I’m feeling under water, over-whelmed and under-whelmed with ideas. I need to take a break for a week. See you next week.
April 23, 2013
April 8, 2013
There has been a “fear and trembling” feeling that has been lingering over our heads this past year. It has permeated our souls, infiltrated a great deal of our thoughts and conversations, and otherwise made life miserable.
I am talking about the wait to receive the almighty gift from God, a college acceptance letter.
Who would have imagined the anxiety and nervousness that has permeated this household for over a year, as my daughter began to collate, discriminate and otherwise choose what her final choices would be for college admissions.
There were meetings with college advisors, parents of other students, parents of close friends, interviews, lectures, books, college visits and tours, SAT tutorials and testing, advanced placement testing, essay writing, editing, rewriting, and ultimately submission decisions. I am exhausted just thinking about it. All of this lay on the delicate shoulders of my 18-year-old daughter, Savannah. No matter how much my wife and I participated, and my wife was there at every twist and turn, most of the burden lay directly with Savannah.
In the very early Fall, Savannah made the very bright decision to apply to her favorite and first choice school for early action. This meant that from this school we would hear by the early winter. For the other schools that she was interested in, we would have to wait until April.
Some very evil, slightly twisted, masochistic people must have created this process of acceptance and rejection. It must have been their intention to create total havoc and foster nervous breakdowns on many of the aspiring students and their families. For at exactly 4 pm on the day of reckoning, a small ding alerted us to an incoming email. Throughout the world, thousands of acceptances and rejections were being emailed all at once. There were cries of rejection heard throughout the homes across America, mingled with a few bursts of jubilation in the others. Best friends were separated by denial and acceptance, enemies were reunited, people who were over-qualified rejected, and some amazing misfits accepted. All of this drama and one’s future played out in a simple email.
So on this particular day at precisely 4 pm, Savannah and I opened her email. All it took was the first word to know all we needed to know, Congratulations. She had been accepted. We yelled and screamed with delight. She had made it. All the years and years of hard work and diligence had paid off. She was accepted to the University of Chicago, known throughout serious academic circles as a school where “fun goes to die.” She is ready and very happy and we are all so proud. For now schooling truly begins, where the world is laid bare and everything is open to you. Chicago get ready, my daughter is coming.
P.S. By the way, two other schools she applied to, both my alma maters, she did not get into, despite the fact that at one of the schools she was a double legacy and way beyond qualified.
Needless to say I am in the midst of writing the most heinous and angry letter to both of them. My letter will be like the “Purloined Letter” filled with distaste, scorn and revenge. No way will either of these schools get my twenty-five dollar a year donation. On this spring day my daughter got into the school of her first choice. I am so happy and proud to be her father.
March 27, 2013
In 1972, my family’s grand house on the south shore of Long Island was sold quickly after my father’s death. My mother quickly abandoned and withdrew herself from this part of her life, and moved her permanent residence to Manhattan. In fact, after the late Fall of 1972, I never returned to that part of Long Island until the summer of 1988 when along came Leslie.
One early summers weekend morning, when the summer sun was blissful and luxurious, I felt the urge to go to the beach. We ended up at a beach not far from where I had grown up as a boy, and at the end of a rather luxurious day of sun; I suddenly had the notion to show Leslie (my soon to be wife) the place I had grown up. I hadn’t been back to the house in years and I wondered what feelings lied in store for me. My life there with my parents, all the help that had nurtured and protected me, our dogs, etc., everything was simply now a memory. As we drove through the gates to the house, Leslie emphatically felt that this was very wrong. It all felt very private and very intimidating. I, on the other hand, felt perfectly comfortable and felt I was going home. Although we had not been invited, nor did we know the present owners, I felt I belonged there.
When we approached the front door, I heard voices in the backyard and both Leslie and I walked quickly around and introduced ourselves as someone who had grown up in the house. It happened to be the owners and they were very gracious and asked me my name. When I mentioned it, they told me of an old Army trunk of my father’s that they had found deeply buried in the eves of the attic. They told me the trunk was filled with my father’s love letters to my mother, some letters from my sister to her boyfriend, and some Army and personal paraphernalia of my father’s. They had been unable to discard this and had been holding onto this trunk for years in the hope that someday one of us would return, and here on this summer’s day, I had.
I don’t remember who was more excited. Leslie was overcome with anticipation and the owners were thrilled that we had finally arrived. They quickly showed us the house, which was vastly different from when my family lived there, and not to my taste. Upon seeing the house again, and although it felt so different than it did when I was a little boy, I could still feel the faint remnants of my father’s presence in small places throughout the house. We removed the trunk placed it in our car and with enormous thanks to the new residence of my former life, and left quickly for New York.
When we returned to New York, we opened the trunk, and as described it was full of pictures and letters, army insignias, etc. It was a testament to my father’s early life. The contents brimmed with mystery, excitement, and a love for my mother that I had not felt in years. But perhaps most importantly, upon the opening of this small trunk, a musty smell of a long forgotten world emanated. I could almost feel my father’s presence, but not as the man I knew, but rather the young man that existed before I was born.
The house we had come to see was a fulfillment of one of my father’s dreams. He always loved this house. He made it majestic and beautiful. All the work on the house and the grounds, all the labor, the painting, the continual renewal while we lived there was worth it. It had made an indelible impression on me. I have become my father’s son.
I understand that some years later the house burnt completely to the ground. What once was is completely gone. But what is not gone is my parent’s ways. I have embraced their soul and rebuilt a house that bares homage to my present and to their past. I now live the life I want to live, but without question the foundations of my home today are rooted in that house on the south shore of Long Island.
March 18, 2013
I have a home and studio snuggled into the cliffs of The Palisades. It is adjacent to the wide expanse of the Hudson River, and on a cool summer’s foggy evening, one can hear the comforting horns of passing barges. Otherwise, the silence is deep, dark and wonderful.
Set into a few acres of curmudgeonly, yet lush lower Hudson River Valley, is the house and stone studio that dates back to the mid-nineteenth and very early twentieth century.
Most of the time I am deeply rooted in the very fiber of this property. When the call of spring arises my heart begins to sing a new song. The desire to clean, restore and organize overcomes me and I find myself raking, seeding, and planting everything organic that has survived the cruel winter. It is a joyful task, one that I greatly look forward too.
Over the years we have cultivated, restored and otherwise renovated every inch of our section of this earth. It includes all the structures, the walls and the plantings that surround and envelope us on our few luxurious acres. This house has become me and I have become it. I know it’s fashionable to not be too attached to our possessions, and most probably there is great truth in this, but I beg to differ. For me, the world I have created that surrounds me, replenishes my soul and gives me great comfort. What else could you ask of a possession? The call of the home has overtaken me, and despite my moments of despair at the never ending costs of maintaining its grandeur, I find I truly enjoy every item in our home. As I find something new, I feel I am filling the very soul of this house with beauty.
If you were able to undress this house slowly, you would find that each pipe that courses through the myriad of walls and floors, from the subterranean level to the attic, are labeled precisely and run with the joy knowing that they are perfectly straight and true. What could be more wonderful for a pipe?
If you dug up the various lawns, gardens, and driveways, you would find level upon level of crisscrossing conduits for pipes, electrical wires, etc., that dissect our home and property at various levels. This too is a model of perfection.
Many would think this is all folly or unnecessary. Why do you need a pipe that is perfectly straight? Why does the paint need to be painted with a brush rather than a roller? Why is the floor treated as if it is a fine piece of furniture? Is all of this necessary? To me the answer is a resounding yes! This is my job well done. This is a place where things are done to perfection, where man has made small triumphs in setting this small world straight and on course. It is a place where I have tried my very best and exposed my soul in the plaster and woodworking that contains and nurtures this home.
Unlike most things in our popular culture, this home is a classic, yet timeless edifice. It stands for a kind of beauty in a world that no longer embraces it. It is old in a new world, yet it has much to teach you. It has a sense of proportion, elegance and grace. It has an ability to stand solid, un-remorseful and full of all its history. It endures proudly in a culture that is quick to move on to the next new thing.
My house in the Palisades is like me. Deeply rooted, and unable to embrace all the changes that confront us. It stands quietly, yet proudly, offering a powerful alternative of what life can be.
March 4, 2013
Like a small lament from a Samuel Barber Adagio, my heart these last cruel months of winter has been filled with sadness. I wish it weren’t so, for I do not easily fall into this well, but work, winter, health, the state of affairs of our nation have weighed heavily on my soul, and now finally there is that first faint aroma of Spring in the air. I am beginning to feel once again, like all the energetic buds around me, the pull and joy of re-emergence. I am beginning to once again believe in myself.
Unfortunately it is my belief to feel empathy for others, to see the world around us with a sense of optimism and humor, I must be able on occasion to fall down this dark well of souls so that at some point I can find my way back out into the light of Spring.
When I was a young man in my early twenties and I lived in Connecticut, I must have felt somewhat similar to how I have felt recently. My father had died a few years earlier and I had a son, Jonah, who was about five years old at the time. I had been struggling for some years to make a living as a photographer and unfortunately I was somewhat obsessed with my callings as a photographer, my hypochondria, the obsessive maintenance of our home, and most probably was extremely neglectful of my wife and my son. I worked at home, so I was constantly with them, but I am not sure I was truly with them. I was there, yet in retrospect, I was only partially there.
I couldn’t escape my own fears and anxieties, and though I tried to be a good father, I can see today in my own son’s extraordinary love and attention to his own five-year-old son (my grandson) what a masterful father he is.
I had taken one step down the path of life from my own father. I was more attentive to my own son than he, but still I was locked in my own cage of fears and despite the love around me, I felt isolated and most importantly as I do today, unable to feel love or any affection for me. I guess I felt I just didn’t deserve it. I hadn’t deserved it in my mother and father’s eyes, why should I deserve it or receive it from my wife and my son? I was failing them too.
During this period I was teaching photography in Connecticut, and one day while driving to school some 40 minutes away, I was hit very hard by another car. My car was totally damaged and beyond repair, but miraculously I seemed to have survived this significant trauma unhurt.
I called my best friend Rob (who I will write about at a later date) to pick me up, as there was nothing left of my car. Rob was kind enough to come some distance, pick me up, and take me home, and this is where “thoughts that lie too deep for tears” are realized. Upon coming home and stopping in front of our front door, Jonah, my son, flew the door open, was crying hysterically and came running towards me with his arms out, hugging me as if he never wished to let me go. He was crying uncontrollably. He loved and cared for me in a way I was not able to feel before. And for a brief moment, I felt all his love for me come pouring out. There was no need to prove anything. It was simply good enough that I was his father and at that time he didn’t ask for more. At that moment in time, I realized then, as I am trying to today, that deep down below all the humor, the hypochondria, below my obsessive diversions, that perhaps I am lovable to someone. My son at that moment had broken through this feeling and left me standing there in awe.
One of my worst nightmares is of me standing with a group of other men, completely naked in front of a row of women. We have nothing but ourselves to share. We have no houses, cars, money, power, etc., to offer, only ourselves. I wake from this dream terrified that no one would choose me.
This is how I stand before you in my pictures, completely vulnerable and naked, with a terrible fear, yet a small hope that in the end, despite all my failings you could still find a way to love me simply for who I am.
February 27, 2013
Because my trusted “write” hand scriber of this blog has been on vacation, I have been unable to transfer my musings into something concrete. Therefore, I am taking this week to beseech, encourage, and solicit all photographers, art directors, models, would-be and could-be photographers, and people of all sizes and persuasions to consider taking my upcoming workshop. There are only a few spots left, and I would love to welcome a few more of you to my studio. I realize the cost is expensive, but I promise you it is not because I am getting rich. Pretty much everything you spend goes into the workshop. I would hope it is a pretty special experience and well worth the fee. Although I have taught for many years, quite honestly I am not sure I will do this workshop in the future. This may be the last chance to work closely with me and I hope to have the opportunity to meet a few more of you in May.
February 19, 2013
In a never ending quest to reveal who I am, I thought I would save any new reader the drudgery of slopping through the myriad of postings over the last years, and with little effort, get right to the heart of the matter. Here in one easy posting is an abbreviated, but still relevant list of my likes and dislikes.
Hopefully, it tells a small story of a slightly eccentric, unordinary man, struggling to find his way in the rather ordinary culture we live in.
Printed newspapers, well designed books and bookstores
The patina of silver
Beautifully made automobiles
A well tailored suit
Fireplaces with well tendered fires in winter
Manicured lawns, hedges and allees
Order and precision
A sense of humor
Uniforms of all sorts
Women of style
Quiet, clean, well lighted spaces
Natural light (let there be light)
Extremely well made things of all sorts
A job well done
A beautiful woman in a classic one piece bathing suit
Classic music from Mozart to Avro Part
Monastic life and Gregorian Chants
A beautiful womans legs
Heavyset men and women with style
National Trust Gardens
Large, majestic trees
The rural life
A nobel man
Diners, Drive-ins and Dives
Receiving letters from the U.S. Post Office
Home cooked meals
The Bourne Movies
A great deal of popular culture
A woman’s underwear revealed too easily
Bikini’s on 99.9% of women
A person’s stomach being exposed
Sloppy and vulgar dressing
Most, but not all of Modern Art and Photography
Windows without mullions
Too narrow lapels and ties
Most designer clothes that have more fashion than style
Women’s large handbags with lots of bangles
Discordant modern music
Office buildings with tinted glass
Windows that do not open
Most marketing and PR
Most objects made in plastic
Most online everything (especially banking)
Being late to anything
Crowded places and small elevators
Rap and Heavy Metal Music
Most art films
An unexamined life
Following the leader
February 12, 2013
No matter how much I try I can’t escape the mounds of white snow. I am up to my eyebrows in snow. Hopefully the snow will be down to at least waist height by next week, so I can bring pen to hand for a new weekly blog. See you then.
February 5, 2013
I guess I should be flattered, imitation is supposedly the highest form of flattery, but I am not sure what I feel, and what I’m really not sure about, is why someone would applaud or even hire a vision that is by it’s very nature “second-rate.”
True, it may be a virtuoso performance. It may be filled with all the contemporary photo techniques to help fulfill it vision, but despite all its efforts, one is still left with an imitation.
In the early 1990′s when I was beseeching people to hire me for fashion assignments, I thought I could get to see Donna Karan, as she had a personal relationship with my father, having working for him in the 60′s and 70′s. I never did get to see Donna Karan until years later when I took her portrait, but I did manage to see Patti Cohen, her long time confidant and assistant. At that time, Patti was the gatekeeper and it seemed that Donna Karan totally trusted her.
So one afternoon I brought my portfolio of prints to their offices, and like many photographers before me, I showed her my work. Despite the pandemonium around us, and the distractedness of Pati Cohen, something happened that day that I remember well.
About two-thirds of the way through the portfolio, she stopped and although speaking to denizens of people around her at the same time as looking at my work, she paused everything for a brief moment and looked directly at me and declared emphatically, “Oh my God! This is the Real Thing!”
Although I was never hired by Donna Karan, apparently they too did not want the real thing. They too only wanted to copy it, as they did years later, and ended up remunerating me for their efforts. I have never forgotten Patti Cohen’s brief, quiet comment to me. What did she see in my work that was so different than all the work that preceded it? What in my work made it the real thing? What is the real thing?
Today I think I know. I realize that there is always much in life to imitate and the urge to do so is enormous, yet I also realize that to be original one has to look deep within themselves and find what no one else can copy, a very private voice.
Often this is difficult and painful and requires a self-awareness that many people do not have or want. But if one speaks honestly and to thine own self be true, they too may find a way to be their own real thing. I have tried to express my own feelings about the world in my work. These expressions could only come from me and my own personal experiences. If they are the real thing, it is only because they are unique to me and represent a real and honest expression of my life.
So young man, the man some photographers have written to me in outrage, the man photo magazines have applauded as original and new, I say to you, “Although you can fool most of the people all the time,” please remember you can’t fool me.
January 29, 2013
I have been teaching since I have been a very young man, and although it is difficult and very emotionally draining experience for me, I seem to have had significant impact on many people for quite some time.
Why is it that so many people’s photographs, although they have enormous intent and intellect, lack any soul or great wisdom in their pictures? Despite the myriad of workshops, lectures, technical gatherings and post-production wizardry, most people’s pictures continue to convey a lack of originality or insight.
Is it because they do not have the talent? Many people including my wife would argue that this is truly the case. A few lucky people are simply more capable or more talented than others, and this is reflected in their work.
I do not believe this to be the case, and over the years as I have taught many people, I have seen significant and very meaningful changes occur. Unfortunately what is required of one’s self to mature, to change, and to develop is far harder and more emotionally exhausting than simply becoming talented.
Many people want to change, but they do not want to look deeply into their beings to mitigate change. I understand this. People are terrified of their demons and their fears. They want to keep them under control (buttoned up) in terrible fear that if they are exposed, terrible things will ensue. So their pictures reflect this torment. There is no direction, no depth and everything is kept on the surface. Round and round from one camera, one photo expo, and one workshop to another, without ever passing over a threshold or entering a new interior door. People desperately want their pictures to get better; they honestly do, but only up to a point. They quite understandably do not want to open their souls to someone that they do not trust or know.
And then along comes me…
In my first years out of graduate school I often taught a photography seminar at ICP (International Center of Photography) in New York City. At the time ICP was a new institution filled with foreign photography students. I loved teaching this class as I had students from all over the world with their distinct backgrounds, languages and cultures. Although their subject matter was quite distinct, the issues that confronted this small United Nations were universal.
In one class at ICP I had two identical twin sisters from Sweden. They had both graduated from college and both were interested in photography. This was their fist trip to the United State, yet I remember their English was impeccable.
As I began to reflect on one of the sister’s work and began to probe and understand her life through her work, I noticed she was becoming more and more agitated. She did not feel comfortable discussing anything other than certain aspects of the photographs, i.e. subject matter, composition, lighting, etc. Her pictures were lifeless and reflected this unwillingness to go deeper. Although the subject looked engaged, staring directly at the camera, the portraits were lacking any interior insight. It was as if the photographer and the subject had kept their conversation to a handshake rather than anything intimate.
Now here comes the interesting part. When I tried to get past this veneer and look deeply into this young girls eyes with my questioning, she became very agitated and angry. She said to me, “All you Americans are the same. You barely know someone and you expect them to reveal themselves to you. We Europeans take a long time to open up, and besides, I would never tell you anything before I got to know you much better.”
With this comment her identical twin sister said to her, “This is exactly your problem. Our whole life, no matter how well you know someone, you have never exposed anything! You are in a cocoon. This is the perfect class for you. This is exactly what you need to finally unwind.”
With this interchange the two sisters quarreled and abruptly the one uncomfortable sister rose from her chair and walked out of the classroom, never to be seen again. Unfortunately, I was never able to get past the fears of this troubled person. This girls pictures were a perfect reflection of who she was. Someone so troubled, so controlled, so unable to let her feelings out. Her pictures reflected her life at that moment.
I remember this moment because there was so much I could have done for her. Her feelings were right on the surface ready to be expressed in a positive and powerful way, but I never had the chance.
Photography is not without great emotion, even passion and intellect. I want you all to learn to let the fears out, to expose the person that lies deep below all the anxieties. The person who reaches out to the world around us and sings at the top of their lungs a resounding YES to life.
I hope I get to meet a few of you at my workshop in May. Hopefully all who take it will feel afterwards that I have put my heart and soul into helping you realize your full potential. Below is a link to the workshop details. See you in May.