Tag Archives: photography

Lame Adventure 474: Shooting the Sun

Twice a year, just before and just after the summer solstice, the setting sun aligns perfectly with the Manhattan street grid illuminating both the north and the south sides of every cross street. This phenomenon is called Manhattanhenge, a term coined by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History. For photographers that know what they’re doing with a camera, they can capture the most magnificent light shining through the glass and steel canyons. If you’re hoping to find images like that here, read no further.

Manhattanhenge first occurs around Memorial Day, this year that was on May 29 and 30. The weather was lousy both days so the magnificence was a no show. The second time it happened was during Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, this week on July 11 and 12. Skies were clear. The best locations to take pictures are wide cross streets where one can see straight through to New Jersey: 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd and 57th Streets.

On Monday evening, July 11, when I was walking up West 72nd Street en route to the subway, I noticed a guy walking ahead of me carrying a nice digital camera. I was certain he was going to shoot Manhattanhenge photos, so I decided it would behoove me to follow him. Was he going to take his pictures on 72nd Street? I felt sucker punched when he turned right on Broadway and entered Trader Joes.

I entered the subway station where I caught the 1 local to 59th Street. Fifteen minutes later, I joined a crowd of fellow sunset chasers at 57th and Broadway. Many were chumps like me, prepared to shoot pictures with just their iPhones. Several seemed content to just take selfies. I observed one guy with an ancient point and shoot camera that he carried in a plastic sandwich bag. Possibly, when he’s not using it, he stores it the cupboard next to the mustard.

I exchanged small talk with Megan, a very personable young woman who told me that she had just arrived from Dublin, Ireland the week before; this was her first time visiting New York. She was here for a year. I thought that was wonderful. Here she was in this dynamic city that never sleeps, mixing with the nerds. I wanted to ask her if she had seen the film, Brooklyn, about a young Irish woman who visits New York, but I suffered a brain freeze and inconveniently blanked on the word, “Brooklyn.”

What I predominantly observed as I stared at the sun was fierce retina burn and this fleshy fellow lugging tons of camera gear running frantically from the curb to the center of the street several times while angry motorists honked their horns.

Flirting with disaster.

Flirting with disaster.

I was fully prepared to photograph him bouncing off the hood of a taxi.

By sunset, the street was flooded with onlookers raising their cameras upward and West, in observance of the magnificent glow of the radiant round ball. Unfortunately, my best shot at that magical moment resembled a study of runny scrambled eggs.

Scrambled egg sunset.

Scrambled egg sunset.

The next day, Tuesday, July 12, with my iPhone SE in my pocket and invisible bucket of insanity planted on my head, I returned to 57th Street. That evening, the sight was a half sun setting on the grid. I decided I would try my luck one block further east at 57th and Seventh Avenue, across the street from Carnegie Hall.

Practice, practice, practice taking a better sunset shot.

Practice, practice, practice taking a better sunset shot.

The slight change of surroundings did not reveal a vastly different result, but I hit some button on my phone that produced images that were indeed better, or more accurately, better on the low end of mediocre.

The sun at 7:58 pm.

The sun at 7:58 pm.

Crowd at 8:10 pm eager to get the shot.

Crowd at 8:10 pm eager to get the shot.

Hit some button shot at 8:12 pm.

Hit some button shot at 8:12 pm.

Fellow sunset chasers.

Fellow sunset chasers.

Hit button shot at 8:15 pm.

Hit button shot at 8:15 pm.

As for seeing the enchanting sight of a half sun setting on the grid, even though I was there, somehow I completely missed it.

As I was leaving, I realized that all was not lost. Something did catch my eye: this guy’s satchel.

That's an interesting satchel!

That’s an interesting satchel!

So I set out to photograph a natural phenomenon and end up with an image of a sling bag shaped like a station wagon that can hold a six-pack. That’s not something I see everyday. It’s comforting to know that I was finally in the right place at the right time to get that shot.

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Lame Adventure 465: Here comes the Pride

Last Friday morning, I was sitting at my desk at The Grind when I noticed an alert on my iPhone.

Wow!!!!

Wow!!!!

Even though I thought the odds were good that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of same sex marriage, it still seemed remarkable. The cynic in me, which coincidentally comprises 99.9% of my being, never thought that this day would happen in my lifetime. Much to my relief I still have a pulse.

This past Sunday, I attended the Gay Pride Parade on Fifth Avenue with my friend, Milton. The atmosphere, on the heels of this historic ruling, was euphoric. Posted below are some of the more than 1,100 photographs he and I shot of the celebration.

Well said ... even if the placard was corporate sponsored.

Well said … even if the placard was corporate sponsored.

Manly cake toppers.

Manly cake toppers.

Jubilant marcher all wrapped up in the rainbow flag.

Jubilant marcher all wrapped up in the rainbow flag.

Yes, it is!

Yes, it is!

Dancing in the street and left the baseball cap at home.

Dancing in the street and left the baseball cap at home.

Togetherness.

Togetherness.

Grand marshal Sir Derek Jacobi.

Grand marshal Sir Derek Jacobi.

Grand marshal Sir Ian McKellen.

Grand marshal Sir Ian McKellen.

Lea Delaria making a grand entrance to the delight of the crowd.

Lea Delaria making a grand entrance in a vintage gas guzzler to the delight of the crowd.

Bearadonna's back!

Bearadonna’s back!

Little kid marching.

Little kid marching.

Easy rider.

Easy rider.

Easiest rider.

Easiest rider.

The perfect place and occasion to don the gay apparel.

The perfect place and occasion to don the gay apparel.

What the hell is it pride.

What the hell is it pride.

Super charged dude who slipped and fell a split second after this picture was taken. He bounced right back up.

Super charged dude who slipped and fell a split second after this picture was taken. He bounced right back up.

Hello Carmen Miranda!

Hello Carmen Miranda!

Happy faces.

Happy faces.

Got makeup?

Got makeup?

Pride shades.

Pride shades.

Love rules husbands.

Love rules husbands.

Wife & wife.

Wife & wife.

New York Police band playing "Here Comes the Bride."

New York Police band playing “Here Comes the Bride.”

Impressive tattoo.

Impressive tattoo.

What the hell is this?

What the hell is this?

Good advice.

Good advice.

US of Pride.

US of Pride.

Time to wear the golden wings.

Time to wear the golden wings.

Euphoria.

Euphoria.

High energy.

High energy.

Pride pooch.

Pride pooch.

Everyone is welcome and bring the toucan.

Everyone is welcome and bring the toucan.

Nice smiles.

Nice smiles.

Corporate sponsor Chase and an exposed breast.

Corporate sponsor Chase and an exposed breast: together at last.

One size probably does not fit all.

One size probably does not fit all.

More what the hell is it?

More what the hell is it?

Flag tossing.

Flag tossing.

Proud couple.

Proud couple.

Hitching a ride.

Hitching a ride.

Dominatrix with cellphone pride.

Dominatrix with riding crop and cellphone pride.

Waving the flag of the Republic of China.

Waving the flag of the Republic of China.

Pucker up.

Pucker up.

That time of year to wear the rainbow kilt.

That time of year to wear the rainbow kilt.

What the hell is this now?

What the hell is this now?

No so basic black attire.

Not so basic black attire.

Statement cape.

Statement cape.

Riding in style.

Riding in style.

Marchers waving flags.

Marchers waving flags.

Gay dads and their wee one.

Gay dads and their wee one.

What you see is what you get: red headdress and stilt walkers.

What you see is what you get: red headdress and stilt walkers.

Japanese Kabuki fan pride.

Japanese Kabuki fan pride.

Novel way to wear football shoulder pads.

Novel way to wear football shoulder pads.

Pride hijinks.

Pride hijinks.

Dancing in the street.

Dancing in the street.

Seriously hitched.

Seriously hitched.

Pride and joy and iced tea.

Pride and joy and iced tea.

Proud couple.

Proud couple.

Then, when it was all over, Milton and I returned to our respective sanctum sanctorums. I began writing this post and he turned on the TV news where he saw who else, but us.

Bald guy and short woman to his right: Milton and me at Pride 2015.

Bald guy and short woman clad in black in center of frame: Milton and me at Pride 2015.

The Empire State Building celebrating Pride.

The Empire State Building celebrating Pride.

Lame Adventure 298: Untitled #298. 2012.

I asked my friend Albee if he was available to join me on Good Friday to take advantage of Target Free Friday at the Museum of Modern Art.  He said his only plans that day were to return some library books so we made a date.  After 4 pm on Fridays the $20 admission fee is spotted by the retail giant, Target.  I need a dental cleaning; I so wish they’d pick up that tab.

11 West 53rd Street entrance.

We met outside the 53rd Street entrance about ten minutes to four.  It was busy but there was no discernible line so we stood and chatted.  After we saw Roz Chast, the cartoonist for The New Yorker exit smiling, we decided to enter even though it was now five minutes to four.

Front entrance.

We walked into the bustling lobby and stopped to photograph the poster of the exhibit we were there to see, the 35-year career retrospective of photographer Cindy Sherman.

Dental work needed here.

I knew that the exhibit would prohibit photography.  Albee wanted to head straight for the sixth floor gallery, but I thought we might need a button or a badge to gain gallery entry.  We asked a person sitting at an information desk about this and were told that we needed tickets, “Go out that door, turn right and get one.”

Albee and I mirrored each other’s “how simple can that be” expressions.  We followed orders, marched through a sea of coming and going visitors to exit through a door leading out to West 54th Street.  We saw a few people trickling in.

Albee:  This line’s nothing!

Yet the longer we walked down West 54th toward 5th Avenue, the longer the line grew.  Albee amended his initial observation:

Albee:  I stand corrected.  Will we ever find the end of this line?

After walking past hundreds of people that had the same plans as us, we did finally find the end.  When we did, the line moved quickly and within no more than ten minutes we had our tickets and were back in the museum proper and making our way through the horde to the sixth floor gallery and Cindy Sherman-land.

Free ticket!

Just as I was looking at the “No Photography Allowed” sign, a woman whipped out her iPhone and snuck a shot of the monumental 18-foot tall mural of five Cindy’s standing against a backdrop of a black and white image she took of Central Park.

Cindy Sherman Mural. Photo from MoMA web site.

It really is not necessary to take sneaky pictures with one’s smart phone for much of the exhibit is available on MoMA’s web site.

A man fixated on Cindy wearing a worn expression while clad in what Albee called “a genitailia suit” and holding a plastic sword asked his companion, a woman:

Man:  What’s the message?

Woman: It’s just weird.

Possibly they were confused and thought they were entering an actual Target for free stuff.  For anyone unfamiliar with the work of Cindy Sherman, her subject is primarily herself in various guises and poses.  In earlier days her backgrounds were created with rear screen projections.  Today, she is adept with creating her backgrounds digitally.  She works alone and does all of her own hair, makeup, styling, props, the aforementioned backgrounds, etc.  In the case of her mural, instead of using make-up she made the transformations to her face digitally.  She is such an intense do-it-yourself type, if her images had musical accompaniment she’d probably write her own scores.  The exhibit, comprised of 170 photos, is silent aside from the overheard visitor’s comment such as one woman noting about an image where Cindy appears as four aging party girls that could have been called “Cindy Sherman’s Desperate Housewives”:

Untitled #463. 2007-2008. Photo from MoMA web site.

One Woman Noting (blathering loudly):  Oh look, she’s up there on the right hand side, too!

Albee (mumbling quietly): It’s not “Where’s Waldo”!

Much of what we saw was grotesque, disturbing, vulgar, witty and fascinating – often all at once.  Her career took off with a series of seventy black and white photographs she produced over a three-year period between 1977-1980 called Untitled Film Stills.

Untitled Film Still #6. 1977. Photograph of post card available in MoMA gift shop for two bucks.

These images bring to mind Hollywood, Art House, Film Noir and B-movie starlets of the 1950s and 1960s.  All of them are recognizable types for she has masterfully captured the various women of that bygone era that we can still see any day of the week when we switch on Turner Classic Movies.  Pretty impressive for someone that was only 26-years-old when she completed this series. When I was 26 I had finally mastered separating the darks from the lights when doing my laundry.

Aside from naming all of her photographs Untitled with a number, one of her favorite subjects is clowns.  This one, Untitled #424 elicited one shuddering young man to blurt to his female companion:

Untitled #424. 2004. Photograph of post card available in MoMA gift shop for two bucks.

Young Man: These are creepy man!

I could not have said it better myself.  As impressed as I was with the exhibit, if I was filthy rich and could afford to buy one of her pictures (which have sold for millions), I certainly would not hang it anywhere where I’d ever be alone with it.  There’s an eerie quality to her work and you almost feel the eyes following you.

When she entered middle age she took on women and aging with a vengeance.  Her series, Society Portraits, produced in 2008, are women that appear to be trophy wives of a certain age.  Many of them reminded me of Nancy Pelosi.  This one in particular gave Albee the willies:

Untitled #469. 2008. Photo from MoMA web site.

Albee: I don’t want to ever be married to that.

Another gallery that reeled us in is her History Portraits, a series where she takes on both genders that she produced between 1988-1990 that MoMA has aptly described as “poised between humorous parody and grotesque caricature.”

Untitled #213. 1989. Photo from MoMA web site.

Of course, this same phrase could just as easily describe what one sees while riding the subway at rush hour.  Got unibrow?

The exhibit runs through June 11.  Target Free Fridays start at 4 pm and lasts until closing, 8 pm.  If you visit, do what we didn’t do, get in line on the West 54th Street side of MoMA.  Follow our lead if you’d prefer to escape the crowd when you’re ready to exit, go through the Sculpture Garden, but try not to knock anything down.

Sculpture Garden residents.

Lame Adventure 193: Picture Perfection

Recently over food and beverages, Milton and I were talking about the new Matthew McConaghey ad featuring this Hollywood hunk that seldom makes my radar looking very Greek God-like.  Milton insists that McConaughey’s most recent film, The Lincoln Lawyer, about a lawyer that practices law from inside his car (yes, a Lincoln) was:

Milton:  A dumb sounding premise, but they pulled it off.  It was quite good.

I could not get beyond the inanity of the premise and made no effort to see that movie.

Thinking about McConaughey’s perfect masculine beauty in that ad caused Milton to inhale three entire French Fries whole without gagging, my dear friend was in such a state of bliss.  If a terrorist with two sawed off shotguns had entered our dining booth and pointed each weapon at our heads and barked this order:

Terrorist:  Name the product in that ad right now or both your heads are gonna paint these walls!

Well, our heads would have easily gone the way of a Jackson Pollack drip painting for we would have sooner guessed he was selling bronzer than Dolce & Gabbana men’s fragrance.  Calling this product cologne must be too Wal-Mart.  For all I know, Milton still has no clue what McConaughey is selling.  When I saw this new wider shot version of that ad (pictured below), I immediately emailed it to my pal.

Anyone want to speed read The Odyssey with me?

My phone rang instantly.

In fairness to Milton, he was actually calling in response to another email I had sent him about what time we should meet for dinner.  Food motivates him to act almost as quickly as images of Greek God-like guys.  While we were on the phone Milton opened my other email and I heard low murmurs of immense approval.

Milton:  Male perfection but he also looks masculine.

Me:  That image reminds me of Leslie Howard.  He should be lighting two cigarettes and handing one to Bette Davis.

Note:  It was actor Paul Henreid that lit the two cigarettes and handed one to Davis in Now, Voyager.

Milton got my point and rather liked the suggestion.  Milton thinks that this McConaughey pose could become an iconic image that stands the test of time.  For readers unfamiliar with Leslie Howard, a matinee idol from the Thirties and Forties, judge for yourselves.

Leslie Howard

I wish I knew who took this photograph of Leslie Howard.  It brings to mind the great Hollywood portrait photographer, George Hurrell.  He was a magician with light.  Now, Photoshop can almost make a Hefty trash bag look equal to Joan Crawford at the height of her beauty.  Almost.

Joan Crawford photographed by George Hurrell.

Or, Photoshop can pull off stunts like a picture Milton recently found while web surfing I don’t know what.  Possibly “pugs stuffed in Eames chairs.”

Puss n' Boots idiot relation Pug n' Eames

I think I’d rather stare at the McConaughey picture.

Lame Adventure 170: “Maahvalous!”

Last week Coco and I attended a preview screening of Bill Cunningham New York.  When my pal was in the third grade, she was assigned to write a Thanksgiving essay about what she was most thankful for.  Unlike her classmates that were thankful for their parents, grandparents and pets, Coco tossed her thanks to Macy’s because they carried Jordache jeans.  Fast forward twenty-odd years later to the present where this grown-up fashionista is so excited about attending this screening, she’s sprouted a rather eye-catching full beard resembling a maroon dyed raccoon.

Coco petting her Abraham Lincoln beard with a studded cashmere Michael Kors glove.

Bill Cunningham is a New York Times treasure, an intrepid man on the street photographer whose On the Street columns (and in recent years, videos) chronicling fashion trends and the New York social scene are reliable highlights of the Sunday Style section.  This is a film made with love, wit and deep respect for this reluctant star.  Directed by Richard Press and produced by his partner in work and marriage, Philip Gefter, this dynamic duo gives the audience an intimate glimpse into the life of an extremely gracious, painfully modest, very active and eternally optimistic artist as he approaches age eighty during the course of filming (Bill’s now 82).

A very private man by nature, even Bill’s closest friends and colleagues admit they know next to nothing about his personal life.  Some facts about Bill are obvious, such as his distinct patrician accent every time he utters his favorite word, “Maahvalous,” betraying that he was born and bred in Boston.  An unanswered question is raised asking if Bill is the product of wealth.  During the q&a Press said that Bill revealed to him that his father worked for the US Postal Service, but did not elaborate further so he had no way of knowing if pere Cunningham was a common letter carrier or the postmaster general.

Bill does possess a very strong philosophy about money that borders on contemptuous.  He refused to accept any payment for his photos published in Details magazine where he worked during two of the happiest years of his life.  He was allowed complete control and was in his bliss.  He reasons, “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.  That’s the key to the whole thing.” Fiercely independent, Bill shoots all of his photographs on film and he owns all of his negatives.  He is the last photographer on the Times staff that shoots film adamantly refusing to go digital.  The Times allows him what appears to be complete autonomy, as well as a bevy of assistants he drives crazy.

During the year Press and Gefter followed Bill, he was faced with having to vacate his bohemian utopia, a rent-controlled studio apartment in Carnegie Hall, where he has resided since the early fifties.  Bill’s room is a simple sliver of space (with no kitchen and a shared bath in the hallway) that’s cluttered with metal file cabinets packed with his thousands of negatives.  He sleeps on a narrow cot atop piles of magazines. His clothes hang on wire hangers on the cabinets’ drawer pulls.  His longtime neighbors include his colorful friend, 96-year-old portrait photographer Editta Sherman.  Hopefully, someone will soon film a documentary about her.

This apartment has clearly been the key to Bill’s unique degree of independence.  Very low overhead and paying next-to-nothing rent would be a godsend to all struggling artists and hack bloggers today if this dream option still existed in New York, but it doesn’t.  Therefore, if you’re not born into wealth, you fail to wed a rich spouse, and you’re not on the winning side of a pot of lottery ticket gold, try to find a day job that is not entirely soul-sucking, and when need be, a source of material.

Bill’s never had a life partner but in a very moving scene, he answers some blunt questions about his disciplined personal life.  He doesn’t own a TV, and claims he does not have the time to see films or go to the theater, but admits he does enjoy music.  He gets his fix when he attends church on Sunday.  He has no interest in fine dining and subsists on cheap deli sandwiches and take-out coffee.

As monastic as his private life is, Bill is possibly the hardest working, most inspired member of the Times staff as he navigates Manhattan on his thirtieth three speed bike.  The previous twenty-nine were all stolen, but he has an almost zen-like acceptance about that.  He is not a guy that sweats the small stuff.  The street is where he wants to be as he hunts for subjects.

Almost everywhere he goes, he’s welcomed warmly, but there is a hilarious moment when two identically dressed teens he photographs turn on him, curse him out and threaten to break his camera.  Instead of fleeing in fear from these angry kids more than sixty years his junior, he is entertained, giggling impishly as he pedals away.

A man who thrives on beauty, Bill has an expert eye for detecting trends.  From one of his favorite perches, the four corners of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, often outside Bergdorf Goodman, he waits with his camera poised for prey — anyone stylishly dressed.  The clothes he photographs need not be expensive.  What’s required for a snap from Bill is that a subject looks original.  He takes his photographs with an unabashed enthusiasm lithely chasing objects of his admiration as they cross the street, scampering for a better angle, and occasionally directing a subject.  He is a guy who is most in the zone when he is clutching his Nikon.  He even snaps shots while pedaling from one location to the next.

His work ethic is so dedicated that it borders on obsessive.  Bill’s typical day usually starts around 8:30 am and ends at midnight.  He is also a walking encyclopedia of fashion trends past.  Since he is disinterested in pop culture, and his main focus is clothes, he is equally indifferent to celebrity.  In Paris, during fashion week, photographers swarm fashion icon Catherine Deneuve as she enters her limousine.  Bill stands back with his Nikon at rest.  Later, he matter-of-factly explains that she wasn’t wearing anything interesting.  As he waits to enter another fashion show amongst a horde of press, a minion questions Bill who waits patiently wearing a bemused expression.  When her boss appears, he brushes past the youngster, and gives Bill instant access declaring, “He’s the most important man on earth.”

While in Paris, Bill receives a prestigious award, a chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.  He seems to much prefer photographing the guests, but he does deliver an acceptance speech mostly in heavily American-accented French that he emotionally concludes in English, “If you look you can find beauty in everything.”

As Coco and I left the screening we marveled at Bill’s devotion to his craft and the overall purity of his spirit.  I vowed:

Me:  I’m going to further downsize my life!  I’ll completely commit myself to the written word!  I’ll be the Bill Cunningham of blogging!

Then, we hit a bar where I proceeded to drink my weight in sake.  I screwed off for the remainder of the week and did not publish another post until the following Friday.

Coco, had a more sober reaction:

Coco:  I’m going to hang out at 57th and Fifth every chance I get.

"We all get dressed for Bill," Anna Wintour. "But some way more than others," Lame Adventures Woman.

Bill Cunningham New York opens today for a two week run at the Film Forum in lower Manhattan, and will roll out in major cities nationally.