The Struggle to Live and be An Artist

From the time I began photographing people I was drawn to the struggles disabled people have with everyday life.

23rd Street

For ten years I photographed, or at least watched this man go painful step by step up the 23rd street station stairs. I came from a family that took me at a very young age to various camps for the disabled.

I think the first one was vacation camp for the blind.

My mother was a recreation director. I have a mixed up memory of the various camps because I remember not only blind, but deaf, and deformed bodies and getting used to them.

I learned the sign language (the one where you sign letters) when I was about nine.

I knew how to approach a blind person to offer them a guide across the street without startling them. And I always had a feeling that there was disability down the line for most of us.

I photographed things that would never sell, and I don’t just mean the homeless. In fact, if you wanted to make it into the homeless collection you needed to display some irony. Or something more than being an addict.

Ansel Adams

In the Adams autobiography, well worth reading, he talks about how he came to NYC for an exhibit at the Met. He was standing on 5th ave and muses about how he hates being in New York. The noise alone is making him nervous. He actually cut his trip short and left a day or two early to go west.

It surprised me. He grew up in San Francisco and I think lived through the “big one.”

He kept getting kicked out of school for being hyperactive and was eventually home-schooled. Today he would’ve been given a prescription.

One other thing while I have Ansel in mind: he came to a point where he had to decide whether to continue his music studies and become a concert pianist, or continue with photography.

He says he met Weston, who used to show his large format (8 x 10) prints on an easel. One by one. A minimalist to the core. Many of them were exposed by a bare hanging bulb with the paper and negative under a sheet of glass. He was poor most of his life and eventually became disabled.

He allowed no talking or questions during the “show” but when it was all over, perhaps he showed 15 prints, he allowed his select audience to clap and talk.

Ansel was at one of these shows and said that that started him thinking about the possibilities of “straight photography.”

Adams made a pilgrimage to meet Stieglitz at An American Place in April 1933. Although Stieglitz initially rebuffed Adams, at their second meeting he carefully viewed—and viewed again—the prints Adams had brought for his inspection. Adams later recalled Stieglitz saying, “These are some of the finest photographs I have ever seen.

The Question

That I was asked over and over again when I was in the days of being interviewed by just about every high school student in the world (it seemed) was what photographer inspired me and my answer was generally: I don’t generally get inspired by photographers.

Inspiration is overrated in my opinion. Photograph things that interest you. Don’t give a damn what other people say about your work unless you know enough to know if they know what they’re talking to, and even then, be stubborn.

And don’t be afraid to experiment. This shot was a pano stitched together with 30 frames (more or less). If someone buys it, has it printed large, they’ll see an amazing amount of detail. But for now it’s squeezed onto a screen.

Giga Pano of New York City’s Central Park Bridle Path, including the reservoir. Composite of 30 images.