Due to the time we arrived at Maryland’s Stony Park farm, the sun was so strong, that getting the images I had hoped for were dashed by how overwhelmingly bright the sun was, It wasn’t until much later in the day when we stopped for ice cream, that I would dare take my camera out of the bag and attempt a shot or two. As a born and raised city boy. One whose lived his entire life in an urban setting. Getting out of my element and experiencing a completely different way of life is mind blowing. The experience has a child-like effect on me that can only be compared to that as a wide eyed kid in a toy store. My love and admiration of farm life, tractors and barnyard animals is boundless. So when the sky began to offer shade. I made sure I had an image to take home and boast about. Here’s my capture of the steering wheel and headlight of the tractor parked outside of the creamery.
Better to Go it Alone.
This afternoon while stopped outside a farm. I exited the car to take a picture of a relatively unpopulated road. As I began to compose and adequately expose my subject. I began to hear my wife rapidly repeating the words “Chop. Chop.” Urging me to get it done, get back in the car, and get out of there as soon as possible. While I appreciate her support and willingness to go along with the plan as long as the program doesn’t involve her getting out of the car or waiting for more than a fraction of a second. I fully realize that, at the end of the day. I’m better off going it alone.
In recent weeks I’ve been asked several times, once by a complete stranger, what I loved most about photography, and what I most liked to shoot. In each instance, I went on a far out rant about my years of shooting, and other useless nonsense. that by all means, made me look as if I was nuts. Earlier this week, I had a chance to chat with one of them. During the exchange, I backtracked and brought up his question. Explaining my recent awkwardness and how I would have just responded with, “Everything.” Essentially because I love all aspects of the art. The colors, shapes, and tones. The storytelling elements of a good capture, and the moods they create. I look back with pride regarding the friendships and trust I’ve built during photo sessions over the years. Holding my camera, pressing the shutter and going through the days session bring me a joy that’s hard to explain. Getting off my soapbox and back to that original question, “What do you love most about photography?” My simple reply is and always will be, “Everything.”
In Case You’re Wondering
I took this while going for an extended walk today. While most of my street photography often lacks that human element. I find the ones that do, add an extra element of storytelling. Filling a void and adding personality to the image. I’ve noticed that the majority of my photos outside of studio work are shot of people walking away. That element can be due to future sales of prints. Personally, I find that aspect adds more to the story. Allowing the observer to better ecersize their imagination. .That, or I’m not up for being punched in the head, or being angrily questioned as to why I just took their picture.
Fear of Heights
While I can’t precisely pinpoint what started my fear of heights. I often recall several instances where I felt the pace of my heart, the oncoming sweat, and the jelly-like feeling in my legs quickly joining forces to end me. I took this picture in 1993 while working for Cantor Fitzgerald. I and many others had returned to work after some maniac planted and exploded a bomb in the parking garage. (Note that this was about eight years before the 9/11 attack.) During my lunch break, I attempted to take this picture to, perhaps, show the resilience and strength of the structure and the people who worked there. As I stood staring into the sky, my legs began to buckle. No matter how I repositioned myself, I couldn’t recapture my balance. It wasn’t until I went down on my knees that I could capture what you see below. In the years that followed, I could not cross bridges, enjoy observation decks or enjoy anything related to heights. Strange considering my first paid photo shoot required me to scale a waterfall located within the bear mountains. I’ve since faced my fears, but haven’t gotten past the rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or weakness in my knees that are sure to follow.
My Fascination with Slide Film. (Continued)
Continuing my deep dive into decades old images that I captured on slide film. I’ve somewhat shifted my kicking myself for less than perfect attempts at capturing the beauty and uniqueness of my subjects and instead recalling how much fun I was having and how lucky I was to have complete strangers agree to give me the time to practise my new passion. I can also recall how my social skills and ability to strike up a conversation with just about anyone were taken to new heights.
I was home one day and decided to see if I could find a movie on Netflix. It seemed to be a better choice than watching CNN or any of the twenty four hour news networks. Unless I know ahead of time just what I want to watch. It can take up to an hour to find something that I feel can hold my interest for more than it’s entirety. Within a matter of seconds, I found a Seth Rogen film I had not seen or even heard of. It was even under the ‘Critically Acclaimed’ category. So, how can I refuse? Now don’t get me wrong, Seth is pretty one dimensional in his work. Throughout his career, he’s pretty much cornered the market as far as lovable losers are concerned. Still, I love his work, and in many ways, identify with his characters.
Going in, there were two other factors that drew me to the movie. One; It’s filmed in my then current city of Seattle and much like my years as a New Yorker, where I would be able to name most of the streets and locations featured in the various franchises of Law & Order. I easily recognized many of the Seattle streets where the film was created. What I did not expect and did not bargain for was the reaction I had to Jordan-Gordon-Levitt’s character Adam being diagnosed and struggling with cancer. As someone who watched a beautiful soul succumb to leukemia and die when I was only eight and was told I had month to live due to a brain tumor when I was twelve, it fucking wrecked me.
I was seven or eight years old when my Father started dating Angie. She was like no other person I had met before and maybe until I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. Angie was born in Taiwan and lived with her very strict, traditional and educated family in Queens. I’m not sure how the two met, but with Angie being was a teller at a local bank and my father still driving a bus for the city. The chances of them crossing paths was pretty high. On the nights we’d pick her up from the apartment where she lived with her parents. I’d have to hide in the back seat until they emerged and I got the signal that the coast was clear. She, along with her family had immigrated looking for a better life and like many, the chance to work towards the American dream. A recently divorced bus driver with a son was more of a nightmare than a dream.
Angie and my dad were polar opposites in almost every way. While my father stood 6’4 with a booming voice. Angie was tiny in comparison, always speaking softly in what often seemed like whispers. Her jet black hair often hung down below her knees. Often causing her peers to ask how she kept it looking so manageable and beautiful. Though my Dad was always a heavy drinker and an occasional drug user. Unlike my Father, Angie never acquired a taste for alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Such distractions or deviances never interested her.
Her generosity and penchant for spoiling me were undeniable. However, introducing me to New York City’s Chinatown and adventures on Mott Street would impact and influence me the most. She would read the Chinese comic books I’d buy each time, teaching me a new word, phrase, or Chinese slang term. As a kid who hated the Wringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, my Uncle Ray and Aunt Mary would take me to each year. Angie’s taking me to the Taiwanese Circus left my mouth gaping in amazement and adoration. The experience blew my mind.
By the age of seven, I had already witnessed a friend fall to his death and been to a funeral, but seeing Angie fall to Leukemia was the hardest thing I’d witnessed before or since. Seeing her lay in a hospital bed connected to tubes. Experiencing the process of her flowing black hair become stubble, only compared to what I saw in war movies depicting prison or concentration camps. The treatment, drastic, yet unsuccessful only seemed to make things worse. Eventually, after often brutal chemotherapy treatment that only seemed to worsen her condition, she would come home with my Dad , but it was short lived, as she would soon return to the hospital where she would pass.
Even now, when I bring her up in conversation, my Dad easily recalls detailed memories of her kindness, their time together, and what it was like sitting by her bedside at the hospital. As I write this, I try to focus on all the good and kindness that she brought us. The positive imprint she left in her twenty seven years on this planet. Maybe, writing about the suffering will help me heal enough to focus on the good things.
As for her family. I didn’t meet any of them until the day of the funeral. Like I said, they would have never let their daughter date a man who was divorced with a kid. When I think back to those days; and I often do. I didn’t like it, but I kind of understood. Looking back, I can’t help but think, that experience had a lot to do with my drive in volunteering on so many cancer related fundraisers. To think that something good came out of that tragedy is as rewarding as it is hard to believe. In the end, Angie may have been the greatest, most positive influence on my early childhood. Her presence and overall impact certainly influenced me as an adult and effected the way I’ll always want to treat people. I will always love her and appreciate the short, yet impactful life she lived. Till this day. I still have the Chinatown shirt she bought me on a trip to Mott Street. I had to be eight at the time. Though it hasn’t fit in more than forty years, I keep it as a token of her kindness and the last physical item representing our time together. Thanks Angie, you will always hold a place in my heart.
Learning to Fight.
Through recent conversations with family and grade school friends. (yes, I still have those.) I was reassured that many, if not all, of my early childhood memories, happened. My doubts surfaced a few years ago during a neighbor’s daughter paid a visit. After examining the six-year-olds hands and soft knuckles, I began to think some of my memories and tales were something of folklore. For better or worse, those stories remained in the memories of those who were there to bear them.
Whereas many of my memories remain detailed and almost sharp, the most formidable ones start around the age of four.
While kindergarten was a great introduction to socializing and learning to communicate, it was also an education on dealing with bullies. To state it boldly, it’s when I first learned to fight.
I remember it clearly, and with detail. During that morning, there was what was, without any doubt, most kids’ favorite event of the week, ‘Show and Tell.’ At the same time, I may not have been the most popular kid in the class. Bringing my G.I. Joe with Kung Fu grip and authentic (Fuzzy) hair was both a hit and the envy of some male classmates.
As the half-day came to an end, I found myself waiting in the nose bleed seats of the school auditorium. Suddenly, the Cruz brothers, Carlos and Eddi, intended to take my G.I. Joe and give my ass a proper beating. Their plan to attack from both sides was a good strategy. However, they surely underestimated my intent to hold on to my prized possession. Despite their two-prong attacks of kicking and punching, I stood my ground and did enough damage to hold on to said action figure.
When I got home, my Father noticed the scratches and red eyes and asked what had happened. I remember telling my Dad about the incident and commenting they used karate on me. (At the time, I considered any form of kicking to be karate or kung fu.) He told me to never back down to bullies and began to teach me how to fight.
A day later, I found myself in the garage with my Dad learning the ropes to not only fight back but win and even disable my opponent.
A year later, I was in the first grade, despite how handsome and charming I might have been. There were even more cruel kids looking to target and bully me. And just as I was learning how to defend myself properly, my Father was slowly but surely gravitating towards loansharking and numbers to make a living.
By the early school year of the second grade, my parents headed for a messy divorce, and I was processing my anger and newfound anxiety. A lesson, for better or worse, was taught that would set me on a course.
My Father got down on his knees and asked me, “Do you want to win a fight?’ I nodded, “yes.” “Do you want to win a fight quickly and be sure he never comes back at you?” I agreed again. Nodding, “Yes.” That’s when he took my hand gently yet firmly and taught me a lesson I’d never forget.
The first thing he taught me was pressure points and how to throw a punch properly. “Hit somebody directly in the chest, and they can’t breathe. If someone can’t breathe, they can’t fight.” Punch someone in their throat, and they can’t breathe.” “They can’t breathe. They can’t fight.” “There are two ways to punch someone effectively in the nose.”
“While an uppercut can cause a nosebleed, but if you come down on the nose hard enough, you can break the bone. Either will take your opponent out of the game. That was gouging one’s eye out with my finger—a tactic best saved for mortal combat or some soldier of fortune adventure in Uganda. Now luckily, the last and most gruesome lessons I learned, that day would never be called on, let alone thought.
Now, bear with me. I’ve gone over the inappropriate nature of a father or any parental guardian teaching their six or seven-year-old son how to disable their opponent both physically and mentally. For me, and perhaps in my Father’s eyes, learning pressure points was like learning how to play chess. The streets and schoolyards were often battlegrounds, and bullies came in all shapes and sizes. One day I might be fighting for more than an action figure or my lunch money.
In the week, months, and years that followed, I stood my ground in countless altercations in the schoolyards and on the streets. The lessons my Father taught helped me navigate and win fights with people older and bigger than me. I quickly learned that school administrators and police officers rarely judged who started the fight—often seeing the more damaged or bloodied person as the victim. Looking back, I take great pride in the fact that I was never a bully. In contrast, I was quick to throw a punch. Yet, I never once started a fight. Often leaving one teary-eyed, asking why they made me hurt them. Except for one that sent my friend to the hospital, and the exception of my first school. I never fought a classmate.
The Good, The Bad and all the rest.
Truth be told, I was never close with my Mom’s Mom. Though she lived just a few blocks away from us, a few steps from where some good friends of mine. Not a thought would occur as I walked past her residence almost daily. The only time I had been in her building or apartment was when I was 7 years old and a night long altercation between my Mom and my future Schlep Dad got loud and violent enough to summon the police. That morning would be the first and one of two times I ever stepped over that threshold. And though we would see one another on holidays (One of my favorite memories being her giving my Schlep Dad two cartons of cigarettes for Christmas. As if to say, “Here, this and the drugs your on, should speed up your death, you piece of shit.” There were attempts later in life to get closer, which included two trips to her new home in New Mexico. But, aside from that, nothing. Still, there was always something badass about her. She drank, smoked, cursed and played guitar. (pictured here.) Basically, she did whatever the fuck she wanted to. And for that, I admire her.
By all means, the day should have and was a very rewarding day. One that started with a good breakfast and the assurance that I would have enough toilet paper to carry me through my final days rewards here in Arlington. The inspection of our new condo furthered our day of rewards and promise that we were one step closer to fulfilling another dream of ours. It wasn’t until arriving home and chatting with my Mom, that the feel good day took a hit. “Your grandmother is dying.” While this came as no shock (She was in her mid nineties and had been in declining physical and mental health for years.) there’s always a sadness that comes with the passing of a family member. Again, there was no shock when, on the next day, my Mother informed me that she passed away in her sleep the night before.
Rack ’em Up; One Last Trip Up to the Roof Deck
As I gazed upon the pool table located within the spacious rooftop sky retreat, I was taken aback by my childhood. Thinking back to a time when going to bars and pool halls with my Father was a constant. Watching my Dad win game after game while I reveled in my cheeseburger and fries. Going over every title on the jukebox. The many nights when he’d leave the bar with me in one hand and a fist full of cash in the other. Often leaving with a fist full of cash from his night of sharking. Much like the poker games and betting halls, I became familiar with a young, wide-eyed shorty.
There was always a game, and always players lined up to get a taste.
While some have found it shocking that a kid not old enough to see over the bar was exposed to an adult world. I look back on those days fondly. Intended or not, they provided education as to what I wanted to be and what I certainly didn’t want to be. Though I was taught to keep a tight lip at the time. Over the decades that have passed, much of what we experienced has become conversation and reason for laughter at family get-togethers. Over the years, I’ve learned that the perfect childhood, often detailed in movies and sitcoms, is a rare beast. Though I can admit to being one of mankind’s worst pool players and has rarely ever placed a bet or even played the lottery. I can’t help but think of and admire my Dad for his skill with the pool cue.