Beauty Shootout, Tacoma00000000000In January I took part in a beauty shootout organized by Jennifer McIntyre in downtown Tacoma. Sixteen models, sixteen photographers, ten makeup artists, six hairstylists, one designer, and one stylist. […]
On March 18, 2007 United For Peace and Justice held a rally and march to oppose the Iraq war on its 4th anniversary.
Yesterday was March the 18th, 2013 and marked the 10th anniversary of the Iraqi war.
I was as much of a part of the anti-war movement as any other standard, left-leaning American. I bitterly complained about the Bush administration every chance I got, engaged in mass protests, and secretly felt that this marching up and down the square bullshit wasn’t going to budge one inch of the administration’s KBR backed agenda but felt that it was better than getting plastered and watching I Love Lucy reruns.
Still, I kept going out to protests and taking photographs.
10 years later I’m not sure if getting around a million people into the streets of NYC did any good. Those who were opposed to the war were strongly opposed to the war and the administration’s apologists were firmly entrenched in their beliefs. I don’t watch TV so I’m not sure how much attention the 10 year anniversary got on the headline news but my usual news sources were relatively quiet. Other than a NY Times retrospective on the war and a few stories from the BBC it seems to have slipped on by. I had to search for any reaction from Dick Cheney about the wars he started 10 years ago.
One of the things I’ve read again and again about soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is how little it affects people’s day to day lives here and how little attention is paid. That hasn’t changed either.
The second series of portraits from the 2013 Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, WA.
As I edited these portraits I noticed that I had the camera set on ISO 2000 which gave me about a 1/180 at f/2.8 indoors. My first DSLR topped out at ISO 1600 and looked like garbage if you tried shooting above 400. These days I can shoot at ISO 2000 without needing to even think of noise reduction unless I decide to print larger than 8×10.
I love technology.
Despite being a lifelong nerd I’ve never attended a comic convention. The only conventions I’ve been to are the DefCon hacker convention in Las Vegas (I’m a software developer, I make things not break them so this held limited interest for me) and the tail end of Seattle’s Girl Geek Con. This year I decided to check out Seattle’s Emerald City Comic Con.
One of the reasons I haven’t attended conventions in the past is that while I lived in NYC for a number of years I’m just not that fond of crowds. I was just not prepared for the sheer mass of wall-to-wall nerds that was Saturday at ECCC.
A large portion of my portfolio as a photographer is performance. Dance is still my favorite subject and I’ve enjoyed working with a variety of troupes in NYC, upstate NY, and now in Seattle. Despite have a people as a focus of my work I’m actually terribly shy and have difficulty asking people to take their picture. Dance and music photography comes naturally as I have permission and I’m closely following the performers to try to document their work as best I can.
Walking up to a complete stranger and getting a flattering portrait. That’s something I was never able to get myself to do. I’ve been wanting to get into editorial and portrait photography for years as an extension of the performance work I do. Just kept putting it off again and again.
So what better place to start than to find a room full of people who just might be as socially inept as I am and ask to take their picture. It helps that cosplayers put an immense amount (sometimes) of time, effort, and money into their costumes so they’re quite eager to get proficient photographs taken. With a little prodding and direction from my beautiful, supportive, and socially fearless girlfriend I managed to come back with about 25 portraits before the sheer press of humanity caused us both to flee screaming for the nearest swanky bar.
In terms of technique I knew that the con was going to be extremely crowded so I focused on taking portraits. Using my Fuji 35mm f/1.4 (50mm equivalent) let me get close to not be a nuisance to other con goers without being up in the subject’s grill. Since the lens is a 35mm its a little wider than a standard 50mm so I figured f/2.8 or f/2.0 would give me enough depth of field for sharp focus on the face while blurring out the background.
Overall I think it worked out well enough that I purchased a 3 day pass to Seattle’s Sakura-Con anime festival. We’ll see how that goes.
In August of 2004 the Republican National Convention was held in New York City. Despite the presence of Wall Street as the symbolic center of the financial industry in the US, the town is generally Democratic and did not take kindly to this decision. Nearly a week of large scale protests and equally large scale crackdowns and arrests by Mayor Bloomberg occurred between August 26th and the 31st.
This isn’t about the RNC or the protests. Its about what we did to come down from watching our friends getting lined up by the hundreds in zip cuffs for the crime of riding a bicycle with a bunch of other people also on bicycles.
After watching a few hundred cyclists get loaded into a police van on Friday, the only sensible thing to do was get drunk on Saturday and then go out to the United For Peace and Justice march on Sunday. That way we’d be hung over and feeling mean.
NYC’s Tonic was a small venue in the Lower East Side that hosted experimental, avant-garde, electronic, and other strange forms of music. I went there frequently with my roommate to catch shows. Downstairs was Subtonic which at the time hosted a weekly show, The Bunker which we went out to from time to time. A low-ceiling basement of a former kosher wine shop it was the perfect place to duck out of the madness on the streets and feel like a small piece of the city still belonged to you. That night it was a place to listen to extremely loud music, drink Red Stripe beer, and dance poorly.
Three years later Tonic would close, a victim of skyrocketing rents on the Lower East Side. Chic hotels, boutiques, and upscale restaurants replaced the clubs and bars that hosted the downtown music scene. Some relocated to Brooklyn but others closed for good.
Places like Tonic provided a small sense of stability and community. The closure of Tonic wasn’t an organic change in the neighborhood where a venue changed hands due to a shift in the cultural winds. Change happens. This time it felt like there wasn’t an opportunity for something new to take its place. You’re not going to see small venues that cater to strange forms of entertainment when rents dictate that your business must be packed with people willing to toss back $12 cocktails all night.
Its about nine years after I took these photos and I no longer live in NYC. I felt cynical then about the RNC and the way the city was changing under Guiliani and Bloomberg to stamp out nightlife and I just feel angry now. Venues like Tonic gave me the opportunity to learn performance photography and gave me access to musicians with my shitty little Canon Digital Rebel and nifty-fifty plastic lens. It gave musicians a place to play something that wasn’t going to be popular. And it feels like that opportunity is gone from NYC.
I’m gone too.
Beginning on February 24, 2010 a blizzard hit New York’s Hudson Valley dropping over three feet of snow on the town of Beacon and knocking out the power for some 150,000 homes in the region.
On the night of the 24th I was sitting in the bath reading when the lights flickered. Then I heard the nearest transformer explode and the lights went out for the next two days taking the heat with them as my apartment was entirely electrical. The heavy, wet snow and lack of wind was weighing down trees so badly that even century old oaks were snapping from the weight of the snow. When trees fall they tend to take power lines with them.
After spending a night shivering with the cats on the couch under every blanket I owned I awoke to find the town transformed. It was otherwordly and beautiful. Especially the normally phlegmatic fishkill creek was a crystalline wonder. As lovely as it was my appreciation was cut short by the need to find food that didn’t require cooking or refrigeration and wicks to make olive oil maps with. Such wonders are best appreciated when you can go home to an apartment that isn’t rapidly approaching the ambient external temperature.
In February of 2013 an annual private party was thrown in Seattle’s EM Gallery. With a theme of “Lost &/or Found” the Bad Art Party invited a number of friends together to each bring a piece of art they had produced and for an evening, proudly mount it on The White Box of the contemporary art gallery. No art, no entry. Each piece of artwork was to be accompanied by a 3×5 index card containing the name of the piece and what my father calls “esoteric James Taylor bullshit”. In other words, an artist’s statement.
The pieces were judged in several categories:
* Most Original
* Most Pretentious Artist Statement
* Most Disturbing
* Least Disturbed
* Critics’ Choice
My own piece was a primitive charcoal drawing entitled “Diogenes searches for his contact lens”.
The pieces ranged from slapdash crap like my drawing to the highly proficient if offensive. Some were intentionally pretentious but showed a great deal of both craft and imagination. A few were interactive and invited the crowd to either do a tasty jello shot or reach into a sand filled fishbowl to pull out a scroll that instructed you to play a small game with others in the gallery.
The last instillation of my art took place in Arlene’s Grocery in NYC for a group show and before that one of my photos of Creamy Stevens was on permanent display (because no one was tall enough to take it down) above the bar at Rafifi in NYC’s East Village (at least until the bar closed). So it was nice to finally get a chance to put something up in the hallowed white white of Real Art.
Even if I did do the drawing while drunk.
On a more thoughtful note I was touched to get invited through my lovely companion AJ and the curators put out a great deal of time, effort, and money to give people an evening to share a bit of their creative work. The majority of my friends do creative work which ranges from electronic music to cosplay to fine art to photography to baking to dirty needlepoint to burlesque. We keep doing it despite limited chances to show off and even slimmer opportunities to make any money at it. Even though the theme was cheeky its not a small thing to give your friends a space and a time and some wine to put something up.
I decided to start the new year with a 52 photo project.
This is along the lines of the 365 project where you post an image every day for a year. Many of these projects are self-portrait oriented which doesn’t fit very well with my shooting style or my attenuated sense of vanity. Rather than post a photo a day you post every week. Since I had already started this blog it seemed natural to resurrect it and use it for my project instead.
What better place to start than a New Year’s day tradition in Coney Island.
Every year on the 1st of January the climatically insensitive gather on the boardwalk at Coney Island, fortify themselves at Ruby’s bar, and then run into the freezing waters. Most only last a few moments before running back out and reviving themselves at Ruby’s bar. This is not an experience to be taken lightly as the water temperature is usually in the 40’s and the ambient temperature usually ranges from a bit below freezing to just above freezing. With a stiff wind chill factor.
I never showed up for this tradition for the first decade I lived in NYC for the simple reason I was always getting drunk and going out until 4:00 in the morning most New Year’s Eves. For a city that promises a 1001 delights, most people just go out and get drunk like any other urban, suburban, or rural area. In 2008 for the first time I was sober and up early enough to take the train out to Stillwell Avenue at the very end of Brooklyn.
One of the things I’ve seen people who move to the city (primarily as young adults) struggle with is the idea that they need to have a Special No Where Else On Earth NYC Experience that you can only get within the five boroughs. Why else would you be paying astronomical rent to be here? I wasn’t any different and was always out running after some experience or other you’re supposed to have. Every night an adventure and if you’re not having an adventure you must be in the wrong place or just aren’t trying hard enough.
Eventually I stopped running after the kind of cultural marketing that saturates everything you see, read, and hear about the city and started to just see what was there. Instead of getting loaded yet again I got to bed early and took the train out to Coney Island before noon. Instead of running after some idea of what was out there, I just went to see what actually was there.
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In 2010 the May 1 Coalition held a rally in NYC’s Union Square to protest changes to US immigration law.
Often, you find surprises in your old photos. When looking up the link for the May 1 Coalition I found that they highlighted the case of Victor Toro, a Chilean activist who has been residing in the Bronx for nearly 30 years. Flipping through several of the images I was surprised to find that one of the photos I had edited immediately after the rally was of Toro.
Its a reminder when shooting protests and other political events that most often you’re just a spectator and a tourist in someone else’s struggle at best. You’re just seeing a spectacle, not the actual work that goes into the movement.
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The Merchant House Museum is the preserved family house of the prosperous 19th century merchant family of Seabury Tredwell. In October of 2010 the museum reenacted the 1865 funeral of Seabury. Several actors played the roles of family members and the minister while the public was invited to dress the part as well. A wake was held at the house itself with a procession to the historic (and still in use) New York City Marble Cemetery for the interment.
The challenge of shooting historic costumes and events is largely about controlling the background. Either you use a very shallow depth of focus and work with your subjects to get a background clean of any modern elements or you end up with a photograph of someone carrying a glaive clad in chainmail standing in front of a Buick. Unless you’re actually shooting an album cover for a metal band that’s generally not the look most people are after. Reenactors range from gleeful hobbyists to serious historians with a rich and nuanced knowledge of the period they’re reenacting. Generally its the later who are more photogenic. When a subject has taken a great deal of pains to dress accurately for their period (which can be extremely expensive and time consuming even for a skilled seamstress) there’s a moral obligation on the part of the photographer to respect their pains and take care when composing an image.