ask

Last week, I attended PrideFest in Lake Worth Florida. I usually do it because its a lot of fun, I have no problem getting people to have their picture taken, and it usually results in a couple of great shots. This year was a bit different though. I decided to just photograph the Gay Pride parade—or at least the initial setting up before they actually went out and paraded. This is when the people are concentrating on what they have to do instead of performing in front of a camera. It results in what I think, are more honest pictures—pictures of people just being themselves.

At the far end was this group of kids setting up and rehearsing with this large banner which they were going to use in the parade. I snapped a few shots and just after this one I heard—

“You’re supposed to ask, you know.” 

I looked up and there was this other girl at the far end of the banner yelling at me. “Your supposed to ask, you know” she repeated. “Why” I asked, and she replied “it was only polite.” I began to tell her that if I asked, I would end up with a shitty picture of the subject grinning, all teeth for my camera and this made for boring photographs but she was not listening. She was to into being offended.

What the fuck is wrong with these kids today and where do these rules come from? They are about to march in a fucking parade in front of two or three thousand  people and one would expect that a few of them have cameras or cellphones. Do they not expect people to take pictures of them? Why are we supposed to ask? I certainly do not impose on people when I shoot them (in fact I am the opposite and try to stay invisible) and the chances of them ever seeing a copy of this photograph are next to zero so what is their problem? Actually, I think I know what the answer is. People feel so alienated and ignored these days that they feel they have to seize power over people wherever they can find it. Everybody has to make a stand—no matter how ridiculous, or pointless it may be. These days people quite often confront me when I take pictures because they feel either I am invading their privacy, stealing a moment (I like that one), or I am just an everyday pervert. All of this is bullshit. They could simply turn away, but that makes them feel like a victim for my camera. It is too passive. Confrontation is much more effective—at least in their twisted logic so they blurt out stupid comments like,

“You’re supposed to ask, you know. Its only polite” 

No I am not supposed to ask. At my age (72), I have been around a bit, and I do not need an uptight politically correct teenage prig to tell me what politeness is. Making up stupid rules for strangers  to follow, telling people how they should behave, and what they should or should not do is anything but polite. It is downright rude!

coffee_bologna

A few years ago, we were in Bologna Italy. We actually went there to sample their signature dish—Fettucini Bolognese. We found the right spot , had a wonderful lunch, and then went to check out the city.  At some point, we needed a break and stopped in this bar for a coffee. So much for the dime-bag travelogue. What I really wanted to talk about was Black and White.

Every time I go to Italy (or anywhere else for that matter) I end up working on my images in color. I have been doing this since I first bought a digital camera in 2005. I suppose it might be laziness on my part that I did it this way because that is what comes out of the camera when you take a picture. The automatic tendency is to shoot in color. In the days of film you had a choice because you could choose what film you put in the camera. Now its global—you can make it anything you want after the fact. So that is how I evolved into a color photographer. It was very passive.

Lately however I have been consciously thinking in Black and White and this time when we leave for Italy I will still be doing so. It’s not really so big a deal though because I can always change my mind after the fact. I guess that is what is really interesting about this new century. You never really have to commit to anything and I do not know whether that is a good thing or not.

I guess I will post some of tem on my blog when i get back. You can check out more of my  B&W at: www.dsaxe.com

paperman

Part 1

If you are Jewish, and you live in Montreal, sooner or later, you will die, and end up at Paperman and Sons Funeral Parlor. Naturally, I had heard of it since I was a kid, but since nobody close to me had ever died, I never went there except for funerals. That means, I never knew what went on upstairs—I knew nothing of the business of death.

That changed in 2001 when my mother died at the age of 92. Suddenly I had to go to Paperman and Sons and “do business”. I phoned and made an appointment to see Ross Paperman who of course was one of the elder Paperman’s sons. Of course everybody in Montreal who was Jewish knew where it was but this time it was a bit different. I went in the entrance and for the first time, I went to the elevator, instead of the chapel. The elevator doors opened (just like the gates of heaven) and I entered. I was swiftly transported to the second floor and when I exited, there was a pretty young lady with dark hair, a dark suit, dark eye make-up and deathly thin. She walked up to me, extended her hand, and said very formally, “My extreme sympathies, Mr. Saxe, if you will have a seat. Mr. Ross Paperman will be with you shortly.” I sat down and looked around. The whole place was decorated in Jewish Gothic with dark paneling, black sofas, mahogany desks and everybody who worked there was dressed in black. I felt I was paying a visit to the Munster’s.

In a few moments a young 40ish man in a dark suit came out and introduced himself as Ross Paperman. “I am deeply sorry about the loss of your late mother.” he said. (Actually it was not such a tragedy. She had lived a long healthy life, her cancer was diagnosed three weeks before her death, and she suffered no pain. She told me she was ready to go.)

We walked down a dark-paneled corridor, past mahogany doors, and an endless bevy of employees—all wearing dark suits, and he stopped at dark-paneled door , opened it and said “Please go in.”. Sharon and I walked into this huge mahogany-paneled office. Instead of being dark like everything else. it was brightly lit by an array of fluorescent ceiling lights. I felt I was about to “beamed” somewhere. Every shelf, tabletop, bookcase was adorned with miniature GI Joe figurines. Yes! Fucking GI Joe figurines! I smiled. Sharon smiled.

“This is such a gloomy place sometimes, I keep my collection here to cheer me up. I hope you don’t mind. If it bothers you we can move to another room.”  All I could think of was where the fuck was my camera!

Part 2

Two years later, my father passed away. Again it was no great tragedy. He was 96, institutionalized, in dementia and passed away peacefully in his sleep. For the second time in my life, I had to go to Paperman’s to “do business”.

Sharon and I walked into the building, past the chapel and entered the elevator. When the doors opened, everything was as it had been before except that this time, I brought my camera. The woman with the dark hair, black suit and dark eye make-up motioned for us to sit on one of the black sofas in the reception room. As I waited, I thought I was so clever for bringing my camera this time. I eagerly anticipated meeting with Ross and photographing his office with himself surrounded by 10,000 GI Joes. After a few moments, he came out, gave his sincerest sympathies and we followed him to his office. We walked in and I could not believe it. There was no trace of any GI Joe except for a small glass case on the wall containing 4 figurines. “Where are all your GI Joes,” I asked. He told me that some of the customers had complained and his brothers and sister and father thought it was not “professional”  enough for Montreal’s finest funeral parlor, so he reluctantly removed them. Sadly I sat down in one of the black leather chairs and “did business”.  I signed some papers, received the death certificate and performed other “pleasantries”. At some point, I had to pee and asked where the bathroom was.  “Use the chapel restroom. It is much more comfortable. It is on your right at the bottom of the stairs.” I left the office, walked down the dark hallway and entered the staircase. As I was walking down the stairs, I saw this very old man standing at the bottom staring at the wall. “Hello,” he said. “How are you?” I introduced myself and told him I was here to arrange for my father’s funeral. “I am very saddened by your loss. My name is Herbert Paperman.” I introduced myself. At that point he noticed my camera around my neck. He said he used to collect them and at one time he had about 100 of them (including a few Contax’s). He rambled on and on about cameras and although he knew his stuff, he was not entirely connecting with me. I asked him if I could take his photograph and he said “of course.” He seemed to be a bit fuzzy on some matters and on others (like his Leica collection) he was very lucid. He was elderly and his mental state reminded me of my late father in his final years—dipping in and out of reality, punctuated by strong moments of lucidity. “Everybody in my family liked to collect things.” he said. My sons like to collect exotic cars. They spent a fortune on their Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s.” Really” I answered, suddenly understanding why the costs of funerals in Montreal were so high. “Oh ya,” he continued, “they were buying and selling so many we had to build a separate garage for them to store them. They take up a lot of space you know. At one time they… Suddenly the door to the staircase was flung open and two women with black hair, dark eye shadow wearing black suits rushed in and grabbed him and ushered him away. As they were dragging the old man out the door one of them turned to me and tersely asked if I was lost.

“I have to pee” I answered. “I was on my way to the bathroom.”


As I mentioned in a previous post, I was updating my web site (www.dsaxe.com). I had come up with the idea of showing men and women alone and together and how their bodies change depending on who they are with. Since I take thousands of photographs, some of them must be good, and some are good enough to assemble into these themes that I come up with. I have always been attracted to certain subjects and couples have been one of them You might say these photographs are mostly about me than the other way around.. I know some photographers if not most, come up with their themes in advance and then go out to find the photographs to fit their theory but I have a small problem with this.

1. It seems a bit constipated. I mean if you go out “looking for something”, the passion of discovery—of actually stumbling on something is missing.

2. If you are actually looking for something specific (to fit your theme), you most often just miss what is really out there.

So I am a bit old fashioned—big deal! This photograph was taken in West Palm Beach on New Years eve, 2006. I am not a big New Years Eve guy. (In fact I hate it. I hate any event where people feel they HAVE to do something. Why can’t they feel like that all the time.) So there I was alone and bored in a shopping center in Florida and this couple pissed to shit was slobbering and dragging their drunken asses across the floor. It was early in my digital career but I swiftly realized that these cameras can shoot in low light—much better than film so I snapped a few. As the band played on and I moved on to something else. This photograph actually shows up in many of my projects. It shows up in my “drink” series, my “nighttime” series, and now on my” men+women” group. As I said, I do not limit myself to looking for “one thing only”. As Henri Cartier Bresson once said, “You have to be receptive.”

In 1961, my friend Harvey and I took a trip to New York. We were just a bunch of young kids, desperate to find a place that was not Montreal. We took the overnight Greyhound , endlessly starring out the window watching the blurred nighttime sky, anticipating my first trip on my own. We arrived early next morning at Penn Station and disembarked, in a sleep-deprived stupor onto 34th Street. A black kid about 10 years old ran by, followed by a white guy in an apron shouting “stop thief!” The street was full of guys selling anything from ballpoint pens to neck ties and the rumble of racks of clothes on push-carts, car horns, music, guys/girls yelling, the screams of bible-punchers trying to save my soul  filled my ears. The street was packed with people and it scared the shit out of me. That was my first impression of the city—a real city and I never forgot it.

That afternoon we went to Times Square. It was a very sleazy Times Square in the 60’s, inhabited by street vendors, hookers, musicians moving on to their next gig, and bums—lots of bums. The street was lit by neon lights which flashed above the porn theaters, and nightclubs. For an 18-year-old kid from Montreal it was all very exciting—very American! I would return every year to this city and after one or two more visits I became very used to the streets and sounds. It no longer scared me when I walked out of Penn Station onto 34th street and hanging out in Times Square, the Village or the Jazz clubs became second nature to me. At that time I wasn’t taking pictures and even if I was, I lacked the confidence to walk around with a camera around my neck so all I can do is look at pictures taken by others. I was still an 18-20 year old schmuck who knew thought he knew everything but in fact knew very little

Over the years things began to change and eventually about 15 years ago it became a respectable place thanks to Disney et al. The slime was cleared out and it became a place to visit with the family. I was visiting now with a camera around my neck, but it wasn’t the Times Square that I knew as a snot-nosed kid. It was just boring. Mommy, daddy and the two kids, The Lion King, souvenirs from the Disney store—really disgusting. Now I just visited the area if we were going to a play, or walking uptown to a museum. The sidewalks were packed with people and the streets were stuffed with traffic.

I have noticed though that change continues to happen in Times Square. Now that cars have been banned there is more space for the people to walk and since the area is crawling with tourists, small time hustlers have been hanging around offering to pose for pictures with the family. The Naked Cowboy, Naked Cowgirl (there are actually two of them. One is an attractive 24-year-old with nice tits and the other was once an attractive 24-year-old who is now 60 with sagging tits), Minnie Mouse (not officially sanctioned by Disney) are all over the place and other characters. Maybe things are going back to the good old days. I am ready for it now. Now if they could only bring back neon.

Campo di Fiori: Rome

Many years ago, I ran a photography department in a major Montreal hospital. Twice a year we would get a visit from the local Kodak rep. He would arrogantly march in to my studio and sit himself down and for the next hour or so, extol the wonderful benefits of their latest color print film. I would always have to interrupt him and remind him that departments such as ours never used color print film. Although I had mentioned this to him on many occasions, he never remembered and in spite of my reminder, he would continue with his pitch. Every now and then, he would come in and talk about a new slide or black and white film (which interested us)  but his explanations of why they was superior to the previous films was always far too technical and utterly useless. Finally I would ask him to send us a few samples to try out. His response was always the same.

“Kodak does not supply free samples.”

That was that. We used Ilford black and white products. The rep would visit about every second month. He always has a box of 100 sheets of enlarging paper with him and he would talk about his products briefly, and then go into the darkroom with us to jointly test them out and compare the with the the older version. If there was ever a problem with any of their products, we would call him up and a replacement would be delivered the following day.

That was 30 years ago. I never remembered the name of the Kodak rep but I will never forget the name of the Ilford rep. Business is all about creating and maintaining relationships. Kodak never understood that.

The photograph above was shot on Kodak Tri-X—one of the best products they ever made. The reason I posted it is because it was shot on my last visit to Italy using a film camera. The following year I bought a digital camera and have been using one ever since. The other reason I posted this picture is because I was thinking about Italy and wondering what me next visit (in the fall) would be like.

Although I had written previously on paranoia and photography, every now and then something different happens that gives one hope. I had been in Washington DC last week and having a free day, I thought I would visit some of it’s fine museums. It was a shitty rainy day and being in a sort of negative mood, I had assumed I would be hassled if I brought my camera with me. But alas, it the last moment, I decided to in the event the weather cleared.

I arrived at the Freer Gallery on the mall just as the rain was stopping and as I entered, I fully expected the usual museum welcome of frisking, metal detecters, laser lights and officious security guys who were just too fucked up for our military, so they ended up terrorizing innocent tourists. To my surprise, there was none of this. Admission was free. (all National Museum are free because our congress in a rare moment of clarity, decided that our art actually belonged to the people so why charge them to look at it. Even the Europeans cannot outdo this and if they ever had such policies, they only apply to EUC members and the rest of us get hosed at the admission window. In America, these rights are for visitors and citizens alike.)

In any case, I was welcomed by a pleasant-looking guard who politely asked to look in my camera bag and upon doing so waved me inside. No metal detector, blinking laser lights, no loudspeakers uttering instructions in German, no searchlights—just a few steps through a small gate and I was in. It was simple.

As I moved from museum to museum, it was the same all around. The only restriction was on my umbrella as the guards would always ask me to check it. I assume it was because they did not want me to knock anything over with it.

A few years ago in the Boca Raton Museum of Art, I was asked to leave because in spite of their numerous signs all over the place, instructing visitors to check their cameras at the door. (Like Dodge City) I refused to leave my Leica with a $3.50/hour “security guard”. After a fond “fuck you, I’m outta here,” I split and never went back. I was always wary of museums photo policies and always entered these places with trepidation, fully expecting to be given the “third degree’ for bringing a camera with me. Most places just forgive you but the Boca Raton Museum of Art is probably run by Florida lawyers who think they have to forbid everything except breathing (and only very softly— no heavy breathing please) to avoid the inevitable lawsuit. The fact that it is a third rate museum escapes them. Most museums, especially in Italy only forbid photography and keep a wary eye on visitors with cameras around their neck. I coukl figure out why they did this. I understand why flash is forbidden to protect the art but pictures? I could only assume that it was to to protect the copyrights of artists long dead but I was wrong.

In the National Gallery of Art at the end of the mall, in the Modern East Wing, I entered a room of weird Spanish figures and sculptures from the Inquisition. A guard approached me and told me that photographs were not allowed in this room only but I was free to take pictures in the rest of the museum. I nodded. As I was leaving the room, he again approached me and said that the reason photos were not allowed was because they did not own the art—it was on loan. Another mystery solved.

America might have its problems—certainly how we deal with the rest of the world,  but on the mall in front of the Capitol, we are a beacon of sanity as it pertains to taking pictures in museums.