Thursday, June 26, 2014


I used to do still life photography. I photographed everything inside of my home or studio. I would set it all up. I controlled the lights. Everything in the picture was of my doing. I loved it.

For someone detail oriented like me, what's not to love?  I might just do still life photography again someday. Not the same way as before because I'm in a different place. The world is also in a different place.

I didn't take pictures of any kind for a long time. The one exception was pictures of my kids. They were the typical kinds of pictures everyone takes. That said, I think they were above average kid snapshots because of my background.

About three years ago, I started photographing things outdoors. For whatever reason, I noticed beauty everywhere when I hadn't before. I did not bring my old 4x5 camera outdoors. That's still sitting in its box. I use the iPhone camera now.

If you only know me from this blog, I'm going to admit something to you openly. I take some pretty weird pictures now. I'm not ashamed of it. But the kind of odd photography I do takes some expert management.

I photograph crumpled bags, banana peels and discarded boxes that look just so for my Beautiful Trash Series. I like to get up close and personal with textured bricks, peeling paint and things that look like they need fixing. I photograph weeds and call that project Hardscrabble Plants.

For most people, seeing someone take a picture with their Smartphone of the Empire State Building, a sunset or my child wearing a cap and gown is not at all strange. This is business as usual for normal people.

But getting down low on the sidewalk to photograph a perfect pattern of crabgrass growing out of a crack in the pavement is potentially noteworthy. It is socially unexpected.

I handle this admittedly eccentric behavior in a variety of ways.

Sometimes I get lucky. I'll be walking down an empty street. That scenario is awesome, but rare.

I rely on speed. I've really changed in this regard. When I was a still life photographer, I was slow as molasses. This was fine. I've always been methodical. People were paying me to be this way.

My life experience has taught me to think on my feet. I'm that person you want around in an emergency now. And so it is with my photography. If I see something incredible, I don't pussyfoot around. I try to get in and out before anyone notices.

Sometimes I engage with people. I explain that I'm an artist. If the person asks me why I am doing this, I have a quick little elevator speech to give them. Sometimes I'll even show them the picture, if they're interested.

I find that if there is one weird thing that you do, it helps to be absolutely normal in every other way. People also get used to you. This is NYC. There are weirder folks than me.

Other times, I'll make a mental note of something beautiful and go back when it's just rained and people are inside. Sometimes, I'll just let it go. It's okay. I am not wanting for material

Cold weather can be challenging for a lot of reasons, but for the kind of photography I do, it's a good thing. People are not standing around aimlessly on the street. They are also not sitting together in folding chairs and staring vacantly.  They're either somewhere warm or walking quickly.

There is one scenario where I get to take a break from all of this. When I take photographs of flowers, I can go ahead and disregard everything I do when I take pictures of trash, weathered shutters or dents in cars. That is because other people think that photographing flowers is normal.

When I photograph flowers, people will give me a little smile as they walk by. I don't have to worry about how many people are around. Sometimes people will engage in small bits of conversation about the flowers and how beautiful they are. That's because everyone agrees that flowers are beautiful.

Of course, every situation has an exception. In addition to the flowers I photograph at their peak of loveliness, I've taken to photographing flowers that are dead or almost dead. The series is called Past Their Prime. When I'm working on that, I implement all of the methods I've disclosed above.

This is not a problem for me. Old, shriveled up flowers and waterlogged newspapers stuck to the sidewalk have a lot in common. For most people, they are an acquired taste, like caviar or escargots. I get that.

If I ever get sick of rushing, waiting or explaining, I have a plan B. I'll quickly clip the dead flowers and bring them inside. Once I'm in my apartment, I can do pretty much whatever I like.

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