A parent of one of my students once said, “Whatever camera you have with you right now is the 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:
Noted on the map are several endangered gardens, and some that have been demolished, so the fate of this movement is still in question.