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.
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.
“Arizona Sunset” was printed 16 by 20 on canvas last month. I was visiting the Desert Botanical Garden, which sits among the red buttes of Papago Park between Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, one recent February when I noticed an aircraft leaving a trail high in the sky. Some of the cacti at the arboretum are 80 years old, dating from before the garden’s opening in 1939. I thought an elemental contrast might prove interesting. The setting sun is at my back and illuminates this looming stand of cacti. I’m pleased with it printed on canvas. Looks great in all levels of light, and hangs in my dining room, a modernist touch in a Victorian home built a generation before the Wright Brothers ever saw Kitty Hawk, N.C.
I’ll always photograph panoramas like this, which I call “The Passaic River Flows: Indians, Farmers, then Industrialists and Neglect, Now Rebirth.” Such landscapes contain stories and relationships that words and statistics piled together, even with great skill, cannot convey. The Passaic River meanders along through New Jersey for 80 miles, and its Great Falls in Paterson once ran that early city’s silk mills and are still considered a scenic wonder, but just before the Passaic empties into Newark Bay it flows through one of the most urbanized and industrialized areas in the nation.
Only 400 years ago, before Henry Hudson and the Dutch came, the Lenni Lenape Indians fished its waters. Only since the early 1970s have there been efforts to clean up the river, and the water quality is still not great, though high school and club rowing crews have been using it for decades. Certainly no commercial fishing is allowed and no one is supposed to eat anything they catch in the lower stretch of the river. For more than a hundred years factories lined the river, operating 24/7, and dumped all of their waste into the water. Just google Dioxin and Diamond Shamrock and Agent Orange for a few facts about what still lies in the river’s sediments.
In my photograph, Newark is on the left, Harrison on the right. Newark has redeveloped many acres over the past decade or so; the New Jersey Performing Arts Center is visible, as is an improved McCarter Highway and a light rail system. Harrison is busy, too, with condos and commercial buildings going up and a world-class soccer stadium under construction for the Red Bulls where acres of old red brick factory buildings once stood.
I don’t know of any other American landscape that’s gone from pristine ecosystem to total heedless exploitation and degradation, then been an abandoned wasteland for decades before ultimately seeing as much rebirth.