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.

Saying Goodbye to Columbia City and Angeline Apartments

Earlier this afternoon we closed the doors to our apartment at Angeline by dropping off the keys. Angeline was, without a doubt, the best rental experience I can remember. Everything from our apartment, the staff, our neighbors, and our neighborhood was fantastic. We enjoyed having a library next door to us during the almost three years we were there, a city park behind us, a historic movie theatre across the street, and a healthy grocery store just under us. After our dropoff, we picked up some fresh cookies at Colombia City Bakery, did some food shopping at QFC, and even got to say goodbye to the panhandler who stands at the end of the grocery store parking lot. As good as our time there was. We had to decide to either go back East or stay and buy a home in Seattle. Choosing the latter took a lot of thought, but in the end, I think we’ve been happy here.

Where Ya’ Going?

After more than two years, (closer to three) of trying to convince, not only my wife, but myself, I’ve managed to convince the both of us that staying in Seattle is the right answer. Though Seattle has more than it’s share of problems, they’re nothing we weren’t able to face and overcome back east. As someone who’s lived the overwhelming majority of his life in New York. Moving out west has offered as many rewards as challenges. Luckily, on our first day out, we found a place we loved, made an offer, which was accepted within hours and as they say, the rest was history.

Capturing your vision

I have a habit of overthinking. When I get something in my head or get passionate for something, I go all in. Being that I’ve suddenly decided I wanted to get back to taking pictures, (Not that I ever really stopped.) I’ve been spending a lot of time watching videos about composition, lighting and long exposures. So, as I lay in bed last night, I began to think of that box of matches we have. The ones we use to light candles when our farts are particularly foul. There I was, unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to capture those matches. So, after I got up this morning, showered and enjoyed my first cup of coffee, I got to work. After a few, less than satisfactory attempts, I finally captured the matches as I had imagined as I lie awake the night before.

Matches (1 of 1)

United By… (The Crowd)

Over time, I began to include a few pictures of the crowds expressions, participation and overall reaction to particular acts, sets and song. For as long as I’ve attCrowd (1 of 1)Crowd Gap (1 of 1)ended shows and gone to concerts, every act with little to no exception, had a particular song that the audience knew every word, hook and breakdown. While it was always a great opportunity to capture the moment when a singer reaches his emotional halcyon or time the moment when the guitarist launches in the air. It might also be the perfect opportunity to catch the reaction to the crowd. The images to your right were captured about eight years apart. The above captures the crowd at a Revelation Records showcase at CBGB’s. While the one below shows the emotion of the crowd during a set by the band Thursday at Atlantic City’s House of Blues.

United By… (Mouthpiece)

Though I was still very much into straightedge and hardcore music during the nineties, Mouthpiece @ The WetlandsI only manged to see New Jersey’s Mouthpiece several times. The most memorable are pictured below at New York City’s Wetlands and the legendary CBGB’s when I tagged along with Wendy Eager of Guillotine to conduct an interview with the band’s singer Tim McMahon. I also did an interview with Tim in Princeton ten plus years later over by the Record Exchange. You can order the band’s discography Here Musically and lyrically, Mouthpiece were heavily influenced by bands like Minor Threat and Youth of Today. Ultimately, carrying the torch into the 90’s and beyond. I also did an interview with Tim in Princeton ten plus years later over by the Record Exchange.

Mouthpiece @ CBGB's

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

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.

Laying low while dusting off some old favorites.

The recent fears of a pandemic and warnings that suggest social distancing have got us trying to stay sane as we continue to spend more and more time in lockdown. As shaking hands and sharing germs with strangers has come to a screaming halt, I’ve found more and more time to read books, listen to records, and rekindle my interest in old hobbies. When I went downtown to Pike street to pick up some refilled medication. I got a real chill, seeing what a ghost town the often lively area has become. I’ll tell you, shit doesn’t get more real than this.

F*ck (1 of 1)

Driving Lessons

Every teenager dreams of the day they get their driver’s license. It’s a right of passage that ranks up there with ones’ losing their virginity and the first time you got drunk. For me, getting my license and buying my first car with the money I had earned working at the Willowbrook Mall’s Bowery Lighting was like crossing the finishing line of a race while carrying a monkey on your back.

At the time, my most recent experience driving had included taking my mother’s car out while she and my stepdad vacationed in Puerto Rico and being told by my driving instructor to “Slow the fuck down.”

My first car cost me four hundred dollars. A two-tone blue 77′ Ford Maverick with an Eight-Track player. It wasn’t the Mustang I had my eyes on, the one that was eventually wrecked when an errant tire coming off Route-23 landed on its hood and went through its windshield, but it was mine.

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Please note that this image was taken from the internet.

I was so excited about pulling into the school’s parking lot while some rock anthem blasted over the speakers. Then my overprotective mother stepped in like a cop with an ax to grind and told me that, partly due to the distance of my high school and my lack of experience driving, I’d be taking the school bus or hitching a ride with a more experienced driver.

Though there was nothing, I could do or say to right this blockade to my inherent right of passage. I would find a way to get around this carnage of justice during the weekends. Having made many friends in a short time, I lived in Jersey. I had a few who lived within my mom’s imagined loop of territories I could travel.

Being that I had already spent much of my free time at a nearby friend’s home, we made an agreement that he would cover me if she’d ever call. Being that this was before the invention of cell phones and pagers, I kind of wonder how that would work if she ever did choose to call. “Oh, James said he had to drop a deuce. I’ll tell him to call you after, well, you know.”
Or “Oh, he just left to pick up some beer.” Luckily, she never did call.

On the weekends that I did manage to take that Ford for a spin, I often found myself racing down Route 3 South towards the Lincoln Tunnel and straight into Manhattan. The 9th avenue and Canal street traffic was, at least for me, the best education a young driver could ever get. The lanes seemed slimmer, the congestion multiplied, and the yellow taxies that darted in and out as if they were in a pinball machine. It’s a wonder I lived, let alone avoided any significant pileups.

Nine months later, upon graduation from high school, I would use that same car and the driving skills I had learned, to move back to Queens, where I would continue to drive that two-tone blue tank for another two or three years. Looking back, I might have wanted fully to declare my independence, if not chosen a safer outlet for my need for speed. Yet, my teen years were the best time to fight for my freedom.