Everybody has a story to tell. Rich or poor. Young or old. Black or White. We all come from diverse backgrounds and have lived different lives. Yes, we’re all related to this earth and one another to a certain degree and share a common bond, but in so many other ways, we are unique. As I get older, I’ve tried to become less of a talker and more of a listener. Though it’s taken a lifetime, I’ve come to understand and embrace that the only time we learn is when we listen. So, after years of talking, I look forward to the hopes I can become a better listener.
As a photographer I’ve always been intrigued with bikes. Big, small, I love them all. As an owner however, I am a complete and utter failure. If memory serves, I was given my first two wheeler, a red schwinn, at the age of five. Since that time, I’ve had every single one of my bikes sacked, snatched, stolen, swiped or shanghaied.
Despite this life long run of bad luck. I still hold this ancient form of transportation in the highest regard. With lessons learned I find myself remaining grounded giving the soles of my feet the job of getting me to and fro. Regardless of my choice of transportation. I’m still drawn to the eye candy that a road travelled bicycle can bring.
So whenever I come across a sweet looking cycle I make it a point of composing a worthwhile image. One that might detail the bikes history, character or uniqueness. This past weekend I spotted this particular set of wheels outside of a store on Thompson St. in the West Village of Manhattan. I couldn’t help but wonder what treasure that bike’s purse had carried through the years. I’ve promised myself time and time again, that one day I’ll pull together my collection of bicycle portraits, print them up and put them up on the wall. With my luck. They’ll end up getting stolen. Oh well. Such is life.
I had made plans to pick up Roksolana in the city and drive back to Hoboken to shoot at the studio. I had spent the earlier part of the morning setting up lights and backgrounds while stumbling around trying to make sure everything I needed was within reach. Quickly enough I made it down to SOHO with time to spare and decided to get my walk on. The temperature was reaching into the 60’s and the sun was fighting it’s way to the forefront.
As Rox arrived we quickly caught up with one another. It had been two years since we last worked together. It looked to me that she had not changed one bit. A big smile, wide eyes and a bundle of energy that a savvy marketing guru might turn into a hip energy drink. As we got in the car she excitedly asked what our plan was. I explained the studio set up and the look I was going for. Her eyes turned south like a child just about to ask her parents for the biggest toy in the store. “So, James… What do you think of the weather today.” I knew right then and there that we were just about to embark on an outdoor adventure. I was more than happy to embark on such a journey.
With a new sense of direction we hauled ass to the Lower East Side finding inspiration on this block and that block. Our first stop was just off Ave. A. There were interesting store fronts on the North Side of the street and a mural themed concrete wall and classic car on it’s South Side. Rox quickly rifled through her bag of tricks looking for just the right outfit as I surveyed the area for a good place to start. At one point she spotted a bike that was locked up in front of one of the store fronts. She quickly began to climd on as construction workers, shop owners and residents entered and exited the adjacent building. At one point the owner of the bike came out to see her quite comfortably mounting herself upon it. She looked over confidently smiling, “Is this your bike?” “Don’t worry, I will return it better than I found it.” Her friendly presence and sweet voice could have won over a Hell’s Angel.
Some more great shots with a small interruption from a rather large homeless man coming between us in rather aggressive manner “How about you give a veteran a dollar!” he barked. Intimidated but more pissed that he visibly shook Rox up. I took a deep breathe and replied “How bout you give a poor photographer twenty.” Those few seconds felt like a lifetime but he actually moved on up the block without uttering another word. We quickly got back to work finishing up the block in front of one of my old haunts ABC No Rio.
As the day grew darker we stopped for some Vietnamese Sandwiches (Her first) before ending finishing up at Tompkins Sq. Park. For someone who was feeling pretty awkward in recent days. This was the perfect tonic. Funny how photography can do that.
A couple of years back I wrote this article “Why We Hate You” A record store clerk speaks out. Having been on both sides of the counter I thought it would make for an interesting piece. What turns most record store clerks into snobs or in some cases, complete assholes. (Being that “I too” may have been considered a snob or complete asshole at one time or another excludes me from being insulting here.) All in all it was pretty tongue in cheek but my interviewee brought up some interesting points.
One thing I found particularly funny was his opinion that Doors fans were basically a bunch of knobs. It was something that really made me think. As a kid (I’m talking 5th or 6th grade here) I loved The Doors. It was part of the Classic Rock catalog. How could I shit on The Doors. However, as I got older (8th grade older) and left the limited focus and small minded restraints of FM radio and the “Classic Rock formula. Thus bringing me to the conclusion that I “hate the fucking Doors”. Fast forward a couple of decades and a few extra pounds and I come across this incredibly creative stairway to heaven…… um, I mean staircase to second floor of Lower East Side tenement building. I had to stop and take a picture. It made me think that something good actually came out of that drunken buffoon Jim Morrison.
After a long day of good food and gallery hopping in Chinatown, SOHO and The Lower East Side we began to head West on Houston to catch the Path Train back to Hoboken. Stopping here and there to check out some of the artisans that sell their gear in front of that church I came upon one particularly interesting table. The man and his wife were selling these intriguing artifacts they cleverly restored and made into jewelry. As I listened to the man explain the background and process to an interested party I started to set up my camera to sneak a shot of this very interesting looking gentleman. I could have pulled it off without him noticing but would I get a really honest telling shot? I got over my shyness and began an interesting conversation with Scott. I then asked him nicely if I could take a picture of him. He obliged and I left with both a story and a picture. You can check out some of Scott’s work at www.newyorkartifactart.com I’m sure you’ll be impressed.
As we left the bar Shell and I passed this gentleman standing outside what seemed to be a community center. We made as far as the corner when I turned to my friend and told how much I would have loved to get a picture of him. His face had so much character, I’m sure there was one hell of a story there. I explained to her that I had become so introverted lately and just felt weird asking. Shell, being the awesome woman she is walked back with me and asked him rather sweetly. How could he refuse? The man obliged and began sharing stories about his life, loves and adventures. I’ve been a bit of a sniper as of late with my street photography. This however was a defining moment and reminded me the NYC is unlike any other place. Add this to my “Tales from the Lower East Side” series.