In the distance
an orange sky
by a spiral
of black sparrows.
The remainder of
a lilac evening.
In the distance
a thin silhouette
The lilac dusk.
On a rooftop
a blind man grasps
at invisible butterflies.
He asks the color of your hair.
The wind blows up
from the Hudson
making your skin feel monochrome.
He gives you his red scarf.
Overturning a bucket
from which a dying fish spills
you watch until it is
blue and dark.
On the roofing paper
the fish tries to whisper
a moth the size of a bird
flies to the last light.
I wrote this prose about 4 years ago, in a small black notebook with a tattered cover, while sitting on the rooftop of my building in the South Bronx. The sun was setting, a flock of black birds flew above the Harlem River, and it was a rare night. The night was not rare because of the strange beautiful birds – that seemed gifted to me – nor the poem not being half bad, but simply because; I had the night off.
Now you ask your self; what on earth does this have to do with photography?”I am getting to it.
I had the night off, and it was my first night off in a long time. You see, I was working for Jim (Nachtwey) at the time and I was producing and printing a major show for him. This was typical, Jim had many shows, and I printed all of them in the 3 years I worked for him. We spent many long nights, me and Nachtwey, perfecting the images. However, this show was a particularly large one, it was the culmination of the TED prize.
I was in charge of a small team, in a small dark studio, in the South Street Seaport. A modest place, where I worked for 15 hours a day, scanning and toning images, feverishly worrying about the smallest details, knowing that in a few months the images would be projected and printed and shown around the world. Jim was away in the field, spending all his time in TB-wards, photographing the dying and the ill. I spent all day looking at the images.
The show went well and all of a sudden, I had a day free. After I wrote this poem, I thought about my life, which was in shambles. I lived in an empty loft apartment, with no furniture except a mattress, 3 or 4 plates, a single fork, and a single glass, for which I paid a tidy gentrified sum. It was cold and it was winter. I had no heat. I could not afford to light the blower and the paneled windows leaked cold air. I had convinced myself that bugs were eating me alive during my sleep.
I was in love with a woman, who was in love with someone else. My upstairs neighbor was a fat German, who worked on Wall St as a trader and when he took a step it sounded like aerial bombardment. My ceiling was his floor, open beams with no insulation, and the old boards would scream as if they were being tortured when he moved. When he went to piss in the middle of the night, I could hear everything.
I could not sleep at home, so I would work instead; Ten, fifteen, eighteen hours a day. After work I would go out, usually to some dark bar and drink, then walk around taking photographs. Leading up to this point, when the work was less intense, the situation not so bad; I would shoot every day and spare moment. I would wander the streets of NYC and shoot roll after roll of film, discovering what made a good photograph, and what I liked in photographs.
I did not have time to develop the film, so I would throw it inside a crisper drawer in my refrigerator. This went on for a long time, and from time to time I would develop a roll or two, if I could not sleep.
The film pilled up, all of it Tri-X, shot at random speeds, all of it unlabeled. When I moved out of the Bronx – I took the film with me and gave it to my friend Shaun. Who held onto it diligently.
I moved, and then moved again, I spent some time in Mexico, and then came back to New York. I was homeless at the time, but I was not living on the streets, not often anyways. Shaun put me up, my good friend and fellow street photographer Markus Hartel let me live at his place and eat his food. Others helped me, without them, I do not know where I would be. Eventually I got a job, and subsequently was fired from that job, but in the meanwhile saved up enough money to put down a few months of rent.
Still, the film followed me wherever I went. A hundred rolls, or more, of undeveloped New York Street Photography. All of those rolls, a lost history, my history. Years went by, and then a few more, I was evicted out of one apartment, moved into another, met a beautiful woman, who I fell in love with, and who for some reason decided to put up with me. We moved in together, and the film came with me.
The film sat in crisper drawer – then in an old cabinet we took from a barn- always haunting me.
It had been 3, 4, maybe 5 years for some of the film. I chalked it up to a loss. I figured I would never develop the film, and if I did, they would be so thin as to be worthless. I made I deal with myself; either I had to go develop the film in the morning or throw it away. I reserved space at a darkroom here in Bushwick. I bought a pack of Diafine and developed 100 rolls in two days.
All of the film turned out beautifully, none of it was worse for wear. The strange thing is, I do not remember taking any of the photographs.
I have the experience when looking at my old images, whether film or digital, that I can conjure up precisely the feelings I had at the moment. The taking of the image, and the developing of the images, seems to have engrained the experience into my deep memory. But with these images, I do not remember making them. It is almost as if I have found a lost archive. My own Mexican Suitcase or like John Maloor stumbling on Vivian Maier’s photos at a rummage sale.
The shooting of the photos and the gap of three or four years created enough of distance that all of the sudden the images seems like a different life, but the work is interesting. It came from a dark place and a dark time in my life, even if it seems like a different life…
Images to come…