Archive for July, 2015

New York, 2014 – 2016.

 

 

IMG_4062Shirts

After washing them and folding them up I counted twenty plaid shirts, all men’s size medium. In addition there was a jean jacket, a baseball jacket, and two golf jackets. Each jacket had a clean stack of paper napkins in the right pocket, like he’d always grab some to take home after his lunchtime meal in the neighborhood.

The medical equipment that was left in the basement showed he’d had difficulty walking in the last months. The books bundled with twine ranged from a complete anthology of opera librettos, a biography of a famous singer, a few fictional books jacketed in covers with gold embossed letters, and some histories of an earlier New York. There were several dvds of blockbuster films, and some good walking shoes.

A couple of people in the building must have remembered who he was, but they never spoke of him. Someone said he’d been president of the co-op, which I now am, which is why I ended up being the one cleaning out the storage area. I imagined him when he was alive, padding around his wood floored apartment, laid out very similarly to mine.

L1070021OrangeLegs

In my dream I was wandering through the spaces of my old studio building, looking for the corner where I used to work. The entire place was populated by young artists whose production looked contemporary, with their emphasis on found materials, sculpture, and collaborative efforts. I climbed over the clutter, looking for my paints. I was disoriented and preoccupied, as the downstairs door lock seemed to be broken and I was trying to think where the nearest hardware store might be so that I could fix it. Rummaging through a cardboard box where I could see my oil paints buried underneath someone else’s supplies, I mentioned my concerns to a colleague who was walking by. Hadn’t I read the new School Handbook? He asked, with a slightly annoyed look on his face. I realized that the art school had colonized the space for the students, and it was no longer a haven for the teachers to work and hide on their non-teaching days.

In the box I was looking through there were some small vintage plastic figurines, one of a superhero and the other a figure of a dwarf like clown. I stuffed them in my bag as mementos of my time there, and headed out.

 

IMG_9299RachelStuff

Her name was Rachel, pronounced with a hard C. She had been living under the scaffolding of the synagogue next door until the spate of rainy days might come to an end. The synagogue, which was having the wooden frames of its stained glass windows replaced, doubled as a small Off-Broadway theatre. Rachel’s stuff was interfering with the sidewalk, which basically functioned as the theatre lobby. We assumed they’d told her she had to leave. She didn’t go far, just a few feet sideways, to the spot underneath the tree in front of our building.

I’d see her there dressed in her layers and what looked like a giant beekeeping hat, rearranging her pieces of cardboard. She said she wanted to sort through them before she moved again, saving the best pieces. The police would come by daily, and they would have long sensitive debriefings, without trying to move her. Another time I saw some teenagers roughly tossing her stuff around. I confronted them to the extent that any middle-aged woman could act like a bulldog, telling them to leave her alone. She told us she was from the Upper East Side and used to live in a building with a doorman. She had a genteel, mid-Atlantic accent, like Katherine Hepburn. She seemed like a ghost from the twentieth Century.

We were going away for the weekend and she said she’d be gone when we got back. She was going to one of the ‘ministries’ in her former turf. I thought sadly that they wouldn’t let her keep her best things.

A year later she returned, but ensconced further down the street. We asked her how her sojourn had gone, but she said that she could only have wished for a respite like that. Either she’d forgotten she’d told us or she had been telling a story. It seemed busy where she was, closer to Times Square, but she was probably safer there.

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Sackville, New Brunswick 1979 (2014)

Sackville Stairs 4WEB

This image was made in 1979 in Sackville, New Brunswick.

In a student critique at the time, my instructor said it was too cliche. Thirty years later I showed it to an art critic, and he said it was too romantic.

Last time I was in Sackville, I looked for the stairs, but couldn’t find them.

Amhearst Car C FLAT WP

Still 1979.

Some days Sackville felt very confining, so I would hitchhike with my Mamiya 2 1/4 and my tripod the eleven miles to Amherst, Nova Scotia. That town was equally quiet, but I rarely ran into anyone I knew.

Sackville Trailers FLAT

Either on upper King St. or Upper York St., Sackville, 1979.

I thought the trailers belonged to gypsies and they were on their way, availing themselves of the softer highway.

Sackville grassWEB

Sackville 1979.

There was a secret path on the edge of the town, where I would imagine I could slip into another wardrobe like zone where everything was unknown and a bit more exciting. Off in the distance you could hear the train horn blowing, bound for Montreal and Toronto.

SackvilleBirdfeedFLAT WEB

Sackville, New Brunswick, fall 1979.

I’d never been to the South. My only impressions were from watching Gone With the Wind, and hearing the accents of my southern cousins who had visited a few years earlier to bury their northern father’s body, my Uncle Bob. Later I learned that the use of embalming fluids before burial became commercialized during the American Civil War, with so many bodies to be returned to the North.

Sackville’s houses always looked empty in the afternoon, as if their owners had had to leave abruptly after an urgent call.

SackvilleGardenWEB

Sackville, summer 1979.

I started taking some of the pathways through people’s backyards, looking for different vistas. It was an extreme departure to let the camera tilt on its tripod. I can only think that I was looking for parallel structures in the garden itself, like a sailor trying to steady himself on a rocky boat.

SacvillePlasticShadowsWEB

Sackville, 1979.

I was incompetent in the darkroom, so I decided that I could only photograph between the hours of 3 and 5 pm for the distinctive shadows and lower contrast of light. This gave me what for me was the perfect negative to print, but meant I could barely scrape together a portfolio for graduation.

The long shadows always seemed to veer the interpretation in the direction of the elegiac, which wasn’t actually how I felt about anything, at that point.

Sackville Tree FLAT

Sackville, late fall, 1979.

It hadn’t started to snow yet, but the Christmas break was looming. I knew I’d have to think of an indoor project as Sackville became slushy with brown sugar. It seemed to me that all the photographers I’d been channeling only took photographs in the summer, but maybe they were just all southerners.

Sackville Dog 6WEB

Sackville, late summer 1979.

In class they said it was too easy to simply take a picture of a garden ornament.

He’s probably long since been wrested from his cozy spot, languishing in some roadside antique store, or sitting on a carefully restored wooden floor of a collector, amongst the sisal and raw linen furnishings.