Author Archives: Al Rivera

The Stranger’s Story

So yesterday I headed back into Manhattan to pick up an Amazon order that I had shipped to a Rite-Aid locker on 24th St. After taking a detour through Union Square to check out the farmer’s market (picking up some … Continue reading

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Time Stops For No One

You’re walking home from work. You decide to stop for a few seconds to pull out your phone to check your Facebook. Or maybe you didn’t decide to stop. Maybe you are somehow programmed to stop and check your Facebook whenever your … Continue reading

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The Zone

One of my favorite novels of all time is Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Written in Soviet Russia, it’s the tale of a place called The Zone, which was the site of an alien visitation. After the aliens … Continue reading

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Bleecker Street

Bleecker Street

Lately, I’ve been trying to get over the habit of taking photos of buildings, structures, or still life in general. I admit I’m a bit people shy when it comes to street photography. The other day I was in Washington Square Park and saw a photographer almost get punched out when he tried to snap a photo of two middle aged men playing chess. That’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid, aside from the creep factor I may give off to a total stranger upon taking their pic. Protests and Occupy Wall Street are different. People actually want to be seen and heard. But anyways….

A few weeks ago I decided to try to stray away a bit from my comfort zone and focus on photographing people. Not going up in their face but from a non-intrusive, indirect point of view. This was shot right before taking the train home after wandering around the East Village for almost two hours without taking a single shot. Everyone seemed like copy/paste clones of each other, no individuality whatsoever. Polo shirt, khakis, bag, skirt, bag, iPhone, walking fast can’t stop gotta run call you when I get out of the train don’t forget to feed the cat.

This man didn’t have to rush anywhere. As everyone else strode forward, he pushed back. Breaking through the line of commuter ants as he went along, pushing himself on his one good leg. The only fresh and genuine face around the whole area.

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Old Polaroids

  The other day I was going over my box of old photos from my film days and dug these two out. They’re from my old hometown, when one weekend I decided to drive to the nearest Walmart half an … Continue reading

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Windows

Windows

There is an alley in downtown Manhattan next to the Puck Building where many fashion shoots take place. Everytime I pass by there, models are posing for the cameras, wearing the latest styles and getting their hair and makeup done on the spot. I sometimes stop to watch for a while. Fashion photography is not my thing, but I do enjoy seeing what kind of setup they have and what kind of moods they try to convey. It’s kind of a learning experience. I also find the wardrobe and styles amusing, some look like they stepped out from the set of a sci-fi movie or a time warp leading back to the 1930’s.

When I shot this one, there was a fashion shoot in progress. After observing for a while, I noticed the windows high above and found the scene much more interesting than the actual shoot. I took out my camera, walked up while they were taking a break, and as I approached one of the crew comes up to me and tells me that I can’t take photos of the models. I told him I wasn’t interested in the models, pointed up to the windows, snapped this photo, and left. As I passed, one of the models says “Hey, I like your vest.”, referring to my black hesher punk/metal denim biker vest. Here she is wearing clothes that cost more than what I make in a month, and yet she’s complimenting my old, worn, patched-and-pinned vest. Somehow I found it amusing and ironic.

I guess the photo symbolizes different phases, or windows, in my life that have opened and closed. One closed window represents my teaching career, an open one my new career. Another closed one my old town, an open one the city and it’s infinite possibilities. Or maybe I just like the pattern, I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t feel like such a dirtbag anymore every time I wear my beloved vest.

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Misty Mountains

Misty Mountains

Although I consider myself pretty much a New Jersey/New Yorker, my real roots lay in an idyllic town in Puerto Rico called Aibonito. Located in the center of the island and surrounded by mountains, winding roads, and blankets of fog and mist, the sleepy little town is my birthplace. My parents moved from Aibonito to New Jersey in the late 70’s, where I grew up. We returned in 1989, and spent my junior high school years all the way through college on the island.

The town holds so many memories for me, as well as a bunch of firsts. First girlfriend, first best friend, first beer, first time I drove a car, first tattoo, I can go on and on. After graduating from college and teaching in the town for a few years, I decided to go back to NJ and work in NYC. My friends threw me a punk show farewell party, and the next day I packed my bags and hopped on a plane with a one-way ticket in hand.

I felt like Bilbo Baggins leaving The Shire. Leaving behind a tranquil, carefree existence. If I told I wasn’t scared I’d be lying to you. Honestly, I didn’t know if I would make it through a year away from the sheletered, protective embrace of my small town. Sure, I knew the NY/NJ area from my childhood, but it was different. Aibonito saw me return as a child and saw me leave a man. A sack full of dreams over my shoulder, a weeping mother and sister left behind at home. I wasn’t scared, I was terrified. Small town mountain boy making a living in NYC. If I didn’t make it here, this city wouldn’t simply let me go, it would destroy me.

Six years later and I have changed quite alot. I fought many battles and proudly wear the trophies on my arms. The beast of a city has not been tamed, but it respects me and even shows some affection towards me. It knows I’m a survivor and we regard eachother with mutual respect. I’m not claiming victory yet, and probably never will, but I will say that it never succeeded in destroying me, and I can live with that.

I try to go back to my hometown every year to see my friends and family. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss them. Everytime I go back, they ask me a million questions about life in the big city. I enjoy sitting down and telling them my latest adventures and listening to the latest small town gossip. But at the same time there is a kind of disconnect within me. As much as I miss my mountain town, I can never go back to it. I feel like I changed to much and not only would I have trouble coping, but people would have a hard time understanding me. Kind of like a viking warrior who left his sleepy village and returned after many battles only to feel out of place, uncomfortable with the peace and quiet, not knowing what to do or how to relate. The people in my town now look at me in a strange way, staring at my tattoos and clothes. I feel like I lost something, yet I don’t know what.

Back when I taught in Aibonito, I passed by these mountains every day on my way to school. I never really thought of taking a photo of them, since I had gotten so used to the sight. On the last day of my last visit to Aibonito, I decided I wanted to take a photo of the mist over the mountains. I packed my bags and told my mom I would be right back. Driving out a bit, I stopped and snapped a few photos. Then I came back, put my bag in the car, and said goodbye to my mom. I haven’t been back since.

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