Exploring Winter

February 8th, 2009 § 0 comments

For me it seems almost typical to look for what is missing in places. My latest images, in the vein of the missing, have revolved around looking for “nature” in the “city,” where there ought to be very little evidence of it. I have been interested in this seemingly cliché idea, however, because I live so near the last “forest” areas of Gotham. Inwood is surrounded by wandering, forest-like paths that are intermixed with recreational parks—baseball diamonds, playgrounds, dog parks—and bounded on one side by the waterfront, with all that riverfronts usually entail. Walking down Broadway everyday I have neighborhood shops on my right, and the inviting gates of Ft. Tryon Park on my left.

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Throughout the winter it has been amusing to watch how the dropping leaves of fall, followed by the rain, slush, and snow of February, has changed the landscape of Broadway. My interest in the snow is an interest in how we live, or live without, a presence of nature in the city. The appearance of winter seemed to render useless the outdoor activities that gave a sense of life and community to the streets. When I first visited Inwood last summer children were playing with water guns in the park, older couples sat sweating on the benches lining Broadway, and I imagine all the places I have recently discovered were used with the same enthusiasm. Large flocks of geese have taken over the baseball diamonds, the steps leading to the top of Inwood Hill Park are covered with layers of melting ice, the playgrounds left soggy and empty. Winter effects city life but it becomes integrated as quickly as anything else; salt and rain boots appear on the sidewalks, lost gloves and broken umbrellas become the common trash, and children go sledding instead of playing on the wet swings.

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Another Side of Broadway

February 1st, 2009 § 0 comments

It is amazing how a question as simple as “what are you working on” can have such a devastating effect. At the height of productivity it always felt as though no matter how much I made, how many hours I worked, it was never quite enough. While it seemed that semesters and deadlines were in disharmony with the rhythm of thinking ideas through—some of us think about the same ideas for years, and even after don’t get much farther than entertaining different facets of those ideas—the pace of life also feels offbeat. Where one was too fast, the other is too slow. Asking J. Wax how his studio work was going along with teaching and traveling, he said good, but slow. I now understand his meaning, just as I have come to appreciate the difference between slow and a standstill; it might take me twice as long to build a body of images, but at least a body is being built.

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Inauguration Day—Freezing Feet

January 24th, 2009 § 0 comments

My strategy for arriving at the national mall from Arlington was not a good one, as it was nonexistent. Hugh stated the night before, “I wish I could tell you what it was like last time, but there is no last time.” Apparently, Lyndon Johnson was the President who drew the last largest crowd toward Washington. As the 20th dawned, the bridges were closed to cars and pedestrians, Metro stops that exited too close to the mall were skipped, and the rumors of “delays”, long lines, and the estimated crowd cap was enough to worry even the bravest of documenters. The slightly hopeful piece of information the morning offered was that no one would be allowed onto the mall before 7.

Living in Gotham has its annoyances and benefits, one of the benefits being—I realized as I walked to work the morning following the inauguration—that it gives you a distorted sense of what a “crowd” is. Living in Manhattan and working in midtown, you adjust to the dodging, pushing, and shoving. D.C. was also, for once, ready for the event. The Metro was slow but it succeeded in dumping trainload after trainload of people as close to the mall as they could be dumped. Embarking, it was not hard to figure which way to head; it was more a matter of joining the rushing, excited mass surging toward the nearest entrance to the mall, blocks and blocks away. It was a surreal and even pleasant way to walk D.C. as the streets, so usually full of cars and tourists, were closed this Tuesday to all but us, with buses, army vehicles, and police cars blocking intersections. Pedestrian cities grant a freedom we are unaccustomed to, being trained to jaywalk so carefully.

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The Inauguration—Warming up

January 22nd, 2009 § 0 comments

Walking around Washington D.C. on Monday felt like wandering through a dress rehearsal. The setting, a flag adorned Capital building, looked very much like a seat of political power, and looking at the podium overlooking the mall it was not hard to imagine the impressive view it would offer the following day. The props were in place, the bleachers, speakers, monitors, security fences, folding chairs, portable bathrooms, and all other special accommodations made for a slowly gathering crowd. Last minute details were being smoothed out, technicians clambered up and down fixing speakers, tinkering with the output and sound quality, newscasters were still buying for a space to set up their cameras, and somewhere on the mall Martin Luther King’s son talked to reporters surrounded by a circle of curious nobodies.

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A Brutal Metaphor

January 14th, 2009 § 0 comments

What I actually know about communism, or specifically what I know about life under a communist dictator, is admittedly very little. Observing the residue of a country submitted to these circumstances while briefly visiting my in laws in Tirana, Albania, is about all I can boast of when it comes to “personal” knowledge. From an undeniably American stand point, the fascinating aspects of Albanian life are the daily conditions under which culture bends and life goes on. Tirana is an old city camouflaged by recent decades of chaos, and while life under Enver Hoxha might have been oppressive, the roads were paved and the cities infrastructure remained intact. Visiting involved walking in densely dirty streets, past stray cats and deteriorating industrial appliances, through peaceful yards and into snug, comfortable, and friendly apartments. Our American fear of poverty often excludes the fundamental fact that “things” do not necessarily grant the gift of quality, especially where the “quality” of life is concerned. Carefully dressed for a night out, wandering the violated and rocky streets toward the city center, I was surprised to find the city awake, vibrant, and seemingly carefree. In most ways the people seem to make do, and are even proud of, the history of events that befell their country.

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