Artwork by James De La Vega
I have become friendly with many of my neighbors through their pets. This is Biscuit, who jumped up on me the first time we met, and through him I met my neighbors. They rescued the Biscuit from the ASPCA – even though the dog has epilepsy, and they are constantly bringing him to the vet and is always undergoing various types of treatments. I have always loved animals.
When I was a kid in the Bronx, we got our pets from the ASPCA and it seems as if they were always sick with something or other. I don’t think that my parents liked animals very much, but me and my sisters insisted on having cats and dogs around. One of the traumatic incidents in my childhood involved my dog Sandy, another dog – much like Biscuit that we got from the ASPCA.
I went away to sleep-away camp when I was about ten years old. It was a three week stint. I still have postcards (the counselors forced you to write home) and just about every postcard has some mention of Sandy. I didn’t get along well with the other boys in the bunk, and was homesick. Not for my parents, but for Sandy. I kept a picture of him under my pillow. My parents wrote back telling me that Sandy was fine and that they would bring him to meet me when I returned to the Bronx by bus.
I managed to make it through the three dismal weeks and the big yellow school bus arrived in front of the Mosholu Community Center and I remember looking out the window and hoping to catch a glimpse of Sandy. I saw my parents waving at me. But no doggie. As soon as I got off the bus I asked where Sandy was, and my father took me aside and told me that Sandy had gotten sick shortly after I left for camp, and had to be put to sleep. All the postcards he wrote saying that Sandy was fine were lies. He didn’t want to upset me while I was at camp.
I don’t know what the right thing would’ve been to do – as a parent. But there you have it. After that, I felt that I could never fully trust them anymore. And in some ways, I never did entirely get over the loss of that dog. And I thought it was suspicious that the dog had gotten sick as soon as I left. Maybe they just didn’t want to walk him. Many decades later, I asked my father what had happened with Sandy – and he and my mother had too much to do and couldn’t be bothered walking the dog twice a day (which had been my job). They had given him to some cousins that lived in Massachusetts. So again, they had lied because if they had admitted that they had given the dog away – they knew I could never forgive them.
Well, I still get to play with Biscuit almost every day since he needs a lot of excercise and his owners walk him a few times a day. But he always reminds me of that moment when I was searching for a glimpse of Sandy through the bus window.
Dear Mayor Bloomberg,
The overuse of flash is possibly the biggest mistake made by the tourists to New York. Whether they need a flash or don’t, the average tourist has a point-and-shoot camera with a long zoom lens and no matter what the outdoor lighting conditions are, I have noticed that they always fire the flash. Sometimes I sit at a ballgame, during the bright summer months, and watch camera after camera flash. No matter how far they are from the action, or whether the New York sun is beating down on them without mercy, the camera is set (it comes this way from the factory) to flash and so it does. This is not only a useless exercise, it is a misuse of energy, and is only contributing to global warming since each flash heats the atmosphere. Sure, only a tiny bit, but with thousands of these flashes each day – believe me sir, it adds up.
It’s not just that flash generally ruins whatever natural light was placed there to help them make a beautiful picture of our fair city, but that half-time-time, there’s even a delay because to counteract the flash, red-eye reduction is also set, and this causes the camera to pause and fire twice. It’s a horror to watch subjects asked to pose, and wait with frozen grins while the camera fires a pre-flash and frankly, when these tourists return home, they have images of our city that don’t do it justice.
It’s not entirely the fault of the tourist. They are sold cameras based on the magnification of the lens. You see, this camera has a 20:1 telephoto lens, and it costs less than $100. They aren’t told that the longer lens means that more light is needed to get through the tube that’s filled with bits of glass and plastic, or that the f-stop is f5.6. After all, who can expect these tourists to know anything about an F-Stops. Even many of our own citizens have smirked at me when I used the word F-Stop – as if it were some sort of dirty phrase.
So for reasons that appear to be beyond our control, the world gets filled with harsh, overly-lit images of our city that never do look right.
I know that you welcome tourists to the city, as we all do, for their money, but if you visit a tourist site where there are hundreds of people with the latest point-and-shoots taking pictures in bright sunlight of the city-block long museum, you will see many flashes on this bright sunlit day. It is a waste of batteries that end up in our landfills and are hard to properly dispose of, and worse – if I may make a pun – it shows our city in a bad light.
There should be a way to stop this daily atrocity but I’m afraid that short of asking tourists to read the manual that was packaged with their camera, I don’t have a solution. What do you think of the idea of testing tourists to see if they know how to turn the flash off? Could you issue a ticket for incorrectly used flash? If you assigned our traffic police to this duty, it would greatly increase the city’s treasury (something I see you are already doing with parking tickets that are given out willy nilly).
The Sunday automobile driver is perfectly happy knowing that the gas pedal makes the car go faster and the brake is used to prevent the car from crashing into the neighbors’ house. And I don’t believe that we are asking the visitors to our city to know much more than that about their cameras. What I’ve always liked about you, Mr. Mayor sir, is that you are open to new ideas, and that you have a decisive, almost dictatorial attitude towards your responsibilities.
Yes, I would suggest that we ban the zoom lens on the point-and-shoot, (or at least require a test of some sort, like a drivers license test) before selling a camera with a zoom lens and a tiny built-in flash; and I would only sell lens that opened to at leaste F2.8 rule. I would insist that the only time that flash fires in automatic mode, is if the subject is within range of the emitted light, and I would have to remove all red-eye reduction pre-firing from these cameras. In other words, as Dictator Dave, I would forbade the use of flash unless the user could prove that it was being used as fill-flash (that is useful) or that the image could not be taken without flash.
For those found transgressing these edicts, they would be fined heavily and then forced to view a selection of 1000 images which were ruined by flash. If an individual continues to transgress the no-flash law, they will be forced, like in the old wild west, to check their cameras at the city limits and not get them back until they leave town. With these rules in place, we would greatly reduce the number of bad shots taken, as well as conserve battery power which would result in less harmful chemicals polluting our landfills. All in all, this would be a win-win situation.
I look forward to hearing from you about this blight upon our city.
With all sincerity, your humble servant,
p.s. I noticed many flashes at the last press conference you held. Possibly this would be a good place to announce the ban.
No matter how many images I put up in the store, there is always a request for something that I have sitting around on a disk somewhere – and this shot popped up when I was asked for shots of the Bethesda Fountain. Given the disgusting weather we have in New York – which is only natural during the dog days of summer – I thought this would be a nice cool post. Not exactly what anyone wants (probably) when they think of the Bethesda Fountain – but it has that nice lonely feeling that I like in my photographs. Solitary man against the backdrop of the city. There’s a nice bit of dialogue in Three Days of the Condor when Robert Redford does a brief review of Fay Dunnaway’s photographs.
Confessional: I removed two garbage cans on either side of the shot with PS. Was I wrong? Did I break the almighty don’t tinker with the shot rules? Am I no longer a truthful photographer? Can I live with this. Uhm, yes. But as long as I’m confessing, there was a slight bit of a tree on the right sticking into the shot and I cloned that out. OMG. What have I done. Would I have done this if I had been shooting film. OMG, I think I have. Which scan was it… Oh no… I don’t remember anymore… I think I put extra clouds into one shot… And I know I took some scratches out of Poet’s Walk… but that’s just retouching isn’t it… I used to have to spot that with every darkroom print… I should have had a duped negative with the corrections…
But to remove something that is in the picture, no matter how small, or how annoying… those garbage cans were part of the framing I used… and now I removed them with a few swipes of the clone brush… what have I done to the original truth…
Well it’s not a documentary shot… is it? No, I just wanted that one person walking by the fountain, is that so bad? But wait a minute, I just remembered something, I think there were other people, no not other people, but someone had left their backpack in the foreground and I wiped that out too… Oh, I’m a goner… the angel was too dark and I lightened it up… oh my, the list goes on… is there a digital priest that I can confess to and say something to undo this sin… luckily I have an appointment with my shrink in two weeks… I’ll make the confession to him, but he won’t say anything other than, “I’m afraid your time is up.”
I need a digital priest to confess to. A site where I can make these Photoshop confessions and find out how bad they are and what to do to make amens. Is there such a thing?
UPDATE AUG. 21
It helps to read the Epson manual. Turns out that you can press a few buttons on the control panel and it will either print out, or show you the status of all the printer parts. Turns out that according to the firmware, there’s nothing wrong with the cutter. So – either the blade has become dull and somehow it senses that; or it’s not seated correctly (how did that happen); or there’s a software setting that I was using (platen gap, paper thickness etc.) that’s off. I’ll have to experiment with it more carefully tomorrow.
Now here’s something that I haven’t run into before. The automatic cutting blade mechanism on the Epson 7800 refuses to cut. It wants me to open the front panel and replace the blade. However, when I look up the automatic blade cutter gizmo which is a tiny little blade at the end of a spring, it costs about $99.
Now, how does it know that the blade needs to be replaced? Is that normal, or is it just not seated correctly? Also, if it is just based on an internal counter, how come I can’t fool it by taking out the mechanism and then sticking it back in – which is what I did several times. I think it isn’t in right.
As a last resort, as I had to get some prints out yesterday, I set it to replace the blade, but just pressed the blade down and manually cut the paper which worked okay. But I’ll have to do some research into this. Don’t want to buy a new gizmo only to find that this one is just not seated correctly.
Also, seems like you can use the same auto cutter from the 4800 and put it in the 7800. I may try that later.
There’s also a manual cutter, which is a totally different device that you use for cutting through heavier paper. That’s also in the $99 range. Egads.
Oh – if you want to see what this object looks like — here ya go.
Speaking of street photography…
When I first began doing “street photography” I used to take my camera to work with me each day (Canonet) – and it was a pretty long walk, about five miles. One day, I was about a half block behind this guy who was gargling with a small bottle of Scope (right hand).
It struck me that he would have to find a spot to spit it out, and with that in mind I ran up behind him, paused, and clicked just as he spit the mouthwash out in the sewer. No, not a beautiful thing to watch, but I did manage to get “the moment,” – first by being curious about him, and second by wondering what was going to happen next. It was the beginning for me of many years of trying to anticipate what people were going to do next. And now – having divided the store front up into so many categories I am putting things like this which are important to me – in the store. I’ll file this under, “people spitting.” But even if you weren’t sure what was going on – I think the posture would draw you in at first. And maybe you’d skip by it, but maybe you’d study it a bit, and eventually see the small bottle of scope in his right hand, and have one of those a-ha moments yourself. At any rate – for better or worse – that’s the state of mind you get into when you photograph people on the street. Sometimes it’s the usual stuff – mostly it’s the usual stuff – but once in a while it moves a bit beyond the usual.
I like to wonder about things like this. Was he late for a big meeting. Was he going to make a presentation. Had he just had a drink and was trying to get rid of the smell. And someone else might look at it, and flip by as fast as they can because the whole thing is sort of gritty. How you get from that to beauty infrared shots of the park; that’s easy – I have a pretty esoteric range of things that interest me.
For example, I’m a confirmed atheist – but one of my favorite things to watch on Sunday morning are the t.v. preachers even though they have all assured me that there’s no way I can go to heaven because I haven’t accepted Jesus as my personal savior. Which is true. I’ve accepted photography as my personal savior. I wonder where the good and bad photographers go after they die. I have a feeling that they end up in one of Dante’s circles of hell – not near the center rings, but on the outside with the pagans who didn’t have a chance to accept the one-God deal since there wasn’t one God in their day. Or maybe you go in the circle with the painters and poets. I think that’s the place to be anyway. Heaven, as far as I can figure has had to turn away some pretty interesting people.
Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.
The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.
4 minutes later:
the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…. How many other things are we missing?