Thursday, March 22, 2012

More Wooden Indians

Over the years of my teaching and coaching people - musically and photographically - I've come to understand that we are not all created with the same measures of talent and creativity, or physical prowess, or intelligence. Some are born with and develop quick muscle responses, so they're better athletes - we can't all be Derek Jeters. Some are born with incredible brains - we can't all be Albert Einsteins, or Pablo Picassos. You get the idea. But we all have some physical ability, otherwise we wouldn't be able to walk, and we can all think (one would like to hope so, anyway, the state of our civilization notwithstanding). And we all have a spark of talent and creativity, we are all God's creatures.

I love to swim, been doing a mile a day for the better part of forty years. I'm no Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps, never will be. But I work at it every day because I love the process of improving.  If we work at developing whatever skills or gifts we have, we can't help but improve. There is something that happens when I go out on a personal photo walk. It's an intuitive, unconscious process that works in the background without any thought on my part. I try to not think when I'm out shooting. That all has to be done before I pick up the camera, or after I put it down and review my work as I edit it down. If I think while I'm out shooting, I end up not pressing the shutter button. Or if I do, I wind up with crap. So I've learned to trust my instincts. It isn't easy, there's always the idea in the back of my mind that this time it won't work. Honestly, sometimes I come home, look at what I've shot, and see nothing of any worth. It's got to happen sometime, so if I let that idea keep me from going out to shoot I'll wind up with nothing, ever.

In a recent blog post I wrote about working a specific location. That one in particular was the wooden indian outside Nat Sherman's Smoke Shop on East 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. I had been there this past week, March 19th, wrote the blog post that evening, and didn't pick up the camera again until today when I went into New York for another private photo walk. I stopped in Nat Sherman's to pick up a cigar and when I exited the store I checked the indian. Nothing happening there, so I moseyed up Fifth Avenue for a delightful afternoon of shooting and girl watching.

At the end of the afternoon I walked down Ninth Avenue to head back to Penn Station. As I walked past a small cigar shop near West 38th Street a gentleman was leaving the store puffing away on a stogy. I picked up the camera and fired off two frames - no thinking, no viewfinder. Just bam - fired away. Here's the shot (which, by the way, I captioned Hard to see thru all this damned smoke!):

As I was writing this blog entry I remembered a shot from years ago that involved wooden indians, so I dug into my film archive for 1991. I was walking up Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village and looked up Christopher Street. Saw this scene and realized that I had the wrong lens on my camera to get it - I had a 21mm mounted on my Leica M4, what I needed to get the shot was my 90mm lens. I made a quick switch and prayed that the fellow at the end of the row wouldn't move, and got off one frame before the shot disappeared.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Working A Particular Location

A very important part of shooting on the street is familiarity with the environment. When I walk around New York I try to stay alert for locations that offer potential, not necessarily at that particular moment, and make a mental note to return often. Sometimes I find a spot in New York that just screams out for photos to be taken.

Whenever I'm in the midtown area on 42nd Street I stop into Nat Sherman's store and treat myself to a fine cigar. Appropriately, the store has a symbolic wooden indian statue out front. The first time I really took note of it was last summer, as I walked past the store front, a woman was standing next to the statue and I was immediately struck by the similarity in their facial features:

I check that spot every time I'm on 42nd Street. When I walked past last month two workmen were next to the statue. I titled the shot 'Three Little Indians'. 

This past week, on my way out of the store I grabbed this shot just as the gentleman turned to look at me: