Sunday, July 25, 2010

June 16 A Shitty Day

I spent the morning editing pictures. I did this at the laundromat where I had trouble with the machines and I'm sure the Chinese ladies working there were goofing on me. While waiting on the washers,  I had breakfast at Frank's Deli. When I walked in the lady behind the counter was cursing at the meter maid and someone in the back, then she turns to me and says "What can I get ya, sweetie?". I had an omelet and edited more pictures. I didn't get to Coney Island until 2pm. It was empty due to the weather. It was a chilly gray day. I found Andy at Ruby's Bar on the boardwalk. There was hardly anyone there. The amusement area was half closed due to the lack of customers. I must have been hungry because I took pictures of food for awhile. Then I walked down the boardwalk to West 33rd Street. The lifeguards were out wearing orange parkas but no one was on the beach except some people in white robes chanting. I had nothing so I walked back on the shoreline and took pictures of them. I had no motivation today. Lack of sleep, dreary conditions. I really didn't feel like taking pictures for the first time in my life. I ran into Handen, Steven and Gyula at different times and everyone felt the same way today. Handen & I were leaving about 8pm when the fog rolled in, I should have gotten off the train to take pictures but I didn't. I went to the Carrol Gardens Classic Diner and had dinner while watching the Mets game. Here's today's pictures.

Stillwell Avenue Subway Station
Andy Levin at Ruby's
Nathan's Hot Dogs
Shish Kebob's at Pete's Clam Stop
Pete's Clam Stop
"This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: teammates, friends, and men of COURAGE and CONVICTION. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Reese supported him, and together they MADE HISTORY. In May 1947, on Cincinnati's Crosley Field, Robinson endured RACIST TAUNTS, jeers and DEATH THREATS that would have broken the SPIRIT of a lesser man. Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and STOOD BY HIS SIDE, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture CHALLENGED PREJUDICE and created a powerful and enduring friendship." Inscribed on the base of the statue at the Brooklyn Cyclones Stadium
PETA put this on the corner where Ringling Bros Circus was set up.

These people chanted on the beach for hours.
Fishing on the pier
a quiet moment on the pier
my favorite game in Coney Island. you shoot paintballs at a guy running around with hockey pants and a chest protector while the carny tells you to shoot the freak in the balls 
someone's always taking pictures on the boardwalk

Saturday, July 24, 2010

June 15 A Day In The Life...Coney Island Style

Early morning breakfast at a coffee shop on Smith St. I sat on the bench out front enjoying a cool breeze with my banana bread and juice. Then the subway to Coney Island. I got off at West 8th Street and headed toward the boardwalk. 
I passed by my favorite roller coaster, the Cyclone. It wasn't running this early or I would have ridden it. It's gonna be a great day here at the beach.
The early morning boardwalk has a different vibe before the hordes of people arrive later in the day. It is really very peaceful. The old timers enjoy the cool air while taking their morning walk. The Russians from Brighton Beach start their day with an swim in the ocean. The younger locals jog or work out on the beach. Living in Chicago, there are lots of things I miss about NYC. The ocean is one of them. Rockaway Beach for riding the waves and Coney Island for this boardwalk. You can relax on a bench facing the ocean, cool morning breeze blowing off the water and not even realize that one of the biggest cities in the world is right behind you. That is exactly what I did this morning. 
I was lost in my own head until I heard these kids chanting "Cure Diabetes Now". About 100 kids from PS 100 in Coney Island walked down boardwalk for the charity JDRF. They put a smile on my face because it gave me hope that the next generation might correct the ills of this world.
Every city needs a place where the people can get away from the day to day grind. Coney Island doesn't care about your money, religion, nationality or political views. Everyone is welcome. Everyone smiles the same after riding the Cyclone. Everyone gets to put a blanket on the same sand, enjoy the same ocean water, have the same beer at Ruby's, the same freshly shucked clams at Paul's Daughters, the same hot dog at Nathan's, the same candy apple at Williams. Coney Island is the great equalizer. Everyone gets treated the same and everyone gets to enjoy it. That is why I want Coney Island's amusement area to be saved. How many other cities have lost their "Coney Islands"? Places like this make the world a better place. I can't think of any condominiums that have done the same. 
Yet another reason I love NYC.
Coney is all about the characters that love the place. I saw this old timer several times during the week. He is wearing a Coney Island Dancers t-shirts. I'm sure the sun and the salty sea air has kept him young.

No drive through at Nathan's. You have to get out of whatever vehicle you drive. He must have started early to want a frankfurter at 9am.
The battle over land use at Coney Island centers on Thor Equities and it's owner Joseph Sitt. He bought land in CI by promising to develop the amusement area. Once he owned a major portion of the land, he asked the city to rezone the amusement area for condos. The city refused and now his land and buildings sit unused and empty adding to the already depressed area.
I met Marie as planned at the Stillwell Avenue subway station. Since her students were running late, I ran over to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus media day event on the beach. 
As usual at these media day events, the company sends out some clown to do the talking. The circus will be at Coney Island for the rest of the summer. At least it will bring people to CI, I'm conflicted on whether this is good or bad for Coney. I guess good publicity can't hurt.
There were a bunch of school kids from all over Brooklyn at this event. These kids cheered for Susie the elephant as she made her way across the beach for her photo op. 
A media event would not be complete without a smiling politician. Here's Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz with local school kids. I actually got a chance to talk to Marty for a few minutes. He didn't just shake my hand and brush right by me. He answered my questions and asked me several questions.
He told me that like me he wants to see Coney Island return to the great NYC destination it once was years ago. I got the feeling he was serious and not just playing me. I hope so.

This is the old Childs Restaurant building. A perfect example of why CI needs to be protected from greedy developers. This beautiful building should be part of any redevelopment plans in CI. Lola Staar lost her lease this year because someone sued the owner after falling down in the Roller Rink last year. 
You just don't see this kind of artistic craftsmanship on buildings anymore. I believe this building is protected due to it's landmark status.
I met Marie with her students and followed them as Marie gave them a tour of Coney Island.
Marie on the boardwalk. We had lunch at Nathan's. Then I headed toward Mermaid Avenue to meet up with the workshop group. We viewed several early edits from the work done so far. I didn't show anything because I need to start editing tonight. After the session, I tried to take pictures in a different style than I usually do. Andy told me to not be so literal with my pictures after checking out what I had shot this morning on my camera's LCD screen. I guess I was trying to emulate the pictures I had just seen from the others. Not much came of it. Here's a couple of the Wonder Wheel that I liked.

Then Marie texted that she was busy painting signs for the Mermaid Parade and I was welcome to come up to her studio. Once again over the course of a few hours we talked about artistic values, making money, decisions that change your life and the process of making art. She worked and I took pictures. Marie gave me permission to shoot anything in her studio. I felt like a professional photographer for the first time in my life. Of course Marie kept offering advice while I was shooting. Being an artist herself,  she made me aware of  the quality and direction of the light in the pictures. Even though she was very busy, she made me feel so welcomed that I was at ease taking pictures. She was painting so many banners at once that she had some on the floor of the Coney Island Museum. I just kept walking around shooting, finding different angles, adding or subtracting items from each shot and finding shots that would tell a story about an artist. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent taking pictures and I believe it shows in the pictures. 
I headed west down the boardwalk as the sun began to set. Earlier today I noticed a community garden next to the Childs building. I thought that might make a good story for my project. I took a few shots as I walked down the boardwalk.
There were several people in the community garden. I spent some time talking to Russian immigrants who thought I was a professional photographer. They wanted me to show them how to use their new camera. They were very friendly so I helped them. 
One of the Russians poses with his red, white and blue (he said they were blue) flowers. He planted them because he loves America.  He told me about living in Moscow with absolutely no freedoms. He said in Russia he could not have planted a garden in the empty lot next to his building. In America, he has his own garden. He was wearing a day pass from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. He loves his gardens. As I listened to him talk about each of his flowers, I couldn't help but think that these simple pleasures are often overlooked by us. Believe me when I tell you, he was more proud to be in America than most Americans I know. I was beginning to see a connection with photography and stories. I was using photography as a way to meet people. Interesting people. People who want to tell their stories. Perfect. I love to hear stories.
I decided twelve hours in Coney Island wasn't enough. So I walked down to the new Luna Park. It just opened on the land that the city bought from Joseph Sitt for $96 million. It used to be Astroland. I was skeptical but the park was crowded and everyone was enjoying the new rides.
I'll end the day where I started the day. On the boardwalk.
Back in Carroll Gardens, I picked up a slice of pizza and an Italian ice. As I sat on the stoop of the brownstone I was staying at, I thought about my day in Coney Island, the cool summer night breeze, the quiet tree lined city street, the slice and the lemon ice. I asked myself out loud, "Is this Heaven?" "It's as close as you'll ever get motherfucker!" came the reply from some guy in the next building. Damn, I love New York.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

June 14 No Sleep Til Brooklyn

I started my day walking up Smith Street looking for a place to eat breakfast. I found a French bistro, Provence en Boite. I was going to keep walking when I was greeted with "Bon Matin et accueille" by a stunningly beautiful black woman with a smile so contagious that I had to smile myself. The look on my face made her repeat it in English, "Good Morning and welcome." The accent was the knockout punch. I sat down and had an amazing breakfast of challah bread French toast with fresh fruit and a berry coulis. Then I took a quick trip to B&H Photography in Midtown Manhattan to pick up a lens I will need to shoot portraits in Coney Island. Our first official meeting was at the Coney Island library on Mermaid Avenue. I got to meet the rest of the photographers, most were from NYC. We each introduced ourselves and talked about our photography work. Andy repeated something he told me on the subway last night. He told the group that I was here for the right reason. That reason being that I really cared what happens to Coney Island. Andy & Kevin covered their plans for the week and we discussed ideas for developing a story for the week. Then we were set free in Coney Island. My first stop was the Amethyst Women's Project since they were setting a table up right next to the library.

I eventually talked with Aida Leon who is the Executive Director. She was very interested in getting some coverage for her charity. She provides HIV testing in the neighborhood. They also help women in abusive situations and help all who seek rehabilitation services. I quickly realized this story would be better told by Handen Erek, the female photographer from London who said that she covers women issues with her photography. Handen & Aida were a perfect match. Aida told her story about having to leave Coney Island to get clean as a kid. Then she returned and decided to help others in the neighborhood. Aida had that certain something that many New Yorkers seem to possess. Determination, drive, ambition come close but don't fully describe it. The line from New York, New York describes it best, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere." Add to that she is Puerto Rican, so you know she doesn't take shit from anyone, that makes her the perfect person to run a place like this in Coney Island. I left completely impressed with Aida but I still had to develop a story line for my project. I walked past the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium where I found a tribute for firefighters that died on September 11th.
After paying my tribute at the memorial. I walked down the boardwalk looking for photography storyline. Maybe food on the boardwalk. That would mean every time I ate I would be researching my story. Hmmm... interesting thought. The signs of Coney Island would be less fattening. Of course the rides of CI would be fun.

I made my way to the Coney Island USA building. I was hoping to do something with them for my project.

I have supported this group of artists for years. It was my longtime membership and the help of the house manager, Patrick, that got me a few minutes with Marie Roberts, the Artist in Residence for Coney Island USA. I understood that everyone was very busy preparing for the Mermaid Parade on Saturday so I felt  fortunate to get this opportunity. I started by interviewing Marie in her second floor studio.

Over the next two hours she worked on banners for the parade, I took pictures and we discussed a wide variety of topics including art, Coney Island and family. Since Marie teaches college art classes she offered me advice on techniques and several artists to check out like Bruce Gilden, Walker Evans and Thomas Rowlandson. She agreed to let me follow her class around Coney Island tomorrow. I began to think I had found the perfect subject for my project. Had to leave CI. I had plans for tonight. Subway to Carrol Gardens. Showered and back onto the subway. Next stop Little Italy for dinner at Sal's. Slice of pizza while I waited for my linguine & clams. I sat outside since it cooled down when the sun set. Damn good dinner. Then to the Lower East Side to see The Heavy at the Bowery Ballroom. Great show. Grabbed an Italian ice on Delancey Street and F train back to Brooklyn. Finally much needed sleep.