A parent of one of my students once said, “Whatever camera you have with you right now isthe best camera you have.” I took that to mean that if you see a picture, capture it any way you can.
For the past several months I have been shooting primarily with my iPhone. It’s portable. It’s simple. I like the distortion. I like shooting square format, and I can do that with the iPhone. I like the color. There are times when the final outcome is somewhat disappointing, but, honestly, that happens with my “real” camera too. I don’t like the pixelation that occurs when I zoom in. So I rarely zoom in.
I also like the convenience of the cloud. Every photo I shoot winds up there and is readily accessible. Since we all “converse” visually via Instagram, a lot of steps are eliminated using iPhone and the cloud. Both of my fancy cameras have wifi capability, but when I’m on a *serious* shoot, using that feature is distracting and drains the battery power.
One other thing: shooting with the iPhone takes away the pressure of “the shoot”. It’s a kind of daily record of my travels, my walks and explorations. It’s like how a writer takes notes of her observations and later culls them into a story. My iPhone pics (and I feel fine calling them that) sometimes lead to an idea that becomes a “series”. And then I turn to my big camera as the writer sits at her laptop to begin to put together her story.
When I started photographing these abandoned places I was most interested in the dark side: the ugly underbelly of society turned beautiful by the camera’s eye. I photographed Pennhurst – an abandoned children’s asylum – with great excitement. The idea of exploring a place where so much life had gone wrong filled me with a strange power, perhaps akin to that idea of wrestling with our own demons. But afterwards I was reluctant to share the photographs. The empty, sheeted bed with the peeling walls behind it was so incredibly sad – and the bed itself a kind of relief map of those who had used it. I was almost embarrassed by bearing witness to the stark devastation of this place; not just the walls but the human spirits that seemed to haunt Pennhurst.
Photographing this theater is at the opposite side of that experience spectrum. The paint is faded, yes – the artifacts sit in silent storage. But they remind us of an era of opulence. The portrait of the projectionist hangs on the wall above his private sink in the projector room, celebrating and honoring his life. The machinery of the then state-of-the-art projectors is cheery with its red and yellow lettering, the bakelite knobs. And the theater is owned by a non profit organization that is actively restoring it as a music venue – hope abounds.
I don’t know if the experiences of photographing these two places and my responses to them are a map of my own psyche or not, but I’ve learned a lot about what moves me as an artist, and I’m looking forward to exploring that more.
Back to the Lower East Side, this time to tour a very few of the scores of community gardens in the neighborhood. The flourish of greenspace cultivation started in 1973 with the Green Guerillas, a movement that began with a single seed bomb tossed into a vacant lot. A reaction to the territorial divides brought about by the financial turmoil of the decade between the foreclosed, the city and urban pioneer developers, the movement quickly gained momentum. Gardeners educated themselves and began to organize; these urban oases sprang up all over the city, but are most concentrated in the East Village and the Lower East Side. This map lists 85 current and former gardens below 14th Street:
These are all from a trip to New Orleans a friend and I took this past week. The vibrant color is real and aptly represents the positive energy of the neighborhoods we visited. Most of these were taken in the Bywater, some in the Warehouse District.
Last week I wrapped up another road trip. We drove form NYC to Florida to visit friends and relatives, and to get some relief from the cold. On the way we stopped for lunch at South of the Border. It wasn’t how I remembered it – but my first visit was on one of those a dark, rainy nights where the world is all but invisible..
I was here only once before, years ago. My parents were stationed in Orlando, Florida and I was going to school in upstate New York. After freshman year I accepted a ride from an acquaintance who lived in Miami. He had a van, long hair, and he drank a lot of coffee and smoked a lot of cigarettes between Annandale and Orlando. I was feeling crummy the whole trip – the last night at school had been celebratory and I probably smoked two packs of cigarettes along with whatever we all drank at the final party of the year. So I quit. I’d been smoking since I was eleven, I was addicted, but that was it – I just didn’t want to ever smoke another cigarette – so I didn’t. Still haven’t.
My driver wanted to go straight, without stopping, all the way to Florida. He mentioned dinner at South of the Border – something to look forward to. Other than that he didn’t say one word to me the whole ride, and, since he was a graduating senior on his way to law school that fall I was too intimidated to start up a conversation. I remember it was raining – dreary. Finally we pulled into the small metropolis that was SOTB and walked into a shabby little building where you had to order at the counter then take your food to a table nearby or out to the car. It was crowded.
After several minutes on line my companion stepped up to the counter and ordered for both of us. A woman at his elbow received her order but told the counter attendant to take it back. “He breathed over my food” she said. Loudly and glaring in our direction. I steeled a sideways glance at my companion. He was looking down at the counter, his cheeks reddened. After some back and forth the lady was brought a new dinner – the styrofoam container sealed shut. We stepped aside to let her pass.
We took our food to the car. We ate in silence. My friend drove. I slept a bit after that, and when we arrived in Orlando he helped me to the door with my bags, said hello to my parents and went on his way.
Mia and I returned to Dead Horse Bay. She got busy working on a mandala – gathering beach glass, shells, metal objects and sorting them by color. She then used an old piling to create
a compass, and drew a large circle, then a spiral, in the sand. The collected objects went into the piece and it was a pleasure to watch her creative process unfold. I constructed some small weavings in the woods near the site, but I was mostly captivated by the place that day. The tide was going out quickly and, with each passing few minutes, more discards were revealed at the tide line. I walked south to discover some metal structures and other ruins along the beach. I photographed everything, and still can’t get enough of the tarnished magic of this place.
I took another trip to the Pennhurst School – a residential facility for children with disabilities that closed in 1987. The media had reported repeated instances of abuse and neglect, and the school did not keep up with advances in the treatment of mental disorders and differences. Most of the buildings and grounds of this immense facility are off limits. Here are a few images captured in the two buildings that are still open on occasion:
Sometimes it’s a good idea to stop the car and explore that abandoned building you’ve been passing on the way to Yonkers for the past 25 years. I actually got out of the car to check out what’s what with that. Next, I travelled 1/2 mile down the street and turned into the drive to the Lenoir Preserve. The last time I was here was the only time – with my young daughters to visit the nature center about ten years ago. This time I walked to the edge of the property and found an abandoned mansion with an insanely antebellum theme going on in the garden. I didn’t hop the wall today, but stole some images from a safe distance. Finally, on to Untermeyer Park, less then a mile from Lenoir, to move beyond the boundaries and photograph the edges of that site.
This is not my last visit to any of these places; just a start. Here’s a sample of what I found exploring closer to home.
This was one of the most fun and rewarding shoots I’ve done since I started the abandoned series. We went to a trolly graveyard in the rust belt. The owner of the trains collects these full-sized original train, trolly cars and buses and he keeps them on his property. They have taken on a lovely patina, and I’m intrigued by the way the sunlight describes the interiors of the cars. Enjoy!
My family spent over three weeks in Morocco in September. We did a two week road trip beginning in Rabat, traveling to Marakesch, Ourzazate, Merzouga, at the edge of the Sahara,the Todra Gorge Fez, Meknes, Chefchaouen, Ifrane, M’diq, on the Mediterranean, and back to Rabat. We stayed in Rabat when not on the road at the home of our dear friends and extended family. We had the privilege of visiting close friends of our hosts including an artist, a farmer and several family members in the city. We walked through countless medinas and souks and visited Roman ruins, royal palaces, museums and a state of the art shopping mall in Casablanca. We met a lot of people and had some up-close encounters with a variety of friendly animals. We climbed a 400 foot dune in the Sahara to watch the sunrise, after traveling by camel to the spot the night before under a full moon. We hiked up a mountain behind Chefchaouen to watch the shadow of the mountain slowly move across the landscape to illuminate the city below. We hiked through a gorge, into an aquaduct, through a hill town and up the mountain behind it. We visited a Berber house where we were served beautiful green mint tea. We visited a mine in the black hills surrounding the Sahara. We ate fabulous food prepared by our hosts and visited a number of restaurants, dining on lamb marinated and cooked for 24 hours, lemon chicken in tagine, sweet pasta spiced with cinnamon and raisins, pancakes with argon oil for breakfast, savory pastitsa, almond cookies, mint tea. We swam in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. We bought spices, herbs, dresses, shoes, soap, scarves, a Berber rug and a teapot. And then, reluctantly, we went home.
These are a few of the images from the trip. I’ll be adding more over time as I continue to process them. This was a trip to savor.