First Haircut

September 19, 2006

After 22 months, finally a haircut. He wasn't happy about it at first, but a gummy bear made things better. Afterwards.

Men of God

September 16, 2006

The first man started walking next to me on my way down the street to the parking garage. He started his spiel quietly but with a bang, "You know the devil walks amongst us." And then for the next several blocks continued tying Osama Bin Laden, abortion rates, and the death of polar bears into a neat thesis that can be summed up, 'it's the end of the world.' He did not appreciate my response, "It might be the end of your world or my world, but it's not the end of the world. The world is a little tougher than you might think." As I got my car he waited by the doorway watching me and stayed there motionless as I drove down the street.

A few hours later the second man noticed me taking his picture. "What are you doing with that picture?," he asked. Without waiting for an explanation he continued "Some people want to put my picture in a whorehouse. Can you imagine that? But I'm a man of God. You understand? He speaks through me and I don't want any misunderstandings. My name is brother Elijah. Pleased to meet you."

Leica M8

September 15, 2006

DP Review feaures a preview of the Leica M8 today. For a digital camera it's design is refreshingly clean without the overabundance of buttons and controls found on most comparable machines. The size is just about perfect. Still my dream digital cameras would not be a rangefinder. I still hope for an SLR, with this level of simplicity, about this size, with a full sized sensor. And all this said, even if someone were to give me an M8 tomorrow I'd still mainly shoot with my Nikon FM2 and Mamiya 7... well I think I would. Give me an M8 and let's see.

Update: I have now both played around with an M8 for a while and seen the files it produces... the camera feels just about perfect in the hand, and for me has exactly the right number of controls (very few and virtually all manual dials). If you love other cameras in the M series, you'll love this one too. The RAW files are very sharp. I was looking at them with a master printer and he feels you could easily go up to 30x40 with them even at 10 megapixels... so in essence they are about equivalent to 12-14 megapixel files produced by cameras with inferior lenses. Noise is pleasantly film-like. Low light performance was slightly less good than the 5D. The price is rumored to be around 5,000. Time to sell the car? Probably not...

The Nature of Obsession

September 14, 2006

Most mornings these days I am woken up by son's plaintive plea "Cars! Cars. Cars. Cars!" I seek out the two cars from the night before (he falls asleep holding them) and put one in each hand. He pees on his kid potty leaning over to roll the cars on the floor and when he's finished we head upstairs. I pour some milk as he seeks out his favorite vehicles. Today's favorite a green truck. We sit on the rug together and push cars around the floor. He announces each one. "Blue car. Digger. Red truck!" Police cars, ambulances and fire trucks are introduced with a serious look and a siren sound. Eventually he will throw himself on his belly car in each hand pushing them under chairs, over pillows, and around over his own arm totally engrossed. This is my cue to check email, write a blog post, and catch up on the news on my computer. He will gravitate to me ending up under my desk moving cars and trucks round and round my feet waiting for the moment when I'll be done so we can take a walk around the block looking at for more cars.

Sweet Flypaper of Life

September 12, 2006

I found a copy of Sweet Flypaper of Life by photographed by Roy DeCarava and written by Langston Hughes in a used bookstore yesterday for $3. I've always wanted a copy, but have never found one in good shape at a decent price. It's a picture book marrying an imagined story by a woman in Harlem to images...poetic fiction. I couldn't think of many other examples of this kind of collaboration, (Photobook text even when it is written by poets and famous authors is usually simple description, and when photographers do create imagined narratives they usually write the text themselves). Anyway, beautiful and fascinating book. My guess is in this case the words came first and they were illustrated by DeCarava but somehow it would please me more if it were the other way around.

September 11th

September 11, 2006

The day has been so politicized, the consequences so damaging to us as a nation, it has become almost gauche to talk about it. Especially here in New York. But if you don't have to look very hard to see reminders of it everywhere. Cheap Chinese restaurants always have a poster or two. Middle Eastern restaurants do them one better with a poster and a flag. And of course there are the memorials... at every fire station and at seemingly random spots all around the city. On the promenade here in Brooklyn tourists invariably scrunch up their faces trying imagine where the buildings stood and how high they rose. I still see holes in the sky. The unpunctuated skyline is still foreign. But I don't think about the buildings much, I remember my friend who was on the 103rd floor who didn't have a chance. Sometimes I imagine her of those tiny tragic figures etched in our memory. Perhaps that is my perverse wish: that she did jump and in jumping she was able make a final choice about her destiny and maybe in the long moments of terror that followed there was some flicker of hope, a primal dream of flight, that sustained her as she fell through the firmament to face whatever it is that comes next.

Mexican Monographias

September 9, 2006

I'm not sure how I landed on their distribution list but in today's mail I received a slim booklet on Mexican Monographias from Pentagram Design, and it's one of the best things I've received by mail in years. Monographias are posters made up of comic book-like panels that teach lessons. The lessons cover just about anything you can think of from astronomy, to famous wrestlers, to world dictators, to social evils. There have been popular in Mexico since I was a kid and are very similar to Indian educational posters which serve the same purpose [they are so similar that you wonder whether there was some cross pollination or whether there was a third source that both are imitating...or perhaps it just has to do with the types of presses used and the respective levels of development/social education needs.].

I used to collect these posters as a boy when visiting Mexico and was always looking for obscure subjects published by small time vendors. My favorite was a collection of martyrs who died by crucifixion. I was also partial to the "Animales Peligrosos" which featured a little boy being devoured by a lion. The booklet I received today was published by the design firm Pentagram as part of their Pentagram Papers series, a set if personal design projects put together by Pentagram's partners. The booklet features a thoughtful intro by partner Armin Vit titled "The World on a page at Five Pesos a Piece." I hope they put the whole thing online so all of you can enjoy it. In the meantime you can find a few reproductions of Monographias showing social evils on this site, a book on the Indian versions is available on Amazon (review, postersfor sale).

Armin Vit's essay ends with this, "Today in our information-heavy environment, I long for those simpler days when research, information and, ultimately, education on any given topic involed only a single, double-sided page."

. . .
as an addendum: another example of a Pentagram partner doing inspiring work.

Entire contents of my pickpocketed wallet

September 8, 2006

1 Fortune cookie fortune: "Live the Dream"
1 Fortune cookie fortune: "Fly away. Go far."
1 Snapshot of Raul Andres at 6 months
1 Torn photobooth strip of a woman in chador (found on Atlantic Avenue near Court)
3 Credit Cards (each was used within an hour of the theft to purchase multiple $60 subway passes)
1 Rubber band
1 Paper Clip
1 Bandaid, transparent
Texas Driver's License
Several expired subway cards.
1 pencil drawing of a monster with three eyes and a unibrow made while waiting for someone to show up for dinner
1 partial blog entry written on torn hotel stationary titled "What's happening in room 312"
On the back of said stationary another partial blog entry titled "Why I would make a lousy aristocrat."
Assorted business cards, most with doodles of sea monsters on the back.
1 business card from a cabdriver in New Orleans with a "Places I must visit" list on the back in tiny handwriting.
A few dollars from the cash machine
2 business cards with cars drawn on them so I can play cars with my son any time.
2 wheat head pennies
1 buffalo nickel
A gift certificate to Barnes and Noble with 8 dollars left on it.
My secret—only in case of emergency—hundred dollar bill
1 lottery ticket from a few months ago, never checked

Photographer + Baby = Blogger

September 7, 2006

Alec Soth's child had inspired him to blog. (via a tip from Eliot.)

Update: In a few short weeks this blog has moved up to the top of my daily read list. Soth is every bit as sensitive and intelligent a writer as he is a photographer.

Gowanus Canal At Night

September 6, 2006

Does anyone happen to know the story behind the little building on 3rd Avenue and 3rd street. All the buildings around it have been torn down and it remains marooned and forlorn looking... As an aside apparently Rooftop Films has a venue across the street at the Old American Can Factory. Why did I not know this? (If you live in New York and don't know about Rooftop Films, you probably should. Only a few films left in the season.)

Ever wonder about the Kentile Floors sign which so defines Gowanus? Kevin Walsh of Forgotten New York has done the research: "Kentile was founded by Arthur Kennedy in 1898 and once billed itself as "America's largest manufacturers of super-resilient floor tile." Kentile hung in there till just a couple of years ago following a series of strikes and costly asbestos lawsuits. It's purple neon sign no longer burns brightly but it reminds folks for miles around that there was once a Kentile." (more) Scores of pictures of the Kentile sign (most taken from the F train) can be found on flickr.

Show Opening

September 4, 2006

Travels Without Maps: 
Images from China's Western Frontiers

"Nelson Hancock Gallery
111 Front St. #204 (Dumbo)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Opening Reception September 14, 6-8PM
Show continues through October 14th.

I hope you can excuse me for being a bit self promotional, but I wanted to let everyone know about my upcoming show. If you're in the New York area on September 14th, please stop the opening by and say hello.

Brian Lesteberg

September 2, 2006

Brian Lesterberg's photographs from North Dakota strike me as unmistakably and viscerally American. I love the clarity and sensitivity of his vision.

First Photo

September 1, 2006

I'm sure I had taken other photographs before especially with our little 110 camera, but this is the first one I remember. It was 1974 and I was 7. Morning. A school day. My brothers were still asleep and my dad was trying read the previous night's paper before heading to work. I entered the kitchen with his Pentax around my neck having just figured out the light meter... Focus. Click. So satisfying. My mom said, "You shouldn't be playing with that," and I replied, "I'm not playing mom, I just took your picture."


August 29, 2006

Just the other day I said I don't believe in lucky talismans, but two ladybugs landing on your hand on the third floor of a Brooklyn apartment at 3:14am (and an apartment with closed windows at that) must mean something right? I just opened the window and let them free.

Noah Kalina

August 28, 2006

A few weeks ago I urged Noah to turn his 6 years worth of photo-a-day's into a he's done it. The results are hypnotic...and a little bit sad. The video covers January 11, 2000 - July 31, 2006.

These are the original stills and this is Noah's excellent portfolio site.

How to take a good picture

August 27, 2006

When I was 14 I wrote this: "truth, emotion, technique, beauty. A good photograph has 2 of these. A great photograph 3. A photograph you never forget has all 4."

A bit pompous perhaps, but it still basically works for me.

Little House, Part the 2nd

August 27, 2006

A few days ago I noticed the front door of 135 Joralemon was open. As I've been fascinated with this house for a while, I poked my head inside. The door opened onto a stairway/parlor completely blackened with heavy layers of smoke. There were still pictures on the walls, but they were black with oily soot. I could hear someone upstairs dragging something. I was about to shout out a hello when a voice yelled, "Hey, what the hell are you doing?"

From the upstairs emerged a tall gentleman probably in his 70's. He was wearing soot covered undershirt and thick dirty gloves. I explained myself and my fascination with the house and he softened. "I was born in this house," he said, "I lived my whole life here and it's been in my family a long time. You don't know how wonderful this street used to be." He talked about the neighborhood and told me who used to live in this house and that house and how everyone knew everyone else.

He explained he was in court with ConEdison who he blamed for the New Years Eve fire. "I'm going to win and restore this house exactly as it was." And he started to give me some of the details... walnut staircase, brass hardware, etc. But he noticed my camera again and suddenly became suspicious. "Why are you here?" he asked, "Why are you asking these questions? Nobody cares about this house except people who want to steal it." I explained that I lived around the corner that that everyone on the street cared about the place. Trying to show sympathy I told him how Hurricane Rita had destroyed a portion of my childhood home. "Was anything left?" he asked. Without waiting for the reply he continued, "I lost everything. Everything was burned up. Do you know what that's like? To see your house burned up like this?" Wordless he turned to go back up the stairs. I watched him vanish into the dark and knew it was my time to go.

First Look

August 26, 2006

A few notes about sonograms for those of you who have never seen one live.

1. Normal sonograms are cross sections (imagine a slice of an apple) so you are looking at the outline... it's all fairly murky when you view them live until you see the beating heart. Usually the doctor will also include an audio monitor so you can hear the heartbeat. Seeing this is all fairly interesting in a cerebral sort of way until you see a turn of the head or the appearance of a hand. Then it gets dramatic, none of this can be captured by a still image. This sonogram was taken fairly early on so there isn't much definition. The baby is the size of a large avocado. Later on the outline of the features becomes much clearer.

2. Most hospitals don't let you take pictures (i did anyway).

3. The doctors give you little printouts... which are invariably illegible smudges. These printouts are on low quality thermal paper which fades, so scan them if you want to preserve the image...

4. There are now 3D sonograms, but the images they produce are a little creepy.

3:14am Sidney Place

August 24, 2006

A little while ago, I turned off the lamp which let me see out the window and noticed a guy in a suit standing motionless in the middle of Sydney Place. He's holding a briefcase and he's been like that for at least 5 minutes.

The city is empty, everyone seems to be taking off to enjoy an extended Labor Day vacation. Most all the lights in the houses are dark. I walked home 2 hours ago and for about the last 15 blocks I didn't pass a soul. My family is away so I was returning to an empty house. A few blocks from home, I stopped in the middle of the street myself to enjoy sound of the cicadas and the strange light in the sky coming from Manhattan. I watched the wind in the trees and waited... I might have been that guy in the suit myself for a bit. He's still down there.

Nha Trang

August 22, 2006

As far as I'm concerned it's always time for Nha Trang. My order:

2 limeades (because one is never enough)
spring rolls
hot and sour soup with chicken
bbq beef over rice

oh joy.

Nha Trang is @ 87 Baxter. Thaison next door at 89 Baxter is also very good as is Nha Hang Pho Viet Huong @ 73 Mulberry (the order here is the beef in grape leaves). My favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon, has been replaced by Doyers Vietnamese @ 11 Doyers Street. 11 Doyers is delicious, but no match for Saigon which had spring rolls that made you forget your name. New York Magazine touts Spice Market, which calls itself Vietnamese, as as one of the best dining experiences in the city. I disagree heartily. Vietnamese in name only.

I've never searched out Vietnamese restaurants in Brooklyn or Queens (there is nothing in Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill/Ft. Greene), but the chowhounds have a few suggestions. As my family has decamped for a few days I've been thinking of going out to Elmhurst to look for a good meal. Will report back tomorrow.

The Plum Tree

August 21, 2006

My house in Los Angeles was owned by Esther Williams back in the 40’s. She of course put in the pool. She also, if old architecture magazines are to be believed, planted the gardenias, the palm tree, and the grand old olive tree in the front. She did not plant the plum tree in the back. Plum trees generally have lifespans of only 10-20 years and mine, according to an arborist who examined it, was almost 40 years old. "Extraordinary," she exclaimed while poking and measuring it. And completely unpruned." I had called in the specialist because the tree wasn’t producing fruit and I wanted to see if there was anything that could be done, you know, fertilizer or something. "If you want plums, the best thing would be to chop this tree down and plant another one," came the answer. The poor thing is about 20 years past it’s prime."

If she was right and the tree actually was 40 years old it would have been planted by the hippies who owned the housed throughout the 60’s and into the early 70’s. Silverlake had yet to be gentrified, places were cheap, and according to my 80 year old neighbor Rosita who was born on the block, "Those kids turned that house into a real love shack. There were 11 or 12 of them and they didn't like to wear clothes."
"Where did they all sleep," I asked (it’s a two bedroom house).
"Oh all over the place," came the answer, "there were two of them in the garage, and one of them sometimes liked to sleep out in the back in a tent. You know it was the 60’s. They smoked a lot of grass."
"Do you know if they planted the plum tree," I asked. "Oh they had a whole garden back there.", Rosita smiled, "Plums and oranges and all sorts of lovely tomatoes."

I did not heed the arborist’s advice. I pruned the tree. I made sure it was watered. I found fertilizer for stone fruit trees. But none of this had any effect. Summers came and summers went, and no fruit. At some point my then girlfriend, now wife, Jenn arrived. She breathed life into the house. After she arrived the kitchen was always humming, her actor friends would come and go sometimes doing acting exercises in the living room (she’s a theater director), and once again there was a garden out in the back. Each spring it would fill with heirloom tomatoes, carrots, and squash and winters would bring butter lettuce, arugula, and strawberries. A pair of mallards took up residence in the pool.

And then one day out back Jenn looked up at the tree and said, "Hey... plums," and I ran over, stood under it speechless staring up, and saw the tree was loaded with plums. I practically shouted, "We made plums! We made plums!" Throughout that summer the tree gave so much fruit we had to give some away and each time we would go outside to harvest it felt like a small miracle. Winter arrived, and we decided to move to New York by the end of the next summer. The tree flowered in the spring, but summer came and it was once again barren. Or so we thought. Right before we left as Jenn was doing a final walk around she called me over. There were exactly two plums on the tree.

We sold the house, to an actor of dubious taste. I made the mistake of returning to visit a few weeks after the sale. He had ripped out the garden, was surrounding the place with a high concrete wall, and worst of all for me, he had chopped town that plum tree.

I am not a superstitious man, I don’t believe 13 is unlucky, I don’t believe breaking a mirror is bad luck, I don’t even believe finding a four leaf clover is good luck, but I believe those plums were made for us. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that they would be almost indescribably delicious, and of course they were.


August 18, 2006

Twice this week friends have said they had extra tickets to a baseball game but didn't invite me because they didn't think I was "the baseball type.' For the record I love baseball especially live. Even minor league (especially minor league actually), even college baseball. Next time don't forget.

Mrs. Yunnisms

August 18, 2006

Conversations with Jenn's mom:

Jenn: Did you like Franz? [Jenn's former cat]

Mrs. Yun: Franz was ok.

Jenn: Come on mom you never liked Franz. You said you wished he would die because he looked "like man".

Mrs. Yun: Ok. Ok. I'll tell you. It's like this. In Korea people think cat has bad spirit. . . Actually all Korean people hate cat.
. . .
Mrs. Yun: Never sleep under fan. Sleeping under fan you can die. [she's a great believer of fan death] So terrible to die because of fan sleeping.
. . .
Me: It's really hot here again.

Mrs. Yun: Well you know, 'end of world' time. Anything is possible. Better go to church. What if you are left behind? Weather too hot!
. . .

Becky: Mom, Wrinkle jinkle isn't a word.

Mrs. Yun: Really?

Becky: It's just wrinkle.

Mrs. Yun: (long pause) Then what is a jinkle?
. . .

Becky: If you could be any animal for a day which animal would you be?

Mrs. Yun: Animal?

Becky: It's a game, just pretend.

Mrs. Yun: Oh I know. Poodle.

Becky: What - why?

Mrs. Yun: Because no one is mean to poodle. They give good food and brush hair and put ribbon in. It's nice.
. . .

Mrs. Yun: What kind of movie is this?"

Becky: It's Godfather. It's about gangsters.

Mrs. Yun: It's not about God?

Becky: No mom, that's God the Father, this is the Godfather.
. . .

Mrs. Yun: Raul. You should come to see play. It's amazing. There are animal and Jesus is flying.

Me: Flying?

Mrs. Yun: He is flying so much. Jesus can do anything.

Anatomy of a rotten day.

August 17, 2006

1. Wake up on the couch with a stiff neck because you fell asleep watching a movie the night before.

2. Find your recently repaired air conditioner broken.

3. Hear an awful grinding sound from one of your hard disks. Perhaps because the room is a thousand degrees without the air conditioner.

4. Haul 100 pound air conditioner down 4 flights of stairs into the car. Air conditioner leaks a sticky oily fluid all over your shirt.

5. Blow out a tire on the Gowanas Expressway in an area with construction and no shoulder. Look desperately for an exit. Drive on a rim throwing up showers of sparks. At some point it dawns on you that this is not wise. You stop.

6. Realize your aversion to cellphones is mighty inconvenient.

7. Abandon your car. Walk several hundred yards down the Gowanas Expressway with traffic whizzing by suffering occasional insults from passersby.

8. Be refused a phone in 7 or 8 businesses because you are drenched in sweat, covered in brown air conditioner grease, and looking wild eyed.

9. Walk back onto the Gowanas and back to your car as demanded by a tow truck operator named Joey who refuses to pick you up at the deli because he would have to go a few blocks out of his way. Arrive back at your car. Pray you won't be rear ended. Wait. Realize you should have picked up a drink at the deli. Argue with a cop who says he's going to have to tow you. When Joey finally arrives almost an hour later his tow truck is blasting a band named Malevolent Creation.

10. Discover you must replace both front tires at a cost of $670. Have the guys at the garage laugh when they give you the bill and say, "Oof. That one stings." One guy adds, "You know your brakes are totally shot. "

11. Arrive back to your sweltering airless office. Grab some things for a meeting in the city. Realize you left important papers from your car in the Joey's tow truck...

Should I continue?

Do over please.

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