding some of my old address books, and eventually came up with a number for him. Nervously I called the New Jersey number. And there was a voice — and it was him.

I say, “Arthur?”

“Yes”

“I bet you can’t guess who this is”, says I. Not really expecting him to know who it is.

And there’s a moment of hesitation. This is an Arthur moment — because as he’s thinking, I remember how Arthur always liked games and puzzles. This is another interesting game for him, and you can almost hear the gameshow clock ticking and the music playing Jeopardy theme…

After ten years, Arthur says, “Dave, is that you?”

I start laughing, “Yep.”

He congratulates himself on solving the problem, “I thought it was you. I was going to call you one of these days.”

We both start laughing — and two hours later after talking about what life was like when we nineteen, and catching up, it was as if we had just tossed out those ten years. And he was able to look at the photos on-line while we were on the phone — really beautiful, really beautiful. And later in the conversation,

He says, “I remember, you were always into photography. You took beautiful black and white shots of the wife at our wedding…” and then the brain turning it over, “Do you mean those pictures might be valuable one day?”, he asks.

This gets a good laugh out of me. And I tell him that they may be worth something if he can prove I took them. I can see that he’s wondering how to get me to sign them.

Here, as best as I can explain, is the series of events that lead to the previous phone conversation (and this is vastly simplified) -

I decide to take a leave of absence from work so that I can do some shows and fairs. At one of these fairs (Westport), I meet a painter, Bill, who I have an email conversation with. In this email, I mention that I would like to give my ad agency a phoney name, the way that Henry Miller gave the Telegraph Company where he was an manager, a funny name — in his case he called it the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company (among others things). But since I couldn’t remember what the name was, I ended up going to the bookstore and getting Sexus and Plexus — and got very much into reading Henry Miller again. And Miller is always digressing about how he got in touch with a friend that he hasn’t seen in years, etc. etc. and I’m getting these ideas about all the people in my life that have been left behind as I’ve changed from one profession to another; one life to another. And so the idea to call old friends.

After speaking with Arthur — I sat back on the couch and felt as if a weight had been lifted. I had been meaning to get back in touch with Arthur for ten years — but never had.

* * *

In Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo…

Actually, I don’t have much to say, so here’s some quotes from recent emails to me:

* * *

Dave,

“I just wanted to give you a quick letter to express the enjoyment I have
gotten from you website… and more importantly your pictures. I have been
looking at many different sites and photographers of B&W pictures and I can
say that yours have truly impressed me. I feel an instant connection with
your work as it conjures up an immediate feeling inside me. I see much
humanity in your work, much satirization, much emotion.”

* * *
From A.G. of New Jersey

“I think your photos are wonderful, especially the people. You make your citydwellers feel like an organic part of the cityscape, like so many diverse creatures well-adapted to their exotic environment ”

* * *

From D.P. of Britain

“…and as a footnote, I have been reading your log for August. I am sorry, but not surprised, that you are not yet making a living by selling your prints. The public seem to want chocolate box pictures and collectors will only buy from well known photographers. Don’t give up! Your work is up there with the best and will be recognised one day.”

8-16-01

I’m going to write this little episode up while I’m still totally pissed off.

Wake up this morning and go to check my email. The message box pops up saying that there is something wrong with my email account and then lists posssible reasons that there might be something wrong, such as that the account hasn’t been accessed for a while or that the login has been changed. And of course it isn’t anything at all like that, unless I walked in my sleep last night and changed my login in my sleep. (This is remotely possible since I did have a sleep-walking incident when I was about fifteen.)

I look at the lights on the modem and see that the send/receive lights are now blank. Okay, the modem has failed. And I guess that Outlook Express isn’t even smart enough to know whether its connected to the network or not.

I call Time Warner Roadrunner. And after a long announcement in which they tell me about all the places where cable t.v. isn’t working in NYC, and how they are working to fix it, they finally say, “Press One For English”, which I do, feelling some small resentment that they didn’t just get right to it. And then some other odds and ends and press this for that and that for this (you know how it is), and eventually I’m connected to the cable modem support desk, where I’m asked to verify who I am and what my address is and I am told that my account has been turned off, because they have detected that I have the code red worm.

Now, maybe I do, and maybe I don’t. First off, no one even called to say that they would be turning off my service, or emailed me or anything. They just turned it off. They say I must contact LEVEL THREE SUPPORT, and that they are going to connect me.

Now I hear, “You have reached the Time Warner Express Pay Service” and more choices, and I realize that the first guy has connected me to the wrong department. I start over again at the beginning. This time, I am patched through to the LEVEL THREE support people, who are not answering the phone. I leave a message, and go out to do some shooting. When I return, I have a message saying that they have received my message, but cannot restore service until I call them back and they can verify that my pc is okay.

I call that number. I get the following message:

“Thank you for calling the help desk. All of our agents are busy assisting other customers. Please leave a detailed message after the beep:”

And there’s a beep, and then before I can leave a message, I hear:

“We are sorry but our answering mailbox cannot record your message because the mail box that you are calling is full. Thank you for calling Time Warner.”

So now there’s nothing to do but call and call and hope to get a human being on the other end. And after a few attempts every few minutes a voice answers and says, “Thank you for calling the help desk.. and the answering mailbox is full.” And eventually, after eight calls to a Brooklyn number, a human being answers and asks for my phone number to verify I am somebody… and I’m so startled that there’s an actual voice at the other end, that I get rattled and forget my own phone number. I know how it starts, but I can’t remember the last two digits! I’m on the phone with the guy and I’m laughing at my own memory lapse. He says he needs to put me on hold for a minute and I yell, ‘no, don’t do that. Wait, I’ll remember my number…” But I can’t think of it. Its gone. The key to my problem and I can’t remember the last digits and he still wants to put me on hold. While all this is going on, I’m thumbing through my bills and things trying desperately to find my own phone number, but I pay all my bills via computer, and generally throw them away, and all I can find are the bills for mats and things. Then I get the brilliant idea, “Hey, can’t you check your caller ID?”

He tells me the last two digits, and now we’re in business. There’s a lot of turning the computer off, and turning it on, and the lights are flashing hopefully on the cable modem, and finally things are straightened out. And I say, couldn’t you have called me, or sent me an email before you cut off the service. And he goes into an explanation that when a house is on fire, you don’t make announcements, you just try to get everyone out. And I say, so you feel as if your house is on fire. And he says, he does.

And then I ask, do I have the worm? Wasn’t that why the thing was turned off in the first place?

And he says, “No. Your machine is clean.”

Go figure.

* * *

On the other hand, help desk people have problems as well.

This story has been kicking around for at least five years. It was transcribed from a call taken by a Wordperfect Support Person and is supposed to be the actual dialogue of a former WordPerfect Customer Support employee…

Employee (E): Ridge Hall computer assistance, may I help you?

Customer (C): Yes, well, I’m having trouble with WordPerfect.

E: What sort of trouble?

C: Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away.

E: Went away?

C: They disappeared.

E: Hmm. So what does your screen look like now?

C: Nothing.

E: Nothing?

C: It’s blank. It won’t accept anything when I type.

E: Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out?

C: How do I tell?

E: Can you move your cursor around the screen?

C: There isn’t any cursor. I told you, it won’t accept anything I type.

E: Does your monitor have a power indicator?

C: What’s a monitor?

E: It’s the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does it have a little light that tells you when it is on?

C: I don’t know.

E: Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that?

C: Yes, I think so.

E: Great. Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it’s plugged into the wall.

C: Yes, it is.

E: When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two Cables plugged into the back of it, not just one?

C: No.

E: Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable.

C: Okay, here it is.

E: Follow it for me, and tell me if it’s plugged securely into the back of your computer.

C: I can’t reach.

E: Uh huh. Well, can you see if it is?

C: No.

E: Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over?

C: Oh, it’s not because I don’t have the right angle — it’s because it’s dark.

E: Dark?

C: Yes, the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window.

E: Well, turn on the office light then.

C: I can’t.

E: No? Why not?

C: Because there’s a power failure.

E: A power…A power failure? Aha, Okay, we’ve got it licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff your computer came in?

C: Well, yes. I keep them in the closet.

E: Good. Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just like it was when you got it. Then take it back to the store you bought it from.

C: Really? Is it that bad?

E: Yes, I’m afraid it is.

C: Well, all right then, I suppose. What do I tell them?

E: Tell them you’re too f—ing stupid to own a computer.

* * *

8-17-01

The following is from NY1 — a television station in NYC.

“Twenty retired Redbird subway cars will be shipped south Thursday to be sunk off the coast of Delaware as artificial reefs. Weather permitting, the cars will hit the water next week on Tuesday. The familiar Redbird cars are slowly being replaced after about 40 years of service in the New York City transit system. Delaware has agreed to acquire 400 of the old subway cars in all.

“Earlier this year, New Jersey and Maryland rejected similar plans to use the cars as reefs.

The MTA says sinking the subway cars as reefs is cheaper than scrapping them. ”

These are the very same subway cars from the #6 line that I have been shooting on for the last few years — and here is their watery end — to be sunk off the coast of Delaware. I wish I could be there to see the cars being dropped into the water and would give anything to watch them sink.

I hope they’ve swept the sleeping winos out of the cars. Some of those guys can sleep through anything.

Subway Announcer:

“Attention customers. Next stop will be the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Delaware. Please take all your belongings when you exit the train. I repeat, These trains are due to be dropped in the Atlantic Ocean. There you can make connections to eternity.”

* * *

11 a.m.

They called this show at the Agora Gallery, Visions Reflected. There will be at least two other artists there, and a few people were complaining that I wouldn’t be showing any of my ‘people’ stuff.

I had no idea what that title meant. This morning, as I was re-printing ‘Window’ for the show, I was thinking of telling the Agora people that I wanted to replace ‘Window’ with some shots of people.

Lately I’ve started to print my 35mm negs full-frame, in the 35mm aspect ratio — so I decided to re-print the full-frame of ‘Window’. And that was quite the revelation to me. There were things in the print such as the texture of the walls of the Museum, which I hadn’t seen before, and the overall composition was better. And then I realized that this picture was in fact a reflection — so maybe that was what had given them the idea, though I doubt it. But I decided to show it, because it looked fresh to me again.

And very easy to print. 7 secs. No dodging or burning. The top is a little light, but I decided to let it go without burning because there was a nice tonal transition from the bottom to the top. But I could see someone asking why the top part is so light. On the other hand — sometimes when this stuff dries down, you just get the hint of texture, which is really all I want in that part of the print. I know I complain a lot about printing — and it is definitely not my favorite thing to do — but every once in a while it reveals something which is exciting.

After printing at the new size, I quickly ordered frames from LightImpressions — in that size. Quite honestly, I think that I’m going to try and do most of my new 35mm negs full-frame like that. It’s much closer to what I was seeing when the shot was taken. Of course, every time you make that kind of change, you want to kick yourself for not having thought of it before…

Made a few attempts at one of the Sprinkler and Tree prints — but wasn’t happy with it. Then stumbled across an out of focus shot of a kid with a balloon — and the balloon string was tangled up in the mothers’ curlers, which made me laugh so I printed that. Not technically great, but it did make me laugh out loud.

* * *


Posted: 7-28-01

This is a brief account of my transition from the Contax G2 to the Leica M6.

About 8 years ago, I stumbled across pictures by Cartier-Bresson. I couldn’t figure out how they had been shot. I began reading about him and the Leica name popped up. I had also seen some 16 x 20 inch prints in a gallery (I don’t remember by who) that were done with an M6. There was a sharpness and ‘pop’ that was astonishing to me. But the cost! How could a camera that hadn’t been changed in fifty years (well, nothing all that substantial), be selling for so much? I figured that it must be a camera for collectors. No one could actually still be using this old clunker. After all, there was now auto-focus, matrix metering, auto-winders, auto-everything. Surely all these advancements must be making it easier to take better pictures? I can tell you, that I had never even heard of the Leica growing up — so it wasn’t like I had some overwhelming desire to possess one — not like the desire to possess a Corvette, or a Mustang.

I bought a used M3, which must have been fifty years old, and two new lenses (35mm f2.0 and 90mm f2.8). The M3 body didn’t even have a built in lightmeter! You loaded film by taking off the bottom plate. And it was expensive. I don’t think that I ever got over the price for those lenses.

I shot with the M3 for about six months. The prints I made were sharp. There was no doubt that the lenses were very good. But I continued to be irked by the cost. I came from a working class background — and I was judging the camera based on how many features I was getting for the money. I was afraid that I would drop the camera. I felt like I was walking around with big bars of gold around my neck. I don’t think I ever quite got the hang of loading the film. And mostly, I felt like I was missing shots that surely I could have gotten if I had been using an auto-focus camera. And what if I wanted other lenses? Could I really justify the expense? No. This was a camera for wealthy people who had nothing better to spend their money on.

In retrospect, my ideas about what I wanted to capture with the camera weren’t fully evolved yet. But at any rate, I was quick to trade this piece of over-rated extravegance in, and eventually wound up with the Contax G2.

I told myself that for the price of one Leica lens, I could pick up practically the entire G2 series.

The G2 fit my idea of what a modern rangefinder should be. It was small. Lens quality was very good. True, it wasn’t exactly silent, but it wasn’t as noisy as an SLR. Sometimes, I would miss a shot because the autofocus had landed on an area behind or in front of the subject, but this wasn’t a major problem. I bought all the lenses except for the hologon 16mm. I did rent that one for a weekend, but at a fixed aperature of f8, and with the light falloff — it wasn’t practical to use.

My style with the G2, was mostly shooting from the hip without looking through the viewfinder. I knew that the Leica viewfinder was better, much better — but was that worth the price?

With the G2, I could fire off lots of shots in the time it would take to do one or two shots with the M6. And I did shoot enormous quantities of film, and then search through the contact sheets for good shots.

After a few years, I began to notice that I was in a kind of rut. I would shoot a great number of shots, trying to capture that moment — but sometimes I would be all around it and not get it. Sort of like spraying the area with a machine gun, hoping to hit something.

I began looking back over some of the pictures I had done with the M3. True, I had shot a lot less, but there were a few which had a certain look — where I had snapped at just the right moment. Where the lighting seemed to play a greater role. One example of this was ‘Steps of the Met’ where the combination of light on the man’s hat, and catching him in mid-step, gave me something that I didn’t see in my G2 shots. Another, was the Chinese Women Playing cards. I had blown this one up to 16 x 20, and it had held up well, not to mention the fact that I could remember the faces of the women as I had taken the shot and the patterns of dappled light on their clothing..

I really began to slide back towards the Leica after returning from Sedona, Arizona. I had shot many rolls of film with the G2, and I couldn’t find a single shot that made me feel the way I felt when I was taking the shot. That was over two years ago. I fought the Leica bug as best I could, but it kept coming back like a fever. I had never gotten it out of my system. Other things changed for me as well. I was thinking of myself as a professional photographer. If I sold a few large prints, they would cover the price of a lens. And the cost of Leica bodies had come down substantially.

I compared specs on the G2 vs. the Leica. On paper, the G2 had more features and was much cheaper. The only thing on paper that might be in the Leica’s favor were faster lenses. Was that additional stop really worth the money?

In order to be vaccinated against this malicious fever, I borrowed an M6 with a 75mm f1.4 from a friend, determined to get the bug out of my system. [Drink plenty of fluids and take lots of pictures hoping that they turn out poorly.]

One day, I took the camera with me to work, and asked a co-worker to sit down behind my desk. There was some window light coming in, and I did a portrait of him with the 75mm f1.4 wide open at 1/60 of a second, hand held. I remember very well, that I could see the expressions fleeting across his face, and was able to snap at just the right instant. I could also feel the light very well. But I was in for a shock when the negatives were developed. In thirty some odd years of shooting, this was probably the most beautiful portrait I had ever done. The focus on his eyes was razor sharp. The expression I had noticed was caught. And the soft light looked as if it had been done in a studio with a lightbox or something. Not what I wanted to see. I had hoped to get this out of my system, but instead I was being drawn in deeper.

I studied the 11 x 14 print — trying to figure what was going on. It seemed as if it was the way that it went from in-focus to out-of-focus that was beautiful. And also the fact that the focus was so exact, with such a limited depth of field, in poor light. A few days later, I gave him the print — and he asked for more so he could give one to his parents.

So I keep shooting. I don’t give the camera back so fast. I do as much shooting as I can ‘wide-open’. I look at the negatives on a light box with a 16x loupe.

I have a view camera with a few lenses in the closet which I haven’t used for years — and rush down to the photo store and trade them in for an M6 with three lenses — 35mm f1.4, 50mm f2.0, 90mm f2.0. The M6 I initially select has the larger magnification.

The lenses, wide-open are picking up astounding detail.
A few more rolls of film. I notice something else. I’m shooting far less film than with the G2, and getting a much higher percentage of ‘keepers’.

After a few days of shooting, I decide that the higher magnification (.85) makes it impossible to see the frame lines with the 35mm, so I return the camera for the normal magnification. Heaven.

Now I only shoot with the M6. Mostly with the 50mm lens. A pattern begins to emerge. First off, the compositions are interesting. Much more interesting than anything I had done with the G2. Also, I’m shooting a lot less, and getting a lot more. When I was shooting with the G2, I might find one shot out of 100 that was worth printing. Now I’m getting six, seven, even ten on a single roll.

I go back to some subjects that I had shot with the G2, and re-shoot them with the Leica. And I get it.

How can this be?

Here are a few theories. First off, the Contax G2 re-focused each time the shutter is snapped. It’s true that you can use the focus lock, but in practice you tend not to. So it re-focuses? Why should that matter? Say that you are taking a picture of something that isn’t moving, but has various points that might be selected to focus on. What happens is that each time you take the picture, you’ve got to remember to re-focus on that point, and than re-compose the picture. So there is actually more to think about at the moment of depressing the shutter.

If the subject is moving, then you’ve got to be concerned about the time between when you press the shutter and when the picture is taken.

Suppose that you want to use ‘hyperfocal distance’, i.e. set the aperature at F11 on the 35mm lens, and set the focus so that everything from infinity to 5 feet is in focus. The Leica lens is marked for this. Very easy. You can do the same thing on the G2, but you would need to have a copy of the depth-of-field table with you for each lens.

But there’s something else about the Leica M6 — especially when photographing people — it simply doesn’t alert people to the fact that you’re a professional. It looks like some kind of ancient curiosity. I have felt, almost invisible, shooting with the Leica, which wasn’t true shooting with the G2.

But the most glaring difference — it is also the most obvious — is the viewfinder. The G2 viewfinder is, in a way, not typical at all for a rangefinder. You don’t see what is outside the frame. It’s also difficult to see well through the viewfinder. Yes, you can see what is inside the frame, but can you make out subtle nuances of light, or expressions? After using the Leica for a few months, and then looking through the G2 viewfinder, it was like looking through thick lenses. Perhaps, Contax felt that it wasn’t important to have a crystal clear viewfinder with an autofocus camera. But the viewfinder, the thing that puts you in touch with your subject, turns out to be more important than I could have imagined.

I begin to feel emotionally connected to the subject — whether that’s a person, or a detail in a water fountain. I feel as if my emotions — sadness, joyfulness, puzzlement — were poured into the frame.

People like to debate differences in lens quality between the G2 and the M6. Here are a few observations:

The G2′s 35mm lens is the worst in the line up. You can check MTF charts if you like — but the 35mm lenses in the Contax line are just not as good as their other lenses. I have no idea why. And that’s closed down a few stops. I had also felt the same thing about the 35mm lens for the Contax SLR line.

One other generalization: wide-open, the Leica lenses that I’ve used are clearly superior to any other lenses that I’ve used. In other words, not only are you getting an extra stop with the Leica lenses — but that stop is very, very useable. I’m not afraid to use any of the M6 lenses wide-open, whereas I would always close down two stops with the Contax lenses.

In a nutshell, the difference in shooting styles between the G2 and the M6 is this: With the G2, I would shoot great quanities of film, and sometimes, get lucky. My surprise was when I found a nugget in the contact sheets that surprised me in some way. Shooting with the M6 is exactly the opposite. I pretty much know, at the instant the shutter is depressed, whether I got it or didn’t get it. Many times, I’ve had the shutter almost ready to fire, and said to myself — that’s not a shot worth taking. I could pre-visualize what the final print would look like. There are very few surprises afterwards. In fact, I also know when I’ve missed what I was going after which is also important. I believe, that this is simply because, there is no shutter lag, and I can vividly see the nuances of what I’m shooting, while I’m shooting.

Had some one handed me a Leica M6, eight years ago, and said, “Here, it’s yours for free” I would not have been comfortable with it I needed to go through the auto-focus, auto-everything phase and get past it. I also needed to grow creatively (I won’t attempt to explain what that meansl) — before I could use the Leica.

By forcing you to think about exposure, and whether you really want that shot, and getting you to try and anticipate events — my shooting style has changed. Whether it’s for the better, is beyond knowing. But whether it is more satisfying, is known by me now.


July 1, 2001

A new month, and a new page. For your amusement, I present web statistics from davebeckerman.com for the week starting June 26, 2001.

General Statistics Hits Entire Site (Successful) 54,323
hits are not really important. each little graphic on a page counts as a hit. if you have a page with 100 little graphics and its looked at once, that’s 100 hits. people talk about hits as having some kind of meaning but they don’t…

Page Views Page Views (Impressions) 15,302
It’s page views that are important. When you view the home page, that’s one page view. When you click on the journal page, that’s one page view. Each time you show another picture to look at, that’s one page view. This is about average for me. The site has gotten as many as 22,000 page views in a week, and may get as little as 10,000 page views per week. But there is no advertising, and no banner exchange. Ninety percent of the people who find the site find it through search engines, usually looking for black and white photography.

Visitor Sessions Visitor Sessions 3,071
Now that is an interesting number. In one week, 3,701 individual sessions have occured. What exactly is a session? Say that you visit the home page (o.k. you’ve started a session) and now you view a few pages and move off to another site not to return. That’s a session.

Here’s a few more:

Average Per Day 438 Average Visitor Session Length 00:06:04

International Visitor Sessions 13.35%

Visitor Sessions of Unknown Origin 13.7%

Visitor Sessions from United States 72.94%

Unique Visitors 1,747

Visitors Who Visited Once 1,358

Visitors Who Visited More Than Once 389

* * *

7-2-01

More fascinating trivia — ordered nine 6 ft, by 2 ft wire grid panels from a company in North Carolina that I found on the web by searching for display fixtures. Each weighs about 20 lbs. My plan is to attach three grids together and put them at about 46 degree angles to each other, like a Japanese screen.

Once again, the secret was to know what the heck those things were called. I was searching the web for ‘grills’ and of course mostly getting stuff to cook hamburgers on. A nice woman in a nearby discount store told me the stuff was called ‘fixtures’. Ah. Eureka. I searched the web for ‘display fixtures’ and that was that.

* * *

Just came back from Lechters where I bought four plasticy bins for storing and transporting the framed stuff. I still haven’t found the right thing for the 20 x 24 inch frames.

I’m also not sure how exactly the 20 x 24″ framed picture will fit on the 2 ft by 6 ft grid when the grids are at an angle to each other. The other day, for the first time since I was in High School, I was trying to figure out how many grids I needed and how many would fit in the 10 ft. x 10 ft space, and found myself trying to remember the Pythagorian rule.

That was the first time in my life that something I learned in geometry was used (to my knowledge).

* * *

Just received word that my work will be shown at a Gallery in Westport on July 19th, which is the opening for the Westport Art Festival. Here’s the invite.

O.K. I’ve got most of what I need to do the show, but now I start thinking things like — what in the heck am I going to wear? I’ve been wearing jeans and tee-shirts and only have the one suit (which I call my funeral suit) which doesn’t even fit anymore. Of course artists don’t need to dress up, but honestly, that’s the first thing that popped into my mind when I got the invitation. I don’t even own a sports jacket.

7-3-01

I’ll go up to Westport on Weds. That will give me time to help with the ‘hanging’ in the gallery, and then I don’t have to go back and forth between NYC and Westport.

I’m done framing/matting. I’ll take some framing supplies with me to Westport. Its a lot easier to transport the stuff while its in pieces and do some assembly in the hotel.

It was a beautiful day in NYC today. Low humidity, and just crystal clear air. Was in Central Park for a few hours. I guess I’m still going back to my old haunts. I’ve always loved the North side of the Metropolitan Museum — the slanted glass wall that encloses the Egyptian exhibit. I’ve shot it many, many times, but there’s only one print of it that I like, which took place when there was some kind of event inside, and I was into this really grainy thing, and I’ve got one prin taken at night, looking into the museum, where you can just make out two men in chef’s hats. I’m always meaning to go back and find that negative and reprint it.

Anyway — today was also interesting, because as I walked up into the park, I noticed a glass repair truck. Oh, boy, I thought to myself, this should be good. They must be repairing the side of the Met. And as I came around the bend, my hopes were fulfilled. There were two sets of ladders with workmen leaning against the slanted mirrored surface, and some workmen hanging from ropes. I was close enough to hear one of the guys look at me and say, “Must be one of those fuckin’ reporters.” I thought to myself, those remarks will never be seen in the beauty of this shot, and ignored the remark. I took about five shots, but there is one that I remember well, and hope will turn out.

I’ve noticed in general that people don’t realize how interesting their own lives are. They wonder why in the heck someone would want to take a picture of them just doing their job.

Then I walked up to the resevoir, and for the first time the door in the building was open, and you could see through this building to the water. And of course, there was some kind of guard inside. And she came towards me, seeing me taking pictures of the interior, and I quickly said

- This is the first time I’ve seen the building open.

She looked me up and down. Everyone thinks your a reporter, or from some government agency.

- Really? She said.

And then checked that the door was locked, and walked away from me. I took a picture of her standing in the opposite doorway, silhouetted by the much brighter water. I missed not having the 35mm lens with me today for that one shot.

07-04-01

Received word yesterday that my work would hang in the gallery at Westport for the duration of the fair, and that I didn’t need to bring the tent and grids if I didn’t want to. Simply do the hanging in the gallery. So this kind of confused me because I had spent so much time figuring out how to set up the grids, and the canopy and all that. Maybe as many people wouldn’t stop by the gallery as would be on the street. But it was a nice thing to hear, and would make the event much easier to deal with. There will be five other artists on exhibit in the gallery. The Gallery

Making this change from computer programmer to photographer has not gone unnoticed by my psyche. In case you think this sort of thing is straight-foward — here’s a dream I had a few nights ago.

I dreamed that I was part of a scientific experiment — the idea was to take artists who had no real worth, and put their work up with other established artists. And the purpose of the experiment was to see if anyone noticed the imposter.

There’s a core, deep-down somewhere, which feels that there is some real talent, but there are also plenty of insecurities about it all.

07-05-01

Westport seems squared away now. At least I know what I’m doing. I won’t do the outdoor booth, but will bring my best stuff to the gallery, and bring along as many copies of prints as I can carry.

More shooting in Central Park today. A number of shots of people drinking water at the fountains by the resevoir. I guess that area is my favorite part of the park. Also some shots taken from the bridge that leads to the resevoir of girls on horseback. As they were approaching me, I had the camera to my eye, and waved at them. They all waved back and I took one shot. This was a split second sort of decision. The riding towards me wasn’t interesting enough. I must have had some idea of making it look like a postcard or something.

I’ve finished matting and framing and get to go out shooting again. I look forward to it in the morning, and may even have the energy to go out tonight and do some night shots, something I haven’t done in years.

07/06/01

Nine grids, which weigh about twenty pounds each, arrived this morning. Of course, I don’t need the grids anymore for Westport. Quite a workout carrying them up the three flights to my apartment. Now I need to take them back down again and get them to my sister’s basement.

* * *

Doing a lot more shooting these days.

* * *

7-8-01

From the age of fifteen to about sixteen, I was fascinated with photography. My family lived in a large apartment on Gunhill Road in the Bronx. Not a terrible neighborhood as far as Bronx neighborhoods go. There was a community center — the Mosholu Community Center — and I was involved in a program for teenagers — but it was filmmaking, not still photography. So I still can’t figure out where the idea came from.

I remember having a cousin who was going overseas to work in the Peace Corp…? Somewhere along the line he was going to stop in Japan. I knew, even at that age, that I wanted the Pentax spotmatic, but couldn’t afford to buy one here in the States. They were much cheaper in Japan, and after many months of waiting, my cousin returned with one for me.

Shooting in our living room, I had the idea of trying to make over my sisters (age 12 and 9???) into fashion models. I took an aluminum table and turned it on its side as a backdrop — and did what turned out to be high-key lighting — and a few of those 8 x 10′s survive to this day. But trying to remember where the impulse to do this came from? I know that there was a feeling even then of getting away from stictly posed — no I shouldn’t say that — posing was okay, so long as the person knew they were posing, and looked like they knew it. Not posing was better still. The instinct, was to reach into the being and preserve something real. Maybe there was a subtle understanding, that the camera could be used for more than just phoney snapshots of people saying ‘cheese’.

Maybe it was because, there was something mysterious about people, that I wanted to capture. Maybe, I knew, even at that age, how quickly time passes — how fleeting life is — or was there something more to it?

One of my first vivid memories of shooting, was when I was about sixteen — and it was at our kitchen table. My uncle (have I told this story before) — fascinated me no end. He was a very rough, sort of scary character who had been a bombadeer in WWII, and ended up spending some years in a P.O.W. camp. He cursed a lot, and was quick to anger. Probably the expression I remember the best was when someone honked a horn at him in traffic, he’d turn and say, “Blow it out your ass!”

This was pretty colorful stuff to a fifteen year old. Actually, its still colorful today.

So he comes to the kitchen table. Sits there talking with my mother, who’s standing at the stove or something. And I sit down next to him with a camera. I ask him, if he’d mind if I took some pictures of him. I’m sure he said something like, ‘what the hell do you want to waste good film for’? But he agreed. And using a 50mm lens at f1.4 (even back then I had a feeling of what a fast lens could do) — and I sat a few feet next to him, and just clicked away while he talked.

I especially liked it when he looked directly into the lens. There was a softness behind the gruffness. At least I thought I saw it. And years later, at his funeral, his kids had a sort of scrap book of pictures of their father and that shot shows up prominently. Taken by a fifteen year old kid at the kitchen table.

* * *

7-9-01

Have been walking more lately — but today was exhausting. Maybe because it was so humid, but by the time I had done my five miles or so, I was drenched and tired. Maybe its just too many people on the sidewalks during the weekdays because the same walk on the weekend went better.

I picked up four rolls from Duggal. These are the latest I’ve done with the Leica — and when I looked at the negatives on the lightbox I was quite amazed. Not only by the consistency of the exposure — big deal — but by how many shots were actually of interest. On the first roll that I looked at, perhaps half the roll was worth at least a work print! Not so much because of the technique etc. but because the compositions and lighting were so fascinating. I rushed down to a stationary store to pick up a book that I could use as a sort of diary of what shots were interesting on the lightbox and what shots would be interesting further down the line as prints.

In short, fully 1/3 of the shots are worth doing a work print of. This is amazing, since with the G2 and other cameras I would often find one shot worth printing per two or three rolls! Maybe this is all a fluke, but I don’t think so. Even the shots that were not that interesting, I knew at the time they probably would be a bore.

I’m also doing some fasting. During the last two years or so, I’ve been very inactive, and put on some weight, and now I’m trying to get back into shape for something — I know not what.

I used to be able to easily walk about 7 miles a day — sometimes with full camera pack and tripod — and I guess I’m trying to get back into that kind of shape.

* * *

Adams often compared photography to music. Printing, was like doing a performance. Shooting was more like composing. Anyway, what strikes me is that there are more similarities than that — because if you have a popular print, you are going to be asked to print it, or perform it over and over again. In this way, its really like those ancient pop stars who are still performing their best hits from the fifties. And although there may similarities to painting, i.e. both are using a rectangular two dimensional space to represent something else (is that vague enough?) — you generally don’t find painters doing the same painting over and over — the same style, the same subject, yes — but not literally copying their best hits.

* * *

Another naive and obvious thought that struck me is that the gallery needs your art as much as you need them.

* * *

Work at the ad agency, which I’m away from for three weeks or so, is fading in a mist. The closest image is of Kafka in his law office — papers stacked around — trying to find a stretch of time to write. It was amazing how he carried on this double life for years — I don’t remember what type of lawyer he was, but I don’t think it was criminal or corporate. At least in his diaries which I read years ago, it seemed very tedious. Yet he created some of his most lasting work during that period. Sort of like the fantastical art that came out of the repressive paranoid times in Russia. I guess I’m thinking of Master and Margarita… Gogal etc…

Repression may not be all bad — in that it forces the artist to transfigure things into new abstractions. Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ comes to mind.

* * *

Apologies for this theoretical nonsense.. but I guess I’m trying to bring up the level of this journal from just bitching about matting and framing.

7-10-01

Have been reading or rather skimming through, the daybooks of Edward Weston again… was kind of curious what they would seem like now, after my own sojourn into the field. There is remarkably little about actual technique. And odd things come up — that many of his exposures were as long as 5.5 hours! And most of the trouble he has, is keeping the little shells, or whatever the heck he’s photographing still during that time. There are always kids and women around, and it all seems like a French farce most of the time. I understand that film speed was quite slow then (say it was asa 12), and that he was working only with available light — and that this is with an 8 x 10 camera and a slightly telephoto lens, and he wants all the depth of field… there are remarks here and there that he may have been shooting at F256!

Yikes. Sometimes, I really ask myself if the guy knew what he was doing. I know that’s blasphemy…

He also doesn’t talk much about why he is doing what he’s doing. Maybe that’s asking to much. Maybe that’s supposed to be obvious. The things I remember are (this is all paraphrasing)

‘the artist should be a craftsman’ and work hard, and work with everything he’s got. (maybe, but sometimes you can overdo it and lose the fun)

‘the actual subject matter doesn’t really matter’ — he is very upset when Steiglitz (this is the second time around) isn’t crazy about some his work, saying that it isn’t really modern. Steiglitz was sort of the emperor of fine art photography back then — and both Adams and Weston took the pilgrimage (sp?) at different times to see the King.

At any rate, later on, Weston gets a letter back from a friend who had shown his work — I’m not sure what — but probably vegetables etc. or the shells? — and he is upset that Steiglitz can’t see how the subject itself is not important. Its the idea — the forms — the composition — the light — that are important.

But Weston, and Adams, who were then rebelling against pictorialism, kept talking about doing what photography was good at — i.e. depicting things. Deep focus! No fooling around. Show all the details of the object (of course if it wa a paid portrait you might remove some of these details). But if this approach is to be taken seriously, isn’t the actual object that you are photographing of supreme importance also? O.K. perhaps, he was saying that you can be modern without photographing modern or contemporary things. That is certainly true — But why not try photographing something modern as well? Oh yes. Now that I think of it — he does. I remember a very fine shot of a bedpan (for one thing).

You know what… maybe he had a point. Maybe you don’t need to shoot modern things to be modern — but now I don’t even know what the point of being modern was…

And as I lose the thread, I’m going to setup the darkroom now. Its been a while, and in addition to two orders that are waiting to be done (one for over a week) — I’m hoping to do a few test prints of what I got back from the lab yesterday.

* * *

Obligatory prints are done with — although I must admit, that this printing of Night Chess may be one of the best I’ve done so far. I’ve been using FB/VC paper, and have also changed the dektol from 1:3 to 1:2 (a few months ago)… and perhaps this is why the print has more luminosity — or maybe I’m just printing it a touch lighter?

Then had a chance to print something new — I had about thirty possibles to choose from, and decided to try a shot of a manhole cover with a black pipe running across it. Wow. I really like it. Tones are all there, and the composition, naturally a found composition, seems somehow audacious. Anyway, the fumes were starting to get to me and I was running out of steam, so that was all I printed from the new stuff today. I will say, that when I first pulled the manhole cover shot from the soup, I was quite dazzled.

7-11-01

More time in Central Park — this time took out a row boat and used it to shoot back towards the shore, in the plaza (I don’t really know what it was called) — there were some Spanish Dancers, and I shot them from the sea so to speak. At least that’s what it felt like. Also a guy who somehow managed to put a full double-sink, onto his bike and ride past me. I didn’t really get the right angle. And then a few hours shooting the Alice in Wonderland statue which I’ve always loved. And there was rain, and clouds coming in and out, and it was all relaxing. I really do feel like I’m shooting better and seeing better than I have in years.

Printed the manhole cover with pipe running across it, and put it into a mat, and just have it lying under my enlarger admiring it. I don’t really want to go through all the damned trouble of numbering things anymore. Its is so artificial. How about simply putting a date on it and let it go at that? The stuff that I’ve already number will unfortunately have to stay numbered, but the whole limited edition thing is grating on my nerves. I think that for images that haven’t been sold yet, or seen for that matter, I’m simply going to sell them as is, un-numbered.

Anyway — I’m on a good streak now and look forward to going out shooting again tomorrow. Perhaps rent a rowboat again. Perhaps a series of shots from the boat. I missed not bringing the 35mm lens with me today — and from now on am going to travel with all three lenses.

7-13-01

Have been doing a lot of shooting lately, mostly in and around Central Park. Walked into the Museum of Modern Art to find that some new-fangled sculpture — sort of big sheets of wire drapes, were hanging inside covering the inner spiral, which is to my mind the most interesting part of the architecture. I muttered something to myself like, “damned stupid artists” and left without viewing anything further. I was mumbling, “let’s get to the park where they don’t do such stupid artsy things”.

More work with sprinklers in the park. Mist and trees, etc. Rainbows. One funny moment with a turning sprinkler which I was timing to shoot just as it would point at me — and when it got around to me, it got me and the camera good and wet.

I guess its just been a really mild summer so far — really unusual. I am now without any money coming in — as my vacation time is over — and so have received my last check. Felt a little scary — but good.

7-15-01

Someone I hadn’t seen in a long time met me and said, “I hear you’re trying to be a successful photographer — how wonderful!”

And others winced on hearing that description of what I’m doing.

“An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.” ~Charles Horton Cooley~

The framed prints are wrapped in bubble-wrap and ready to go. I have rented a Blazer SUV for Westport, but I don’t think there’s going to be enough room for all the prints. Probably should have rented a mini-van. I figure I can always change at the last minute.

Noticed in the supermarket that they have some kind of ‘bonus club’ which gives discounts on groceries. That ‘bonus club’ has been around for years, but I never noticed it before. I guess, now I’m starting to count pennies.

I leave Weds. for Westport. Thursday is the opening. As those who have been reading these journals know, this will be the first time my prints will hang in a gallery.

Here’s one more quote that I like:

“The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.”
~Paul Strand~

7-16-01

Fooled around with the prices of the open editions again yesterday. What I found in the past was that many people would buy prints at the $30 level, even though you often didn’t get the real feeling of the print at that size. And very few people would buy prints at the next size up for $50. So I made a kind of compromise, by removing most of the 5 x 7′s, and lowering the price from $50 to $40 for the 8 x 10′s. This seems like a pretty good compromise. At any rate, I think the idea for me is to keep the number of sizes offered to a minimum. However, what I am thinking about, is selling the same print ‘unmatted’. This saves me a few bucks on the mat and overmat, as well as shipping charges.

7-17-01

Heard from a photographer who did the Agora gallery show — who said he hasn’t sold anything through them yet. That doesn’t sound very promising.

Got the SUV to take the stuff up to Westport. I was going to use it to take the grids (9 grids) to my sisters house — she has some storage space in the basement, but it took us a while to figure out how to get the hatch on the car open. Anyway, she was reading the manual, and I was going up and down the stairs with the grids (I live on the third floor), and it was plenty humid. I would carry two at a time. When I got down, I would see her still reading the manual. I don’t know, could be we’re both idiots — but I couldn’t get the hatch open either. I think this stuff happens to everyone with rentals. Anyway, eventually, huffing and puffing, I get the last of the grids down to the car, and she’s managed to get the rear hatch open — and we pile the grids in, sticking out the back window. And then we sit down in the front and she turns to me and says, “You’re never goin’ use those things, are you?”

I’m kinda pooped at this point, and can’t see myself dragging them around to the next fair. Just too damned heavy.

I say, “Do you think we can get rid of ‘em somewhere?”

This is NYC — you can’t put ‘em in front of your apartment, ’cause big stuff like that is picked up on Tuesday (I think?) and we had definitely missed the pick up.

So we basically ride around the upper east side with 200 pounds of grids, looking for a place to just dump ‘em.

Did you ever have anything with bad karma? These grids were just bad karma. They had to go. We stopped by a construction site, and I got out and asked a guy, “Hey, want some nice grids? I got ‘em right here in the car?”

He looks at me like I’m nuts.

We drive on.

Eventually, we come to a nice quiet street — I won’t say where exactly — and we both jump out — my sister is a whiz at opening the back door by now — and in two minutes those nice new never-been-used grids were stacked against a garbage bin — and we were out of there. Sort of a reverse heist, I guess. I know I kept lookin’ in the rear-view mirror to see if we were being followed. But we made it out of there okay.

Tomorrow morning, with the help of a few friends — I pack up the car with framed pictures — and take off for Westport.

“So we loaded up the truck and we moved to Beverly,
Hills that is, swimmin’ pools, movie stars!”

* * *

7-23-01

Westport, or how I stopped worrying about Sales and learned to love oblivion

When I arrived in Westport with my SUV filled to bursting with prints, and drove past Main Street where the art fair was to be held, I noticed that the Gallery was not on the same street as the Art Fair. It was about a block and a half away — up a slight incline, and there was no line-of-sight between the fair and the Gallery. No way that was good.

Nevertheless, maybe there would be so many people that they would spill out of the place where all the art was, and flow uphill. Of course, people don’t flow uphill any better than water flows uphill.

Once inside the Gallery, I was given three free-standing panels (one side only) to hang my prints. The panels were black. Also not good since my frames were black. I crammed in three prints to a panel, but only the center three were at eye-level. I ended up with about nine large prints, each about 4 inches apart, and was also given a corner where two walls met, to put some smaller prints. I have to admit, that once again, it was not the way I pictured it. Directly behind the panels were tools and what nots for framing. Not the elegant look I was envisioning. I guess I could have gone with one print per panel — but that would have given me three prints total — and wasn’t the whole idea to show something that was representative of my work so far? I left after the prints were up, and took the ride back to Norwalk to some place called the Garden Hilton — there were no gardens that I could find, and I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Maybe this was just some opening night jitters. I found myself in the afternoon visiting graveyards in Norwalk.

The opening reception on Thursday night was packed. However, most of the activity centered on what wines were available and I remember thinking that if I could have had my work behind the bar — I would have turned a nice profit. I spent most of the night answering the three questions -

1. Where was that shot taken?

2. Where was that shot taken?

and

3. Can you tell me where you took that shot?

Somehow, I expected more sophisticated questions.

I don’t drink, and in trying to fit in, discovered that the bar was serving Cranberry juice. Sort of looks like wine, so I began drinking cranberry juice all night. But it was starting to make me sick to my stomach.

A guy, who I later discovered was a painter (Bill), noticed me answering the same questions over and over and said to his date that tomorrow he would be answering the same inane questions. He told me that I should start answering questions with questions. If someone said, “Where was that taken?” I should respond with, “Where does it look like it was taken?”

I tried this on one elderly couple. The woman asked me, “Where was that shot taken” — [never mind that I think most of the prints actually say where they were taken in pencil on the lower left hand corner] — and I smoothly replied, “Where does it look like it was taken?” And she said, “I don’t know, that’s why I asked” and got a bit huffy and moved on to get a refill of Chardonay 1957.

I didn’t know anyone at the reception, and didn’t know anything about what they were talking about — mostly rowing, and the stock market — and couldn’t really find a place for myself in the crowd. Every once in a while, the owner would walk by and say, “Mingle”. I would mutter, “I’m mingling, I’m mingling.”

But I am not a mingler, and never have been. I can be fairly entertaining at a dinner party, where you can sit around and make conversation — but I found myself trying to feign interest in rowing and wine.

Someone said, that their son or daughter was getting ready for the ‘nationals’ — and the only thing I could come up with was that it was horse racing — National Velvet? And I said, are they a jockey? And they looked at me like I was the alien from the Bronx (which I was) and said — “No, the Nationals are rowing championships. Rowing is very big out here.” I had noticed a lot of rowing on the river during my morning walks, but it must have been for beginners, because no one was going very fast, and there was always a little boat nearby with someone yelling things at the students. I didn’t know if the boat was there to save them in case they tipped over, or whether this was instructional.

Although there was some very big (size-wise) art hanging on the walls — I don’t remember anyone looking at it except by accident, as could happen to anyone who wasn’t careful. I mostly stood by my prints and if anyone looked mildly interested, I would say, “I’m the guy who shot these things. If there’s anything you want to know… any questions…”

- I have a question.

- Yes.

- Where were these taken?

A real-estate developer came up to me at the bar, and I told him how I had been doing computer programming and now was trying to make a living with photography, and he asked me if I had studied the Torah? I said something like, “Not really, I was a secular Jew.” Which basically meant I wasn’t exactly an Hebraic scholar.

He then said the only actually surprising thing I heard in the four days that I was in Westport:

“You know, that the highest purpose according to the Torah, is to create art?”

“Really, I did not know that.”

I wracked my mind for instances of Talmudic artists, but nothing came to mind. Were the guys at B&H Photo all secretly artists?

And he said it was so.

And that he wondered if he could use my artistic eye for something. He then talked about a development he was working on, and how he needed someone to do something… something that he couldn’t do because he wasn’t creative at all… and would I bring my camera with me tomorrow and meet him in front of the Gallery.

I wasn’t sure what he was asking me to do, but I said, “sure”. He shook hands with me and said with a grand gesture, “You’re hired!”

Hired for what? Well, whatever it was, I was ready. Maybe I wouldn’t sell any pictures, but would become a real-estate photographer.

That night, I left the party early, and slept very poorly. As far as I could tell, I hadn’t sold any pictures, and had been hired to do something with the camera, but wasn’t sure what.

The next morning, I arrived in front of the Gallery, and was waiting there when the Gallery owner arrived. She mentioned, casually as she was opening the door that three of my large prints had sold, the night before after I had left. I thought to myself — fantastic — my expenses are covered. Anything else is gravy. And I also wondered whether they had sold BECAUSE I had left? Possibly I was a jinx, or simply people didn’t want to buy things when the artist was around.

He was a “very big client” and he had bought three prints.

Well now. Maybe I was an idiot. Maybe I just had to go with the flow. Things were looking up.

And then the real-estate guy arrived, and I went outside and he was there with his contractor and they were looking at the facade of a nearby building and talking about how to get the display area further out to the street. He said, “You have a good eye, what’s your input?”

Was this what he had wanted advice about? Anyway, he got into a fast-moving conversation about the arch and building codes, and which way a door should open, and how much display space could be gained if they moved a wall, and I just stood there feeling quite dumb about it all. Finally, I said, “I have to get going. I’ve sold three prints and I need to get back to the hotel to pick up some more.” And he said that he wanted to take me out to his new development, that’s why he had called me down there, and was again asking whether I could take pictures that would show a certain color, and was pointing to a shade in the stucco of the store, and I was feeling lost again about what he wanted, and just said, “No. That’s not really for me.”

I still have no idea what he was talking about and guess I never will.

And so I headed back to the hotel to pick up more prints to replace the ones that had been sold.

When I returned with the prints, I told the assistant there that maybe it would be a good idea to keep the big red ‘sold’ stickers on the prints, so that it would give people a sense that something had already been bought, and would give them confidence that they weren’t alone in making their purchase. In fact, I was thinking that even if nothing was sold, it might be a good idea to do this. Sort of like priming the pump.

I left the Gallery and went to do some shooting.

Now it’s Saturday morning and I drive into town, and see the whole Art Fair being set up. It is huge. Over 100 exhibitors. The painting is very middle of the road stuff — flowers, landscapes, copies of various artists styles — oh, there’s someone who can do what looks like Renoir. There’s one that looks like Monet. There’s one that looks like it was done by a psychotic out-patient. Someone told me that unless “there’s a horizon line in the painting, it won’t sell in Westport.” I began to wonder whether I had any horizon lines in my prints? “Promenade” had a sort of horizon line — that should do well.

It’s about nine-o’clock, and its already 85 degrees. I walk up to the gallery. It seems even further way from the fair than it did when I first rolled into town. There are some beautiful girls at the entrance of the fair handing out flyers, and driving people into the main street — but I don’t see anyone walking up towards the gallery.

The painter that I had met at the reception (Bill) , and five other painters are setting up tents outside the gallery. Well, one tent is in front of the gallery, but a few smaller tents are down the block in front of what appears to be a dress store for teenage girls. I have a few wheely things to put my prints on, but no tent. I look for shade from a pretty barren tree, and bring my work out. I’ve been told to try and get people into the gallery by having some of my work outside.

During the first three hours, I would say that about ten people walk by. And even if they’re mildly interested, they’re not going to buy anything until they go to the fair first. And once they go to the fair, you never see them again.

There’s a sense of good-humored pessimism amongst the artists that I’m with, and we dub our encampment, ‘Little Siberia’.

Directly across the street is a bank with a large digital clock / thermometer. We stare at the clock as the temperature begins to rise. As the sun moves, I move my wheelies around following the shadow of the tree, to try and keep the prints cool. If anyone does walk by, they stop to look for a fraction of a second at my prints, but then there attention is grabbed by either the dresses, or the shoes or a big cage of turtle-doves that are nearby. One person is holding one of my prints in hand and asks me,

“Are those turtle-doves?”

“No that’s Central Park”, I say, feeling the first symptoms of sun-poisoning.

And I don’t notice any kind of spillover from the fair being sucked uphill to us. Nothing. Nada. Sometimes an entire hour will pass before someone strolls by Siberia. One of the artists says that really this should be called Alaska, since we’re not part of the contiguous fairgrounds. So Bill and I sit there under the tent, and drink water, and exchange the stories of our lives, and look at the digital clock / thermometer across the street, and as they said in the opening to Cassablanca — “we wait, and wait, and wait…”

Eventually, somebody comes by and wants to see more of my prints. I take him into the gallery. I notice that the red ‘sold’ stickers have been removed from my prints. I ask the assistant why she removed them, and she tells me that the person who had bought the prints, had come back the next morning and changed his mind. Its not like he had taken them home and seen that something was wrong with them, or they looked differently. They were still hanging on the panels in the store.

What could have happened? I like to think that he realized he needed the money for rowing lessons for his kids.

I’m outside again in the blazing sun. The glass in the frames is really acrylite. What’s the melting point of arcylite? What happened overnight to change that guys mind? What do you think could have changed his mind? Why am I here?

The thermometer hikes up another point. I think I notice steam coming out of one of my pictures…the glass has clouded up — I rush along with the other artists to move the pictures back into the shade. According to one Elizabeth, there is moisture in the mat that is starting to turn into steam.

My thoughts are running together, and now my family is arriving. My father and sister walk up the hill and see me wilting with the prints. This is getting embarrassing. My sister asks me how its going, knowing too well that its not going, its melting. I tell her, that in my humble opinion, its a disaster. An utter disaster!

There’s nobody around. All the action is down at the fair. I take them into the gallery to show them how the work has been hung. We’re the only ones in there. They just shake their heads sadly. My sister, who had managed to get me this ‘gig’ through a friend — apologizes to me. They stay around for about an hour, but its too painful to watch.

Eventually, I meet someone (I know you’ll be reading this but I forgot your name) who knew me from the web site, and has been keeping up with the journals. He purchases ‘Steps of Met’. My first actual sale. A little later, or maybe it was before, I’m pretty much sunstroke at this point, I sell a large print of ‘Midnight at Grand Central Station’. From the small band of artists out front, I’m the only one who’s sold anything so far. Bill, my new painter friend is praying to sell one painting.

“Just let me sell one painting. Please. Anything. Even a little one.”

I ask him if he’s religious. He says no, but he’s slowly becoming religious. He has one small painting of someone ‘rowing’. I urge him to put that somewhere prominent (and the next day he does sell this one).

Saturday, I go back to the hotel, having survived 8 hours in the sun. [I actually did quite a bit of shooting while I was in Westport -- and I think did some interesting work. Mostly graveyards which seemed somehow appropriate for my mood. And one very promising shot of two kids in their pajamas dancing on a window ledge in Starbucks.]

The final day. Sunday. I arrive with the bright idea of making a sign and mounting it on top of the SUV. Bill thinks this is a smashing idea. He and Elizabeth (another member of Siberia) get together and make a huge sign, which we then tape to roof rack of the SUV. It says, “ART SHOW” with an arrow pointing to where we were huddled under the tents. At least we’re trying something to attract attention. We are saying things like, “Perhaps we should take our clothes off and lie naked down the center line of the road.” We’re toying with the idea of mugging someone should they happen by, but no one happens by. One of the slogans I remember was, “FREE SEX” and in smaller letters, “with your spouse”. And another idea was “FREE PARKING” which all parking was anyway.

There’s some construction going on across the street, and Bill and I rush there and swipe the orange road cones and put them in front of our tents so that cars can’t park there, and someone comes out with that yellow police tape, and we’re taping this stuff all over the place. I tell Bill that all we need now is a chalk outline on the sidewalk. Because this is truly beginning to look like a crime scene.

We decide that if the cops ask us what we’re doing with the police tape and the traffic cones, we’ll say that officer Mauldoon gave us permission (Mauldoon is from car 54). The manager of the teenage dress shop says that we would do better if we put the SUV with the sign on the opposite side of the street — but if I do that the arrow on the sign will be pointing the wrong way, so I drive to opposite side of the street and park the car in the wrong direction, facing traffic. Now we’re going to cause some kind of rubber-necking accident. Bill notices that the cops have stopped by and are about to write a ticket. I rush across the street. The officer says, “You’ve got to turn the car around”. Well, I can’t exactly turn the car around, so I drive it back across to our side of the street so its facing the right direction.

Bill says, “I owe him for that. Once the cops pen touches the ticket book, they must write a ticket.” I tell him that Group Siberia had already agreed to split the ticket with me if I got one.

Well, there were a lot of other things that happened that might be funny if they weren’t so sad. I did end up selling a few more prints — so in total I sold five. Two were sold to other artists who were out there with me. One was sold to a Canadian who must have gotten lost on his way to the fair. At 4:30, I packed it in — and all the care with which I had originally packed things when I went up there was thrown to the wind, and I threw stuff in the back of the SUV — exchanged emails and phone numbers with my fellow denizens of Siberia — and headed for I95 like a bat out of hell.

I do want to say, that the only thing that made this tolerable — were the good-natured painters who were out there all day. There was plenty of gallows-humor to be had — and by and large they all seemed to take it with more grace and understanding than I was capable of. Thanks to Bill — Elizabeth — David — don’t remember the other’s names — but it was fun to sit around and talk about Monet, and hear stories about Picasso, and have someone to grouse and complain with.

* * *

7-24-01

Just for the record — the prints that sold at Westport were:
‘Midnight at Grand Central’ (not on site)
‘Holding Hands’
‘Steps of Met’
‘Trees, Yosemite’

And one other one which I can’t remember.

Print that drew the most questions: ‘Girl and Giants’

Print that almost burned up in the sun: ‘Night Storm’

Print that drew the most ‘oohs and ahs’ : ‘Promenade’

The prints that were sold and then unsold: [read previous entry]

Midnight at Grand Central

Newstand

Marsh

* * *

Dropped off 7 rolls of film at Duggal this morning. This is part of my ritual of walking the 4+ miles to drop them off, and then 4+ miles to retrieve them. Very muggy this morning during the walk, but after Westport, the walk to Duggal was a piece of cake.

I now have a backlog of about 20 new prints that are at least doing a work print of — things that I’m very excited about. Actually, I haven’t been this excited and eager to explore my negatives in years.

I may stop the limited edition thing for all new prints.

7-26-01

Here are a few pictures of ‘Little Siberia’ a.k.a. our little corner of the Westport Fair:

Picture One

Picture Two

If you look hard, you can imagine the crowds…

* * *

Here’s a preview of some of one of the new pictures that I’ll be adding to the site…

Man With Sink

Bench And River

* * *

7-28-01

The only chips I like are those made out of sliced potatos. Lately, nearly everyone that emails me something has some virus attached to it.

This morning I go to scan a few negatives in with my Sprintscan 4000. Normally you put the holder in, and at a certain point it catches and the scanner pulls it in. Of course this morning it never catches. Windows 2000 says that there is no scanner attached. Hmmm. I haven’t changed anything since last night when it was working fine. I haven’t touched the scanner, installed any new software, touched the cables, or anything else.

So I pick up the Leica and go out. As I’m walking down the street, I gently press the shutter to check exposure, and voila, no lights turn on. The batteries must be gone. Weird — batteries are only a month old. [The new TTL model of the Leica has a pretty weird way of turning the camera off -- you need to set the shutter dial to 'off' AND the camera should not be 'cocked'. Of course I always cock the shutter after taking a shot so that I'm ready for the next shot. So either the batteries were low to begin with, or this thing really drains batteries if its on.]

Could something have happened last night? Was there some kind of electromagnetic wave that went through the house?

The printer has been on the blink also. First off — it has been ‘banding’ for months now. Printing every other line or something. Then it I start getting ‘connection’ not found errors. But they are sporadic. It might have something to do with AOL Instant Messenger. Seems to work better when Instant Messenger isn’t loaded.

Don’t you wonder whether all this efficiency that was suppose to be the result of computers has been realized? Are we spending just as much time making sure that the tools of efficiency are working? Are we going forwards or backwards?

Everyone on the upper east side has been wired to these little devices — palm pilots, organizers, phones, beepers, and soon to come, I’m sure, electronic implants in the cranium. After all, wouldn’t it be more effective to have the little gizmos in our brains, than having to wear them on our hips?

And then those out-patients from Bellvue who have been complaining that the CIA has implanted transmitters in their teeth, will turn out to be prophets.

And o.k. I realize the irony that I’m using this technology to broadcast these thoughts… and computers have been used to manufacture the lenses that I like to use and the cameras etc.

When I was a kid, if the radio went bad, you could open it up and see which tube had blown, or even get a little gadget to check tubes. I was about eight years old and could usually figure out which tube needed to be replaced. Now, when the radio goes bad, you generally toss the whole thing. That’s progress.

7-29-01

I was at the park today, roller-blading. Enjoying the pleasant summer day. I notice a father teaching his son how to skate. I watch them for a while, thinking about how my own father taught me to throw a ball, and I’m thinking how idylic this is. The father seems to be doing quite a bit of instructing. I have my walkman on, and can’t hear what he’s saying, but he is certainly giving some very thorough instructions to the kid. This whole thing is taking me back to thoughts about how these arcane skills are passed on from father to son — and I’m thinking of what skills are being passed down to sons in tribes in Africa, and my thoughts are wandering and I find myself skating closer to the father and son. As I approach, I take off my headphones, and say something like, “Nice day. It wasn’t that long ago that I was learning.”

The father looks at me closely, and at my skates, and tells me that I should really remove the automatic brake I have on the right skate. That its very important to at least raise the brake, or I’ll never learn more advanced techniques.

And instead of being relaxed, he’s very intense about it. Damn, I think, just another guy trying to foist his ideas about perfection down someone’s throat.

I ask him what advanced techniques he’s talking about. He tells me things like, cross-overs, and stop-spins, and a few other things that I don’t remember. And now, as I look at him closely, I realize that he’s not the kid’s father, but a professional blade instructor. And my whole picture of this scene fades to black.

First off, I never asked for advice. I know that what he is saying is exactly true. But so what?

Do I do the same thing with people? I too have ideas about what is a good way to learn photography — but I don’t think I give advice unless it’s asked for — and I always preface things with ‘What are you looking to achieve?’

7-30-01

Just received the postcards that were made up as invitations to the Agora show. Not bad, but not great either. They were done in four-color — of course the original print is black & white — and there’s a touch of sepia in parts of the print (Marsh, Central Park). Also, the size that they’ve indicated for the print is wrong (4″ x 6″) — but I guess it gets the idea across. Kind of my own fault — they wanted more money to get a ‘proof’ done first, and I decided to try and cut that expense, plus proofing took longer, and I wasn’t sure I’d get ‘em in time. C’est la vie.

I’m doing a day a week at the ad agency as a consultant. If I had to depend solely on the sale of prints, I’d be on welfare in six months.


5-26-01

I bought a Leica yesterday. The M6 with .85 magnification. I traded in my view camera which I hadn’t used in over a year and a half, so it didn’t cost me anything. I had been shooting with a friend’s Lecia for a while, hoping to get this out of my system. But instead I fell in love with it.

5-31-01

Started with the m6 with the .85 magnification and the 35mm f1.4. The lens of course was great. I didn’t like the .85 magnification. Too difficult with the 35mm to really see the whole frame at one time. Also, the meter was off, about 1/2 stop more than it should have been. I returned it to Ken Hansen. No problem. Got the .72 magnification. Much better for the two lenses that I use most often, the 35 and the 50. Once in a while I will use the 90.

Some of the shots that I did with the 75mm wide open at f1.4, with available light were really beautiful. Took one of the best portraits of someone that I’ve ever taken. The problem that I had with the 35mm and the .85 magnification was that I simply saw things so well in the frame, i.e. details of expressions of people who were small in the frame, that I forgot the fundementals — don’t have stuff in the frame that is irrelevant. I also knew that the meter was wrong, so I didn’t trust it, and was off with a bunch of exposures. But with four rolls under my belt, the biggest obstacle is trying to keep my fingerprints off the viewfinder when I change film. Another downside of the .85 mag, is that you lose one of the really great features of the rangefinder, being able to see what’s happening on the edges outside the frameline.

Metering on the second body seems to be right on, and the frame lines for the 35 and 50 are perfect.

June 1, 2001

I shot a roll to test the 50mm f2, and the 90 f2 apo, (not to mention the new body) with XP2, just so that I could drop it off at the local color lab and get it back in an hour.

Its not a very scientific test, but I basically walked around with the 400 film, looked for stuff like writing that would be very, very tiny in the frame, and tried to shoot as much as I could in the shadows so that I’d be wide open, or nearly wide open. The results, looking at the negatives on a light-box with a 16x loupe — as good as I’ve ever seen. The best lens I’ve ever used was the Zeiss planar 3.5 on the Twin Lens Reflex. It could resolve beyond the capability of 100 film. And also gave a kind of depth to the photos. These lenses are right up there. But what was really interesting, is that both lenses had ‘pop’ wide open.

The metering in this second body also seems right on, and it rewinds more smoothly than the first one. I think the first one was a clunker. I guess that’s surprising from Leica, my friend also said he had trouble with the first body he bought and returned it.

And — none of this was done on a tripod, but I was shooting at either 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second.

I’ll give you an example. I’m shooting on across second avenue (a fairly wide street) with the 50mm. On the other side of the street is a Korean grocery. In the window of the grocery is a small cigarette ad. Now, looking across the street I can’t see this ad. But in the negative, with the 16x loupe, I can just make out the writing which must be less than a hundreth of the frame. Each letter is about two or three grains of halide and is still readable. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten results like this from other glass — but not wide open.

So, that’s it for now. I’ll send in the registration cards, and get used to the camera over the next few months.

— Began wearing a contact lens is just my right eye. This gives me almost perfect vision, and at the same time I can see things closely very well also. The optomotrist said that most people have trouble doing this, and actually asked me to sign a piece of paper saying that I had been advised not to do anything dangerous while using this monovision technique. I told him that my ‘pilot’s license had expired’.

This method is perfect for use with the rangefinder, because you can get your shooting eye closer to the viewfinder.

June 3, 2001

I guess this stuff about the Leica won’t be interesting to many people. Eventually I’ll put my experiences on a separate page. Suffice it to say, that I’m shooting again. Of course, now I’ve let the printing slide… can’t have everything. Its weird weather today. Sun going in and out. The 2nd avenue fair is nearby, and if its not too sunny, I may get something there. The average person sees a bright sunny day as the perfect time to take out the camera. For me, I’ll take a dark overcast day anytime.

June 7, 2001

The M6 has given me a new lease on life. My shooting style is changing tremendously again. Example: there was a shot that I had been wanting to take for sometime in the subway at 51st street. Just a hoard of people coming towards me, but the lighting is pretty good, and I was able to get several shots at f2 without feeling that I was compromising anything by shooting wide open. I know walk around with the 50mm f2 as my normal lens. I even asked the optomotrist to pose behind the ‘eye machine’ whatever that thing is called… and took two shots, and the whole thing was just very easy going. I cannot explain any of this, but these are shots that I would not have taken with other cameras. Go figure.

I think that I’m going to take a leave of absence from my part-time job… It looks like the Soho show will be from Aug. 21st to Sept. 21st. Is that a good time? Who knows. People kind of away… whatever. The timing is good for me, because I will have the Westport and Soho shows within a month of each other and get it over with. The tiny little studio will be filled with frames etc. Also found out that I’ll need to put up some sort of tent/canopy thingy at Westport. Basically they just give you the space on the street, and you supply the rest.

***

What in the heck is an artist anyway? People write to me asking me as an artist to tell them what or why I do what I do. However many times that I explain it, it comes out wrong. The woman in the gallery says, “we try to make it as easy as we can for the artist’. The student in Wichita asks me, why I decided to become an artist. Somebody recently asked me ‘what contribution I had made to the history of photography.’ I’m not kidding. Somebody else told me that the artist needs to stake out a certain area for himself. Needs some kind of gimmick. Why did I first get interested in photography? Why did I decide to make it a career. The simple answer may be that its the only thing that I didn’t fail at. Ten years in the film business and what did I have to show for it — unproduced screenplays, little lighting touches on lousy films… What if that picture I wrote and sold had actually been produced? What if Lee Marvin hadn’t died before the picture was made? What if? My life has been more like a pinball machine. Picture the silver ball rolling down between the flippers… I keep trying to hit with various flippers… and then one of them connects. So I end up in photography. So the answer may be chance, and continuous attempts.

Anyway, I’m phasing myself out of the 9-5 world… so it sort of feels like walking off a cliff, but I guess that’s the way it has to be.

June 9, 2001

Finally had a chance to print two of the shots from the last week or so of Leica shooting — and the results are quite beautiful. One is a shot of a friend at work, shot with the 75mm f1.4 wide open, at about 1/125 of a second. What is amazing is the overall sharpness on the plane of the fellow’s face, and the way the focus softens as it moves towards his shoulders and ears. Now any lens wide open will do that, i.e. have a very narrow depth of field — but what’s amazing is that the plane itself is so crisp, and the way the rest of the picture moves out of focus so smoothly. Alright. I can’t put it into words. The other shot is looking down into a complex geometric structure — old cobblestones, stairs at strange angles, gates, fences etc. with a wide variety of light. This was shot with the 35mm f1.4, closed down a few stops. The picture has the feel of the old Leica stuff I remember from HCB books. I know the arguments about lenses etc. wage on forever, and I won’t get into that here. But there is something special about the look of these lenses that I am not able to describe.

June 10, 2001

Did some shooting at the Puerto Rican day parade. After walking around through the crowds, I thought to myself, I wonder if I can actually find anything touching or beautiful here. Not the normal type of street photography grab shots. And turned around and there was a guy who was selling flavored ice from a rig he made out of a wheelchair. Maybe I got something there.

I’ve been wearing one contact lens in my shooting eye, and have had trouble getting it out. I had the Leica pressed against my eye and turned it to do a vertical shot, and my contact popped out! Maybe there are other uses for this camera?

June 11, 2001

I had to raise the prices of the prints on the site. I was selling about four or five prints a week at the 5 x 7 size, and one or two at the larger sizes every few weeks, but it simply wasn’t worth the time and effort. Also, now that I’m doing more exhibiting, if someone finds that they can buy the same print for half-price on-line, they would feel cheated. My idea was to make prices on line about 1/3 less expensive than at the art show, with the idea that the person at the art show is actually seeing the print and knows exactly what they’re getting, while the person on the web is going on faith.

Last night I framed the picture of my friend that I had done with the Leica 75mm, and am very happy with it.

June 14, 2001

Yesterday, I took an extended unpaid leave of absence from my part-time job at the ad agency. For better or worse — I’m now doing photography full-time. The last day was full of sad partings from friends.

Did some testing of VC Fiber paper today because I wasn’t happy with some of the prints done on graded paper. Results are promising.

June 17, 2001

What is an artist? Here’s Laurie’s definition:

“An ‘artist’ is an extremely sensitive person that appreciates the view of the
world in a different light than a “non-artist.” They also tend to do what
they want to do, when they want to do it! ”

I don’t know about that. They may be sensitive, but many have been quite cruel to the people around them.

Is it the pursuit of ‘beauty’? Do they have a different take on the world? Ansel Adams described his work as trying to convey the same feelings he had when taking the shot to the person who looks at the print.

I like to think that it is an emotional experience for the artist to create the work. But Thomas Mann wrote 3 pages a day, or something like that, and its said that he would simply stop in the middle of the page if he had fulfilled his word count for the day. Doesn’t sound like he was exactly carried away by the moment, yet he wrote some beautiful work.

Michaelangelo said that you should be able to look at a blank wall, and envision something beautiful there.

Van Gogh, fought, bickered, and alienated all around him. Yet his quest and passion are in every brush stroke.

For me — I guess its always been a desire to create. I wrote movies, poetry, music, even at one point did some painting. Its as if I was always looking for an outlet for things that I thought were novel, or unusual. But were they really unusal? The best I can say is that it takes the form of some kind of obsession, that cannot be blocked by financial or societal influences. Its no different than wanting to be a great athlete, or a great accountant. But the target is different.

Anyway, if anyone has any other definitions or ideas about what an artist is, let me know. Its pretty unclear to me.

***

So, those tests that I did with the VC Fiber paper really paid off. They are dry now, and I compared them to the old prints I had — and the black are better in the new prints. I don’t put myself anywhere near the company of Brett Weston, but I remember seeing some of his prints at a gallery, one in particular of some trees along a canal in Belgium — and i had that in mind in re-printing ‘promenade’. I wanted to preserve good separation in the mid-tones of trees in the background, while getting a rich dark black for the foreground trees, and a sense of light to the walkway. And after much experimentation — I think I got this. Now I can’t say exactly how I did it, because I changed three variables at once: I increased the ratio of selenium toning and extended the toning for 6 minutes; I used Dektol 1:2 instead of 1:3 as I had been doing; and I switched papers to VC Fiber, which gave me better control of contrast. Now, I really like the print again.

6-18-01

Today was pretty much of a waste. It started off okay. I was all prepared to print, when I realized I had no selenium left. Now that I’m using higher concentrations, I go through it pretty quick. Too lazy to take a trip downtown, I called B&H to see how long it would take to ship some. That was stupid. At least a few days. So I got on the subway and went down to Adorama and brought back as much Selenium as I could carry.

On the way upstairs, I checked the mail, and received a money order for an order from Canada. So I decided to get those prints packed and shipped before setting up the darkroom. Big mistake.

First I put the prints in a Fedex box, and as I was filling out the international form, realized that it was going to a P.O. Box. I figured this would be a problem, but the thing was already wrapped and taped, so I walked up to Fedex. Sure enough — they wanted a phone number and would then hold it for whoever but wouldn’t deliver to a p.o. box. Somehow I knew this was true for the U.S., but thought maybe they felt differently about foreign p.o. boxes. Duh!

And I had no phone number. Also, they wanted $45 to ship it. I had quoted the Canadian $10. Okay, so I take the package back to the house. Look around for something to put it in. After some futzing, I get it into a U.S. Priority Box. I like those boxes. Then off to the Post Office. Nice long line. Really hot. Everyone gets to the counter and realizes that there’s some form they didn’t fill out. Things are dragging badly.

Finally get up to the window and the guy says, no way can you send it to Canada like that. You’ll need to get paper and cover every part of the box that says U.S. Priority. Anything that’s blue or red needs to be covered. I should have figured that. Why was I being so dumb today.

There’s a line to get brown paper, so I walk back home.

In the house, I unwrap this one again, and now try to figure out another way to wrap it. I finally hit on taking an old photo paper box. Wrap that in brown paper, re-address it, and off I go. Of course now the line is even longer. So I ended up sending it air mail to Canada for $4.50.

In case you’re wondering, I simply don’t have these problems shipping to the U.S. If its an inexpensive order, I can put it into a mailer, or a U.S. Priority box. If its a bigger more expensive print, I can do the Fedex box, or even take two cardboard boxes lying flat and tape the print between them. But once it goes foreign — watch out.

Time spent wrapping, walking, labeling, unpacking, standing on line, etc — I would guess at least three hours.

Oh yeah — but I did figure out what those damned things are called that you use for getting a credit card impression (for the upcoming fair) — imprinters. And placed an order via fax to the company that makes ‘em.

Well — tomorrow’s another day, and I’ve got plenty of Selenium.

And one more thing — I did some shooting on the way to all these places. I’m getting good at focusing while having a package under my arm.

6-19-01

Gripe du jour: since I’ve been on the internet, I’ve probably received about 40 requests from students asking for more information from me about my photographic life. Everything from a college student who is doing a report on the psychology of creativity, to high school students who have selected me as their photographer to study. Each time, I ask the student to send me a copy of the report when its finished. So far, not a single one has sent me a copy of what they wrote. This must have something to do with the nature of the internet. But often I feel as if I was doing the person’s homework for them.

Today I’m trying to decide whether to re-print ‘Marsh’ or ‘Flat Iron and Equitable Buildings’. I have to admit that I’m putting more into the printing process now, since I know the prints will be on exhibit. I even went so far as purchasing some retouching inks (for spotting out dust etc.) — which I’ve never had the patience for. Its not that I haven’t tried hard to make beautiful prints, but there is a little bit extra effort going on here. Maybe like the athlete who finds himself in a race for the pennant or something.

Somewhere, not that far in the back of my head (since I’m aware of it) — I’m trying to match the brilliant printing I saw of Brett Weston.

Maybe its more like an actor who’s in a long run of the play. How do you get yourself up for the 200th performance? I guess I’m going to go for ‘Flat Iron’ because with the new formula I’m using lately, it should be interesting to see if I can achieve rich blacks and still keep some detail in the flat iron part of the picture.

Of course, the gallery wasn’t interested in anything but the ‘popular beautiful’ type of print. These to me are more about technique than anything really original. But hey, what do I know? I’ve sold more of Promenade than any other print, although I believe that the shot of the guy spitting out mouthwash, or the funeral chaufeur are much more unusual. O.K. enough griping, let’s go setup the 16 x 20 trays…

3pm Done for the day as far as printing goes. Ended up doing ten 16 x 20 prints of ‘Marsh’. That’s as much as I can dry at one time. Took from 9am to now.

One other interesting idea — instead of doing contact sheets, I’ve started scanning the negatives with a flatbed and transparency holder — which gives me the equivalent of enlarged contacts. Really a great thing, and I wish I had thought of it sooner.

It seems to me that this whole controversry about digital vs. traditional techniques actually went on in the music world when syntheziers were first introduced. Now, there are computerized instruments, samplers, that can give you the exact sound and quality of a Steinway Grand piano. Similar feel to the keyboard action also. But have the replaced traditional pianos? My guess is that they’ve cut into the market, but not replaced pianos.

Maybe twenty years from now, digital cameras will have 75% of the camera market. Maybe. But that will only increase the value of those who are still laboring in the darkroom. And I guess the real point is that its the person behind the equipment, whether its an old Hammond organ, or a Casio syntheziser (forgive the spelling) that will always be the crucial ingredient.

Or put another way — video monitors and computerized effects have taken over movies — but without a story, without some artistic innovations, vision etc. they are as useless.

6-20-01

Just spent $1000 for frames from lightimpressions. (about 30 frames ranging in size from 11 x 14 to 20 x 24). I hope that I sell a few prints, or my studio is going to be impossible to walk around in.

So I say to the guy at lightimpressions — don’t ship me a partial order. I want to get it all together. And he says, ‘I just want to tell you something.’

Me: What?

He: Right now, the 16 x 20 and 20 x 24 frames are out of stock. While you’re waiting for these items to come back into stock, another part of your order that’s currently in stock, might go out of stock. In other words, you might wait months for your order if everything isn’t in stock at exactly the same time (if you want the full order shipped together).

Me: Okay, forget what I said. Just ship whatever you’ve got.

In computer programming — this would be called ‘an infinite loop’. In philosphy, a tautology. And in the photo business, something to be avoided.

***

You have to put the frames together yourself. The thing that takes the longest is removing the sticky paper from both sides of the plexiglass. Maybe I’m doing it wrong (can there be a wrong way?) — but yesterday, it took about ten minutes to remove the stuff from one 20 x 24 plexiglass. This could be a new form of exercise. An olympic event perhaps? And oh yes — do it without getting any fingerprints or sweat on the glass or you get disqualified. Would the plexiglass removers form be important? On the adhesive paper, it says to make sure you have the correct side facing out? One side I guess has some non-glare coating or something. O.K. second part of the contest — which side goes out? Try as I might — both sides of the plexiglass look the same to me.

* * *

Latest screw up: Had stacked my fiber prints from yesterday on screens to dry. Usually, I spread them out all over the floor on the screens. So I go to flatten them in the dry mount (as I usually do) — and after about doing five flattening sessions, the sixth print seems to stick to the mat board in the dry mount. Huh? I gingerly pull it off with a slight sticking sound. I do another one. Then it hits me, the prints on the bottom of the stacked screens weren’t fully dry yet. I’m not sure if I ruined these prints or not — as I may re-wet them, and let them dry again.

6-21-01

Anyone who’s trying to sell prints over the web might be interested in this — after I raised the price of the smaller prints, I haven’t had a single sale. This was exactly what I expected. Maybe its coincidence and has nothing to do with the pricing, but I doubt it. Other photographers had told me that the prices were way to cheap for hand-printed work, but I had said that web denizens simply have a lower price in mind then if they were standing in front of the actual print.

Btw, if the prices are too low, they also won’t sell because the buyer thinks the print must not be very good if it is selling too low.

So here’s my experience — for a 5 x 7 on 8 x 10 mat, the price that has done the best is $25. For the 8 x 10 on 11 x 14 board — $40. Add ten dollars to each of these prices and sales drop to next to nothing. And as far as the limited edition prints go — I’d say about $150 is the top limit.

I feel like putting something on the home page like: Support Your Local Artist (Support Your Local Sherrif with James Garner was a great movie) — but like my father always said, ‘the world don’t owe you a living’. What I do find annoying is that its always so much easier to make a living doing something like computer work which in the long run has almost no value, or at least a transient value at best, then trying to ‘make it’ as an artist. Yeah, yeah, gripe and grrrrr. I’m probably feeling second thoughts about having given up the steady but unsatisfying lucre of the ad agency job. Still, if I don’t sell a couple of big prints at the next two shows — I’m going to question some of latest life choices.

* * *

I strongly suggest that unless you have a stomach for tedium, you skip this next session. I just want to document what the printing process is like for me at the current time. I implore you to read on at your own risk:

I live in a studio which is 275 square feet. That includes a kitchen you can barely stand in, and an equally small bathroom. There’s one window which has a black cloth that can be dropped over it. Its held to the wall with velcro. So the routine is something like this:

1. Drop the black cloth over the window, and press the sides against the velcro. Then, there’s a second normal curtain that is a few inches from that which you need to press against the walls with tape or something.

2. I have a fold-out table — with formica-like top, that I pull into the center of the room, and open up two leafs. Its a bit wobbly, so I have an old glove which I stick under one of the wheels.

3. Assuming that the chemicals are already mixed, pull the big 16 x 20 trays out from where they are stacked on top of the print-washer in the bathoom and place them on the table. There are four trays in all. Each a different color so I know which is for which chemical.

4. Walk back and forth from bathroom to table with 1/2 gallon pitchers filled with chemicals. Pour the stuff in without splashing too much — or I might splatter something on one of the boxes that contain mat material.

5. Turn on the darkroom light.

6. I have negatives in three formats: 35mm, 6 x 6 cm, and 4 x 5 inches. Each format has its own lens. So if the wrong lens is in the enlarger, you unscrew it, and put the proper lens in. This has to be done in the dark, with the enlarger light on — to see that the lens is screwed in at the right angle, parallel to the easel.

7. Hunt for the negative. I have four used 4 x 5 boxes filled with strips of 35mm negatives. They’ve been separated into various sections of the alphabet: a-f, g-k, etc.

8. Put the negative into the holder, and do your best to get dust off the thing. I use a ‘radioactive brush’ first and then use compressed air on both sides of the neg. Once in a while, you find a bit of something stuck to the negative that simply won’t come up. This means trouble later, as you’ll probably need to do some re-touching on the print.

Up to this point may take anywhere from a 1/2 hour to an hour, depending on how many of the chemicals were already pre-mixed.

9. Now you turn on the safelight, turn off all the other lights, and go for it. If you’re lucky, you’ve got notes from a previous printing of the neg. to refer to. I have been keeping pretty good notes for the last two years or so.

Its at this point that I usually turn on music. It can’t be too loud, because I’ve got to be able to hear the timer which beeps to tell me how much time the print is being exposed to the light. Assuming that you’ve done the print before, the rest is routine. If its the first time you’re printing, then who knows. You can go a day or more on a particularly tough print.

10. Frame the print again on the easel. No matter how many times you’ve done the print, this always takes time. Simply making sure that the image size is right, and that the thing is straight, or crooked, or however you decided to do it.

11. Expose the print. If there is dodging and buring (which there almost always is), do it. Practice moving your hands or whatever around under the lights. A little ballet goes on here.

12. 2 minutes in the Dektol. 10 seconds in stop bath. 1 minute in rapid fixer. Don’t get your hands wet or when you go to pull out the next sheet of paper, you’ll leave marks on it.

13. After the fixer, the print goes in another tray (the 4th tray) which is just tap water. Kind of holding tray until the final wash etc. is done.

14. Turn on the incadescent light and look at it carefully. Are the tonal qualities what they should be? Is the print composed correctly? Remember that when the print dries, it is going to lose about 10% of its brightness (the dreaded dry-down effect).

15. Assuming all is okay, repeat the process for as many prints as you’ll be able to dry. For me, I have room on the drying screens for TEN 16 x 20 prints. So that’s all I do in one session.

16. Turn off enlarger, safelight — and if its a nice day — open the window and get some air in the place. Then before anything else…

17. Start emptying out the trays of chemicals. This means pouring the stuff into a 1/2 gallon pitcher, walking the pitcher back to the bathroom, and pouring the stuff into either the sink or the toilet. Do this for all the chemicals. Now I…

18. Bring the empty trays into the bathroom tub to be washed. Once the trays are washed I can…

19. Attach the hose of the print washer to the bathroom sink, and start to fill the print washer with water. Once its filled I carry the prints from the wash tray to the print washer, one or two at a time, dripping water/hypo on the floor as I go.

20. Get all the prints in the washer; adjust the water-flow so it doesn’t flow over into the neighbor downstairs, and

21. Take the washing tray into the bathoom. Clean it out, and fill it with print wash solution.

22. After prints have been in washer for a while, put them into print washing solution (maybe four at a time) and shuffle them by hand in the stuff for about 10 minutes. The print wash solution starts to turn purple. Take them out and put them back in the print washer.

(wow, I always knew this was a tedious process, but didn’t know how tedious until I tried to describe it)

23. Finally, the prints are in the print washer (I won’t even go into what the process is if Selenium toning is to be done).

Now you are free for a while. Relax. Clean up the stuff thats on the table. Fold the table back and roll it back where it belongs so its not in the center of the room. And…

24. When the prints are done washing (maybe an hour) — get the drying screens out of the closet.

25. Pull each print from the washer, one at a time, and I place them emulsion side up on my refridgerator where I wipe them gently with a squeege. Then I place them face up on a drying screen. I continue this process, building a stack of screens about ten high until all the prints are being dried.

The next day (if its not too humid) the prints should be dry.

I’m not going to go into matting and framing, because it is even more tedious. Remember, I warned you!

* * *

6-23-01

Buried in boxes from lightimpressions — and all that packaging paper.

Into third day of matting and framing. When my sister suggested that I show at some fairs — seemed like the thing to do. OK, I’m learning a lot about framing — like out to stick those little metal pressure things in so they don’t pop out and hit me in the eye. If someone buys a print from me, and tries to take it apart and one of those pressure bars pops out and blinds them — am I liable? I think I need to put one of those manufacturers’ warnings on the back -

This frame contains no servicable parts. Disassemble at your own risk. Not to be taken apart by anyone without wearing protective safety glasses.

6-25-01

O.K. According to my schedule, I was supposed to do some more printing today — but I think I’m going to take the day off. I’ve printed most of the stuff that interests me and can’t get the energy up to re-print the few things that are left that don’t really excite me much anymore. I can’t do any framing because I didn’t order enough of the little things you use to put the frames together (ordered more this morning). Its a beautiful day in NYC (not particularly good for shooting) so I guess its time to get out and walk around a bit. And I’m pretty much ahead of schedule. My carton box is filling up with matted prints, and as I say, have done all the framing I can do for now.

* * *

So you see I was feeling burnt out, and finally left the house with the leica, the 50mm, and the contact lens in my right eye (in case you haven’t been keeping up with all this, i’ve been wearing the one contact lens since i started using the rangefinder) — and headed out to the east river. Sat in the sun for two hours. I figure ‘o.k.’ nothing much to shoot and head back to the house. As I’m walking along I see a very expensive framing shop — and sort of keep going, but then I feel like there’s something there, so I turn back.

There are these two large ornate frames in the window, and through them you can see two guys sitting at their laptops. Sort of. There’s a lot of glare. But I take a couple of shots. One of the guys in the store comes out. I explain that I’m just curious about the frames, etc. etc. and he invites me in. (was this because of the Leica luck??) — and I walk in and he says ‘you can take pictures of anything you like’. The two guys are on the phone. One is negotiating a price on a frame from $1 million to $1.25 million.

I look around, and take the neutral density filter I was using off — and notice a cat curled up with these amazing frames in the background. Click, click. No one in the shop notices. I can see the cat’s expression (do cat’s have expressions?) perfectly. And I get up and thank the guy. He asks me if I’m interested in any frames? I laugh, not quite in that ballpark. I tell him that I took a few shots of the cat. And that’s that. Time to try and get that contact lens out.

6-26-01

One of the side effects of preparing for Westport and Soho shows — I’m framing and matting prints that I’ve never seen framed before. Normally I don’t frame something unless its been sold — but now things are framed in hopes of a sale. I had run out of the rectangular window mats, and put ‘Birches’ into a square window to see what it looked like — and was surprised to see that it looked stronger to me. I cut out the right side, and the composition was better. It always amazes me how much you can crop out of a print and still preserve or heighten the feeling.

Still no internet sales after raising the prices. All in all, I think that the internet is a pretty ineffective way of selling fine prints. People make inquiries — ‘oh you don’t have a particular print in the size that I want’ or ‘i love your stuff but don’t want to use my credit card on the web’, etc. etc. but if the price is low enough, orders will start to come in again. whether its worth it to me to sell prints at these prices is another story. i suspect that if i were selling inexpensive posters of my work, i could do better. it costs penny a piece to produce a poster, and they can easily be shipped in tubes. plus, they are in larger sizes than many of the prints, so they can be used more easily to decorate a room. its something that i’ve thought about doing for over a year now — but somehow haven’t gotten around to. it may be because you generally want to print a lot at one time to get the price down — and at those large sizes, i’m not sure where i’d store the stuff. but i imagine that posters would do well and would eliminate the problems of wrapping, matting, and packaging. i need to remind myself to give this a shot after these shows are over.

* * *

Just an interesting technical point (well interesting to me at the moment). Since using the Leica, I’ve found myself shooting quite often with 2 stop neutral density filters. The reason is that I normally shoot 400 film, and in bright daylight with the Leica with a top shutter speed of 1/1000 — I may simply run out of f-stop, or be shooting with too small an aperature. This has worked out very well, and given the fact that with most of my hand-held type photography I like a narrow depth of field. Of course, if I’m using the old hyperfocal trick — I’ll generally remove the filter. The whole process works quite well. In bright sunlight, I’m shooting at around f8/f11 — and in shade, around f4/f5.6. (at 1/500) — and if I want to shoot at f2.8, just kick the thing up to 1/1000. Quite useful. Someday I’d like to rent the Noctilux (f1.0) for a weekend and do some handheld night photography.

6-27-01

I truly wonder whether all this all this matting and framing changes a man? I’m going to think twice before the next time I click that shutter.

Two of the larger pieces of plexiglass arrived with their corners shattered. Quite amazing considering how well they were wrapped — bubble-wrap, miles of packing paper, etc. but the box looked like it had been dropped several feet on its corner. Nothing else was dammaged.

I keep fooling with this inkjet handout I want to bring to Westport — but it looks awful. It started out as sort of an artist’s statement — but I showed it to my sister who really edited it down. Now there’s not much left but a picture, a few words, and how to contact me. It’s the kind of dumb thing that can draw you in and waste a lot of time.

6-29-01

Need to get the grid for displaying/hanging the framed stuff for Westport. That’s pretty much the last piece of the puzzle. Also sent in request to the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit (212-982-6255). That’s Sept 1-3 and Sept 8, 9.

I guess that would be the easiest to do — but yikes — quite a schedule I’m setting for myself… Westport, then Soho and then Washington Square — ?? And there’s the possibility of Barcelona in Oct. Could be grueling. I guess you could easily spend half the year matting and framing and the rest of the time hopping through art festivals etc. Not exactly an easy life. I’ll try hard not to project too far into the future about this stuff.

Light Impressions were quite decent about the broken plexiglass and said they’d re-ship the pieces. As far as what I’m bringing to Westport — I’m erring on the side of bringing stuff that I know to be popular. Not necessarily what I like.

6-30-01

Received an email this morning, which made me think again about the ‘decisive moment’. Just to recap about the ‘decisive moment’ it describes a kind of school or style of photography. Cartier-Bresson was one of its practitioners. The classic example, is the man jumping over a puddle with a railway station in the background. The shot is blurry, and out of focus, and yet sort of funny because it seems obvious (at least the way I remember the picture) that in the next instant the man will land in the puddle. (At least that was always my take on it).

Some of my shots fall into that category — but many of them don’t. For example, during the last few weeks while I’ve been framing and matting, one of my favorite prints seems to be exactly the opposite — ‘Bike’. It is just a ‘Bike’ resting against a railing on a bridge in Central Park on a somewhat overcast day. It was taken on a tripod, with a medium format camera. And it went something like this — I was walking around with the camera attached to the tripod over a bridge in the park. I noticed the bike out of the corner of my eye, and also was struck by the angle of the wood slats in the floor of the bridge. But I walked past both on my way to… and I stopped in my tracks… i was thinking about the attachment I had to bike riding… i was thinking about a hill that i used to speed down on my bike when i was a kid… i was thinking… i had a feeling for this particular setting… had the slats of wood been going in a direction parallel to the bike, perhaps i wouldn’t have turned back to set up the tripod… or if it had been a bright sunny day… but there was a grayness that reminded me of cold Autumn days, and the feel of my hands stuck to the cold handlebars…

So I stopped and turned around. I remember trying to compose so that the lines of the wooden planks form a nice counterpoint to the plane of the bike… and thinking about putting the background just slightly out of focus, and the usual things… but then the sun came out and the look was gone, so i waited for a cloud, and then took the shot when it was overcast again.

Was this a ‘decisive moment’? Not really. The same picture could have been taken five minutes or maybe even an hour later with the same results, at least according to the subject. Can taking a picture of still life, perhaps a few oranges resting on a table under artificial light, have anything to do with a ‘decisive moment’?

I am tempted to say ‘yes’. I am tempted to try and expand the idea of the ‘decisive moment’ to something that happens internally to the photographer. In other words, it might mean the moment when all creative forces come together in a sort of unconscious way to produce a picture with meaning and feeling. But then I’ve gone to far, because it means that all great photography is about the ‘decisive moment’ and the term loses its meaning, or does it?

***

Hope about this? Timing and especially anticipation are important parts of photography, but so is tedium and slow careful, methodical planning. Sometimes there’s a little of both. Sometimes the meter points more to one end or the other of the spectrum. And the ‘decisive moment’ can be a part of even somewhat slow-moving static scenes. Example in my own work is ‘Promenade’ that shot with the view camera looking down between the rows of trees. Forgetting about everything else in the shot that is carefully composed — there are two dots, way off in the distance. I remember watching them walk away and thinking quite clearly to wait (anticipate) that they get to a certain spot in the frame so that the trees would have some scale. Not exactly static. But not a guy trying to jump over a puddle. Jazz or Mozart? The same piano is capable of playing both.

* * *

Here’s the letter that put that last diatribe in my head:

Hello Dave,
It’s been 18 months since I first found your web site and wrote you. You encouraged me to continue contacting you from time to time, and I hope you don’t feel that I’m intruding by doing so.

I note that my initial criticism is prominently displayed in your “letters” section, stating that I thought you had an editing problem, producing mostly “indecisive moments.” At first I was embarrassed that I had written so plainly and so critically, but on reflection it has given me time to recognize how far you have come.

Frankly, your work which had some very good but not overwhelming pieces at that time, has become terrific! Where your best pictures were gleaned from the endeavors of many years, now this year you are making great picture after great picture.

I no longer feel competent to criticize your work. Also, the web site has become one of the most usable and interesting that I visit.

So — my best regards to Dave Cartier-Beckerman.
Bill

* * *

You know, I really don’t take the time to put a lot of the more complimentary emails I get on the site — perhaps it feels like too much tooting my own horn (who elses horn am I going to toot?) But its definitely something I hope to do.


3-02-01

I’ve really given up on the digital black and white printing. I guess I experimented with it for about six months. The results weren’t bad, but not the same tonal range as the darkroom stuff I’m doing. Also, the equipment, seems more finicky. The printer was working fine for a month or so, and then I started getting banding. I spent a lot of money on cleaning, using different inks etc. but for sure the results when you are doing a large print were not as good. This, does not seem to be the case for color.

Today I’ve been printing for a few hours, and I’m really banging them out. The secret, at least for me, is to keep very good notes, which is not really in my character, but I’ve learned the necessity the hard way.

And the Zone VI enlarger, which I’ve been using for ten years or so, has never failed. I guess the bulb will eventually need to be replaced, but that’s about it.

3-6-01

Well, I’m doing something I’ve been meaning to do for a while — showing the prints matted. I think this gives a better idea of what they really look like. It’s a lot of scanning etc. but I think it’s worth it. I guess I’ve done about 15 so far

3-22-01

The web site really does pull you in. Tinker, tinker, tinker. I keep fooling around with the navigation. I can do better graphics, but the original idea was to let the prints speak for themselves, as much as possible. Sales trickle in, but I’m now at a point where I’ve cut down on the number of images I show, so that I can keep stock and not have to run into the darkroom every time an order comes in. Most of my packaging and shipping problems have also been solved. Believe me, there’s a lot of cardboard in this studio now. It’s stuffed everywhere. Behind the couch. Under the bed. I’m thinking of going into the retail cardboard business.

3-24-01

Some thoughts on influences…

I would like to replace the word ‘influence’ with ‘learned from’.

Walker Evans spent about a year shooting on the subway of NYC. I had seen his work, and thought that given the use of Autoexposure, Autofocus, better film stock ie. technical advances, that in some ways I might be able to improve on what he had got. I actually don’t think that I succeeded, but that my subway images are different than his. The idea seems to be to be aware of what others have done, and then to forget about it.

Cartier-Bresson once said that he could tell if someone was a good photographer by walking along the street with them and watching how they ‘held the camera.’ And that’s a piece of learning that I got from him that influences the way I take street pictures. I know that he walked around with a 35mm and sometimes with a 90mm. That also influenced me for a long time, and in general I do the same. But the subject matter, that I shoot is different.

I really don’t think that Ansel Adams did very much interesting work with the small format camera and/or people. But he did come up with a way of showing and describing how to think about the tonal values of black and white (the Zone system). Although I don’t use the Zone system exactly while walking along the street, its something that I have studied and it influences you later, when you print.

In short, learn, emulate, understand other photographers (artists) and then try and forget it and do your own.

3-27-01

I was reviewed in Black and White Photography Magazine, apparently published in the UK And apparently favorably. What’s amazing, is that they didn’t even both to let me know. I found out about it by one of their readers in the UK I’ve been trying to contact them to get a copy. So far, no luck. The web is a weird and mysterious place. That’s for sure.

I have an invitation to show at the Barcelona Art Fair in October. I’ve been mulling it over, but I think I’m going to do it. This is the year for me to force myself off the safety of the web, and out into the so called real world. I’m generally not a procrastinator — but I haven’t really pushed myself into these fairs, galleries etc. with the same energy that I’ve worked on the web site. I’m really not sure what the hold up is. Everytime I have made the effort, its been successful. But I still seem to resist. I wonder whether its just a basic built-in shyness. I was asked to submit sample work for a show in Westport, and I procrastinated until I missed the deadline for entry. Dumb. But there it is.

The other day, while I was on jury duty, I walked around Soho, and browsed the photo galleries. There’s a place for me there, but its a lot of leg work.

On a technical note, I’ve been walking around with the $150 Yashica T4 for about three weeks now. I haven’t developed anything from the camera, but there are some things about it that I like a lot. The main thing is that it just looks like a cheap point and shoot. The other thing is the tiny waistlevel viewfinder. I’ve always been more comfortable looking down into the camera than picking it up and pointing it eye level. So that part of it has been fun. You can sort of stand on a corner, looking down at this little image, and pretending to fiddle with the camera. I also began using it for flash in the subway, something I didn’t feel comfortable doing with the more expensive G2.

4-12-01

Took the Hexar to my Aunt’s funeral. I wasn’t sure if I would use it or not, but when her son took out a digital camera, I figured it was all right. Still, my sister moved away from me when I took the camera out of my suit pocket as they were lowering the casket into the ground. And I don’t blame her. I moved around so that the sun was at my back and I took a few pictures of her middle-aged children as the rabbi spoke to them.

Changed the naming conventions for the type of prints from RC and Limited, to Limited Edition and Not Limited. This was on the advise of a customer who thought that by stressing the type of paper, people would get an idea that the RC prints were really cheap things that weren’t up to the standards of the Limited Edition. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t sell anything that didn’t capture the feeling of the print, because it just doesn’t make any sense, either as an artist or as a business person to put junk out there. For me, the big reason for using the Portfolio RC paper is not the cost, it is fairly expensive paper, but the time involved in processing. The RC paper takes less than a minute in the developer, about a minute in the fixer, and much much less time to wash properly. It’s also much easier to mat since it lies flat when dry. But I still do the same dodging/burning etc. when doing the print as if it were a limited edition.

4-14-01

Interview with a street vendor

I approached the table, set up outside the metropolitan museum. A nice sunny Spring day. Realized quickly that I was looking at photographs which I had seen before. Oh yeah. Must have been about two years ago outside the Met.

Me: Hi. I think we spoke sometime, a few years ago?

Photographer: (He recognizes me) Yeah. I remember you.

Me: So, how’s it goin’? I’ve been thinking about setting up a table out here.

Photographer: It’s tough.

Me: What’s tough.

Photographer: Oh, people out here. The only thing they want is the Flat Iron Building, The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building. That’s all they want.

He had several images that were more artistic, but apparently no one was interested in them.

Photographer: It’s crazy. I went out one day and shot the Brooklyn Bridge. Similar stuff to what everyone else has out here. You know what? That’s my best seller.

Me: Yeah. Its just stuff for tourists I guess.

Photographer: Guess so. But that’s all that sells. And the other vendors — they’re a pretty rough group. Russians, Chinese. They’ve got some kind of a lock on the city. You’ve got to get out on the street at 5am if you want to get a spot. Otherwise, all these other vendors, who aren’t even selling their own stuff, get the best spots. They come around in vans at 5am, and just stake out all the spots.

Me: I see you’re selling this stuff for $15, framed. How do you afford it?

Photographer: I’ve got a guy who can get me really cheap frames and mats. It costs me about $3 per frame.

Me: Wow. Not bad.

Anyway, he goes on to tell me that its worth a try, but don’t expect to sell anything really interesting. I go on to tell him that I’m selling stuff on the web. That its going o.k. Not really enough to make a living on, but it pays for my film and equipment. At that point, I’m standing there with my Rolliflex Twin Lens (ancient camera) and a guy walks by and starts talking to me. Somehow he says something which makes it clear that he’s more interested in my camera than the stuff this guy is selling. The Photographer gets mildly insulted. “Thanks a lot”. I move off to the side with this guy who proceeds to take three cameras from his bag. Things I had never seen before. We talk about the old cameras for a while, and then he takes a glance at the photographers display and walks off.

Anyway, I had a good day. I spent a few hours with the Rolliflex outside the Met, mostly shooting close ups of people as they walked by. Very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

4-22-01

Bought a couple of lights and light stands today. I’ve had the urge to shoot carefully lit subjects. I think I’m trying to capture that old feeling I had when I was doing lighting on films. After setting up the lights, I searched around the apartment for something to shoot. I set up a black cloth, did some Rembrant style lighting, and began putting different objects on the cloth — shoes, bottles with water, crumpled pieces of paper. Nothing seemed interesting. Here were these interesting lighting effects, and nothing to put there. I wanted to do still life, but bowls of fruit were out. I put a roll of toilet paper on the black cloth and arranged in various ways. My sister came buy, saw what I was doing, and asked if I had gone nuts. Who would want to see a shot of toilet paper? No matter how artistically it was lit. Could be she was right.

After about six hours of this meandering, I gave up and watched t.v. for a while. I was watching the ‘honeymooners marathon’ and out of the side of my eye, saw an old incense burner that hadn’t been used for about a year. A simple square box and some smoke, and I was off the couch, backlighting the smoke. I still haven’t shot anything, but it has some appeal. Sort of like shooting currents in the ocean. I plan to shoot this with the view camera. But that’s tonight, tomorrow it may seem like a dumb idea.

4-26-01

Things are changing. I’m going to be showing at the Downtown Westport Arts Festival July 21st and 22nd. Although I’ve shown at some small crafts type fairs sponsored by the ad agency where I work, this is my first real showing. There might even be the wine and cheese thing. The first thing that I’m realizing is that once I do a showing like this, I have a problem pricing between what is on the web, and what is at the fair. Prices for limited edition framed work should be in the $400 to $500 range at such a fair. I can’t continue to sell limited edition prints on the web site for prices as low as $125 as I’m doing now. I’m also going to a festival in Barcelona in October… at least they’ve invited me, but I haven’t heard back from them as far as particulars yet.

The other thing I’m realizing is that the idea of sellling prints in so many sizes on the site may not be the best idea for a number of reasons:

1) Sometimes the 5 x 7′s don’t really do the print justice. Some prints are fine, and were meant to be relatively small. But Promenade at 5 x 7 is just not the same as at 11 x 14 or 16 x 20.

2) Its really difficult to maintain stock for prints in all these sizes (many prints are shown at 3 sizes).

I think that this weekend, I’m going to re-think all of this. I’ll only sell two sizes for each print. And the smaller size must be able to present the print well.

So, if I raise the limited edition prices on the site — no one will buy them via the web (unless they might have already seen them at a fair or something). On the other hand, most of what I sell through the website are the lower priced prints so I’m not really giving up that much.

We’ll see. I know that I wanted to make limited edition prints reasonably priced so that anyone could afford them, but the irony may be that I can’t afford to do this.

5-5-01

Now I’m starting to get nervous. The Agora Gallery in Soho has agreed to ‘represent me’. This means an exhibit in New York’s Soho area etc. I guess more on this when I figure out when and where etc. It does seem like a lot of stuff is happening at once.

5-12-01

Well, this has been a busy few weeks. I really seem to be mostly involved printing and packaging. Looking back over the last year and a half, I would say that since I decided to ‘become a professional’ the main thing that has changed is that I shoot much less. I think in the last year and a half, I have one or two good shots. Most of the stuff on the site is over four years old already. I probably have some interesting stuff from Sedona, but that’s already six months old. I spend most of my time matting, wrapping, and printing. Three of the most boring things in the world. Okay, I know, I’m complaining a lot here, but as I’ve said before, that seems to be what journals are for.

The shots at my Aunt’s funeral were not good. At least they don’t seem good now. Maybe a few years from now I’ll notice something interesting in them. I seem to need to let the actual experiences of the shooting dissolve into the past before I can objectively evaluate the shots. An example: The Shot of Trees at Yosemite was sitting around for close to eight years before I printed it again. I remember looking at it many years ago and feeling there was something there. But never did the work to print it properly until a month ago

5-18-01

Sent out portfolio and gallery agreement to the Gallery. So now another phase begins. It took almost three days to put the portfolio together. Nothing fancy, just sleeves in a loose-leaf, but flipping through them… had a good feeling to it. I’m afraid my stuff is all over the place. No definite style. What’s the relationship between Promenade and Good Careers? Once the gallery prices go into effect, the prices on the web site will have to be up there also. Maybe 25% less. Its not fair to sell at one price in a gallery and then have people be able to buy the same print off the web for half the price. Anyway, this pricing thing is all new to me… but it does seem that the same print that sells in the Gallery for $1000 could be much cheaper at an art fair. The overhead is much lower. Who knows.


Why Photograph the Subway?

Many years ago, returning from a party, I found myself, sitting in an empty subway car. The lights from the stations gleamed on the hard, plastic graffiti-proof bench opposite me. I took a small camera from my pocket and took a black and white picture of this empty grayness, and streaks of light. This sterile stretch of plastic spoke to me. Somewhere, probably in Japan, a place to seat New Yorkers had been poured into a mold. The old seats of my youth, the seats with the quiltwork of tan and yellow plastic were long gone. The new subway seats were for a new age. And they were ugly. The old seats were made when people listened to Frank Sinatra. The new seats were made to resist tagging, and hip-hop. Perhaps the same manufacturer also made delightful prison furniture. I am not a nostalgic person. But I am sensitive to forms and shapes that alienate.

There are no longer seats on the New York subway. There are long slippery planks of plastic with indentations for your behind. A big fellow may take up two indentations. There is no chance to sit facing forward, or sitting backwards. We sit sideways, facing each other. We move through this river of the city, in a dark, gleaming place where things happen for no apparent reason. Like a dream, we hurdle through from one place to another. Stopping in between stations for Kafkaesque reasons that are beyond comprehension. Announcements are made which can not be understood. Trains are taken out of service in what seems like a random way. Unseen conductors threaten to ‘Take this train out of service’ if we don’t behave to their satisfaction. We are no longer called ‘passenger’s’ — we are called ‘customers’ in the politically correct inexactness of the times.

The subway is the place where denizens of the great metropolis are now forced to face each other. The wealthy, and the poor rub more than elbows here. Often the pot in which we are all supposed to be melting cracks and boils over.

Bill Cosby called it right with his routine, “There’s a Nut in Every Car”. I’m always amazed at how much drama happens in these confined, crowded cars. I’ve seen altercations that have resulted in pushing matches. I’ve seen epileptic fits, and harangues that lasted for twenty station stops.

Don’t make eye contact unless you are looking for trouble. Read a paper. Close your eyes and pretend to sleep. Stare at the advertisements. The subway is the place where we are physically closest to our fellow New Yorkers, and at the same time alienated by our urban wariness.

I believe that phobia and fear of the subway, is as great as fear of flying. Watch the eyes of passengers when a humid, congested car is stopped between stations, and the lights go out. No announcement. No room to move. No idea of why the train has stopped. All ears listening for that first sound of air brakes being released which is a sign that the train is going to move again.

It’s 8am on the number six train. That empty plank of plastic is filled to capacity with New Yorkers on their way to work. I stand in the corner of the car with a camera hanging around my neck, hoping to capture some telling moment in this menage. How many years have I been riding this train to work? Five? Seven? Have I ever really been able to capture the feeling? I look like a tourist. Who else but a tourist would have a camera hanging around his neck? But still, I can feel suspicion. Who is this guy? Is he really a tourist. He has his finger on the shutter. I pull out a small subway map and look at it as if I’m lost. Maybe I am lost. Okay. He really must be a tourist. And in fact, I am a kind of tourist. I just happen to be taking the same tour every day at the same time with the same selection of riders.

A young women sitting near me takes out her compact and powder. This is one of the moments that I hope for. Preparing the face to meet the faces — while this mass of hurtling plastic and steel jostles us towards a common destination. I know that the train is shaking too much for me to take a picture while its moving. Hopefully, she will still be doing her face by the time we get to the next stop. I also need to time the click of the shutter with the sound of the conductor telling us where we are. My thumb makes its way to the shutter release. I rethink exactly what I’m going to do. The train is going to stop. Just as the doors are opening, the conductor is going to say something. I’m directly beneath the tinny speaker, so it should be okay. The camera that I’m using will autofocus on the closest thing in the frame. As the train pulls into the station, she puts her compact away and darts off. Well, another shot missed. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have more luck. But what’s this? A woman holding a roll of toilet paper gets on. Weird. She sits down across from me. She has a brilliant smile, and is wearing a very white blouse. I don’t think the toilet paper is going to show up well against that blouse… and so it goes.

By the end of my trip, the train has emptied out. There are those gleaming stretches of molded plastic. There are the graffiti-proof windows, which have been cut and scratched by taggers. It’s time for me to get off and continue on to my real job. No one pays money to be reminded of what is usually the most unpleasant part of their day. And I don’t blame them. Not one bit. When I come home from work, I want to look at pictures of the ocean. Instead of the streak of a halogen light on a gray plastic foam injected plank, I want the gleam of a dying sunset rippled on the expanse of water which promises a lovely journey to exotic climes. Still, I know that I’ll have my camera around my neck the next day, hoping to catch something of this daily journey.

Photographic Techniques

In any kind of street photography, there is a decision that you must make up front — Do you care if people know you are photographing them, or are you going to be surreptitious? I’ve seen street photographers who work with flash attachments. Who walk right up to someone and take their picture with the flash firing off. In my view, this action often changes the expression of the person being photographed, and even if it doesn’t, it is too intrusive. On the other side of the spectrum, there are photographers who work as spies. They have the camera hidden somewhere, and photograph in complete secrecy. I believe that Walker Evans did some of his subway work this way.

The technique that I’m most comfortable with is somewhere in between. Generally, the camera is hanging from my neck. My right hand rests on the shutter, my thumb on the shutter is partially obscured by the wide strap of my camera bag, ready to shoot from about chest high if necessary. Since the camera is also out in the open, I can also raise it to my eye and shoot. Most people have asked me I’ve ever had any trouble shooting on the subway. The answer is ‘no’. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I think that being careful helps.

Lighting inside a subway car generally requires you to shoot at about f2.8, somewhere between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second with ASA 400 film. Since there is a lot of movement, and since you are in close quarters, you usually want to use a fairly wide angle lens, such as a 21mm or a 28mm. The wider the lens, the easier it it to get a crisp, non-blurred image. This is simply based on the reciprocal rule of shooting with a shutter speed that is roughly equal to or greater than the length of your lens.

In other words, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/50 or a second. If you are shooting with a 21mm lens, and there is no mirror shake to worry about, you can easily get by with 1/15 of a second, or less. This is one of the reasons that shooting with medium format is so difficult. The normal lens is longer, and most wide angle lenses only open to f4. Even so, I have gotten some good results with a Rolliflex placed on my lap.

Another consideration with an autofocus camera like the Contax G2, (which is what I’ve been using for the past few years), is the movement of the lens when it is being focused. A shorter lens will focus quicker and be less noticeable than a longer lens.

Where you position yourself in the car is critical.. Sitting down on the #6 train is generally the worst thing you can do. If you sit, you’re stuck. Unless the person on the opposite you is your intended subject, you may be trapped in a useless position for the whole trip. Expect people to get on and stand between you and the person opposite you which further minimizes your chance of getting something interesting.

The best position, if you can get it, is standing up against the doors, opposite of the doors that open. This gives you the greatest chance of finding something worth shooting. It is very easy to photograph people as they are getting on, at that exact instant that the doors are opening. The noise of the doors opening covers the sound of the shutter being tripped, and people just getting on have not yet noticed you, giving you the element of surprise.

Pray for a noisy car, with lots of brakes squeaking, and an overzealous, talkative conductor with a speaker that’s turned up too high. Obviously, you are looking for all the help you can get in covering up the noise of the shutter.

Don’t get onto a train, with your camera in your bag, and then decide to take it out and shoot. This will draw too much attention. Know ahead of time, that you might be shooting, and walk on with the camera already around your neck. This gives passengers time to get used to the idea. After a few minutes, they will generally ignore you. If you really want to achieve invisibility, carry a tourists map with you in your other hand and glance at it continuously as if you are lost. This will ensure that nobody will pay you the slightest attention. I’ve found this to be a good technique for shooting on the street as well.

As far as focusing goes, there are two basic methods:
1) Assuming that you are using an autofocus camera, and that you are going to be in one position, preset the camera to the correct distance, and leave it there. For example, suppose that you are standing opposite the doors that open, and using the G2. Your camera should be parallel to the door, and you press the shutter halfway and look at the reading on the top of the camera. Then with your thumb, on the back of the camera, switch it to manual mode, and set it to the correct distance. Now, you are ready to shoot in that direction. If you’ve been traveling the trains a lot, you may already know that this distance is 3.5 meters, and have the camera preset to this distance. What’s nice about the G2, is that you can easily set it back to Single Mode Focus, with the thumb on the back of the camera in case there is something else you want to shoot.

2) Simply keep the camera in Single Focus Mode. Let it determine the correct focus, each time you press the shutter.

With a 21mm lens, even wide open at F2.8, focus is generally not going to be the problem. The main problem is movement, either of the person, or the car. The subway creates a lot of vibration. Most of the time you are going to want to shoot when the car has stopped. The problem there is that you’ve just lost your cover, the noise of the train itself. The best thing you can hope for is a noisy announcement, or another train going by as the doors are opened.

Oh yes. Sometimes, something happens, which everyone recognizes as unusual and worthy of photographing. Usually this is a lighthearted moment of some kind. In this case, you can simply raise the camera to your eye, and photograph, but these instances are rare.

The Konica Hexar (especially the early model with silent mode) is one of the best cameras to use. It is small. Looks like a tourist point and shoot, and is absolutely quiet. The only problem is that it doesn’t have interchangeable lenses.

The Leica is also quiet. Has interchangeable lenses. But it is noticeable when you advance to the next frame.

The Contax G2 is probably the best, but is noisier than the Leica and the Hexar.

Conclusion

All of this being said, luck plays a big part. I have had days on end when nothing happens worth shooting. And other days where several things happen on the same subway ride. Sometimes, although you are nervous, or hesitant about shooting, you must simply pluck up your courage and shoot anyway.


01-13-2001

Yesterday was one of those days in the darkroom where everything went right. Did ‘Equitable and Flat Iron’ which I hadn’t printed in a few years — and found a way to keep the detail in the Flat Iron while still contrasting the Equitable in the storm nicely.

Also did smaller prints of ‘Subway, Overview’ and ‘Two Men on Subway’ and was pleased with both of them.

In the middle of my printing session, my sister called and dragged me out to see ’13 Days’. We both were pretty much bored, and left in the middle. I really need to remember not to see any movie that has Kevin Costner in it. I could remember being a little kid during the Cuban missle crisis and it was a lot more dramatic than anything in this movie. The guy who played Jack Kennedy had no charisma. He seemed to be subsurviant to Kevin Costner’s character. Possibly this was because Costner was Executive Producer.

For some reason, I’ve also dropped badly in my AltaVista rating. I used to be on the second page, now I’m like on the fourth page if you search for ‘Black and White Photography’. The search engines continue to be inscrutible.

01-14-2001

Put up something new today — a collection of prints without matting. I find that between the matting and the additional costs for packing and shipping — that its much cheaper to just sell the prints unmounted. I guess Scenic Sampler is not the most original name, but it was all I could come up with. I’m not sure whether it will be worth the time or not, who knows…

Also added ‘Turnstyle #1′, and ‘Midnight, Grand Central Station’ to the site.

01-19-2001

Added that little dialogue ‘Prints and the Photographer’ which I thought gave a feeling of what the process of going from negative to final framed print feels like. This morning I removed the scenic sample pack… did not get any bites although from my point of view it was practically like giving the stuff away… i’m thinking of actually putting something together that i could give away for free… One thing that was cool, was that for the phrase ‘Black And White Photography’ I went up to position #1 on AltaVista. I have no explanation for it. Ten days ago I wasn’t even showing up in AltaVista. The search engines are like the new Gods. They giveth, and they taketh away.

01-27-01

After four years, I’ve bought a new computer. Two days of agony getting it setup, but I think its okay now.

01-28-00

Make that three days of agony. Couldn’t get FTP to work for last day and a half. But its working now. I’m always amazed at how much time is consumed by the computer, the thing that supposedly increases our productivity.

1-31-01

The search for carton continues…

The search for carton, in just the right size for shipping my 16 x 20′s and 20 x 24′s continues. Nobody seems to make carton boxes at that size with a depth of only a few inches. I’ve seen large non-bendable mailers, but not in those sizes. So when people order prints, I end up taking a smaller box, and using it flat. This works fine as far as protecting the print, but I end up having to do a pretty heavy taping job on two sides of the carton. It takes me too much time. And it doesn’t look professional. There are some boxes with a depth of five inches, but then I’m stuck putting in a lot of filler and/or bubble wrap. I’ve been making inquires to carton makers, but so far no luck. Lately, I’ve been thinking more about cardboard then photography. I admit, its a nice diversion, but I’m getting tired of it. Who would have thunk it.

I also have to say, regarding the stuff I shot in Arizona a few months ago, I’ve only gotten one or two prints out of that trip that I like. Which is amazing, since I finally thought I had gotten the hang of shooting Sedona. Apparantly, not.

The other day, completely bored, I put a glass plate over the flatbed to protect it, and began doing arrangements of coins, and then pieces of pasta (Rigatoni). Then I put the results into Photoshop and made them into line drawings. Looked like something you see in a microscope.


11-10-00

This has been a wild week with a lot of ups and downs. I was in Sedona Arizona for a week. I did quite a bit of shooting, but Sedona was not what it once was. When I was there two years ago with the view camera, it had still had a certain isolated, western feel. Now it was filled with tourists. I couldn’t find a parking spot. Traffic was bad. Malls were shooting up everywhere. I was lucky with the weather — there were some pretty dramatic storms while I was there.

This time I returned with the 35mm G2. I was still shooting carefully on a tripod, using a spot meter etc. I think that I did better this time around, but we’ll see. I kept having to remind myself — these rocks, mountains may be red, but remember, this is black and white film. In other words, unlike shooting in New York, I needed to try and visualize what the results were going to be.

At one point, before going out to Arizona, I was actually thinking of relocating there. After all, I’m selling through the internet. I could be located anywhere. Why not spend a year in the Southwest where its cheaper to live? Where I’m surrounded by all that beauty?

I was there for about three days when I couldn’t wait to get back to my little studio in New York. When I arrived back at my apartment, there was actually a crack addict lighting up in the lobby. He turned to me and said, “To be or not to be, that is some question.” I was home.

I had been selling the inkjet prints, which really had great quality, but I started having problems with the printer. The arhival ink was clogging the inkjet pores. I went back to the old stand by of printing on RC paper. A bunch of orders came in and I was very busy printing for a few days. Sales finally seem to be picking up. Maybe its the holiday season. But often its from someone who has seen a print in someone’s house. I’m beginning to feel more encouraged that given another year or so, I can make a go of this from New York.

Today I’ll get back thirty rolls of film and contact sheets. Can’t wait to get back into darkroom and begin printing again.And oh yeah, my SSL (Secure Socket Layer) went down the other day, so even if someone wants to buy on the web, they currently can’t. Ugh. I’m on the phone with the hosting company to fix this.

11-11-00

Pretty bad sore throat today, but managed to do some printing — Promenade, Night Chess, and Midnight Storm on the Pearl RC Paper — this time using the 8 x 10 paper, which seems to be a bit more sensitive than the 5 x 7 multigrade. Also got back about 10 rolls from Sedona, and 20 rolls of my usual street stuff. The Sedona stuff was much, much better than when I was there two years ago. I proofed Pond 1 and Pond 2 with the inkjet printer, and posted them on the site.

It’s 4pm and I’m washing the prints now, and getting ready to take a nap. Thank God for the Kinks — the compilation CD kept me going. If I had a personal favorite it would be, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”. Sort of an anthem for the individual, or the misfit.

11-14-00
I continue to get emails from students who want to or have written about me. In the beginning it was flattering, but its starting to get time consuming. Especially since I think that the study of photography is mostly a waste of time. Sort of like studying how to drive. It’s good to know the basics, but you can learn most of what you need by hit and miss. Maybe that’s my anti-school bias speaking up. I really don’t understand why you can’t learn English literature by reading lots and lots of books.

For the most part, the teacher is there to tell you what to read, and when it should be read, and to test that you’ve read it. This is not true for all teachers, but mostly true. And black and white photography is even simpler. Figure out the f-stop/shutter speed combination for sunny and for shady, and get going. I think that Walker Evans gave this kind of advise to a friend before they were going out shooting. Another problem (what else do I put in a diary but problems?) is — is it feasible to sell the RC Prints at $18? Obviously not really. The mat itself costs about $4.00 and the postage for a single print is about $3.50. I’ve got to print the thing, go to the post office, pack it etc. etc. I probably make a few bucks on each print — but on the other hand, I keep telling myself that each print is a sort of walking advertisement, and that as more people see them, the word will spread. Well, if the word does spread, I’ll have to raise the price, that’s for sure, or I’ll be working for 3.50/hour.

11-16-00
Printing ‘Promenade’ all day today in the large size… it was a painful printing process. I lost my good notes from the last printing, and had to go through it all again. I had a good artist proof (thank God) to compare against. But just had a lot of trouble with it this time… I really don’t know why. Dodging, burning, and nothing was looking right. Eventually I just left it and went downstairs and got some lunch. When I came back, what was sitting in the tray looked very good. Go figure. Then I did a few small prints of ‘Promenade’ on graded paper — something I hadn’t done before. Later on, I decided to use the hypo-clearing agent in the bathroom (no ventilation) and had a bad choking fit. Won’t do that again.

Anyway, it took me all day to print five large ‘Promenades’ and a few smaller ones.

I’ve got a bunch of new stuff from Arizona that I wanted to at least take a stab at, but was too tired.

What a weird day. I kept dropping the tongs in the developer. At one point, after I had the easel all lined up, I leaned against it as I was putting in the paper and it moved. Hopefully, tomorrow will be easier.

11-20-00

Yesterday I removed the ability to order custom screensavers. That was a complete failure. In six months, I think I received about two custom screensaver orders. The only regret there was that it took me a lot of time to program that part of the system… but its obvious that what is selling now are the inexpensive prints — which I have to say, I’m pleased with. I wish the lines at the post office were shorter.

I keep doing some digital proofs of the Arizona stuff, and I can’t wait to get to print some of those shots. After many years of trying to get expressive nature shots — I think I’ve found my way. And the secret to that was to shoot in 35mm, with the same camera that I’ve been using in the city. Apparantly, I’m simply feel more free to experiment and take chances in 35mm. I am very excited with some work I did at the Sunset Crater lava fields. When I was there two + years ago with the view camera, I came back with junk. Or at least I wasn’t happy with the results. When I returned again this year, I had the failures from the last trip in my mind, and was determined to do better. And I think I did.

12-09-00

Yesterday, showed prints at the Ad agency where I work… they have a crafts fair each year. I think there were more vendors than customers, but did o.k. Sold: Night Chess (2x), Promenade, Trees Silhouette, Mouthwash (first person that ever bought that), Two Women, and a bunch of others that I forgot to write down.

The day before, I had a lot of my stuff in my office and also sold about six prints.

It is a lot easier to sell in person than over the web. The web is really a souless place. You don’t know the person who’s buying and they don’t know you.

Interesting conversation with one woman who had seen my stuff a few years ago, who said.2how great it was that I was actually doing what I wanted creatively. I quiped back, “Yeah, after 30 years.” And she said, “Some people never do it at all.”

Point taken. But I have been wondering why it took me so long to ‘find myself’ — after all, I’ve been searching for a creative path since I was fifteen. Music, photography, screenplay writing, lighting director… who knows? So many twists and turns — I had sold screenplays, but the one that was almost made was cancelled when the lead actor died. What if he had lived? Do all paths lead to the same place? What if instead of going to college and studying Philosphy, I had studied photography? All I know is that for me, at that time, the idea of studying photography did not even occur to me… Whatever.

12-22-00

Orders for the smaller prints have been coming in, maybe one or two a day. They say be careful what you wish for, you may get it. And every once in a while a $40 print. To be honest, its hardly worth the effort as far as the smaller prints go. I think, for one thing, I’ve got too large an inventory, although there are still plenty of images I could put on the site. Oh, well. Lately I’m complaining too much about this stuff. I think that its just that you never know when an order will come in, or a streak of orders. Unlike doing an art show, where you prepare stock and sell and that’s the end of it. I’m still generally able to get the order out within a few days, but it’ll be tougher if there are ever a lot of orders. I remember, ten months ago when my first order came in, how excited I was. And that feeling of excitement lasted. But now its a lot of drudgery, and I have to psyche myself up to do a printing session.

12-25-00

My sister found a print that I did when I was about 15 — of two people sitting in the subway. Apparantly, the obsession goes back a long way. The print itself, although it is over 30 years old, looks as if it were printed yesterday. I guess, that even then, some simple fixer did the trick.

12-30-00

Big snow storm in New York today. I plan to go out an doing a little shooting. Snow is one of those things that gets me out of the house. Everyone complains about it — the t.v. is filled with reporters saying stay indoors. Don’t go out unless you have to, etc. etc. But its one of the most beautiful things in New York.


7-29-2000

The last month and a half disappeared in a blur. I fell into the digital print world. I had been talking about the inkjet stuff with a friend of mine for the last few months, but when I saw with my own two eyes what was possible, at least in color, I thought it was worth investigating. Luminos had just come out with monochrome inks for the Epson 1160, so I figured for a few hundred bucks I would take the plunge. The printer was about $400. I already had a fairly okay negative scanner which I had used to put the images on the site. My initial thought was to try and make some small postcards, perhaps a brochure. And I have to admit, that the initial results were so amazing, that I got hooked.

Began experimenting with various inkjet papers, and within a day or two I had several very good prints.

I had been very sceptical about all this. Last year I went to the Javits center photography exhibit and saw some black and white digital stuff, but didn’t think that it could compare with chemical printing. Now all of a sudden, with the right inks and the right scanner and printer, it was here. What a relief not to have to work in the dark in this small studio apartment. No more fixer fumes. No more setup and cleanup. All the headaches of chemical printing gone. At least in the smaller sizes.

I showed a bunch of my work to friends, and to production people where I work part-time, and the reactions were the same as mine. This stuff had a lot of potential. I created a bunch of postcards and gave them out to people wherever I went. Gave some to my father to give out to his friends. And simply carried a bunch of them around with me so that I could show samples of my work around.

Then of course I had to change the site so that I could offer these digital prints, which I just finished the other day. And while all this was going on, I was still shooting, working part-time, and selling chemical prints. I thought myself very successful, being able to keep track of all this, until my sister tried to call me the other day and got no answer. Turns out I had forgotten to pay the phone bill. And then a guy came by and slipped a notice under my door about the rent being late. Seems I had forgotten to pay the rent. Well, okay. Maybe I did let a few minor things slip by…. And oh yeah, I was going to plan a vacation. Guess that slipped by also.

7-31-00

Have slowly been removing things from the site that weren’t getting any hits. The latest thing to go was hi-res images. I went through a lot of trouble to upload larger images, but checking the logs showed that they were getting about 20 hits or so per week. Not worth the trouble. I guess that I’ll keep audience favorites around a little longer, but I think the novelty has worn off, and very few people take the trouble to actually vote. What has gotten a lot of hits are the small articles about the Contax G2, and shooting on the subway. Maybe I’ll figure out something else to write about that might be of general interest.

9 - 7 - 00

i think i got kind of burnt out from the whole push to be a success at photography and i’m going through a slow down period. (although i’m still shooting when i get a chance). i’m about to read a book called, ‘Blood Meridian’ by Cormac McCarthy, which I saw a big fat guy talking about on t.v. The big fat guy was from the Bronx, and had apparantly done nothing but read as many books as he could for the last 70 years. He had taught literature etc. at Yale for many years and was talking about how wonderful reading was. But he seemed quite mad to me, and fairly unhappy.

Nevertheless, he said he had been teaching this novel in his classes for several years, and was convinced that it was one of the few ‘works of genius’ around today. its supposed to be very gory though.

traffic to the daveBeckerman.com site continues to increase. but i’m coming to the realization that people are using it more like a museum than a store. i think that i will do better if i put my images on tee-shirts and sell them. in other words, you can view the images on the web and enjoy them, and get a lot of feeling from them. why do you need to buy them and go through the trouble of having them framed and put in the house. but shoes, or tee-shirts, or hats, or jewelry are another story. you don’t get the functionality until you order it. which takes me back again to the postcard, and greeting card thing. because here is a physical thing that you need to get, in order to make use of it and get the full benefit.

i’m now at a point where i’m getting about 15,000 page views per week. that’s a lot of pictures served up. and registrations are now up to about 15 per day. quite a bit compared to when i first started out. but so far, offering more affordable inkjet prints has not boosted sales one bit. in fact, sales have dropped off when i started offering them. so, the good news is, more people are browsing the site, and viewing more pictures; the bad news is that sales are really minimal. still, as i said to a friend the other day — its very gratifying to simply have people stop by and browse. and if that’s all its going to be, well so be it.

i really wonder how the larger sites like Corbis and art.com are doing. they have obviously put millions into selling art on the web.

on the good side, several stock companies have seen my work and invited me to submit images to them. so maybe that will help. we’ll see. i can tell you that something like that where the agency takes care of the sale and the legalities would definitely be easier than trying to sell directly to the public.

10-08-2000

for the last few months, i’ve been wondering where to take my next vacation. i decided on returning to Sedona,AZ. i had been there two years ago with the view camera, and came back with a few decent pictures (Birches, Prairie) but considering that I was there for two weeks, and shot about 100 plates, i wasn’t very successful. so, this time i’ll go back sans view camera, with my G2 and see how i do. i was thinking about this when i realized that it would be nice to have a slightly larger camera bag. camera bags for me are like shoes for Emelda Marcos. i can’t have too many camera bags. the house is filling with them. nonetheless, compared to the price of camera equipment, this is a relatively inexpensive flaw.

so, i went to my favorite camera store in New York. i had my G2 and a couple of lenses with me, in my smaller bag, and looked carefully at a few bags. i found one that was on display, cabled to the shelf, and then i had my bright idea. lets take the equipment out of my bag, and put it into the new bag to see how it all fits. i put my G2, in the bag, and then put the 21mm in a pocket of the bag, and two other lenses into the body of the bag…. not bad. i liked the bag. i took my lenses back and put them into my own bag, and went to the counter and order the new bag, bought it and went home.

that was Friday at 1pm. when i got home, i looked at my new bag and decided to transfer my lenses and camera to the new bag and see how it all fit. hmmm. something was missing. where was my 21mm? arghhhh!!! it struck me like a thunderbolt, i had left it in the pocket of the display bag in store. damn. that was the most expensive lens i had ($1300). there was a $1300 lens sitting in the bag in the store. anyone could just pick it up, throw it in their pocket, and walk out. and…

this was friday, and the start of a Jewish holiday. the store was going to be closed until Monday at 9am.

i spent the next two days trying not think of my poor $1300 lens. i asked advise. some people told me to call the store and leave a message. others said, do nothing.

i thought that if i left a message, the sweeper might pick it up, and that would be the end of it.

Photo store opened up at 9am on Monday. I was there, sitting outside the store on a bench, at about 8 am. For about 58 minutes, I held an internal dialogue that went something like this:

- You’ve got your health. This lens is a material thing. Its meaningless.

- Yeah, but it cost $1300. That’s about the most expensive lens I’ve got.

- Well, this is a test. What if its not there? What’s the use of worrying. Nothing much you can do. And if it is there, well, all this worrying was for naught.

- Gee, what time is it anyway? I look at watch. Five minutes has passed.

- Think of something else. Think of how amazing it is that you’ve even owned a lens like that… no, something else.

It goes on like this for 59 minutes, until I have convinced myself that whatever happens, its all for the best.

And then I see the man coming to open the door to let me in. Man, he’s taking a long time. And all my rationalizations, all my meditations, zoom out through my ears, and my brain can only think of one thing:

- ‘Please be there. Please be there. Oh please…’ I walk through the store, passed the ‘greeter’, eyes waiting to see the bag. I know the bag will be there because its just for display, and is strapped to the counter with a wire.

Yep, there it is. And there’s the pocket that I think I left the lens. And open the cover to peek inside the pocket… There is the little lens, peeking out at me, as if to say, — ‘You see, I was here all the time. Nothing to worry about after all, was there” And I pick it up, and place it in my own photo bag. No one notices anything. Do they have surveillance cameras in a place like this? Probably, but not until a few people are in the store. So, I make my way out of the store, and that’s that.

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