Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: Art and Design (page 1 of 3)

Next — Selling Photos

If you know me, you know how hard it was for me to put up that revolving banner advertisement that was on my sidebar for the last two months. It was a good experience though, because it forced me to go I beyond my comfort zone.

The last straw that broke the camel’s back, like they say, is that after I pressed publish on my last post, a gentle tale titled “My Friend in McDonald’s, I immediately saw my own advertising server hawking back at me a personalized ad from Ronald McDonald himself, “Hey there, wouldn’t you enjoy having a juicy Quarter Pounder with Cheese right now?!”

Maybe if I was making $10,000 a month in advertising, I could compromise more, but for the $2 a month I was receiving for my banner, it felt humiliating.

But it was a good experience, like a teenage virgin having awkward sex for the first time and getting it over with.

This entire preamble is an anxious introduction to telling you that I am going to sell prints of my photos.

My Photo Store is Open for Business.

I’m going to start slow, because I’m a newbie at this.   So, to begin, I’m just going to offer seven photos taken in New York City.   Imagine it is a limited edition selection available just for my closest friends.   I tested each photo myself to make sure they printed well, so I feel confident that they will look good as 8″x 8″ prints, despite their humble origins as iphone photos.

If you want a print of a another photo in my instagram gallery, just contact me.  I will test it to make sure it prints well.  As I test other photos, I will add new photos for sale.

For now, I’m going to charge $20, no tax. I’ll make the print at a local lab, using the best resolution digital image, then mail you the print in a sturdy envelope. I’ll use the profit to either buy a nicer winter coat, or buy drinks for some chick at a bar and then try to go to bed with her. It all depends on how many prints I sell.

I know I’m not a big time photographer, so for added value, I will sign the back of the photo for you, and even include a personal message if you ask politely.

Email me if there are any problems with the shopping card or dealing with Paypal.

Again, my photo store is here.

Thank you for you inspiring me to do this, and giving me the confidence to believe in myself.

Happiness and Gumballs


It was the day before the annual BlogHer conference in Chicago.   JC and I made plans to stroll down Michigan Avenue and explore the city.  If you don’t know JC Little (The Animated Woman), take a look at her delightful and somewhat repulsive presentation about pinworms at the Voices of the Year ceremony.  She’s my kind of person.


During our walk, we found ourselves in the architecturally-interesting Chicago Cultural Center, and noticed that there was an art show on the fourth floor gallery.  It was titled “The Happy Show” and the installation was by Stefan Sagmeister, a prominent designer from New York.

The Happy Show offers visitors the experience of walking into the designer’s mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via meditation, cognitive therapy and mood-altering pharmaceuticals. “I am usually rather bored with definitions,” Sagmeister says. “Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” Centered around the designer’s ten-year exploration of happiness, this exhibition presents typographic investigations of a series of maxims, or rules to live by, originally culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in a variety of imaginative and interactive forms.  — from the city of Chicago website.

The exhibit was fantastic, and we spent over an hour enjoying the unique infographics and interactive displays, all relating the concept of happiness.


The most provocative art piece was Sagmeister’s attempt to show a graphical representation  of the happiness of the visitors to the show.  He did this based on the amount of gumballs that were taken from a row of ten old-fashioned gumball machines standing against the wall, numbered from 1-10, each machine signifying one higher level of individual happiness.

I thought about my level of personal happiness before I approached the gumball machines. I decided that I was relatively happy.  Even with some bumps in the proverbial road, I had my health, good friends, my hair, and I wasn’t bored yet with my existence.  I took a gumball from machine #7.  That put me in the top 25% of happiness.

As I put the gumball into my mouth, JC said, “That’s bad for your teeth.”

I laughed.  It’s the little joys of life that enable a person to be happy.

“It’s your turn,” I said, almost a dare.

JC walked to the row of gumball machines and turned the handle of machine #10.  A bright yellow gumball dropped out.


“#10?” I shouted, rather stunned.

Maybe she was confused by the instructions.  She was Canadian, after all.

“You realize that #10 means #10 in happiness.” I mansplained.

“I know,” she said.

I left it at that, but by the time we were back on the street, at “the Bean” in Grant Park, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  Her choice had annoyed me.


“How can you put yourself as #10 in happy?” I pushed again.

“Because I’m happy.”

“That’s great.  I’m glad you’re happy.  But #10 happy?  What about #9 happy?  Then you would have something to look forward to!”

“I think you can be #10 happy all the time, if you are happy at the moment.”

“Are you saying that nothing bad has ever happened to you?  No one you cared about ever got sick or went bankrupt?”

“Of course bad things happen.  I can be upset, but still happy and content.”

“This makes no LOGICAL SENSE.  #10 means the IDEAL.  The Platonic ideal.  Heaven is #10.  No one ever gets to be #10 in this world.  If I thought I was #10 in happiness, I would just kill myself because it’s all downhill.”

“That’s because we have different views of happiness.”


Two days later, I met JC during one of the keynotes.  It was the day after her presentation at the Voices of the Year.

“You were great last night,” I said.

“Thank you.”

“Anyway, enough about that.  Have you changed your mind about what number happy you are?”

“Are you still obsessing over this?”

“Are you feeling #10 right now?”


“Ok, let’s make up a hypothetical situation.  Imagine, last night your presentation was a total disaster.  Everything went wrong.”

“Nice.  OK.”

“The microphone didn’t work.  The crowd was booing.  Today, you’re being ostracized by everyone you know.”

“Are they throwing things at me?”



“So, what number happiness are you now?”



“Like I told you ten times before.  I can be upset.  But still happy.  Because I know who I am.”

“OK, what if your pants fell down during your presentation last night, and you weren’t wearing any underwear and everyone saw your privates?  What then?  How would you feel today?”

“That would be quite memorable.  It would probably make me more happy.”

“Aha, GOTCHA!  You are already #10!  You can’t become MORE HAPPY!”

It’s been a month since BlogHer.  Last night, I had a dream.  I was standing in front of the row of gumballs in Chicago, ready to make another choice.  I gazed at the yellow balls of sugary gum enclosed in reflective glass tubes, and then I went for it.  But this time, rather than taking a gumball from machine #7, I turned the lever of machine #6.

She Was Crossing the Street

She was crossing the street. She had short blond hair and was wearing black. She strutted like a hip, confident, young New Yorker that you might see in a magazine. She belonged here. As we passed each other in the crowd, I took a quick photo of her, part of an iconic city street scene, and published it on Instagram.

An hour later, a blogging friend sent me a message.

I know this woman. No shit. She works for me. And I showed her the photo!

My first reaction was one of extreme horror. Ever since I started posting photos on Instagram, the thought of this happening was my biggest nightmare. A stranger would find his own photo. And I would deserve the punishment that fit the crime, like a shoplifter or insider trader deserving time behind bars.

But my tale had a happy ending. The woman LIKED the photo, and we now follow each other on Instagram! Proof that either God is on my side, or that New Yorkers are so narcissistic they will take publicity any way they can get it.

Over the last two years, several of my friends have taken issue with the concept of taking photos of strangers in the street. People are always waiting for me to argue with them, waiting for me to cry, “But it is COMPLETELY LEGAL!,” and disappointed when I don’t take the bait. You see, I KNOW it is WRONG. If anything, you should applaud me for keeping on with it. In the past, my “Citizen of the Month” persona would have kicked in after the first negative comment and I would have stopped, but I’ve pushed on doing it, despite it, finding it possible to live with myself doing something morally ambiguous.

I’ve learned this from you. I’ve been blogging for almost nine years, and I have seen a lot of shit go on — blatant hypocrisy, backstabbing friends, questionable business practices, bullying of others, and snobbism. But after awhile, it all becomes part of the fabric of life. Small moral lapses are forgotten and we all focus on the real meaning of the internet — business, networking, branding, and finding success. Morality might get you into heaven, but it has little to do with business or art. From my experience, the more someone succeeds in any type of business, the more likely they were involved in compromises to their personal moral code.

In the scheme of things wrong, taking photos on the street is small potatoes. Personally, if I never did anything that pushed me into the gray area of my own personal morality, I would never leave my house, or have the nerve to type out the word “fucking” rather than “f***ing.” (see blog posts 2005-2010)

I’m pretty moralistic about most things, and I find it difficult to see myself in a negative light. (note to self: talk about this with therapist, when you find one)

About a month ago, I went to an “Instameet” downtown. An Instameet is like a “Tweet-up,” but involves those heavily into Instagram as a social media tool. I was nervous when I arrived at the agreed on location, because unlike like Blogher, where I am instantly recognized, I didn’t know anyone, or understand the hierarchy. And believe me, there is one — just like in any social gathering.

In attendance were a few “famous” New York Instagram street photographers, some who had thousands of followers and were always being asked by brands to do corporate promotional gigs. I was most excited to meet some guy known as “The King” of New York iPhone street photographers. I was curious to see him at work.

An Instameet is an odd animal. You all walk the street together, like a photo mob, taking shots, but since photography is a solo act, there wasn’t much socializing. From what I learned, that happens later, in a bar. During the walk, everyone is too busy hoping to one up the next guy.

I watched “The King” as he worked his magic with his iPhone, and suddenly — the concept of street photography made me uncomfortable. By watching him, it was like a mirror to my own actions when I shoot with my iPhone, and I wasn’t liking what I was seeing.

I’m a rather lazy street photographer. If I see something or someone interesting in my path, I might attempt a shot. But “The King” was proactive. He didn’t let Fate determine his art. He would eye someone across the street, and follow him. He would even walk around the block, circling back, just to face his subject, inches away. He seemed to enjoy the danger; but to me, it seemed like STALKING! I even hated the way “The King” viewed his subject — not like he was a humanistic individual seeking the personal in others — but as if he was a hunter searching for prey.

“What a jerk,” I thought to myself, annoyed that he was so beloved by the others. “What he’s doing is SO WRONG!”

His iPhoneography work is now showing in a gallery in Soho. Art/Morality? Does it matter?

I enjoyed taking photos of my friends at BlogHer. I wish I had more of an opportunity to do that here in New York. I wish I had a beautiful girlfriend or photogenic kids to take photos of during the weekend. But I don’t. So, I practice my photography by shooting strangers in the street. Maybe there is a bit of loneliness to it. I’d rather see it as a celebration of others. And I do it with a good heart. I try not to be a jerk. I don’t stalk people, even if it means it can get me a better shot. I try to find my own grey area.

You might think this post is about Instagram. But it’s not. I don’t need you to write comments telling me that you like my photos. Thank you if you do. This post is more about fighting the instinct to do everything RIGHT, and being OK being a little WRONG.

Perfect for right before Rosh Hashanah!

I’ll worry about my morality. You can worry about yours.

Note: This post is written for myself. And more dangerous than you think.

You Call This Art?

taken in Queens today

I don’t know how to define art. Some say it is all in the intention of the artist. Others say it is whatever elicits a response.  I googled “What is art?” but Google, being a prankster,  instead showed me the search results for “What is arthritis?” Considering that it is my birthday in March, I wonder if the search engine was making a snide remark about aging.

Ha Ha, I just told you a little story.  Is that art?

Many have attempted to define art.   Here are two famous folk quoted on the subject

Thomas Merton:

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

Charles Eames:

Art resides in the quality of doing; process is not magic.

Not very satisfying quotes, are they?

My favorite statement on art comes from the Italian director Frederico Fellini:

All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

I take that as a big fuck you to the idea of defining art.


I’m in Queens now.  Not in New Zealand or Los Angeles.  I’ll talk more about my life soon, but not today.  Right now, it is more life, less art.

It is rainy and cold today in NYC.  California has made me soft; I’m not as used to the dreary weather.   Looking for some comfort, I took a walk to a nearby Chinese restaurant to get some won ton soup.

As I meandered along Kissena Boulevard, I passed this garden apartment with an old-fashioned black metal fire escape.   Perched on one of the levels was a red ball.  It sat brazenly, his arms were crossed, peering down at me like that drunk former Merchant Marine who was neighbor back in 1988, feeling disdain at all of the yuppie neighbors moving in.


Red is an evocative color.   Images of Love.  Passion.  Cherries.  “The Red Balloon.”  And my former neighbor.

“But is the red ball on the fire escape “art?” I thought.


No.   Not unless an clever performance artist placed it there on purpose.  In all probability, it was simply left there in August by George Lanza, age 6, a playful but forgetful, brown-haired little boy, who was called in for dinner (meatballs and spaghetti, of course, since it was Tuesday) by his single mother, Juanita Lanza,  age 42, a United States postal worker.

I just made that up.   But something like that.


I took some photos of the red ball.  So, now — is it art?  Maybe.  Who knows?   Who cares? Fellini would say that the photos have less to do with the red ball, than they do with me.

Watching the Fishermen

I’m not a fan of the ocean.  It is too big, vast, dark, and scary.  The tide will come in and swallow you up like a shark.  But I am a Pisces.  Two fishes swimming in opposite directions.  I am drawn to the water.  The grubby little pier in Redondo Harbor is so small that it feels like it belongs in some run-down New England seaside resort that has seen better days.  Hollywood is far away.  The celebrities go to Malibu, the tourists to Santa Monica.  I like to watch the lazy fisherman, who spend the day dreaming of nothing, and catching even less, waiting for the sun to set.


“Stand upright like a monument
Walk upright like a solider
And be upright like a man.”
— a made-up quote

The Perfect Couple

It was Sophia’s birthday on Saturday, and we went to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).   We had a great day together.

“Are you two getting back together?” a friend texted me.

“No,” I answered. “Just a fun day out for her birthday.”

“You just seem so perfect together.”

“Perfect?!  Ha.  We are far from it.”

Sophia and I love each other, but the perfect couple we’re not.   We never were.

We tried our best, but we both want something more from a partner, a love that boils over and makes us want to shout it out to the world.   Something a little bit closer to the perfection of a Perfect Couple.

Does this Perfect Couple exist?   Or is it an illusion, the relationship equivalent of the bikini model drinking a Coke?

But then, on Saturday evening, as we left the museum, Sophia and I encountered them. It was the Perfect Couple, right on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles.

If God was a chef, this couple would be his signature dish. They would be spiced with respect, love, and passion, and as they marinated in His blessings, happiness and joy would waft through His kitchen, out the window, and throughout the world.

And they were standing right in front of us.

“Take an instagram photo!” said Sophia, as we both stared, confronted with our own  inadequacies.

After taking a few photos of the Perfect Couple on Wilshire Blvd., we discovered that we had stumbled into someone else’s photo shoot, and this couple were models.

But the Perfect Couple is a standard that is hard to let go, even if it is a fantasy.

One Year of Instagram

In the summer of 2010, I noticed that Schmutzie was posting photos with her iPhone. They had a different feel than the photos taken with her “real” camera.  I downloaded Hipstamatic, her favorite photo app, but there were too many choices of stocks and filters, and I quickly lost interest.

I followed another link to an iPhone to an app called Instagram.   This one I understood.  It was point and shoot, and even better, it was like social like Twitter!  And unlike blogging, which is segregated by language, you could see photos from far-away places as France, Turkey, and Brazil!

I walked around my block in Queens and took a few more shots of the neighborhood. It didn’t feel like serious photography, but more like a visual diary.

“Hey, look. Here’s a chair someone is throwing away in the garbage!”

It WAS like Twitter.

It was a year ago today.

There was no way in hell that I could ever imagine that 365 days later, I would have taken 1300 more photos!  And even more shocking — others would LOOK AT THEM!  Instagram reminded me of my blogging world from 2005 — a mishmash of professionals and amateurs taking photos of their lunches, their babies, their cities, and lots of artsy sunsets, with no one  angsting over stats or monetization… yet.

Of course, some professional photographers looked down on the heavily-filtered Instagram photos, much in the same way that  some writers don’t see blogging as “real writing.”  The professional photographers do have a point.   I would never call myself a photographer.  I barely know what I am doing.   No one is going to hire me to do a job.  99% of those who use these app are not authentic photographers, but dabblers, and what’s wrong with that?  It’s another way to enjoy our creativity.  This is the world we live in — on the internet, everyone is a writer, actor, and photographer. And good-looking.

I did receive received some criticism over the year, especially for my fondness for taking photos of strangers on the street.  I am quite aware of the “peeping tom” aspect of what I am doing, but so far, I’ve been able to live with myself.  I do it with a standard of respect.  In my heart, I see street photography as a celebration of humanity and urban life, not something salacious.

In many ways, this year-long exercise in iPhoneography has given me more confidence in other facets of my life.   Writing is a solitary occupation.  Instagram gives me a reason to walk around the block.  It’s also taught me some lessons about writing, perception, and POV.  There is also something sexy about photography.

I’m even starting to gain the courage to ASK subjects if I can take a photo.  Last week, I had lunch/dinner/drinks with three different bloggers.  After the meal, I asked each of them if I could take her photo.   It felt empowering to say “Trust me,” and have someone believe me, especially a woman.

While these three photos may not be the greatest portraits ever, or as dramatic as the Instagram photos I once took of the skyscrapers of Fifth Avenue, they are way more special.   I care about these people.   And I didn’t have to hide in the bushes.

And then, this week, for the first time,  I asked a stranger if I can take her photo.

And that’s a big change in a year.

Favorite NYC Instagram Photos – Nov. 2011

November in NYC was balmy this year. I wore a t-shirt just two weeks ago, walking down Broadway. And then the tree went up in Rockefeller Center, the Christmas shoppers arrived, and winter finally arrived.  I like how the photos show a passage of time.

December is a month were we traditionally think about our plans for the upcoming year.   I have a ticket to return to Los Angeles on December 18th, which means, at least for the month of January, a return to the bright palette and frequently superficial lights of the West Coast.

The Stamp on the Envelope

My friend, Veronica, is trying to single-handedly save the United States Postal Service by participating in Etsy’s 52 Weeks of Mail.

Each week she sends a handwritten note to a friend of family member.

Do you remember the last time you received a letter? Do you remember how exciting it was when personal mail arrived in the pre-e-mail days, before the arrival of the mailman just meant gas bills and fliers for Bed, Bath, and Beyond?

Veronica is the ideal person to be part of this project because she also designs beautiful handmade cards, such as this one —

Her interest in the postal service helped us discover a common childhood passion — stamp collecting! Although it now sounds like a dorky hobby, I was very passionate about my stamps.

I collected first day covers, new issues, and Christmas stamps. I was fascinated by international stamps. I learned much of my geography by connecting my foreign stamps to the home of origin on a world map. Every winter, I would go with my socialist-leaning, horse-race betting, stamp collecting-loving Aunt Ruthie to the big New York Stamp Expo at a hotel near Madison Square Garden.

I stopped stamp collecting when I reached puberty. I was surprised to hear that Veronica still kept up with the old-fashioned hobby.

“Sure, I go to the post office every week to see all the new stamps that are issued.”

I have been out of the stamp-collecting scene for so long that I didn’t realize they still issued new stamps. I figured everyone bought the boring “Forever” stamps that you can pick up at the supermarket — stamps so forgettable that I cannot recall the picture on the stamp, and I have used this one for years!

Despite the new stamps, Veronica told me that much of the old spirit had left the stamp-collecting world. And it wasn’t just the fault of technology. Much like blogging, the Post Office has gone corporate. Rather than issuing stamps that honor America’s great leaders, the Post Office has sold out to the highest bidder.

“Now they make stamps honoring crap, from cartoon characters to ketchup brands” said Veronica. “No one wants a stamp of Benjamin Franklin anymore.”

After hearing this, I am glad that I left stamp-collecting at it’s peak, like Jerry Seinfeld leaving his sitcom before it got stale.

But nothing prepared me for what happened a week later, when my mother called me on the phone. I had received a letter from Veronica in the mail. That I expected. I was anxious to see her handmade card, and the personal note.

“Is it a nice envelope?” I asked.

“Oh, very nice.” said my mother. “Very pretty blue. But just one thing. Unless I’m wrong… I think she put a Hitler stamp on the envelope.”

“A Hitler stamp? You must be wrong.”

“It looks just like Hitler. The mustache and everything.”

Had our Postal Service fallen so desperate that they were now producing new stamps honoring Hitler?!

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