Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflecting on the Year Gone

The 28th Annual Monkey Island Holiday Card - 2008

As December draws to a close it's time to reflect back on the year gone by and look forward towards the year to come.

I originally started this blog and the others as a way to migrate all my stuff off the horrible service I was using before and into the cleaner design and easier navigation of Blogger. That was back in the spring of 2007, just after we got back from our Route 66 trip, which we wrote about in more or less real time.

Talking Pictures was originally called The Portfolio Collection, since that's about all it was; a collection of pictures, arranged somewhat by category. I wasn't ready to start writing any new Postcards from Monkey Island, but I did wind up culling them down to my favorite thirty-six, and put them into their own blog during the summer of 2007.

It was while Sherry and I were driving across the country and doing the Route 66 blog that I realized how much I like to write about my photography. But as I just said: I didn't want to do new Postcards; as much fun as they were, I thought I should try something a little more creative and challenging.

I'd been going through my black and white archive, which dates back to 1985, scanning negatives I had previously printed in the darkroom, and many that I'd never bothered with, when I came up with what I thought was an interesting concept.

Some background: In the 1960's and 70's, when all the New York Sunday newspapers had rotogravure magazines, the Daily News' magazine had a column that I loved, called "New York's Changing Scene". Every week they'd dig up an old photograph of a building or intersection from the vast Daily News morgue, then send a photographer to the same location to shoot the scene as it looked in the present time. Seeing how much (or how little) the city had changed was something I found fascinating. But it was dropped some time before the paper stopped producing a weekly magazine sometime in the late seventies, and to my disappointment never ran in any other section of the Sunday paper again.

This long-dead feature was the inspiration for The Time Machine: Images of the Lost City. I started going over my negatives from the eighties more closely, looking for interesting compositions and noting their locations. I scanned, cleaned up and printed a number of images, and, armed with a pocketful of those 4x6 prints, spent a few early Sunday mornings prowling the streets of Soho, Greenwich Village and midtown. East side, west side, all around the town. Some places were easy to locate, others, damned near impossible. With the original as a reference, I'd frame the scene as close to the same cropping and field of view as possible. My Canon DSLR's have a black and white mode, but setting the file type to RAW+JPEG will display a black and white image on the camera monitor (the JPEG) yet store all the color data in the RAW file. I would reshoot the scenes in this mode, which it made it easier for me to determine if I had the framing I wanted, without the distraction of color.

Then I began prowling the internet. Between Google and the NYC Buildings Department website I gathered as much information about the area or buildings in the picture as I could, and pieced together a story about the pictures. With both pictures lined up, I'd point out what had changed and what was the same. Through the site, I was able to find out when things were built, items from the internet told me when and why they were torn down, or, in one extreme case, moved. I wrote about what I was doing then, how I felt about the places, why I was there.

I kept it going for twenty-six chapters, one a week through the spring, summer and early fall of 2007. Of course, not doing school pictures in the summer gave me the time for this, and to wander around Brooklyn's favorite (and only) amusement park. The photographs I made there, as well as the fact that it may soon never look as it does, resulted in Last Year at Coney Island.

Wandering around that boardwalk and its environs was and is great fun, but I'm afraid I never spent enough time there to really develop a true feel for the area, and, while I hoped to document the changes predicted with the proposed redevelopment, I never did. Nothing ever got redeveloped, the project stagnated. Astroland got a one-year extension and opened again for the summer of 2008, but the owners of the park weren't able to get a lease from the new owners of the land, for 2009, so maybe this past season was the last. Politics and zoning changes, the economy and neighborhood emotions are more than I want to chronicle, I want to take pictures and write about what I see.

So, while I'll go back from time to time, I've merged the Coney Island blog into this one, and shut down the original site. All those posts are now in chronological order here in Talking Pictures, and are tagged as 'Last Year at Coney Island' in the 'Gathered Together' section of the right-hand column under the archive listing.

I'll probably merge the VanGoghlaroid blog into this one as well. I rather like them on their black background, but the medium gray will offset them nicely, I think. I'm not sure if I want to integrate them in chronological order like Coney Island, though. I may reintroduce them over the course of a few weeks, along with fresh comments. Since I never wrote anything more about them other than the sidebar copy on that blog, it may be nice to go into more detail about each picture, especially since they all had extensive cleaning and manipulations done to them in Photoshop, in addition to the normal physical manipulation. So you can look for those in the future.

And of course, there's the new masthead. I hope you like it; it's one of my favorite shots.

So there we have it. I'm having fun writing this blog, I hope you're having fun with my musings, ramblings and other oddities. I've averaged two new posts a week for the last year; I'll try for the same pace again
. And if there are any literary agents out there reading this, some of this stuff would make a neat book, ya think? And if any of you out there know any literary agents, pass the site on for me.

Thanks for reading so far, have a great and safe New Year, and come back for more in January 2009.

--Neil J Murphy
December, 2008

2008 Monkey Island Logo
(Peggy's Point, Nova Scotia)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Species Specific

I'm not quite sure what to say about this, other than it's my favorite label since the one for Meowie Wowie catnip. I suppose it differentiates these as toys that cats play with from the larger, cat-shaped toys that, say, doberman pincers or bull mastiffs would toss about the yard.

Or it could be an ironic misspelling, given the number of toys in the bag and the homophonic phrasing.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress

Pilgrim Hospital Cemetery - December 2008

O. Jackson lies beneath the turf just south of the Long Island Expressway, in a remote section of the grounds at one of Long Island's enormous psychiatric hospitals, in a huge field with rows of rough concrete markers flush with the ground, and probably hundreds of other, unmarked graves.

Oswald, or Otto, or Opal, or Ophelia, forgotten by family and lost in the system. They outlived their treatment and their relatives, and were buried in the back. Without even the span of their years in this world noted on the stone, just a four digit number. And a cross. I guess it was the Christian thing to do.

Pilgrim State Hospital is located just off the Sagtikos Parkway in Brentwood, not too far from Kings Park, and immediately adjacent to a nature preserve which itself is the site of another state hospital, Edgewood. No structures remain at Edgewood, though an extensive system of tunnels is rumored to run throughout the acreage.

Unlike Kings Park, which has only two or three buildings still in use, the Pilgrim property fairly bustles with life, especially on its west side. The entire site is envisioned to become, essentially, a new town, and many of the low-rise dormitories have been demolished into themselves, leaving several long stretches of road with weeds growing amidst the rubble, and overgrown sidewalks, each leading from the road to a pile of bricks and cinderblock.

Not everything is coming down, though, and for the foreseeable future, not much will be going up any time soon, either. The water tower, at the right, is slated for preservation. It still looks like it's in pretty good shape, despite the graffitti. Being an empty shell, the tank having been removed years ago, and mostly built of masonary, and so not too flammable, it has survived the years, and is expected to be a center of the new community, whenever that may be.

MEGO data: Both these pictures were made with the 5D set to shoot in monochrome. I used the 17-40mm lens full wide. For the water tower, I was shooting vertically, and trying to keep the structure symmetrical, straight, and keep the light shining through the two upper windows.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rebecca's Turn

From the infrared session we did back in August, dodging the Bosco bombs in the backyard, there was this image that I'm particularly fond of, yet somehow managed to not post.

The light from her right side was falling perfectly and modeling smoothly over her face. This is an infrared converted to monochrome, then processed in Photoshop for levels, contrast and sharpness. The only thing I can't seem to do is create good separation between the iris and pupils of her eyes. They're dark blue, but from what I've read the eyes generally tend to turn out dark to almost black in infrared portraits.

Doesn't matter, she's still a cutie.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Just Because...

December 19, 2008's been a while since any of my children have graced (or at least appeared) on these pages, and just because they were all lazing around the living room this evening, I took the camera out and went on a shooting spree.

These cats are a photographic challenge for me, because when it comes to me, they'll follow me anywhere. But when it comes to me and the camera, they just don't care. Look at Betsy up above, for instance. She hardly acknowledges the fact that there's a giant lens barely 12 inches from her face. Then again, come to think of it, her turning away may be because there's a giant lens in her face.

Or maybe it was because the guy who tries so hard to get together with her, despite her unyielding attitude, the guy who just won't take no, or a swat to the face accompanied by an angry hiss, for an answer, was also trying to get her attention at the same time.

Legs, you're sweet and affectionate, but at the end of the day, she's just not that into you. (And I also have it on good authority that you snore.)

MEGO Data: Camera: Canon 5D Lens: 17-40L @40mm. ISO 320 - f8 - 1/125 - flash bounced off ceiling.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New York Central Building

August 6 1994

Currently known as the Helmsley Building, 230 Park Avenue was built as the headquarters of the New York Central railroad in 1929, and stood regally above Park Avenue, a full block behind Grand Central Terminal, visible from both ends of the avenue until 1963, when the Pan Am building rose in the space above that block on East 44 Street. Standing between the tower and the terminal, and now known as the MetLife building, it would forever block sight of the tower from the south, and serve as a starkly modern backdrop when seen from the north.

But thankfully we don't have that visage in our photograph today. This picture was made on a hazy August day in 1994 from the 35th floor of 145 East 45 Street. The view is looking west along 45th Street from the windows of the Filenet Corporation, which Sherry worked for at the time. While there were some spectacular views from those offices, one of the drawbacks to a high floor in a midtown office building is that the view is often directly across the street into the windows of another high floor in a midtown office building.

August 6 1994

Of course, one of the midtown office buildings you'd be looking into was this little art deco number a few blocks south whose aluminum trim shines even on a gloomy day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Broadway and 49th Street...

April 1986

...along the east side of Broadway, looking south toward the heart of Times Square. This is a wider shot of the Howard Johnson's sign from my earlier post, showing the narrow slice of Broadway leading downtown. At the extreme right is an ad for Minolta (cameras, copiers, video), the only ad on the building known as One Times Tower. In 1986 New York Newsday, an NYC edition of the Long Island paper, had its name on the one-time Allied Chemical building. Minolta was one year away from revolutionizing the 35mm market with the first autofocus SLR, the Maxxum 7000; in 2006 they left the camera business entirely.

If you enlarge the picture and look at some of the other signs, you'll see other quaint period markers, like that the video store sold discs, too. Remember those 12 inch laser precursors to the DVD?

The movie theater was the Circus Cinema, and, according to some quick web searches, still is. The Big Top was an adjacent gay porn theater. I don't know if it survives in any form today, I'll have to check the next time I'm in town. It's hard to read the marquee of the Circus, but I would like to point out that the star of the feature attraction at Circus, Paula Meadows, has gone on to a career as an erotic artist. Sell what you know.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Where the World Stands Still

Building 93 - August 2008

I hope no one is tired of pictures from King's Park, because I certainly never get tired of visiting there. I don't know what fascinates me more: the mere size of the abandoned facility, given its immediate proximity to suburban development, or the thought of all the people who spent their entire lives on these grounds before the world began to reclaim the roads and pathways and the buildings started collapsing on themselves.

November 2008

I came across this tricycle just as you see it here, leaning on its broken wheels amongst the weeds. Weeds that sprout through the cracks of the hopscotch pattern in the playground behind one of those deteriorating buildings. Where obviously the youngest patients lived, beginning their lives at this century-old institution.

August 2008

It's always deserted here, wherever on the property I go. A few times I've run into people; last spring there were some kids asking me if I'd seen any open buildings (I told them I hadn't - I lied - and warned them that jail wasn't fun and the State Police have no sense of humor) and just last week I met a woman who feeds the stray cats that live in one of the staff houses. (She assured me that everyone was spayed, though mostly feral.)

August 2008

But most of the time it's a ghost town, like being in the middle of a 1950's science fiction movie about the aftermath of nuclear or biological mayhem. There's hardly any sounds of nature even; a few birds chirping, and the wind blowing through the trees with the unsettling rustle of something unseen darting in the undergrowth. Once I heard a sound, a clink, clink, like someone sorting through a cutlery drawer, that seemed to come from the upstairs window of one of the houses. But sounds like this are always in the background: it's impossible to deliberately hear the spirits.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Unisphere Pano

Sherry is again in Ottawa, which means I just made the drive to LaGuardia, giving me opportunity and excuse to stop by Flushing Meadow Park.

It snowed last night, only an inch or so, just enough to cling to the grass and make the roads and sidewalks wet. But the day remained cold and overcast until early afternoon, when the wind picked up as well. That was enough to leave me with the park to myself, though I'm less than satisfied with the results. The clouds are nice, but with the sun mostly obscured the overall scene is dark and dull. I was also freezing, so I made six exposures for this image, and another ten for a vertical version, then headed for home. For the record, I liked the results of the second version even less than this one.

This is a composition I'll be coming back to.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Spotlight On:

Devon Marks, nephew, godson and guitar hero, takes stage right at the Oceanside High School's annual variety show last night. He played 'Stand By Me', a song by Oasis. (I've got to check if he's familiar with the Ben E. King song of the same name.) He played well, despite losing his pick, which he recovered quickly from. There are more pictures of Devon, and some of the other acts from the show here and here.

This was shot with the 5D at 3200 ISO, f2.8, 1/125 second exposure at 200mm. I converted the color to black and white since he was performing under a red spotlight the entire time. Red light has a way of making images look out of focus, and very quickly hurts to look at.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ho Ho HoJo's

Another oldie from the archives today, as we go all the way back to April of 1986 for a view of the Howard Johnson's sign at 49th Street and Broadway in Times Square. I'm not sure how long this neon beauty lasted, but I do know that it was replaced by a simple sheet of plastic with colored words long before the restaurant closed.

This was taken late in the afternoon, hence the somewhat long shadows coming off the raised letters on the sign. I like this shot not only for the grittiness of the overall look, but also for the way the viewer's eye is drawn to the center of the composition. The sign, the only true horizontal line in the image, sits comfortably inside the slight inward arch of the surrounding lines.

Kodak Tri-X, push-processed to 800 ISO, mainly for the extra stop.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Been There, Done That

The Pink Panther

With Thanksgiving safely behind us, I thought I'd dip into the archives once again. While I've never been to Times Square on New Year's Eve, I have been to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (known for all my life hereabouts in New York as the 'Macy's Day Parade') several times, and sampled it from many locations.

These pictures are from November 22, 1990, which may have been my third time there. My first time I was running uptown and down, following the balloons, and taking pictures from Herald Square to Central Park. Another year I happened to run into a friend at Jamaica Station on my way in. She worked for Macy's and got me into the bleachers on 34th Street with her.

But this time I was with Sherry, and we decided to stay in one place for the entire parade. So sometime around eight in the morning we staked out a spot in the center of West 44th Street, at the exact spot where the parade made a left/right dogleg turn to follow Broadway. Which put us in a position to see the balloons head-on as well as in profile.

Macy's Lifeguard

While the crowds were sparse when we first arrived the crush soon followed. I'm not sure how long we were there, a few hours at least. Being first, though, we kept our great spot at the front of the barricades. After we wriggled our way out we took the subway uptown and had Thanksgiving breakfast at the diner on 69th and First. Then we went back to her apartment and watched a raucous session of the British Parliament on CNN after Margaret Thatcher quit her job.

I bet Sherry remembers nothing of this.