Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lower East Side 1994

Over the first few years of my life as a professional photographer (not that I ever made any livable wage from it) I pursued several long term projects. The four images shown below were part of a story I called  Manhattan Diaspora that documented the disappearing Jewish community of New York City's Lower East Side. The work was completely analog - that is, film, chemicals, enlarger, paper ..... you get the idea. I later scanned the negatives into my computer using a Nikon dedicated film scanner which is no longer available. No, it is not for sale.

Contrast was much more difficult to manage in those analog days. I knew I'd be shooting indoors in somewhat subdued lighting and I had no intention of using a flash, so I used Fuji neopan 1600 film in my Leica M4 and M6. Of the four images below, the outdoor photograph of the entrance to Spiegel Framing was shot in bright daylight on the same roll of film as the indoor shots. The parameters for developing the film were dictated by what was on most of the film - the indoor exposures. As a result the few frames I shot outside became very dense negatives, and the image of the door and sign to the frame shop is very contrasty. I toned it back as best I could digitally, but it's just not possible to get detail from areas of a negative that have none. The other shots, however came out quite well.

I came upon the shop through a recommendation by Rabbi Jacob Spiegel (no relation) who was the spiritual leader of the First Roumanian American Congregation on Rivington Street, a historically significant synagogue (which burned down several years after the completion of my project) with a very small congregation that formed the core of the Manhattan Diaspora story. Rabbi Spiegel recommended Mr. Spiegel as a subject I might consider because the framer had done work for the rabbi, restoring and maintaining the congregation's holy ark which contained its torah scrolls.

The exterior of the shop, which was on the Bowery, did not look promising. It was covered in graffiti and the outside sidewalk was covered with garbage. Inside, however, was a photographer's treasure. Details abounded - interesting shadows, intersecting lines and angles all over the place. Most importantly were the three people who worked in the shop. Mr Spiegel emanated an aura of  old world craftsmanship  and his two apprentices treated him reverentially.

As I said, the pictures were shot with my Leicas: with my 21mm f2.8  and 35mm f2 lenses. Old world cameras, old world subject, analog film .....  nice.