Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: photography (page 2 of 9)

Fictional Characters of New York #41

light

It was not a good third date.

Sheryl had high hopes about him; he was a perfect gentleman on the first two outings. But he changed tonight, as if he had gotten some bad advice from an ex-fraternity friend on becoming a “player.” He bragged too much about his new job as a securities analyst, and pushed her to order the most expensive cocktail at this trendy restaurant that was “impossible to get a reservation except if you know someone.”

After dinner, she turned down his offer for him to come to her apartment, saying that she was old-fashioned, certainly not expecting his face to redden and words to spew such as “cocktease,” “bitch,” and “user.”

Sheryl never perceived herself in such a negative way before, wondering if she was indeed guilty of breaking the rules of dating.  She apologized to her date and said she was uncomfortable dating.   She’d rather just stay home and read, but her ultimate fantasy — of one day walking through Central Park with a special man, holding his sturdy hand — proved sufficient motivation for her to leave the house wearing the makeup she bought at Macy’s and her prettiest yellow dress.

Sheryl walked home alone. Weaker women would be crushed by the evening’s disappointment, but not Sheryl. As she passed by the abandoned church on Amsterdam Avenue, she saw that the church light, a former beacon of hope to those in need of spiritual guidance, now cracked in disrepair, was still lit, almost miraculously, much as her broken heart still beat strongly in a search for love.

Fictional Characters of New York #40

Eddie

The year was 1972.  Eddie was working at his father’s hardware store in Chinatown when the People’s Republic of China Peking Circus came to town as a cultural exchange arranged by President Nixon.

It was a busy in his father’s hardware store, named Yang’s Do-it-Yourself.  It was the first day of Spring, and all the hibernating weekend warriors suddenly awoken to the maintenance jobs left undone during the cold winter month, their wives pushing them to fix the broken doorknobs and misfitting window shades.

But Eddie’s mind was elsewhere.  The NYPD closed off part of Mott Street for a procession of the Chinese performers, a mini-parade, and Eddie was keen on seeing it.   At lunchtime, he left the shop, against his father’s wishes.

Eddie thrilled at the sight of the exotic acrobats and horses which paraded down the grimy, littered Lowe East side street.  The circus performers looked as Chinese as he did, same eyes and dark hair, but they stepped with a precision that made them seem distinctly unAmerican.   If only the Chinese people saw the chaos during a fire drill at an American school like P.S. 100.

“Form a straight line.” Mrs. Goldenberg, his teacher, would yell.  “One at a time.”  And, of course, no one listened.  Americans are like John Wayne.  They do it THEIR WAY.

“I bet there isn’t one Eddie in THIS circus,” Eddie thought to himself.

A few moments later, he saw a woman in the procession wearing a costume with golden wings.  She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  Her name was Howin, which means “loyal swallow” in Chinese.  He discovered that was her name because he followed her for a mile along the route uptown and waited for her for five hours in the lobby of the Pennsylvania Hotel until he could see her again, completely forgetting about his job back at the hardware store.  That night, his father beat him with a belt, calling him a shameful son who lacked ambition.

Today is the first of Spring, 2015, and Eddie has long forgotten the beating.  Eddie prides himself on remembering the good things in life and not the tragedies, such as his father’s death, his son’s suicide at seventeen, the closing of the shop, his wife’s cancer.  And he will always remember the day and especially the night with Howin, the Communist Chinese circus acrobat visiting on a cultural exchange arranged by then President Nixon, a woman he could barely communicate with in Cantonese or English.

He never again saw Howin, the loyal swallow, but as Eddie, now an old man, walks along Mott Street on this cold first day of Spring, he remembers her golden wings.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum Snapshot Event

It was a once a year event — cameras were allowed inside the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

From the Tenement Museum website: “We tell the stories of 97 Orchard Street. Built on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants.”

As the docent guided us through the building, the other participants were fascinated by how much has changed in the hundred years since my own grandmother lived on the Lower East Side, working in the garment industry.   There  have been breakthroughs in technology, advances in sanitation, and regulations that better protect conditions at work and home.

But as we heard stories about those who lived here, a past generation’s hopes for success, love, and health, I thought about my own life, still living in a small New York City apartment, dealing with making money and work, and using an electronic dating app like Tinder as a modern-day Yentl the Matchmaker.

I understood that most basic human needs are still the same.

Fictional Characters of New York #39

wedding

My name is Eduardo Ruzman.   I am a professional wedding photographer, with a studio in Chelsea.  I shoot weddings of the most prominent members of New York society.   I make a very good living.

But my real vocation is that of fortune-teller. When I perform my duties at the church, temple, restaurant, or private mansion, I do not simply look through the viewfinder, and shoot images. I observe, and I listen. And based on the way a marrying couple interacts, their choice of words and gestures, the roll of an eye, a rise of tension in the voice, I can predict, to the exact month, how long their marriage will last.

“Maybe if you didn’t stay out so late last night, you wouldn’t be so tired today,” complained the new bride to her groom.  She was wearing a $10,000 Vera Wang dress.  He was the pampered son of a Wall Street icon.   His father hired me, knowing that I would make the couple look good for the New York Times wedding notice.

In fourteen months, and four days, she will file for divorce.

I was not born with this skill. I nurtured my talent during childhood in the Bronx. My father and mother, Rolando and Estella, argued all the time, about work, about the dishes, about how my mother made the “biggest mistake of her life” by not marrying Frederick, my father’s brother.  My father hated when she said that, especially how it was spoken with venom, and he would slap her in the face. Sometimes, while locked in my bedroom, I would hear the beatings.  It was my first correct forecast.   I knew that my parents would be married forever. Or until 1989, when my father had his mysterious accident, breaking his neck on the bottom of the steps.

Fictional Characters of New York — #38

The statues stood silent, dusty and broken in a lonely storage room.

“I told you this was the wrong place,” she said. “Robert’s gallery is on the fourth floor.”

I never liked Robert Altbrook, her pretentious artist friend, the type of guy who talked about books he never read.  But Andrea didn’t want to be late for his opening, so we got here early, but apparently on the wrong floor.

She had planned on this outing for a week, buying a new dress at Bloomingdale’s and making sure the kids were staying with friends.   I even cancelled my tennis game.

“After Robert’s show. After Robert’s show.”  That was my mantra to Lydia, as I kissed her breasts in her bed on Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t want to ruin Robert’s show for my wife.  I think she is love with him.”

Lydia managed the PR department of the firm. She was ten years older than I was, but younger at heart, and what had started out as a weekly Tuesday afternoon lunchtime fuck had turned into love.  Lydia was pressing me to ask Andrea for a divorce, and I was using Robert’s show as the deadline.

“And why would Andrea care?” I thought to myself.   We haven’t had sex in six years.  We had wasted fifteen years that went nowhere.  I was even convinced that Andrea was having an affair with Robert, but I never brought it up, feeling nausea at the idea.

“I want a divorce,” I will say to her, and we will both be free to follow our hearts.

But I knew that I would not ask her for a divorce. Not before Robert’s show. Not after Robert’s show.  I would not have the courage.  This was my life, and there was no turning back.

“Can we go?” asked Andrea, looking over at the dead stone figures.

“These statues scare me,” she said. “Imagine if they became alive.”

I felt the statues looking right back at us.

“These humans scare me,” they said. “Imagine if they became alive.”

statue1

statue2

statue3

statue4

Fictional Characters of New York — #37

move

After we spent all afternoon moving his equipment across the street, Gideon took a wad of money from his pocket and handed $100 bucks to each of the other guys in the crew. They promptly headed to the Fiddler to blow their money on liquor, leaving Gideon and I alone in the new studio with the boxes, furniture, and music equipment.

Gideon licked his thumb and swiped $300 from his still substantial ball of dough.

“And these three bills are for you, Danny.” he said.

“No, Gideon. I can’t take money from you.”

“Sure you can. You worked hard. You spent all Sunday doing this for me.”

“You know me. I didn’t have anything better to do today.”

“Listen, I wouldn’t have asked you if I thought you wouldn’t take the money.”

“I was just helping you… as a friend.”

“Did you see any other friends here?”

“So, I’m just like these other guys you hired.  Are you saying I’m not a friend?”

“Of course you are a friend. And that’s why I asked you.  I know you’ve been out of work. So when Jill suggested…”

“So, Jill told you to call me to give me a job.  Like a charity case.”

“She’s worried about you.”

“I would have rather you just called me as a friend.”

“Just take the money,” he said, as he tried to shove the $300 into my shirt pocket. “I know you need it.”

I slapped his hand away.

“Just take the fucking money,” he yelled.

“I don’t want your fucking money.”

Gideon grew red-faced.  He was not the type of man who liked no for an answer.  He grabbed me in a stranglehold, tightening his arm against my throat.

“You’re going to take the money,” he said, as he pushed the money down the front of my pants, into my underwear.   I pulled away, removed the bills, and ripped them into shreds, spilling it on the floor like confetti.

“No wonder you can’t find a job,” said Gideon.  “You’re an idiot.”

“I should have been the one who married Jill, not you.”

“Well she chose me. That’s life in New York City. Winners win, loser lose.”

“Good. Well, tell her I’m not fucking her anymore when you’re in LA for months on end.”

Gideon jumped me like a hungry lion smelling meat, and I elbowed him in the face, breaking his nose. Gideon tripped me and I fell, my head slamming against the edge of a synthesizer.  My vision grew dark and I needed to vomit.   I grabbed Gideon’s leg and he fell on a pile of framed photos stacked on his desk.  Portraits of rock icons destined to decorate the studio walls.  Crash!  The glass pieces flew through the air like tiny knives.

For the next twenty minutes we beat the shit out of each other, until we were too bloody and exhausted to continue. Using my last ounce of strength, I rallied myself to stand, and limped over to the front door.

“I have to go,” I said as I entered the gray day outside. “I have to look for a job tomorrow.”

Moving the Mannequins

mannequin1

mannequin2

15488498261_65b00ec249_z

mannequin5

mannequin6

mannequin4

Roosevelt Island Tram

I posted this little video on Facebook, and no one seemed very interested in it, but then again, I enjoy experimenting with different ways to tell a narrative.   I’m using a very old technique here — patching together still photographs into a sequence,  and then using a voiceover to give it some meaning.  It’s a little pretentious, but it’s my first try playing with this idea.

Fictional Characters of New York — #36

bench

My name is Joseph. I’m a novelist living in Manhattan. My latest novel, “Upper West Side” was skewered in this month’s New York magazine by a young, feminist book critic. She called my female characters “cardboard cutouts” and “male fantasies” who only spoke about love, sex, and romance.

“Has this male author ever listened to real New York women talking with each other?” she wrote.   “I suggest that he leave his apartment one day and stop wanking off onto his page.  When I am with my BFFs we rarely talk about love, sex, and romance.  We discuss feminism, racism, literary criticism, pop culture, and the best new places to get Indian food. This is a book that should die a slow death. Shame on you Random House for publishing such tripe!”

I have to admit, I was hurt by this review.  And the comments were even worse, especially the ugly one where someone suggested women should get together in book clubs and discuss fun ways to cut off my dick.

But I’m not the type of guy to lash out. I believe that criticism is important, and I always try to learn and grow.  Criticism of your work is part of the job.

And maybe the book critic was right.   I do live a solitary life.   Writing is a lonely profession, and I spend countless hours by myself.   Maybe I need to understand women better.

Wasn’t it just last Saturday that my daughter, Julia, suggested I go on a date with someone, maybe one of my editors?

“I’m too busy for dating,” I told her. “I need to write.”

Besides, Saturday exists for my daughter.   Saturday is my happiest day.  Julia lives in Connecticut with her mother and step-father, and I live for our one day a week to see a Broadway show or new foreign film.

But how can I be a good father if I don’t understand women?   Is this why my marriage failed?  Did I not understand Kathy?   Do I only see women under the filter of  love, sex, and romance, but not living with the same worldly dreams, ambitions, and goals of men?

I decided to take the book reviewer’s advice to heart.   After lunch, I closed my laptop, and I took a walk down Broadway, something I never do in the middle of the week.   I continued downtown until I noticed three women sitting on a bench, chatting together. They were of different ages; I assumed they were related. I took my position on a bench across from them and closed my eyes to focus on their voices and conversation. I wanted to learn, “What DO women really talk about?”

And I listened.   One woman, I think the younger one, had a higher-pitched voice. The older woman was tentative in her speech, but the others responded with respect for her life experience.  The third woman was the most educated.   She mentioned her advanced degree from Columbia at least three times.

The feminist book critic from New York magazine was correct. I listened with my eyes closed for forty minutes, and NONE of these women mentioned the subjects of love, sex, and romance.

What did they talk about?    They discussed a job opening at a publishing house, an acquaintance who was recently unfriended on Facebook,  a vacation rental apartment in Prague, a sale on fall jackets at Burlington Coat Factory, a recipe for challah for Rosh Hashanah, whether Hillary Clinton would be a good president, and where to find a good math tutor for the middle woman’s struggling son.

I had finally learned what women discuss with each other.

“Basically, love, sex, and romance,” I said to myself.

I chuckled, then returned home to write a new book.

Kate’s Shed Photography Workshop

I’m sitting in McDonald’s with my free morning coffee (some promotion for the last two weeks of September). Across from me is a sixty year old woman wearing a fall jacket. She has red hair that is too bright, and full lips. She is an attractive woman. Years ago, back in high school,  she was probably the girl everyone wanted to ask to the prom. She leans against the window and the morning sun is shining in, coloring the left side of her face with golden light. It’s a scene out of Renoir, if Renoir lived in Queens rather than the French Riviera.

I have an urge to take a photo of this woman, to capture the moment, but she seems alone in her thoughts, and my instinct tells me that it is inappropriate to take out my iPhone. I cannot explain to you why one moment feels right to take a photo and the other an invasion of privacy. I just feel it.

There is a slippery slope of morality in taking photos of strangers. I can give you arguments rationalizing the importance of street photography — historical record, artistic license, celebration of the city — but I don’t like to bullshit you.  For me, there is an element of escape to street photography, an unburdening of loneliness. Taking a photo makes me feel as if I am part of something bigger, a city in motion.

But the truth is I envy your photography online, especially that which is connected to your domestic life.   I wish I could have your wonderful subjects — such beautiful children, spouses, dogs, and houses.  I can think of nothing more thrilling than taking photos of my kids at a birthday party or my wife posing naked for me.   Street photography is impersonal and lacking in heart.

++++

My week in Nova Scotia was a magical one — the scenery, the music, the people, old friends and new, and even the cookies that Kate’s mom baked for the occasion. You can read about it on Kate’s own blog. Kate’s Shed brought me back to the first time I actually met Kate — back at our first BlogHer conference, before she had published her first book. It was a time when blogging conferences had intimacy to them, something now lost.

I have a hard time coming up with a narrative thread for an experience that contains so many threads — friendship, tourism, and learning, so I’ve decided to just pick the one moment that had the most impact on me, the experience that I still think about today.

It was my short time taking photos of C.

C was a participant at Kate’s Shed photography workshop, and I didn’t talk with her much.  Yet, one of the assignments on Saturday was to split into pairs and take portraits of each other. I was paired with C. I was insecure, as if I was going to be unmasked as a fraud.  Kate lent me her Canon DSLR, and I hated leaving the comfort zone of auto and the ease of a zoom lens.  I didn’t know whether to tell her that I had never used a DSLR until that day.   Even worse, the only way to make her comfortable enough and trust me to take her portrait was to, uh, TALK to her.

It’s difficult to judge the results, but I was happy with them.  I believe I “captured” something about the spirit in her heart, even if I can’t put my finger on what it is.   It didn’t happen immediately, but I didn’t rush it.   I took my time.   I moved her to a new location.   I coaxed her out of her discomfort.   I waited for the light to hit her.   I didn’t think of myself as an external camera, but as two people doing some sort of visual dance, and for a brief moment, this woman was the most beautiful and interesting women in the world to me, and I felt it.

It was an experience both professional and intimate. Street photography is hiding in the bushes. Portrait photography is engagement. And the result is a moment captured.

I doubt I will ever see C again. After the shoot, we didn’t bond in any special way.   Our special moment disappeared the minute the camera was off.   We continued on with the workshop as two relative strangers.  But there was something about that moment that changed my view of photography. And it had nothing to do with using the DSLR instead of a smartphone. It had to do with connecting with your camera, and with another person.  I had experienced something about photography that I had never felt before.   And I suppose that was the point of the workshop.

« Older posts Newer posts »
Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial