I have always considered myself to be a documentary photographer but I never really thought of myself as a journalist. The reason is that I probably would not have been very successful at it because I have frequently experienced looking for one story and ending up with another. In journalism, I think that is considered failure however having never studyed it, I really do not know. But it is safe to say that failures of this sort notwithstanding, what I do end up with is sometimes more interesting than what I was looking for. (I suppose that would make me an artist.) For instance, last week I went to New Orleans because I had an urge to photograph Mardis Gras. I wanted to show the color and spectacle of this annual event but alas I got sidetracked. What I found instead of color and spectacle were a bunch of drunks shouting at women on balconies to show them their tits. One can only go so far with this shit so, I moved on and started going to some of the parades. That was also pretty boring because all it was were these floats going by, and the crowds were intense to say the least. Then I noticed that the parades ended close to my hotel and that the floats were siphoned off in one direction and the marchers and bands directed in another direction to await the buses to take them home. That is where I planted myself and as the bands finished their 3-hour marches, they rested, joked around, and fooled around with their instruments. They were a nice crown of kids from high schools in Alabama, Mississippi and Norther Louisiana. Well-behaved, polite and always happy to talk, kid around and pose for photographs. I had a ball. I could not stay away and thats what I did for the next few days—sat myself at the end of the line and photographed the bands as they winded up their parade. As I said, the original story faded quickly but another one replaced it. pays to keep your options open.
In a few months it will be Caille Ocho—the wildest street festival in the US. For one day in March, about 1,000,000 people (mostly Cuban) dance, eat, drink on a 6 block stretch in Little Havana Miami. This photo is from my last visit there a two years ago. I plan on going back this year because although I have been there twice, I was never really happy with what I shot. I felt that somehow, I had missed something. I used to feel that way about shooting in New York. I would go, shoot, and come home disappointed. It took a while to figure out what was wrong but I eventually did. It was about expectations. I would get all hyped up about these thing sand go there expecting to stumble on great shots immediately—and when I did not, I would get down on myself and miss all the excitement around me. During the past few years, I have learned to expect nothing and keep my eyes and heart open. It has made a world of difference.
I shot this photograph a few years ago at a street carnival in Miami. I have always liked this one but more importantly, it is on the subject of music—one of my never-ending on-going themes. On reflection, I sometimes wonder what it is that attracts me to these “themes’. What is the hook? Being a photographer is about reflection, it is about examining the things that are going on in your life. It is about self-discovery. At least that is how I see it and so on the subject of music, this is where I came from.
Years ago, way back in the last century, I was a young kid with very little going on in my life when I met my friend Harvey who would be my best buddy for many years to come. It was at the end of my high school career and I had no future and no past to think of. It was that special age—that bridge from teen to adult that some get through easier than others. We would spend our time hanging out together all the time and it was at this time that I discovered Jazz. We would spend endless hours in his basement, smoking, listening to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evens, etc. and talk/dream/wonder about the years to come. Eventually we ended up on separate paths, although we still talk to each other about once a year. The main part of this though is that this is where my love of music began and continues to be a major part of my life. It is in my head. To this day, if there is nothing going on upstairs, or I am a bit depressed, or whatever, I can still put myself back in that basement and play “Green Dolphin Street” in my head—every note, every solo.
These days, whenever I am wandering around with a camera around my neck and I hear music, I am drawn to it like a moth to the flame. It could be a street festival (like this one), a street musician, an outdoor concert, some guys banging drums in the street—anything, with sound but to me it is all about those days as a kid, smoking cigarettes, and listening to jazz in that smoke-filled basement.
I have also said, when I take photographs, they are about me. When I choose to photograph something, it is because it is something from my past, my dreams, my life that pops out at a particular moment. It is a statement that says, that this is where I stood, on a particular day at a particular time and this is what I felt. Photographs to me are very, very personal.
A pleasant Friday evening in the Northwood action of West Palm Beach. Actually it was a regular 4th Friday evening of-the-month street fair which goes on here, so after getting a last-minute reminder from Jill that she was showing some paintings at one of the galleries, Sharon and I stepped out. In any case these guys were going at it up the street and as I stopped and watched, I thought it would be a good idea to zip out my IPhone , make a quick movie of it and send it to Brian and Sam who of course appreciated such things. That’s what I did—whipped out the old IPhone, pressed all the buttons and filmed about 5 minutes of this stuff.
Lesson. Important lesson! If you are going to go technical, make sure you know what you are doing. Unfortunately I did not, and ended up with only a single image (not this one) for my efforts. It shall not happen again. I was invited back for a Thursday evening drum circle and hopefully I won’t be such a fucking amateur hack this time.
This is day 2 of my Project 14. This photograph was taken in Stuart Florida one cloudy and overcast Sunday afternoon. It never really impressed me because the light was so dull but I decided to do what every photographer with a modicum of talent would do—I dodged and burnt in until I had an image that I liked. I am a sucker for photographing musicians. I just cannot resist it—it is one of my lifelong projects. something to do with the shapes and forms their bodies take when they are playing.
In fact, that is what really interests me most about photographing people. It is the movement and form in a body—the fluidity that is represented in a still photograph. I love it when they move like that!
Sometime in the past century, way back in the mid fifties, I was a young kid growing up in Montreal with one parent who was invisible and another who was overbearing. I lived in a house of rules and one of those rules was that I was limited to watching one TV program per week. Naturally it was “The Wonderful World of Disney” which aired each Sunday evening at 6PM. Each week, I would lie on the living room floor with my elbows on the floor and my head resting in my hands, and stare at the black and white screen which occasionally would creep vertically until I would adjust the knob which would keep it steady for a few moment and then I would have to do it all over again. It was a part of the drill and we were all used to it, just as adjusting the rabbit ears to get rid of the snow. We had to do it this way because Disney aired on ABC and the closest TV station was somewhere in Maine. Adjusting the rabbit ears was a very Canadian ritual practiced in thousands of homes along the border. The alternative was watching Pépineau et Capucine (a french puppet show) on CBC and who the fuck wanted to watch that?
In any case that’s how I grew up and as all things came to pass, I did grow up.
This weekend for reasons that are not important, Sharon and I had to spend an evening at Disneyland in Orlando. We had a reservation at the Grand Floridian which was an imitation of some Victorian seaside hotel from the late 19th century. All of the staff—from the bellmen, to the registration clerks were dressed in chintzy pseudo victorian costumes. At first sight the hotel looked spectacular until on second glance, one noticed that everything was made from plastic and plaster. Nothing was real. Everybody and everything sort of drifted in an out of focus in a slow-motion dream sequence. It was a spectacular movie set—reminding me of those sets where there was a façade and when you looked behind, there was nothing but supports holding everything up.
Everybody smiled and said hello. Their smiles were etched on their faces—or were they wearing masks—who knows. By there time I got to my room, I must have said hello about a dozen times. The maids, doormen in top hats, maintenance staff, waiters at the pool, lifeguards, desk clerks, and midget munchkins all stopped what they were doing as you passed to say hello. In fact they said hello to everybody so I wondered when they ever had time to do their jobs. Perhaps, that was their job—they were as fake as everything else, and their jobs were done by some invisible phantom workforce. Reality was slipping away very quickly.
Not only were all the employees in uniform, but so were all the other guests. They were all dressed in chic 20th century American touriste. The parents were all wearing cargo shorts and tee shirts (some of the women were a bit more avant garde and wore capris). The fathers were either very fat or very emaciated and most of the women were overweight. All of the kids were 8 years old and the girls wore fairy suits and carried wands with sparklers while the boys ran everywhere, screaming, shouting, shooting things with fake little guns, and just generally misbehaving. Everybody wore a baseball cap. They could get away with it because in modern America, the kids run the show while their parents are reduced to picking up after them, paying the bills, and when they get older, posting bail. Both parents and children are all wearing mouse-ears because nobody has yet grown up. They are all frozen in perpetual adolescence.
In all of this phantasmagoria of never-ending permanent childhood, there is always a place for adults to escape—free of children, and for a very high price. The Victoria and Albert restaurant requires a jacket, no running shoes, and children are forbidden, and it is very expensive, so that is where we went for peace and quiet and to get a bit drunk. Disney thinks of everything. The meal was superb of course and in the corner, every half hour or so, a pretty young lady wearing a black gown, would emerge from behind the curtains and play a harp for the diners. Although she was only playing classical pieces, by the time were were ‘working through” our 5th course and after half a bottle of wine, Sharon leaned over to me and asked, “Do you think she would play When you Wish Upon a Star if we asked?” “Who knows” I slurred, “Lets ask.”
So we called the server in the grey floor-length pleated dress with the high-collar twenty-six button pleated blouse with the plastic broach on her neck and asked her if the harpist played requests and if so, would she would mind asking the harpist to play ”When you Wish Upon Star.”
She replied that nobody ever had asked that before but she would ask her. A few moments later, the sounds of “When You Wish Upon a Star” wafted through the room. The dream was complete!
About half and hour later while we were “working through” our 7th course, the young lady came to our table and introduced herself. She gave us a CD of her music and thanked us for making our request. She said that she had been working there for the past 4 years and that she loved her job with Disney. She said it very sincerely, with no script—something from the heart. A musician with a steady gig— wow! It was very nice to hear something real for a change.
I asked her if she would mind if I drunkenly took her picture the next time she played and she said that would be fine. While we were going through the last of the wine and tasting our desert, she came out for her last set and I slipped away and discretely took a few shots of her in the very dim light. I found this all unusually very real
Its been a while since I put anything here so I was seriously overdue. We were in NYC earlier this summer, and it is always very stimulating as usual. One thing in abundance there are street musicians—there are many of them, and they are good! It is also the only place where they seem to play Jazz instead of the regular shit. For me that is always worth a few extra bucks. I even hang around to listen to these guys. This one in particular was excellent and Sharon and I listened for about 15 minutes to this guy. (Its a fucking shame, there is not enough work for the good ones.) When we were done, I put 5 bucks in his cap. He nodded thank you, and life continues for better or worse.