For Christmas my girlfriend and I give each other an experience rather than an object. We do stocking stuffers but our main gift to each other is something to remember. This year her gift to me was a trip to Portland, Oregon.
Portland is a quick 3.5 hour train ride from Seattle so its a little silly that I haven’t visited in the nearly 3 years that I’ve been living in The Emerald City. The Seattle metro area is considerably larger than Portland’s and there’s a hell of a lot more money here than in PDX. My girlfriend likes to refer to Portland as Portajuana as people head south of the (state) border to drink heavily, buy things, and go to strip clubs.
To be honest I didn’t take many pictures. This trip was time to spend with my girlfriend, not time to go out and do the photographing of things. The process of looking is something you can share but once you start peering through the viewfinder you’re in your own little world. I don’t think that photography isolates you from the thing you’re viewing, in fact I think it makes you intensely aware of it, but it does bring down a curtain around you.
I spent more time taking pictures with my iPhone and posting them to instagram. I think my next post will be the instagram photos and some thoughts I had about photographing socially.
There are a handful of days out of the entire year when you can feel like you have the city to yourself. The Superbowl, New Year’s Day (before everyone’s hangover drives them back into the streets), and Christmas Day all whittle down the population to a mere sliver.
The Seattle waterfront is one of my favorites, especially since the Great Wheel went into operation. With the ferris wheel idle and the doors of the deep fried fish bit restaurants tightly locked there’s not much for the visitor to our gloomy and moist city. At sunset you have the boardwalk to yourself. Just a broad expanse of winter light dipping down below West Seattle and setting the clouds ablaze.
Harbor Island is an artificial island on the south end of Puget Sound. This is given over entirely to industry and is heavily crossed with industrial freight rail lines. Given my interest in the freight lines that ran through Beacon, NY this was pure crack.
As the island is entirely given over to industry its largely deserted on the weekend. Other than a few employees manning the gas station, a few security guards, and a handful of truckers making deliveries. For a photographer on a bicycle there’s a surprising amount of access with virtually no one around to harass you. I didn’t fancy having a chat with the friendly Seattle Police Department so I didn’t attempt to trespass into any of the chemical plants.
Even keeping to the sidewalk and street gives you an impressive array of views. I took these about a year ago when I last lived on Capitol Hill and only had my Pentax K-x with my trusty 20mm Voigtlander f/3.5. The scale of the buildings requires a wide lens and with the 1.5 crop I was only shooting with a 30mm equivalent which barely qualifies as a wide angle lens.
I’ve had a return to Harbor Island on the weekend penciled in for quite some time. Now that its just a quick roll down the hill and halfway to West Seattle its high time for a return visit.
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.