Revisiting my time as a film photographer in Hell’s Kitchen.

Looking back, I’d say my journey as a photographer began during my early days in Hell’s Kitchen. Though I had been fascinated with taking pictures since my teens. It wasn’t until I was occupying a one-bedroom in the heart of the west midtown area of Manhattan that my then boss gave me his old Nikon EM SLR along with some film and a couple of photo books that my hobby turned into an obsession. I quickly began documenting my surroundings while graduating from one-hour photo chains to professional printing services such as Duggal and B&H. Within a short time, the towels and sheets that fit neatly in my apartment linen closet were displaced by boxes of photos and trays of slides. My trips to places like Duggal and B&H quickly quadrupled. From my eight years in Hell’s Kitchen to my married life in New Jersey and Washington state. My passion and obsession for photography never waned. My need for living space grew, and the number of photo boxes, enlargements, and ane studio gear morphed. Quickly realizing less is more, I used the premise of moving to digitize all those negatives, slides, photo boxes, and albums before tossing them in the garbage.

As I begin to get the digitized photos back, I can see the vast progress I’ve made over the years. Kicking myself, in a sense, for holding on to the past for so long. Undoubtedly, many photos accurately documented the time and people. Most of it, unfortunately, was junk. Luckily though, there were a few that jogged some serious memories. Photo’s that still show a measure of intent and purpose.

Taken on 48th street and 10th avenue shortly after a snow storm. You can hopefully see the emphasis on the reflections the puddles give. You should also get a rare view of a traffic-free New York City street. Not bad for a photo I took more than twenty-five years ago.

United By… (Bivouac)

Bivouac were a band from Derby, England who had an excellent album called ‘Tuber’ on Elemental in 1993. On that album was an acoustic jam calledBiv (1 of 1)              ‘Dead End Friend’ which featured a verse “Daren’t go to the dentist…for fear of being (pause) fucked while you’re asleep.” It was a great song and I played the fuck out of it. When the time came for them to tour, they stopped in New York City to play CBGB’s. I was able to set up an interview with which was conducted outside the club guitarist, vocalist (pictured below) Paul Yeardon, in which we talked about touring, the bands reactions to being in New York City for the first time, and of course, our mutual fears of the dentist. I highly recommend checking out the band and learning more about their music.

Bivouac

Elemental Records on Discogs

United By… (Big Drill Car)

I fondly remember listening to records while hanging out at my friend Tim’s House. Along with our love for our mutual love for the Descendants, All and others, we both reveled in the joy that was ‘Album Type Thing’ by California’s Big Drill Car. Along with the Doughboys, Big Drill Car was perhaps the two bands I listened at the time. Though I was immediately hooked on songs such as ’16 Lines’, “No Need,’ ‘In Green Fields,’ ‘Diamond Earrings’, and their cover of Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender.’ Bystander-1In retrospect, I think it took me a while to remember the name Big Drill Car. For reasons unknown to me now, the name just seemed odd and even outlandish. Still, I was so psyched when they came out east and played Maxwells. Though I can’t recall who they played with. I remember the room being packed and the energy from both the band and the crowd being paramount. ‘Til this day, I still listen to the bands’ recorded output and have both compact disc and vinyl versions of everything the band released. Below is a link to Discogs to view all their releases.

Discogs

United By… (Samuel)

How I wound up in a car headed to Connecticut with a Hare Krisna band is a conversation for another day having forged a friendship with one of the ban’s bass player just days before was enough to secure a seat and a round trip ride with the band Baby Gopal. After a stop at a Brooklyn Krishna temple and dropping by Sri’s in-laws (Ray Cappo’s parents) home, we headed to Connecticut’s Tune Inn, where Baby Gopal and a host of other bands, most notable for me, Samuel were to perform. Below are a couple of images I captured of the group.

The bands ‘Lives of Insects’ ep on Art Monk Construction still sits in my record collection today, receiving regular play. There are a couple of other singles out there, including a split with New York’s Texas is the Reason, also released by Art Monk Construction. Check them out Here

United By… (Lady Luck)

The ’90s were often a strange time for New York Hardcore and what was, for the most part, post-core. While bands like Quicksand, Into Another, Burn, and Orange 9mm each thrived to some extent. There were many more that seemed to flicker, yet quickly burn out before making much of a name for themselves. I got to see many of these acts at places like CBGB’s, The Wetlands, Brownies, and The Continental, to name a few. Lady Luck (pictured below) was one of those bands. Featuring a cleaned up looking Roger Miret (Agnostic Front) on bass and his wife Denise on vocals. They recorded a ‘7-inch ep for Mendit in ’97. A split LP in ‘ with another promising band named Fully the same year and a full length ‘Life in Between’ in 2000. I only saw them this one time at what was pretty much a hippie club in the Tribeca area of Manhattan. I remember Denise having a beautiful voice and, if memory serves, they delivered an excellent set, but as someone who was used to seeing Miret work the stage covered in sweat, tattoos, and screaming into the mic with a sense of primal rage. Seeing a subdued version with slicked-back hair and a velour shirt was just a little too surreal for me.

United By… (Cable)

Here’s another photo from that Staten Island VFW show. Though I could be wrong, I believe this be the Aaron Lazausk of the Rockville, Connecticut emo/noise-core band Cable. Like I said in my earlier post featuring an image of Three Steps Up, Cable (1 of 1)there were some really amazing bands on this bill. At the time, the band had a split ‘7 inch with Staten Island’s Malcom’s Lost (also on the bill) and were just about to release ‘Variable Speed Drive’ on Doghouse records. An eight song powerhouse that I would come to know the band best for. When I think of all the now highly regarded bands I saw in basements, cavernous clubs and VFW halls, it gives me somewhat of a rush. Almost as if I was on to something long before all the squares got a hold of it.

Discogs

United By… (One Nature)

One Nature @ CBGB's

Though I only saw the band once. Boundbrook, New Jersey’s One Nature left a lasting impression on me. With an incendiary live set, the first double ‘7-inch ep I’d ever seen and a sound that reminded me of the band Ignition as well as the many great Dischord Record acts of the’80’s. Though I never did hear from or see the band live again, I still own that double ‘7-inch and play it regularly. Thanks to an old friend for unintentionally reminding me of all the bands that, while I only had the chance to see once, left a lasting impression that still holds today.

One Nature Live 1995

The Fight that Never was.

Surviving a brain tumor might seem paramount to many. Surviving high school is something many never live to tell. However, for myself, the challenges that often followed were often traumatizing. It was often the changes and adjustments I’d have to make later that proved to be the toughest. Though we’re talking a lifetime ago, I still remember that follow up visit to my doctor when the surgeries and treatment were done. I recall going through the ordeal with him while going over some C-A-T scans and being told how lucky I was to have survived. Then came to bad news about how I needed to restrain from the sports loved, which meant no more baseball, hockey, soccer, and above all, fighting, explaining that even one blow to the head could kill me. What else was a kid to do? Wear a fitted helmet for the rest of my life? Maybe an iron robot suit. I might have sucked at basketball and football., but damn, I still loved boxing, had a nasty left hook, and had made the all-star team with my little local league the year before.
High school turned out to be quite a challenge. While I wisely chose a school close to my home that had its share of older friends that looked out for me in varying degrees, I soon found new people who, for whatever reason, designated me as a target.
Just as the bell rang and I could see our teacher Mr. G steps away from the door. I made my move leaping from my desk, gripping the front of his and flipped it over with him in it. “No, Motherfucker, we’re going to do this right now.” the combination of the look on the kid’s face and the alarm in which our teacher entered the class served as proof of perfect timing during the most desperate of times. Though my hastily devised plan didn’t give me the protection that cooling my jets during a lasting after school would have. It scared the fight out of my opponent. Like my mother always told me and my father would go on to add. “If you think you can’t win, make them think you’re crazy and capable of anything.” The Fight-1.jpg
While no further words exchanged between myself and my aggressor, his previous call to meet him after school spread throughout the hallways, cafeteria, and gymnasium long before the final bell concluding the school day rang.
Though the walk from the school doors to the buses and trains blocks away were never lonely ones. It felt as if the entire school was heading in the same direction and ultimate destination that was the IHOP parking lot where the fight was to take place.  As the crowd grew and began to create a physical circle, my older friend Jimmy took his school ring off and placed it on mine. ‘Put this in his eye. You got this.’ I remember taking some deep breathes and mentally devising a plan based loosely around the countless other fights I had before. Only this time, my focus was more on survival than winning.
While I can’t recall if I thought of what that doctor had told me about what the chances of a blow to head killing me were, but I’m pretty sure it crossed my mind. As the minutes passed and the crowd began to disperse, it became apparent that this clown wasn’t going to show. Perhaps he forgot, maybe I convinced him that I was, indeed, crazy. I guess I’ll never know though we would cross paths the next day and many other times during our tenure at Monsignor Mc Clancy. We would never again speak. Though others might confront the aggressor, knowing full well that he would have probably hand me my ass, I took that little victory and kept it packed away for another day. Just as I appreciate my Dad for teaching me how to fight my mother’s lesson of making your opponent think you’re crazy and capable of anything might have been my saving grace. Thanks, Mom.

United By… (Into Another)

Though it took time to fully embrace the fact that Underdog (One of my favorite bands of all time.) Bystander-118was done and their charismatic singer was on to new and much stranger things. While Richie and Into Another weren’t the first one’s to explore new sounds outside of hardcore punk, they were definitely the most eccentric. After two landmark releases with Revelation Records, they were swept up by Hollywood records at a time when major labels were circling the indie market in hopes of signing the next Nirvana. As a vocalist, Richie Birkenhead’s range was like no other before or since. As a band, Into Another raised the bar as far as creativity went. 1994’s “Ignaurus” still stands as one of my favorite albums of all time. With the song “Drown” making its way onto many of the playlists I share.

Unknown Substances

Though my mom and step dad’s move to a New Jersey suburb was partially due to an attempt to provide a better and perhaps, safer environment for us, it also offered windows to many other unforeseen dangers. One being, somewhat unsupervised weekend back in Queens where I originated. With my dad having moved to Staten Island to be live with his soon to be wife, it was up to my grandmother to not only host me but act as a parental force.

My grandmother, God rest her soul, was an angel in every way imaginable, yet with all her intelligence and grace she embodied, she lacked when it came to her role as a disciplinary figure. A weakness that gave me the free reign I sought on the weekends as a sixteen-year-old looking to find his freedom by sampling everything on the menu.

On one particular night, I met up with two good friends in search of alcohol and whatever else we could find. I remember the night air being cool but not cold, leaving us warm enough to cover a lot of ground and stay out late. Being the lightweight, I always was when it came to drinking. I had a heavy buzz after just three beers. So much so, that by the time we reached our final destination at the local public school steps, I was eager to sit down and share a blunt with someone I had met before but didn’t know that well.

Left Behind-14

Noted, though I never got into hard drugs or even smoking cigarettes, I did enjoy marijuana and the occasional joint and enjoyed the harmless buzz it provided. Doing so with someone I didn’t know, and trust was an epically bad idea, one that I would quickly regret.

Though what happened on the ten-block walk from the schoolyard is clouded by a combination of alcohol and drug intake, I completely flipped out and recalled being slammed on the concrete after attacking one of my friends. The next thing I remember is getting dumped on the steps in front of my grandmother’s apartment. Within a few minutes, I was able to find my keys and make my way inside.

Imagine the surprise and flat out shock when my father stood waiting at the top of the stairs. “Sorry, dad. I’m pretty fucked up.” I slurred. “I can tell,” he remarked. “Go take a shower and get some sleep.” “We’ll discuss this in the morning.” By then, his soon to be wife would often throw him out when he broke curfew and came home drunk from the bar. It only seemed natural to run back to his mom’s place.

There was a short period between making my way from the living room, through the kitchen and onto the bathroom where I must have blacked out. My father tells me he heard a loud crash. When he found me, he tells me I had collapsed before I had made it to the shower. He often remarks on how my entire body had turned gray, which made him think I might be dead. My father had made some phone calls to some of the people I might have seen that night. I recall being flanked by two of my close friends with my father standing in the doorway.

The night finished with me sending a barrage of curse words and insults at my father. “Fuck you!” “What are you looking at?” “You’ve never done anything for me.” “You knew we were struggling. Why didn’t you ever pay child support.” Mean, vile things that I have apologized for and will always regret. When I woke up the next morning, I remember my legs feeling weak and needing time to find my balance. Dad and I had a long talk, during which I apologized. I remember him laughing and saying, “You had a rough night. I hope you learned your lesson.” Before taking me out for breakfast, he added, “I don’t see any reason to bring this up with your mom.” If he had, my punishment, constant lecturing, and threats of not paying for rehab would have lasted much longer than one night of incredibly bad decisions and judgment on my part. In the end, I learned that the joint I smoked contained PCP. A drug that I’m sure some of my friends could handle. As for someone who never did more than smoke a little grass, it wrecked me.