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’re invited to my first solo show, on the walls during the whole month of June at Made With Love Artisan Bakery & Cafe, in Downtown Jersey City. An opening party is planned for Saturday, June 5, from 7 to 9 p.m. Susan Newman designed my postcard.
During a recent trip to Oklahoma to reconnect with my native state, I had just visited the little town of Perry, a few miles east of I-35, and was heading due east on my way to a left turn that would take me straight north to Ponca City, when a biker flew past me. Impulsively, I tried to keep up and photograph him at the same time. (Autofocus makes this possible, but I don’t recommend it in heavy traffic.) I drove above 70 mph, and sometimes hit 80, and followed him for miles but never got close, and then came over a hill and he was gone from sight. But I’ve got this to remind me of Oklahoma’s big sky and wide open spaces, where the air is clean and you can see for miles.
Perhaps my life as a photographer would be easier, or at least lighter, if I were more comfortable with certain conventions. I well remember when photographs weren’t considered serious unless they were black and white and presented in a white or cream mat behind glass inside a black wood or metal frame. Later, natural wood frames became acceptable, and now white wood frames are seen everywhere. I understand some of the reasoning. You’re supposed to be presenting the photo, featuring it while protecting it, and there should be nothing distractingly different in a room that contains eight or ten or a dozen photographs. Each image should be a focus and nothing should take away from it. I do get that. But there are so many options available today that I can’t accept uniformity as any kind of operating principal. Not with photographs being printed on metal, on plastic, on canvas, and on other media. And so I wrestle with deciding how I want to see every particular image on a wall.
Below is a photograph I took in southwestern Pennsylvania only a few miles north of the border with Maryland. We are looking out to the porch and trees beyond a roadway from inside the Stone Inn, a circa 1822 building on the Braddock Road, which dates from the 1750s and was incorporated into one of the nation’s first improved highways built by the federal government. Started in the early 1800s, what became known as the National Road carried multitudes of settlers and travelers from Baltimore west to Ohio. Now a large and comfortable restaurant with a bed and breakfast operation upstairs, the inn has always been a stopping place for rest and hospitality. I found the dining room to be one of those places with a pleasant, calculated historic feel but no particular antique vibe. I found the outside view compelling. The thrill, if you feel it, is in looking out over a byway that’s been busy with commerce every single day for centuries and a landscape that has hardly changed except as it grew and died back and then renewed itself. I wanted to somehow capture that, without being too literal or stuck in any particular year.
After much debate with myself, I had this photograph printed large and on canvas, and it drew many favorable comments in my first solo show of my work, in June at Made With Love Artisan Bakery & Cafe in Downtown Jersey City. Looking out across time is someting many of us enjoy doing, and this will add an architectural element to any wall it’s on.
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.”
The Distillery Gallery & Artspace opened Saturday, March 20, on Hutton Street just off Palisade Avenue in Jersey City. The space is a former garage located behind the Palisade Wine and Spirits store, also owned by Bhavin Patel, which has been a neighborhood asset for several years. Irene Borngraeber put the space together and has curated the first show, Splice, which will be up until May 1. The opening featured a sound and media performance by Gocha Tsinadze and Eto Oro titled “the waiting,” some good wines for tasting, and samples from a new Jersey City-based business — Spicy Sue’s medium and hot salsas — presented by Sue herself. The good vibes could be felt all the way around the corner and down the block. This is just the kind of gathering space, not to mention art venue, that the Jersey City Heights has been needing. It’s a pleasure to welcome it to the neighborhood.
Hiroshi Kumagai, a Newark artist whose work i’ve admired before, has work on display in this inaugural show at The Distillery. Working from photographs, he creates large, colorful works with hand-cut vinyl pieces. His work is also being seen through April 2, 2010, in the “Broken Dialect” show at the Index Art Center, on Broad Street, in Newark.
We’re a fan of good headlines. I spend a good bit of my work time each week writing them for a daily newspaper, and in fact I’ve just taken first place — for the second time — in the New Jersey Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in the Best Headlines, Newspapers Under 60,000 Circulation category. I can’t claim the one on this post, though; it popped up recently in The New York Times on a review of a book about taxidermy. It reminded me of these pictures I took on Haight Street in San Francisco in late January. Photographing through a window is usually not recommended. You often get unpredictable glare, reflections, and may end up with a photo of yourself taking a photograph. But if you are careful, you can capture a magic memory. Loved to Death is a curiosity, taxidermy and vintage everything store. The more usual deer and elk heads are inside. It’s not the kind of shop one happens by every day.