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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
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.
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.
I have a fondness for old 70’s-80’s movies set in New York City. Escape From New York, The Warriors, Nighthawks, were all a staple of my childhood. Growing up around the NJ/NY metropolitan area from 1980-1989, I remember how New York City was considered a no-man’s land back then. Taking a trip to the city was the equivalent of wandering into Mordor. The sleaze, the shady characters, the noise, the smells, all of it terrifying yet wonderful. All serving as a banquet to feed my imagination.
Today’s New York is a sad shadow of it’s former wonder. A sterile, manufactured, mass-produced, prepackaged offering for tourists and families seeking big city thrills within their comfort zone. An urban Disneyland. Oh look it’s the Naked Cowboy, better cover Sally’s eyes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that I can feel somewhat safer in the city, especially when carrying around camera equipment. But Giuliani’s crackdown not only put the hookers, dealers, and sex shops out of business, it also hurt the small record shops, bookstores, weirdo bars, and other elements which made New York a surreal wonderland. I still remember the day Coney Island High closed down for good, part of the Mayor’s sweep to close down bars for fire department violations. Who was playing that day? Lagwagon? I don’t remember, since I was going to a grindcore fest at CBGB’s a few blocks away. But it still bummed me out. If you want to find the former site of your old punk bar or indie record store or obscure bookstore, just go to the nearest Starbucks.
That is why I usually avoid Midtown Manhattan, unless I’m on the way home through Port Authority. But on this day I wanted to experiment with slow shutter speeds, and the area does serve as a good training ground for the technique. I’ll admit I didn’t know what the Hell I was doing, my knowledge limited to a few pages I quickly read in a photo guide book.
I shot this one during the summer of 2004, using my trusty ol’ Canon Elan 7 film camera. Although I don’t recall the day or month, I do remember carrying a cheap tripod all around Manhattan and leaving it sprawled upside-down in a trash can after the base mechanism broke. I don’t need no steenkin’ tripod!
Turns out I did need a steenkin’ tripod, since all the photos I took during that day came out as blurry messes that resembled Jackson Pollock paintings. Ironically, when I shot this one, I braced the camera against a vibrating street light pole for about 30 seconds. I guess it’s a lucky shot under the circumstances. Oh well, I think it would make a good postcard for tourists who braved the G-rated streets of New York City.