Dad is in this casket. It was a closed casket ceremony. We still talked about him as if he were alive. Dad would have liked this; or dad wouldn’t want us to do that. The work goes on with the need to clear out his belongings. Hundreds or thousands of books. Piles of notes, ideas, partly completed manuscripts. What to do with it all? He was still very active before he died. And oh, the euphémismes for death.
How afraid we are of death. The journey that no one returns from. Food for the worms. Body and soul. Most people in the world believe that the soul lives on. This is a great comfort. I know that the ripples made go on and that the memories remain but unfortunately I can’t believe that the soul when separated from the body still survives. I wish that I did as it must be a great comfort.
My own contribution – minor – but still a contribution – pictures. Pictures that people don’t often take. And yes, I got some looks while I shot with the iPhone. But I knew they were thinking – it’s just that crazy photographer guy. He doesn’t know the social bouderies. Believe me – I know them. I’m just willing to step over them if there’s a good enough reason.
I’ll put up the images that hopefully don’t hurt anyone here over the next few days and then continue with my Bronx book and I also meant to do a quick Bronx Calendar before the holidays. That’s actually next on the list. Maybe over the weekend.
From the time that I found out about my father’s death – everything was a whirlwind. First off, according to Jewish tradition the body is buried quickly. I expect this like many other traditions arose from ancient sanitary issues. But that means that you are talking about roughly three days. So he died Monday afternoon and was buried on Thursday. We had to do that since so many people were coming in from out-of-town.
So there were tons of people to be notified. Had to figure out who was going to speak. It was a late burial so we were under pressure by the funeral home to have it done quickly so that we would be out of the cemetery before sundown. And that we just about made. He was actually buried around sundown.
Although we had written a eulogy, the combination of the kids mostly put together by my younger sister N. – there was a frantic effort to get it all put together. Eulogies are meant to show the best qualities of the deceased and although we put in stories that were a bit funny – we were all aware that this was something of a show. In private we could talk about the weaknesses and the strengths of dad – but not in the eulogy.
Words that we had never used were inserted in various forms such as: beloved, loved, adored, and whatever synonyms we could come up with. And then the obit had to go in the Times. That was not only expensive – but there were questions about the order (it struck me as the credits for a movie). Should so-and-so come before the aunt, the uncle, the other characters in his life. The idea being to be careful not to offend anyone. Not to forget anyone. I searched the Times for Death Notices and got an idea of how they should go. I actually found one that I thought would be perfect and essentially copied it and substituted the names we needed.
He really had lived such a full and varied life – that all we could say in the brief obit that he had graduated from Chelsea Vocational High School with a non-academic degree and wound up as a Professor of Social Work and head of the doctoral program… and what an amazing journey it was.
But the point was that there was so much to do – and he knew so many people – that we were swamped with visitors and the chapel was filled to overflowing. When I returned home on Monday, I had a fever and chills – and the flu was knocking on the door.
Tuesday was the time to pick out the casket. Go over the cost of the funeral. It got more and more expensive. I couldn’t help but feel that this was a lucrative business in that once you’ve picked the home, and you’re in that vulnerable state – and you aren’t going to switch service providers at that point — I was just suspicious. But the others told me afterwards that that was what a funeral costs these days.
And then there were pictures to provide – we scattered them around the funeral home; and music to pick out. And for me – now with a fever of 102 I realized that I didn’t have a funeral suit. Maybe if I kept looking through the closet I could come up with something pasable for that one day. And I did manage to find something, though I couldn’t snap the pants closed. Last time I wore that was 10 years ago.
Anyway – my younger sister N. was a whirlwind and took charge. I called her the day before the funeral and told her “soldier down.” Which was our signal in case any of us felt out of it. She told me it would be okay to take off the next day.
I slept all day and hoped the fever would break quickly – which it did.
And before you knew it – it was funeral day.
Of course nobody takes pictures at a funeral unless the person was famous. But my father wouldn’t have minded. He allowed me (to the shock of my sisters) to photograph him in the hospital when he had stents put in about a decade ago. And he believed that all aspects of life (and death) were open to scrutiny. He had seen his share of death during the war; had lost an older brother; and at his age (88) had seen many of his best friends die.
I did inherit some of that from him, and although I knew enough not to make it too obvious – I took my iPhone with me with the intent to take pictures. Of course I really hadn’t had much practice with the iPhone so I didn’t set the ISO at a high enough speed, and didn’t even find a way to do that with the program I was using so there are lots of technical mistakes. Still, I’m glad that I did it. Some people write, and some people draw, and some take pictures to help them through this journey.
I’m not posting images of people for now – but will at some later point. For the most part – taken at the funeral home – and at the cemetery – they aren’t all that startling. It was like a reunion. So many people that we hadn’t seen for years and years.
The casket had been lowered. And we were at the point where mourners were asked to put a shovel of dirt into the grave. This was the time when most people who were going to break down did. You lifted up the shovel, and made your way a few steps to the opening, and there was that moment when you finally realized that death was real and final. That you wouldn’t see him again. And then the sound of dirt and pebbles falling on the wooden box.
Being the oldest child, I was the first to take the shovel and frankly, I took more dirt than I could easily handle because I still had the iPhone in my left hand. I almost dropped the iPhone into the grave. Later on I wondered what would have happened if I did and if anyone had been buried with their cell phones. It must have happened.
But I managed okay – and my father was still very much alive to me at that point. He may have been in the coffin but he was such a strong character that he still felt alive and all though the funeral service I had been imaging what he would have thought about the speeches and the reception (shiva) etc.
My mother died almost 25 years ago (her grave is in the background, next to dads), and again it was around my birthday – at least it was in mid-december and I can still bring her to memory without much effort. Some people die and disappear and you never think about them again. And some never really leave you. You wish them well on their next journey – and realize that you are one step closer to taking the same trip. But the ones that were so much a part of your life don’t really leave you.
My father died at the age of 88, quickly from a heart attack this Monday afternoon. Since the first call, we (sisters and spouses) have been in a whirlwind of activity with very little time to feel what happened. He will be missed of course, but after having gone through ten years of a long prolonged illness with my mother, this seemed like a merciful way to go. This post isn’t his eulogy – but a quick post in the middle of getting things prepared for the funeral tomorrow – to note his passing.
Expect to write more about him, as he was a tremendous influence in my life. Here’s a fairly recent picture. On a personal note, I was always hoping, and I may have written this before, that he would live to see me in the movie More Then the Rainbow. And he did. It meant a lot because my mother died long before I found my way into the photography field.
He spent Thanksgiving with the family – and his last words to me were, “it’s a shame we can’t do this more often.” You could see how pleased he was to be with his children and grandchildren.
I have tons of pictures of him – including shots from WWII, and lots of interviews, etc.
For now – I’ll just leave you a – what else – a few pictures of Aaron.
The first one, I took when I first got into photography age 15. I took an aluminum table, folded it in half, draped a rug over it, and one by one lined up each member of the family. This is a poor scan, but I’ll fix it later. I can still remember moving the one standing lamp we had and even at that age had some sense of key and fill light though I didn’t know there were names for these things yet.
At a family gathering. As usual I was still forcing people to sit for me. But by now they were used to it. And my father was always a bit of a ham, and enjoyed being photographed.
And this one was taken when he asked me to return to the Bronx – not that long ago – to do covers for his poetry book. This one wasn’t used, but it was his favorite.
Rest in Peace dad.
A few years back, well more than a few years, I decided to do a pictorial about the parts of the Bronx that were a touchstone to my past.
What happened was that I was just sitting around the house when I asked myself how I identified mys
Frankly, it didn’t make much sense to photograph the people, although sometimes I did, but I wanted this to be people free, and just actual places that might evoke feelings.
The idea was to try and find physical structures that would bring back memories. Sometimes it was tactile. Sometimes it was just a smell. And most often it was seeing some detail that I had forgotten about.
One of my ideas for the New Year is to put those photographs together into a small book. I don’t expect any profit in it, simply to finish something I began I long time ago.
Here’s one of the images. It’s the Mosholu (pronounced MAH-SHA-LOO) by people who live in the neighborhood and MAH-SHULA by everyone else. But this is the elevated train that is one stop away from the end of the 4 train line.
What I remembered was how those windows under the train would be half open during the summer, and you could see men in white short-sleeved shirts – sitting there like characters from a Kafka novel – doing administration. And how I used to wonder how it would feel to work all day directly beneath the noisy subway cars.
Believe it or not – I’m in a second film which is asking for help to finish funding. Here’s the PRESS RELEASE if such things still exist, and as we used to say once upon a time when it made sense: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. Which actually means – spread the word around.
Before the release here’s the topic: Helen Levitt (Don’t know the name — read on).
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Filmmaker Tanya Sleiman chronicles the life of the remarkable yet publicity-shy (and consequently barely documented) Helen Levitt, a pioneering New York street photographer and filmmaker who famously captured and celebrated NYC’s working cl
A vibrant chapter on contemporary NY street photographers working the pavements every day features Dave Beckerman.
95 Lives is slated for completion by December 2013. To assist in the final production scenes, a fundraiser is running now online. The fundraiser is all-or-nothing, which means if the goal is not fully raised by Dec 16, the film will get $0 support.
The quickest and best way you can support my inclusion in the film and the film’s advancement is by donating even one dollar, every bit counts! You can also help by sharing the film project with friends. The key for something like this to be successful is to spread the word to as many
people as possible. So post on your favorite social media, blog about it, mention it on Twitter, email it out to folks – help us spread our love of photography.
Limited-edition notecards featuring my NY images are going to be for sale on my website in 2013.
You can get them sooner and for free from the film’s director Tanya Sleiman. To show her appreciation to friends and fans of DAVE BECKERMAN who are able to back the fundraiser with $25 or more, Tanya will send you a trio of NY scenes from my images.
After the campaign concludes on Dec 16, and if you can pledge $25 or more, you receive the rewards package you selected such as the film’s DVD, plus the notecards sent straight to you after Dec 16. Because the campaign is all or nothing, you won’t get the cards if the campaign isn’t successful and your credit card is charged only after the campaign’s success.
To receive your notecards and support a film about street photography,simply leave a message on the film’s campaign saying “I saw your project on the page of DAVE BECKERMAN .”
I have almost caught up with things to write a bit in this lately forlorn blog – and the comment from Peter reminded me to write about the second showing of More Than the Rainbow documentary. This time attending at a Sunday matinee where my dad (nearing 90) and two sisters attended.
And this time – knowing what was coming I was more able to sit back and appreciate the film without cringing as I appeared (which I’m told is pretty normal for most people even well known actors).
The result was that I was able to enjoy the movie. I think it is a very difficult thing to attempt – keeping people’s interest for 80 minutes watching photographers. And I don’t care who they are.
But Dan (the producer) and the cutter (I’ll put a link to IMDB later) really worked this thing out well with an interesting cast of characters.
Yes, it was shown in San Francisco recently – and I really don’t know what the life of the film will be or where it goes next; but eventually it will be on DVD and you’ll get to see Matt Weber and the life of a contemporary street photographer – and (spoiler alert) you’ll get to hear and see me explain some things about street photography such as: it has nothing to do with the street. And other wise things like that (maybe).
You’ll also get to see – if you’ve got a big screen really excellent renditions of photos you’ve only seen at web size. That was perhaps my own biggest thrill seeing some of my images on the big screen. Perfectly shot as they used excellent equipment for that.
Matt Weber showing me how to shoot over your shoulder by watching reflection in lens. This really should have made it into the film. Takes a lot of practice. I know – I’ve tried it.