Category Archives: Photography

New York City’s Fringe Photography of the Late 70’s and 80’s

I remember the first time I used Google Earth’s Street View feature. It wasn’t because I was planning a trip or curious to see how my neighborhood looked or if I could see my car, none of that interested me. Strange as it may sound, I was looking for street views of the worst neighborhoods in North Philadelphia. I would be too afraid to wander around these neighborhoods with my camera, randomly snapping photos. But there I was, cruising down Kensington Avenue, taking in every inch of the gritty dilapidated area, soaking it all in from the comfort of my living room. Occasionally I could see people out walking the streets. Although their faces were blurred, those images excited me in a way I can’t quite describe.

I remember the first time I seriously considered writing a documentary film. It wasn’t to feature an inspiring teacher, or retrace my family’s lineage or that of a local band, none of that interested me. Oddly, it was supposed to center around a not quite historic, rundown old building housing degenerates, known as the Bush House Hotel in Quakertown, PA. I only got so far as interviewing one resident and a few neighbors, but the fact remains I am clearly obsessed with the photographic documentation of fringe society. The dirty, poor, addicted, abused, people who are so often ignored, that is the subject matter I want to explore through my lens.

As an amateur photographer, I fantasize about delving into underworlds and capturing the essence of realities far removed from my own. While Philadelphia has its share of gritty subject material, New York City during the 1980’s (before it was revitalized and Disneyfied) offers some of the best fringe photography I have ever seen. Unfortunately I missed out on that New York, being too young to experience it. Luckily, there were some others there to preserve those moments forever in great style.

Miron Zownir NYC

Miron Zownir, a German photographer, spent around nine years photographing New York starting in 1980 at 23 years of age. The outsiders of society became his preferred area of ​​interest. In 1995 he came back to Berlin. When traveling to Russia and Eastern Europe he created more analogue photographs of junkies, homeless and generally marginalized groups. His most famous collection of New York’s fringe society is called NYC RIP which was published in 2015.

Zownir’s peculiar approach to cover the city’s multiple-layered day-to-day lunacy was quickly recognised by the local scene as the TEUTONIC PHENOMENOGRAPHER (Village Voice). Shot in moody, expressionistic b/w, Zownir’s pictures from that period give a penetrating insight to inner-city sub-cultural spheres, which, in their original local context, have since perished in the boom of the 90s. His lens captured the untamed lust at the gay-parties, just shortly before Aids massively claimed its victims; the futile protest of artists and offbeat performers; the hopelessness on the Bowery; the shadowy world of hookers or junkies. Zownir’s photographs of the “Sex Piers” have become legendary documents by now.  -Josef Chladek

Here are some excellent interviews with Zownir, where he discusses his choice of subject material in a way that resonates with me:

Miron Zownir Interview

Miron Zownir Interview 2

 

ken_schles NYC

American photographer Ken Schles, at 23 years old, began writing his book Invisible City in 1983. He was living in a rundown apartment in New York City’s East Village. The building was boarded up by the landlord to prevent break-ins, as the area was a “shooting gallery” for heroin addicts. Incidentally, the boarded up windows gave Schles a perfect darkroom. He documented his surroundings throughout the 1980’s. His work is slightly more intellectual and polished. It is also less graphic than the more raw Zownir.

His most prominent monograph Invisible City/Night Walk, paints a deeply moving portrait of 1980’s New York’s underworld. It was published originally as Invisible City in 1988, then reprinted in 2014 with the companion release Night Walk.

Matt Weber 1

Former taxi driver Matt Weber started documenting New York City in the 1980s and spent three decades collecting a series of images he called The Urban Prisoner. His black-and-white candids are tinged with emotions that range from loneliness to violence. Weber’s pulled back and documentarian approach gives his work a raw, gritty feel.

Martha-Cooper-High-Times-Crew

Martha Cooper is an American photojournalist born in the 1940’s in Baltimore, Maryland. She worked as a staff photographer for the New York Post during the 1970’s. She is best known for documenting the New York City graffiti scene of the 70’s-80’s. She was the first and foremost photographer of the emerging Hip Hop scene from the impoverished and deprecated South Bronx in the early eighties. This is evident in her release Hip Hop Files: 1979-1984

In 1984, Cooper and Henry Chalfant published their photographs of New York City graffiti in the book Subway Art, which has been called the graffiti bible and by 2009 had sold half a million copies. If you are interested in seeing a great documentary about New York City’s graffiti scene in the early eighties, check out Style Wars.

John Conn 1

John Conn is a photographer for whom there is no Wiki, but he has a great monograph of the NYC Subway Late 70s to Mid 80s portraying the Wild West atmosphere of danger in New York’s subway system. Notice how the black and white imagery makes every stain on the walls more pronounced? It pulls the viewer in so you almost feel like you need a shower after viewing.

1595 Broadway

Sheldon Nadelman captured images of New Yorkers while working at Terminal Bar on 41st Street and 8th Ave. Taken from 1973-1982, his photos show prostitutes, pimps and homeless people around the Port Authority bus terminal. Sex workers would come in to drink cognac at eight in the morning before going out to walk the streets. The Terminal Bar closed when the owner didn’t want to pay $125,000 a year rent on property that now leases for millions. What used to be a bar in a neighborhood described as the ‘dirtiest, wildest and toughest’ has now become an upscale grocery store.

Prostitute, West 40th Street

One constant remains among all of these artists’ work: the absence of persistent marketing to the point of mucking up the images. Today it would be quite difficult to capture such stripped down, raw human experience without inadvertently including a cell phone or ipad in the shot. I actually read a photographer who said he hates shooting New Yorkers now because there is nothing so mind numbing as seeing a bunch of people with their heads down looking at their phones constantly. Although there are signs of corporate marketing in the backgrounds, part of the appeal of NYC in those days was the predominance of independent businesses as opposed to the “Dunkin Donuts on every corner” abomination we see today.

Despite its problems, the old New York was rich in the culture of struggle. As such, it was a fringe photographer’s paradise. That mecca is gone forever now. Occasionally there are efforts made to fight back against mainstream consumer culture that whitewashes the reality on the ground in NYC neighborhoods. Here is an example:

New York City icon Clayton Patterson posted this amazing video in response to the city’s official naming of Taylor Swift as the “welcome ambassador” in 2014. Fuck you, Taylor Swift.

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Punched By A Ghost – The SMH Project

ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHY

This project was done back in 2007 and was originally called Punched By A Ghost. I never shared it with anyone outside of my closest friends. SMH did not mean anything back in 2007, at least not that I was aware. Now the project has an updated title for its public debut in 2018. I like to think about how long after I’m gone these images will remain on the internet for someone to haplessly come upon. I consider it a virtual time capsule of an artist’s insanity. I realize from a technical perspective these images are considered novice at best, but they are no less enjoyable to view. I would love to hear your thoughts so feel free to comment.

This project is dedicated to my mother Juleeva, who has been making me SMH for as long as I can remember.

Camera: Panasonic DMC-LZ6 with Leica lens

F-stop: f/3.3

Exposure: 1/30

ISO: 100

Focal Length: 13 mm

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Find Your China Doll

CLIMBING

Lost Angel is not a rock band (that I know of) but a rock wall. It’s not just any rock wall though, it is the single biggest draw for climbers in Dream Canyon, Boulder, Colorado. Stunningly beautiful and impossibly challenging, it’s easy to see the attraction.

The video below follows climber Heather Weidner on her epic journey sending the Lost Angel by what is known as the China Doll route, an extremely challenging route only achieved by a select few climbers. Did I mention she is the first woman to do so? As if that wasn’t a cool enough reason to watch, the vignette artfully parallels her obsession for climbing to her relationship with her husband and climbing partner, Chris.

Sarah Hermans  FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHY

Sarah-Hermans-Photography-17

It is beautiful to see someone who has found their own personal China Doll route to a successful marriage and climbing career. Have you found yours? What are you really passionate about doing? Do you have a special someone who shares that passion with you? Leave a comment and let me know. The support of a loved one can boost your confidence, inspire and motivate you to reach new heights in whatever you pursue.

If you haven’t found your true passion let alone your China Doll route yet, all you can do is keep putting yourself out there and trying as many things as possible to see what moves you to pursue it further. This will help surround yourself with others who, like you, are just looking for their China Doll routes in life.

Even if you end up meeting someone who doesn’t share your passion for Afghani Buzkashi matches, no worries, but try to find a partner who has passions of their own.

On that note, remember never to be too critical of another’s interests. A lady friend of mine met a guy who was really into disc golf. I mean, really really into it. He was so much into it she complained to me awhile back that it seemed to be all he talked about. Flash forward to two years later, they are now a loving couple and guess what? She’s really into disc golf! More than that, she went from barely being able to throw a disc to joining tournaments and making a bunch of new friends. It just makes sense – that birds of a feather thing, but sometimes you just need some time to grow into your feathers.

 

 

SPACE BLOG

Spaceman Ross is lacking passion in his life. Sure, as a spaceman there’s a little sense of adventure striking out into the unknown, but it has become a bit of a grind. When isolated in his shuttle, sealed off from humanity on a mission, he fantasizes about what he would be doing on earth if he were home. More than that, he wonders if he will ever fall in love. His job is like a prison, and each time he returns to earth he feels like he’s re-entering society, having been locked away for such long periods. Plus it’s hard to chat with people about sports, current events or popular tv shows when your shuttle receives transmissions months after they’ve aired on earth. Not all of his communication is so slow, he can text message about as quickly as we can. Entertainment transmissions are not deemed a priority by the One World Government Space Program and require much more data processing time.

 

FEATURED MUSIC

The Grateful Dead – China Doll   This song is not entirely related to the post other than in name and the fact that it is a beautiful tune.