Monday, March 31, 2008

The Balloon

The balloon from my shoot with Chiara is still floating. I don't know why, but I feel the need to put this in as a part of this project.

Friday, March 21, 2008

March 15 - Shoot with Chiara Clough

The Philosophy: The modern business life of cubicles, offices, desks, computers, etc. is not designed with the human soul in mind. Some office jobs go so far as to create a division of labor, where the worker becomes alienated from the central goal of his or her business and instead becomes a slave to the 9-5 lifestyle. In this world of coffee, paper, and emails, there is no room for the inner child. What makes the whole situation worse is that for many, there is almost no buffer zone between childhood and adulthood. Even if we are maturing through the whole process of high school and college, we maintain our inner child through the whole experience, naïve to the fact that with each passing birthday we come one year closer to drudgery of adult life.

I cannot say that I felt perfectly normal the day of the shoot. It might have been because I didn’t sleep enough the night before. It might have been because spring break had just begun. It might have been the way the wind was blowing. But it was probably because I was waiting at the downtown 86th St. station holding a giant metallic “Happy Birthday” balloon about 1.5 feet wide. At first I expected that I would get a lot of questions about what the balloon was for, but after about ten minutes of waiting and no questions, I realized that the giant letters were probably explanation enough. Not only did I have the balloon, but I was also carrying a bag full of party supplies: “Squawker” party blowers, a dog themed birthday card, and a birthday hat my mom dug up that can only be described as “high-end.”

Chiara eventually showed up, and I faced my first challenge of the day, getting the giant balloon through the New York subway system without problems. I somehow squeezed through the turnstile and we barely made the downtown 1 train. On the way down to Times Square, we discussed the motivation of the shoot.

CHIARA: Ok, so what do you want me to do?

ME: The story is this. You were going to have a birthday party, and you were really excited. But you can’t because you’ve got a ton of work and now you’re really disappointed and bummed.

CHIARA: So I’m sad?

ME: Yeah. I want you to be as bitter, tired and bored as possible.

CHIARA: You know you picked the worst person ever for this shoot?

It is true that of my various friends, Chiara is probably not the one that most people would have picked for a photo shoot where the model is supposed to be bored and tired. But I was afraid that if I had picked one of my more serious friends, I wouldn’t have been able to capture the same lost inner child that I knew I could find in Chiara.

We then made our way over to ESPN Zone and the Condé Naste Building, where my dad was letting us use his office. After an ear-popping ride in the elevator, we discovered that the balloon, which had been looking a little droopy on 42nd street, had suddenly returned to its original plumpness. We pooled our basic knowledge of science together, and determined that the difference in air pressure might have caused the balloons regeneration.

I hadn’t been in my dad’s office in a while, and one of the first things I realized when I stepped inside was how bad a space it was for two awkward teenagers with attention deficit disorder to do a photo shoot. We spent a good fifteen minutes looking at the various trinkets my dad has acquired over the years: countless framed New Yorker cartoons and covers, three bookshelves filled with various literature, a glass ball which makes everything look like an MC Escher painting, and a blow up paddle bearing Yassir Arafat’s face.

Sitting here now something registered with me. In those first fifteen minutes, searching through my dad’s office, we were displaying our inner child. Chiara and I are still young, and a glass ball that distorts our faces still amuses us. I wonder if I’ll be able to keep that state of mind my entire life, or if that is a part of us that always dies eventually.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

First Printing Session

I love to print large.

Usually, my printing size is the standard, photo-student 8x10 paper. But last year I also began taking advantage of my medium format camera to print my photos twice as large. There is something very satisfying about seeing something you created at professional size. I printed my first project photo—the one of Sophie in the museum—on Friday. And for the first time I really felt that the project was no longer in its beginning stages of planning and first shoots.

Friday, February 29, 2008

From Shoots 3-4

What We Forget
What We ForgetWhat We Forget
What We ForgetWhat We Forget

Harlem Tourism
Harlem TourismHarlem Tourism
Harlem TourismHarlem Tourism

Sunday, February 24, 2008

February 23 - Shoot with Sophie Blumberg

The Philosophy: As we move farther and farther away from the age of classical art, the world becomes less interested by it. Instead, we are turning our eyes towards MTV and YouTube as our main sources of culture. Even the greatest artists of the twentieth century are being ignored. For instance, most people recognize the name Picasso, but only a small portion of those people can name one of his paintings. And while modern art has succeeded in opening the doors of how artists express themselves, it has failed to draw from influences of the classical period. If we continue down this road, we will become blind to one of the most vital and fascinating parts of human history.

"I doubt that security will let you in with a broom handle. They might consider that to be a weapon." These words—uttered by my mom—kicked off one of the stranger shoots of this project. Until very recently, I was like the vast majority of Americans without visual impairment, in that I did not have a blind person's cane. But unlike that same vast majority, I had a photo shoot in which my subject was supposed to seem blind. So I did what anyone would have done. I unscrewed the handle of a broom and left it at that. Turns out that's not good enough for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So after debating for a good five minutes about how we could procure a blind persons cane, we were able to put the last cane on reserve at a medical supplies store on 72nd and 3rd. We drove there, picked up the cane, and were at the museum in record time. 

Our next task was to come up with an appropriate outfit so that Sophie would look convincingly blind. I had brought an assortment of sunglasses, while Sophie had half of her hat collection in her purple-tiger tote bag. We eventually settled on the bucket hat and a pair of black sunglasses that probably cost $5.00 or less. But as fate would have it, the item which really made the whole outfit come together was the cane. In fact, we ended up fooling a large number of the museums patrons, including my sister's physical therapist. (We ran into him in one of the museum's statue gardens. He proceeded to call my mom asking "what kind of visual impairment does Alex's friend have?") 

We went to various parts of the museum, often getting lost in the sheer size of the place. We exchanged random bits of trivia, looked at art, and developed "museum fatigue," a phrase coined by Sophie to describe the specific type of weariness one feels after spending too long in a museum. We shot at one of the statue gardens, the giant statue court, the contemporary art section, and the Temple of Dendur—on of my favorite locations in the whole museum. But everywhere we went, we seemed to draw attention. "I think it's for a school project," one would say, or "I don't know. Do you think she's really blind?" I noticed a pattern among the four shoots I have done so far, and among the people who pass by. However curious, surprised, or confused people are about the girl in costume and the guy with the camera, nobody ever asks. And I could not for the life of me tell you why.

After about an hour of shooting and two hours of wandering, I finally finished the last roll. I felt really good about everything. Since the shoot was inside, the freezing cold which had plagued the last three shoots was not a factor this time, so I ended up having more time to do everything. On the way out I heard a security guard tell a man he couldn't bring his sled into the museum; I was glad we hadn't tried to go in with the broom handle.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

February 16 - Shoot with Nina Perlman

The Philosophy: While it is no longer manifested in segregated drinking fountains and "separate but equal" schools, White America is still racist. In todays world, racism is displayed more subtly, like the phenomenon of white flight and suburbanization, the censorship of rap music, and the general uneasiness when in a "black neighborhood," like the Bronx or Harlem. As a result, black culture has also become something of a spectacle. Rap and hip hop music has gained one of its biggest markets with white teenage suburbanites, and yet people seem to fall more and more out of touch with the blues. Jazz music has been all but forgotten, and the majority of those who play it are now white and classically trained. White spectators of this culture seem like tourists, who want to experience "blackness" but would never bring themselves to be an actual part of it.

On Saturday, I woke up at about 8:30 in the morning to be sure that I wasn't late. I would be visiting my friend in Greenwich the next day, so I needed to pack. I also had to overpack, to make sure that mom didn't call me out on forgetting anything--as I had done virtually every time I had tried to pack by myself. So I had plans. But on Saturday, at about 8:35 in the morning, I fell back asleep. So at 10:00, I called Nina and rescheduled our noon meeting to one. By the time I had showered, eaten breakfast, packed, overpacked, gotten dressed, and checked all my photo equipment, Nina was on her way over. I guess time flies when you oversleep.

I went upstairs to tell my dad that we were going. I explained that we were going to take some shots at the 125th street station and then head over to the Apollo for the majority of shooting.

"I want you to be careful," he said. "Harlem is still a dangerous neighborhood."

"Um, dad, have the words 'broad daylight' ever occurred to you?"

"Wouldn't be the first time."

I couldn't help but laugh at the grand irony of the conversation.

Nina was wearing boot cut jeans and an "I Love NY" t-shirt. She had brought with her four different pairs of sunglasses, her Holga camera, and a faux fur scarf. We agreed that while the costume was pretty funny, the icing on the cake would be a fold-up NYC Transit subway map. But of course, on the way to the 125th Street station, we forgot to pick one up. So we did the first photos at the station, with Nina accentuating her t-shirt and taking glamor shots of the neighborhood. (I couldn't help but imagine a clueless, southern, tourist family surveying the area for some "authentic African American food." Meanwhile the young boy of the family would point to graffiti exclaiming "look maw! Are we in a museum?")

We picked up the street map on the way to street level, when suddenly Nina and realized the same thing at almost the same instant. By attempting to look like and parody the stereotypical New York tourist, and by going to a place where we weren't exactly sure of the street plan, we had come uncomfortably close to being the tourists we were trying to lampoon. For instance, when we had trouble finding the Apollo theater at first, we both looked at each other and considered if it would be so wrong to pull out the map and check our location. How's that for another grand moment of irony?

We eventually did find the Apollo--not to mention a neighboring theater which conveniently had "Welcome to Halrlem, USA" written on the marquee. We shot by both of them. I also attempted to get the Hotel Theresa in frame. (I also learned that the correct pronunciation is "TE-ree-sah" and not "THE-ree-sah.") As per usual, we got the occasional stare, a couple people walked into frame, but for the most part, the shooting was mechanical. Also, like the two other shoots, it was freezing outside and I had been too stupid to bring gloves. It got so bad, that we decided to skip the fourth roll of film and just go home to a warm meal.

On the way back home, I had one last grand moment of irony. Thinking about the few, short hours Nina and I spent in Harlem, I couldn't help but wonder if I was a part of the problem as well. Did being white and well-off mean that I was inclined to show some of the same racism I was attempting to point a finger at. To be honest, this was the first time I had gone to Harlem when I wasn't with my parents or a class trip. And when my dad suggested that I should be careful in Harlem, I jumped down his throat, but I couldn't help but feel a little nervous when we were shooting. It was a chilling reminder of my work's proximity to my life. However much I try to escape and expose the customs and issues of Generation Y, I will never escape the fact that I am a part of it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

From the First Two Shoots

It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to show some examples of my work from my first two photo shoots. My third shoot is this Saturday with Nina.

Note: If you wanna see these bigger, just click 'em.

Ghost Town Legends

Ghost Town LegendsGhost Town Legends
Ghost Town LegendsGhost Town Legends

Couches for Capsules

Couches for CapsulesCouches for Capsules
Couches for CapsulesCouches for Capsules