Thursday, March 27, 2008

Subway Shooting

June 1986

It's nice to see that the subways are less depressing and threatening than they were twenty-two years ago, though if you're not of that opinion, then consider at least that the lighting is better, although the only reading material these days is found on the advertising posters. Which, with the advent of a single advertiser buying an entire car, have gotten to be exceedingly dull. I much prefer the smaller, single, local advertisements: they're easier to mock. It's far too expensive for the smaller businesses to buy an entire car, but just imagine if Doctor Zizmor had the cash....

Back in the 1980's there was plenty to read aside from the ads, in fact, it seems that half the ad card holders on the trains were empty in those days. The real messages were painted inside and out of the cars; David Gunn's eradication program had yet to take effect, and anyone who enjoyed visual puzzles could conceivably ride the length of the A line and never read more than half the car.

March 2008

And as the atmosphere and ambiance of the train has improved, so too has the technology of camera equipment. The first picture was made on Tri-X film with a Pentax ME Super, through a 50mm f1.7 lens. I held the camera in my lap, I focused with the distance scale on the lens (guessing the distance by counting the floor tiles). I pointed the lens in the general direction of my subject, and pretended to be futzing with the camera while shooting, advancing, and shooting again.

Last week I was still assuming the persona of the engrossed technogeek, and with good reason: These cameras have more electronics than the subway trains of the 80's. But thanks to image stabilization, ISO 3200, nine-point autofocus, adjustable white balance and instant feedback, the results are worth showing right away, rather than waiting twenty-two years to resurface.

Of course, since I was still holding the camera in my lap, what's really apparent is my deficiency in the horizon department.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Easter Parade

Perhaps 'parade' isn't the proper word for it any more, it's more like four solid blocks, sidewalk to sidewalk of people just milling about, bumping into one and other and tripping over strollers; I'm sure that like me, most of them were half blinded by the glaring sun in the Fifth Avenue canyons.

I must say I was a little disappointed with the decided lack of a sideshow atmosphere to the whole affair.
I was truly hoping to see the final degradation of the original tradition where rich society women would stroll the Avenue, modeling their finest millinery after Easter Sunday services. I wanted to find it had descended into a fashion humiliation along the lines of the original Halloween Parade. However, other than a dog wearing underpants (above, left) I was disappointed.

No, it was not to be; to my dismay, the route was only populated with normal people, citizens and natives, the kind of inhabitants you'd expect to run into anywhere, at the J. C. Penny or the local Duane Reade. And they were for the most part, dressed as they normally would be, perhaps a bit spiffier than usual, it being a Sunday and all, and the street was closed to traffic.

These are some of the people we met. Please remember that their stories, like their hats and costumes, are spun out of whole cloth.

Sarabeth Ettingher (above), has lived on east Fifty-Seventh Street since 1967, and remembers coming to the Easter Parade as a little girl and actually seeing Irving Berlin strolling the Avenue, once while wearing an elaborate hat consisting of a papier-mache baby grand piano, sheet music, a double-decker bus, and a tuna-fish sandwich. "Or he may have been eating the tuna-fish sandwich," she says. "And I may have been wearing the hat, while riding on a bus. I can't be sure. It was raining."

Sara's purple chapeau, sporting colorful artificial flowers and a comically large butterfly, is secured to her head with a live sea
anemone, artfully tied in a bow and kept alive via a salt-water replenishment system with a built-in reservoir in the brim of the hat itself.

Sarabeth works in Central Park, testing the strength of the ice at Wollman Rink.


Elizabeth Donnerfeld has stood on this spot every year since 1999, when she wore a simple, yellow knitted cap with a green fabric flower. Every year since then she's collected every cap and flower that's been discarded in a twenty-foot radius from her spot and added them to her headgear the following year. While she welcomes the risks and challenges that her bonnet entails, she doesn't appreciate the difficult encounters she has with public transportation and standing upright.

Elizabeth and her bonnet are also visible on Google Earth at the coordinates 40.759074,-73.976741

Sephoradyne Austinsplatch is a 33-year-old former token booth clerk who has taken out her anger at both the MetroCard and the injustice she feels she underwent at her former job, feeling that the introduction of the impersonal plastic fare card hastened the public perception that she and her colleagues were merely 'token' employees. "In fact, what we were soon didn't exist, which makes for a tough metaphor."

It should be noted that for comparisons sake, a similarly-sized hat, constructed entirely of metal subway tokens with an identical fare value as the MetroCards in the hat pictured above, would weigh in the neighborhood of 315 pounds and cost a straphanger $6,826. That price includes free bus transfers in two-fare zones.


Audrey Sanchez-Wellingford is the daughter of the famous parking-space magnate whose family fortune is generated in the shadowy world of private on-street parking operations. With the future onset of congestion pricing in midtown, canny operators are hedging their bets in a series little-known and mostly out-of-the way side street parking spots in choice and select neighborhoods.

Audrey's hat is made with red and yellow roses, cumin and salad greens. Her ratdog, Mimi, camouflages her thinning fur with an accessory nylon wig and straw hat. Mimi has a bit of a cross-eyed look due to Audrey's having put the poor dog's contacts in upside down.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Robber Baron

Does the name Jay Gould ring a bell? You'll probably find the names Vanderbilt or Morgan more familiar; like them Gould was a financier whose interests included railroads, telegraphs, and, not incidentally, cornering the gold market. Or, just another nineteenth-century Robber Baron.

In 1868 he gained control of the Erie Railroad and in 1869 began a convoluted plan to increase freight rail traffic to the east by first trying to gain control of the gold market to drive up the price of wheat, which would in turn cause farmers in the midwest to ship more of their crops to the Atlantic coast. Though he made an small profit from his manipulations, his finagling caused the Black Friday crash in the gold market on September 24, 1869, and Gould ultimately lost more than he gained in the aftermath of litigation.

He was forced out of the Erie less than three years later, and made to repay more than 7 million dollars to the railroad for illicit securities transactions. But like a 19th-century Donald Trump, Gould would rise again, buying and consolidating small railroads, culminating with the Union Pacific and his gaining control of nearly fifteen percent of the nation's rail lines. During this time he also controlled the Western Union company. But he was an autocratic businessman, and, given his history, it isn't surprising that few people liked him.

Gould Mausoleum, Woodlawn Cemetery
March, 2008

He died in 1892 at the age of fifty-six of, according to the newspaper accounts of the times, 'consumption', or what we call 'tuberculosis' today. Ironic, that a man who left 72 million dollars to his family, was killed by the same disease that also claimed thousands of residents of the slums of New York that year.

But none of those other victims were entombed atop their own hill in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, in a granite Greek temple sealed with massive bronze doors whose handles feature lions holding thick metal rings in their mouths. Thirty columns support the roof, and the branches of the cemetery's immense and ancient weeping birch tree tickle one corner. Interestingly, there is no name chiseled anywhere, no identifiers, just the lions, and above them on each door a single angel. The tomb sits on a rise in the center of a 250-foot diameter circle. No other stones or markers note the site.

(Image of Jay Gould from the
George Grantham Bain Collection, Print and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Our Bell

I think the creepiest memorials in any cemetery, without fail, are the ones for children. Take for example, 'Our Bell' (which I first mistook for 'Our Bill', given the angle of the sunlight on the eroded relief) in the Lake section of New York's Woodlawn Cemetery.

Her stone stands alone, with no obvious connection to the surrounding plots. There are no dates, no family name, just the carving of an Alice-in-Wonderland figure of a little girl standing under an arch, her right hand resting on the top of her hoop skirt, her features worn away by time and weather. She looks as if she could have stepped out of a Seurat painting; you can almost see the parasol in her left hand, just the other side of the stone.

Really though, I think she looks for whoever left her here.

The Woodlawn Cemetery
Bronx, New York
March 6, 2008

Just to note, there was nothing wrong with my camera when I took these pictures; I was using a second-generation Lensbaby on the Canon 30D.  For more examples from this unusual optic, click on the 'Lensbaby' link below this post.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Self-Assignment: LensBabies

While waiting for the spring sports schedule to lumber to life, I decided to undertake another self-assignment for the next few days. This time around, everything I shoot is with the Lensbaby 2.0. All the pictures are current and new, nothing from the archives.

Riverhead - March 2008

Oyster Bay - March 2008

A couple of older houses get the Lensbaby treatment here today, one of which has obviously undergone less rigid care and maintenance than the other, though I daresay it retains its dignity and elegance even in the face of its decline. How long it will remain in this position appears to be an open question. Unseen in this image is the busy road and desirable location it occupies alongside. The other house is meticulously maintained, and will be, without question, forever.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Radiator Benny

For all its faults, the old house in Long Beach had fantastic light. The living room and the front porch were pretty dark, but all the other rooms, landings, hallways and stairwells had simply wonderful light, whether direct or indirect. Even the backlighting in the bedroom was well balanced, as we see above.

The house also had steam heat and lots of wide, comfortable radiator covers for cats to loll and stroll on, which Benny demonstrates for us here, above and below, back when she was the sole terror-in-residence.

This was shot on February 1st, 1996 on Ilford XP2 film, with the Pentax P3n, probably through a Tamron 28-135 lens.

(Click to see full image)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Disobeying the Signs

When I saw this stop sign, I knew how I wanted to frame it, and this being Long Island, I also knew I wouldn't have long to wait for the subjects to align themselves.

In fact, I had only taken two shots of the sign itself, to establish the the framing and exposure, when this candidate lumbered along. Originally he was out of the frame to the left, waiting at his stop sign, while a sedan was facing me in the oncoming lanes. But he didn't move even after the intersection was cleared; it took a long lean on the horn from the car behind him, and he was still leery of moving until I lowered the camera from my eye.

He then shot across, but since I had already set up the shot, I was able to get the image I was after. I'm guessing he was suspicious of the camera, or he knew about the sticker.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Albuquerque's Neon at Dusk

US Route 66 is the main street in most of the towns it passes through, not the least of which is Albuquerque, New Mexico. We drove down Central Avenue at dusk, the perfect time to capture the neon and illuminated signs. Above, the Desert Sands, a motel we pointedly did not stay in, per our all-Marriott agenda, but a classic 1960's neon and fluorescent roadside enticement like this can't be ignored, nor should one overlook its Vegas-esque name and design. And it has Nice Clean Rooms.

The Flying Star Coffee shop had this space-age example jutting from its building to attract passers-by. I love the simple lines of neon above the twinkling lights of the Milky Way.

We stopped in here at Hookah Kings mainly so I could satisfy my curiousity that an entire retail operation could subsist on peddling a single type of product. And you know, they can.

Well, we didn't stop in here, but it wouldn't be the southwest United States without a tattoo parlor, now would it?

May 23, 2007 Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA)