I’m not much of a gambler, but I’ll try my luck at the slots when it’s convenient. More and more casinos are popping up everywhere so it’s more and more convenient. I better watch myself. I don’t mind losing money to Native Americans, though. I’ve got a tiny amount of Choctaw heritage on my mother’s side and am proud of every bit. I admire the casino operators’ enterprise. It means jobs for tribe members and other opportunities. I’ve been to Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, which is lavishly decorated in Native American motifs. It occupies a mall-like structure at the base of a 34-story glass skyscraper in the middle of the woods and is stunning in every way. I’ve also been to the tiny-by-comparison casino the Kickapoos operate in the suburbs of Oklahoma City. It’s in an air-inflated dome with decor that’s just a step up from a fast-food restaurant. The night I visited the big TVs in the restaurant area were showing the Oklahoma Thunder pounding their way toward a national championship. The beer bottles were clinking and the burgers were tasty. And I even won a jackpot on one of the low-bets slots that predominate in the little casino. I thought a photographer with artistic pretensions winning 24 bucks on a slot machine with a Rembrandt design and a made-in-Australia plate affixed to its side was worth being memorialized with a photo. I also took some a shot of a nearby line of slots decorated with the “Sopranos” logo and violent imagery; had to bring that home to Jersey, capiche? That was before a nice woman casino worker tipped me that it’s against some law to photograph anything inside a casino. Later, I worried I might have busted someone’s copyright by photographing the machine’s vivid graphics. I learned in a search that Rembrandt’s Riches is one of the most popular slot machine games in the world. They’re apparently everywhere. You can even play, for free, on your PC. I printed my souvenir photo on metal and it was part of the “Lucky” show in the spring of 2013 at the Trolley Car Bar & Grill in the Riverview Arts District here in Jersey City.
Something traditional but different in a winter holiday image — that was what I was after here. Good cheer and hospitality, but no holly or Santa or snowmen. No red, no green. How about black and white? How about a picture that wouldn’t seem out of date on Dec. 26? Something decorative that would have some appeal until at least early February, when Valentine’s Day gets us thinking of glittering red hearts? So I put together and shot this still life in my studio, uploaded it to a faraway printer to have holiday cards made, and showed it later in the winter, printed on metal, in the “Shine” show at the Trolley Car Bar & Grill, one of the landmarks in Jersey City’s new Riverview Arts District.
Jersey City has a large and growing Egyptian community, established over the past several decades. About half are Muslim, the balance are Coptic Christians. A festival is held every year, usually on the plaza at the Journal Square Transportation Center. This dancer was whirling slowly to music, his costume constructed with wire or some other support to maintain the flare. I find interest in the many clothing styles visible in this photo, the expressions on the onlookers’ faces. I didn’t want to be considered a gawker, so I didn’t linger. But I got the shot. “The World Comes to Jersey City to Live Together” was featured in the “City of Life” show in April 2013 at The Distillery Gallery & Art Space in Jersey City Heights.
They’re kind of funny looking, but a praying mantis will eat just about any bug in your garden. So I was glad when this one dropped in and posed on a rose.
Drawing inspiration from such disparate works as Ingres paintings from the early 19th Century, a poster I remember seeing all over New York 40 years ago for a Joffrey Ballet production, and those pulsating hippie light shows of the Sixties, I shot all these photos in a single session. I wanted in each to merge my model with a projected image — but do it my way, no Photoshop — to create a modern image with classic beauty and some sense of mystery. Perhaps at first glance one thinks “How was that done?” but the perceptive viewer will see the images for what they are: photographs made with photographs. And proud photographs, not paintings.
It was a delight to find when they were exhibited in the 2011 edition of curator Tina Maneca’s Exquisite Corpse, an October show that opened during the Jersey City Artists Studio Tour, that each photo was a favorite of at least one visitor to the show. Of course some in the series drew positive comments from many people, but it was nice to know that each had at least one admirer. All were printed on metal, with glossy finish and ready to hang with no frame, and “In Her Realm,” below, is my largest such print to date — 45 inches wide.
Below is “Recognition.” It’s printed 24 by 24.
“Sosei,” below, is also 24 by 24.
Below is “In the Garden,” printed smaller, perhaps 15 inches wide.
“Forest Dawn” was not seen in Exquisite Corpse, as the print was damaged by a worker taking down the previous show in the space.
Fire? Ecstasy? Cherry blossons? Wagner’s surging music? All there. “Greeting Spring” is large, about 36 inches wide.
“Aspiration” is perhaps 20 inches wide.
“Discovery” is about 20 inches wide, too.
“Peace” is 20 inches square, and was used in one of the many 3-artwork assemblages that curator Tina Maneca put together.
Below is “Peace” and the works shown with it. Each assemblage in Exquisite Corpse has a “head,” a “torso” and “legs.”
My model visited the show. In her realm, indeed!
Just after New Year’s, when Celeste Governanti, the proprietor of Made with Love Artisan Bakery & Cafe, invited me to mount a photography show in the far-off month of June, she asked if I could include one or two things that related to Fathers Day. Hmmmmm, I wondered. I’ve never really done genre photos — I’ll let someone else do greeting cards and stock photos of beaming models and rented offspring. Still, I had a request to fill and I kept it in the back of my mind. Soon I was off to San Francisco for the Noir City 8 Film Festival at the Castro Theater, and while I was having a late breakfast between Sunday screenings of bank heist and blackmail melodramas in glorious 1950s black and white I noticed two dads and their daughter at the next table. They live in Oakland, have been partners for eight years, and were having brunch before taking Amelia to Samoan church for an afternoon service. I promised them a family smile shot, which was easy to snap against a fancy grilled doorway next door to the restaurant on busy Castro Street, and also posed them under the huge rainbow flag that flies above Castro and Market. Then we all looked down Market Street, with its palm trees and signs and street car cables and traffic — the reality of life there. Our shoot took only 15 minutes and their family has two portraits and I got a Dads Day shot for my show. I call this “Fathers Show Us the Way.”
Some weeks later, I became acquainted with a couple in my neighborhood who have a little boy who’s just graduated from being a rug rat to zooming around on his own two feet. I’ve had this setup in my mind’s eye since seeing it in another photographer’s display a couple of years ago. I don’t feel at all guilty about stealing his idea; he probably stole it from someone else. Besides, the feet in his shot were so perfectly lovely, so sentimentalized, so “commercial.” I’d never do that, and I haven’t. This shot was taken Memorial Day afternoon at the park at the end of the block. The boy’s feet will never again be this small as he grows and grows and grows, and he’ll always have this picture as a memento of his babyhood. No doubt that he’s with Daddy. I call it “Tootsies.”
And here’s how “Tootsies” looks in the window at Made with Love. The family adores it, and so does Celeste. Fits perfectly with Fathers Day, doesn’t it.
Included in “Actualities” is a portrait of a New Yorker I snapped in Chelsea a couple of Octobers ago. Walking east in the high 20s after attending the PhotoPlus Expo at the Javits Center, I noticed a pigeon sitting on a railing just off the sidewalk in a niche in the front of an old apartment house. He was perfectly lit in the late afternoon sun, and as pedestrians bustled by he didn’t seem to move except to swivel his head. When I paused, he shot me one of those “You looking at me?” looks. Would he fly away, or stick around long enough for me to pull out the camera and turn it on? New York pigeons are tough old birds, and I’m sure he’d stood his ground in the face of things far more menacing than my lens.
For “Actualities,” on display at Made With Love Artisan Bakery & Cafe in Downtown Jersey City through June 28th, I had the photo printed on metal, choosing the “sheer” option. This allows some of the metal to show through in “high key” areas of a photo. It took me a couple of days after the delivery to warm to the results, and I’m still not 100 percent liking it. In my opinion, a successful photo has to look good in all levels of light, and my New York pidgeon loses some of its punch under low light. Below is a photograph of the metal print in the “Actualities” show. See what you think.
You’ve seen Vernon W. Campbell as good cops, bad cops, ornery inmates, bouncers, all sorts of tough guys. He’s actually a fine gentleman, helps a bunch of local performers navigate show business, and keeps busy himself as a working actor with SAG, AFTRA and Actors’ Equity affiliations. Andy Garcia’s “City Island,” which opened in mid-March, has Vernon’s latest big screen appearance, and he’s been seen in “Mercy,” the TV hospital drama. One of the great Oscar underdogs, Mickey Rourke’s “The Wrestler,” has him playing the bouncer at the strip joint where Marisa Tomei dances. HBO’s “Oz” is also on Vernon’s resume. This winter he said he could use some new headshots, so I told him to show me his faces and we did a shoot the afternoon before he got on a plane to Hollywood to make the networking rounds of the Oscar night parties. I pushed him a bit to give me more of his range, and here’s the result. I asked if he’d ever consider playing a happy mailman or a kiddie show character. “Of course,” Vern smiled. “I even want to play Shakespeare before I’m through, just nobody’s asked me yet.”