There’s No Going Backwards

Art does not exist to repeat or return to the past. It is always about moving forward. Whether art influences culture or culture influences art is like asking if the egg came first or the chicken.

Photography has many roles in our culture. For me it’s always about a creative pursuit. Photography is an art even if we don’t always think of it that way.

Museums and galleries still persist in using the terms art & photography as if they are not one and the same. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that photography is still rather young.

Self Portrait at the Whitney Museum of American Art
Hello World, New York City, May 2019

Regardless, the world keeps turning, culture changes and I continue to move forward. If I am no longer able to find a way to evolve my art then it will be an indication that it’s time for me to put my cameras away.

But I don’t foresee that happening any time in the near future. There’s always something new to explore and ways to expand even if progress sometimes appears to happen slowly.

In art there is no going backwards and repeating the old. That reminds me of all the reunion bands who come back to play their old music from 50 years ago. If I do that, please let me know. No turning back time. As if we could. Here’s to the future of art!

A Backwards Painter

When I was about 12 years old, I took art classes from a well known art school. We were required to draw from a human skeleton in many different mediums.

It was a style of learning that was alien to me. I was completely uninspired and didn’t complete the classes. I thought that I must not have any artistic talent as a result.

It took me many years to realize that I just didn’t fit in to more traditional styles of art and that photography is one of my mediums of creative expression.

Multiple exposure photography in New York City
Cuddling, New York City, June 2014

So I call myself a backward painter. I rely on that which physically exists in front of me and my camera. It is always a combination of how I feel and see things on a given day.

It isn’t so much about thinking or having a preconceived notion about what I will create. Rather it is about observing that which is taking place around me.

This is true of both my abstract and street photography. They are a reflection of how and what I see in the world around of me.

Every Picture Tells a Story

I don’t imagine that a day will ever occur when I tire of shooting in New York City. I have no interest in taking photos of nature and landscapes that aren’t urban.

New York City is a perfect environment for photography that illustrates the condition of humanity in the world that it has created.

Coney Island, Brooklyn, 2009
Entrance, Coney Island, September 2009

Whether it’s seeing people who are comfortable in their environment or those that are disturbed by it, the human condition is reflected in street photography.

I like photography that tells a story and especially when it is open to interpretation by the viewer. You can’t plan it. This is the beauty of street photography.

It is, when done well, like poetry. The activity of photography is satisfying all by itself. Discovering at the end of the day you were able to obtain photos that capture a story is like icing on the cake.

Photography is a Reflection

Photography is a reflection of life and the world that we live in. It is a small piece of the larger whole. It is an opportunity to stop and examine those things that we may overlook in our hurried lives.

You could say that I’m rather obsessed with photographing reflections of all kinds. The same is true of reflecting on what photography is and how it affects us. Even the word reflection gives us much to reflect upon.

Puddle reflection of the Manhattan Bridge
Street of Gold, New York City, July 2012

If photography is already once removed from ‘reality,’ then perhaps reflection photography can be thought of as something almost magical. Sometimes reflection photos are even more appealing than the so-called real thing.

To find and see reflections to photograph you already need to slow down and be more observant of your surroundings. It is rather easy to pass by reflections without realizing that they are there.

When was the last time that you reflected on a photo?

I Never Intended to. . .

Yes, it is a cliché to say that you can’t take the same photo twice. That is true. But I have been sorting through my archives and realizing how much has changed.

I shoot many of the same neighborhoods on a very regular basis and many of my photos illustrate just how much they have changed. And not necessarily for the better.

I am not sentimental about the past and I do not have wishes or dreams to return to another time or place. But I never intended on being a documentarian or a historian.

Triste Corsets, New York City, April 2012

Alas, I have many photos that are rather like relics of the past now. So when I am out on the streets shooting these days I often end up shooting those buildings and businesses that look like they have a limited existence.

I actually started doing that more because I would like to avoid having big corporate logos and buildings that feel sterile and cold. So yes, without me intending to do so, I have started documenting that which is likely to change in the near future. At least I still have abstract photography to blur the lines!

On Becoming

I never planned to become a photographer when I grow up. In fact I thought that I would become a cinematographer. I was very much taken with the films of Truffaut, Hitchcock and others.

So I studied film. It was perhaps nothing more than a romantic dream. For better or for worse, it wasn’t to happen.

For more than 5 decades I have been shooting. I started in film and transitioned to digital about a dozen years ago.

Becoming, New York City, July 2015

I never studied photography. I just did it. It was something I started doing at the age of 12 when I also started writing. They are both forms of communication that are so ingrained that I don’t know how or why I pursued them anymore.

At some points in time it became more important for me. That is true during the analog years and became even more so in the digital age.

I call myself a photographer as a verb. It is something that I do. I am still always becoming a photographer. There is no point of having arrived. It is ongoing. And it is a passion.

Photography Changes Everything

Sometimes a photo can change the world. Can change the way we see and think about the world we live in. And sometimes a photographer comes along with a body of work that is a radical departure from what we are accustomed to seeing and we stop in awe. Maybe we even hold our breath.

One such photographer passed yesterday at the age of 94. Robert Frank was a Swiss born American photographer who documented American life on a road trip across the country in the 1950s. The book was appropriately titled, The Americans.

The Americans is not a pretty picture book. It reveals many of the injustices that took place at the time. On the surface that was a rather bold statement to make. To turn a mirror on our society and reveal things that one didn’t discuss in polite company. But his photographic style was also very different from the standards of the time.

Robert Frank, New York City, May 27, 2019

Something that I quite appreciate about Frank’s photography is how he dared to photograph America as he saw it and also his dislike of the so-called rules of photography that were made popular by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

For many, Cartier-Bresson is seen as the godfather of street photography. Perhaps more importantly, he was a founder of the elite Magnum group. Frank was not to become a Magnum member. Likely because of his disregard for the rules.

The fact remains that neither Frank nor Cartier-Bresson called themselves street photographers. These are labels that were given to their work after-the-fact. Labels are not always helpful.

I am fortunate to have met and photographed Robert Frank in front of his apartment in New York City in May of this year. I thanked him for his contribution to the world of photography. Somehow I wish I had said more. Frank may be departed but his photography is still as relevant as it ever was. And The Americans is still in print.