Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: street photography

Fictional Characters of New York #51

subway

It was Friday afternoon and Sandy stood on the 125th subway platform with her daughter, Laila.    They were heading downtown; it was her ex-husband’s weekend with his daughter.   Sandy’s mind was elsewhere.   She was hoping to have a date tonight with the good-looking marketing executive she met on Tinder, but he had yet to return her text.

“How does Santa Claus get into our apartment building. We don’t have a chimney?” asked Laila.

Laila had been obsessing about the truth behind Santa Claus ever since she observed the one from the department store Santa  entering the men’s room behind the kitchen appliance section in Macy’s.

“In New York City, Santa Claus brings the toys in through the window.  He also has the key to every apartment.” her mother answered.

Normally Sandy hated to bring her daughter over to Luke’s apartment, she disapproved of his new girlfriend, Ellie, a twenty-eight year old Hungarian graduate student  with excessive cleavage.    This weekend, Sandy was glad for the time alone.   She could use her time to watch Hallmark movies in her underwear. Even if the Tinder guy didn’t get back to her this weekend, it will be enough to have the quiet in the apartment.

“And I always have my vibrator” she thought, a gift she bought for herself last Christmas.

Laila was still thinking about Santa Claus.

“So, Santa Claus flies into every single window in New York City? That would take him all night. And, uh, where does he park the reindeer?”

“He just does it. He’s Santa Claus.”

“Let’s get real. There is no Santa Claus, is there?” Laila asked, clicking her tongue.

Sandy’s heart skipped a beat. Her daughter was too young to reject the magic of childhood. Sandy felt like a failure as a mother, the type of parent to be scorned on the internet.

“Of course there’s a Santa Claus,” said Sandy. “I mean it’s not the guy at Macy’s. That is just an actor. But the real Santa Claus is out there, with his white beard, living in the North Pole. coming on Christmas to make children happy.”

“Mom, I think I need a second opinion.”

Laila saw an older black man sitting on the bench under the poster for the new Supergirl TV show.  He was reading the New York Times, about the latest terrorist attack in Europe.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Laila, and the man looked up from his newspaper.

“Yes?” he asked, glancing over at Sandy for her permission to talk to he daughter.

“Could you tell me if there is really a Santa Claus?” asked Laila

“Ah, Santa Claus,” said the man on the bench, crossing his legs.  “Are you having your doubts about Santa Claus?”

“Yes. My mother said there is a real Santa Claus. What do you think?”

“Hell no. It’s all made up nonsense. There is no Santa Claus. Only little children believe in that stuff.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Laila.

“I’m glad to help.” said the man.

Laila returned to her mother, who was checking Tinder.

“Did your date get back to you?” Laila asked her mother.

“Nah, he’s a loser.”

“Yeah.  Maybe this dating site is not the best place for you.”

“You’re right,” Sandy sighed. It’s so superficial. I’ll try Match.com next.”

“Good idea,” said Laila, caressing her mother’s arm.

“So, did you get your second opinion?” asked Sandy.  “What did the man have to say ?”

“He said that there IS a real Santa Claus who lives in the North Pole and flies out with his reindeer on Christmas to make children happy.”

“I told you!” said Sandy, relieved.

Fictional Characters of New York — #26

bigbird

Like many children growing up in the 1960s, Ben learned his life skills by watching Sesame Street. By kindergarten, Ben could recite the alphabet and count to ten.  The moral philosophy of the PBS became Ben’s guiding principle of life — he believed that people of all races and backgrounds could live together in harmony, even if his own family couldn’t do the same.

In later life, Sesame Street never prepared Ben for unemployment at age 50, or for his divorce with Angela, his wife of 20 years. But through a set of circumstances that could only be described as ironic, Ben fell into a part-time job playing Big Bird in Central Park, hawking photos from tourists visiting the city.

Big Bird was never Ben’s favorite from the show.  He acted like a pussy.  He preferred Oscar the Grouch, who reminded him of his father, a gruff man who used to drink his beer from a can while watching his cop shows.

But needing the money, Ben faked a good Big Bird, nailing the speech and mannerisms, and the kids of Central Park — youth of all colors and creeds — loved him, tugging his feathers as if he was their long lost friend. He made a few good tips too; frantic parents shoved shriveled five dollar bills into his big bird hands. Ben hated his new job.  He felt deep deep shame.   But gradually, Ben learned to control his tears by reciting the alphabet and counting to ten.

 

Fictional Characters of New York — #16

bar

The following flash fiction was inspired by the people of New York, and the street photography that captures the diversity and excitement of the city.  The story, names, and situations are all 100% fictional.   Photo and story by Neil Kramer.

If you’ve been doing online dating as long as Benji, you would have celebrated too.  Match.com, E-Harmony, J-Date.  Finally, he felt such chemistry and when he made a joke, she laughed, and her face turned the color of a strawberry.  

And then came Saturday.  

“Why do women agree to go on dates to only say they “still have feelings” for their ex?” he wondered to himself as he left the bar.  “And if they “still have feelings,” why do they continue to go out with men other than me?”

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.

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