This weekend I photographed the wedding of two dear friends, who marry after seven years together. The cherry on top was my best friend officiating the ceremony. The entire weekend affirmed love and family transcending the conventional. I am honored to contribute.
This was the first “formal” wedding I’ve photographed. I had no real idea what I was doing, one can read any number of articles on how and still not know until one does. My biggest good idea was renting equipment to supplement my own. (The cherry being playing with camera’s and lenses I can’t currently afford.) The downside was shooting on a Full Frame changes the perspective of your photos, what you see is not exactly what you get. (I had warning, I didn’t listen.) I shoot editorial and street style photos, which lends itself well to a wedding if the participants are up for the idea. Still, the challenges of group portraiture were greater than I expected. I am not unhappy with my work and my friends knew they were not getting a professional wedding photographer, so everything worked. The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone shooting a wedding as a favor is reinforce repeatedly you are not a wedding professional, my friends were great. Your mileage may vary.
It was great experience and a real portfolio builder, yet I will stick 5,000 pantless people on the subway versus 90 people at a wedding. The half naked people are a LOT easier.
Leaving town for Boston in a few minutes where I will photographing my friend’s Wedding. It’s my first “formal” wedding, so I will be as out of my element as these good folks. (See how I tied that together? You should make me your photo editor!)
It’s confession time: I miss being a cop. There were, and are, very good reasons why I am not, I will always hold that police work left me, not vice versa. Yet, I look on the women and men who do The Job and I remember I was once part of something important, something bigger than just me.
I became a cop at nineteen years old when I was young and filled with naïve ideas about heroism and duty. Worse still, I believed in those ideas the way a pious man believes in their divinity. Certainly, I enjoyed the adrenaline rush, the idea of being “powerful” and feel of a gun on my hip. (What nineteen year old wouldn’t?) Still, good teachersimpressed on me a tempered sense of responsibility . You are, they told me, first and foremost a servant. A servant of the law and of the people you protect.
I saw the worst moments in people’s lives for fifteen years: deaths, marital strife, suicide attempts and mental breakdowns. I met victims of crimes that scarred them forever. I put in people in jail, and yes they committed the crime, depriving someone of their freedom is a terrible thing.
I sacrificed my personal life, devoting myself to the work. I endured endless midnight shifts, missed holidays with family and surrendered vacations for years. I placed myself willingly in harm’s way so others did not. I lack a single regret, part of me wishes I did so still.
The world changes, I change, no longer the young man who believes in heroes and noble callings. I’ve taken off my shining armor and placed my white steed out to pasture. Sadly, I likely wasn’t the paragon twenty years of rose-colored nostalgia recalls. It’s more likely I miss the youth and not the work.
As said by a great detective, “I am too old for this shit”.
Yesterday was the Pakistan Day Parade in New York City, celebrating Pakistan’s culture, heritage and independence. New York City’s heritage parades span the globe, from the ubiquitous St Patrick’s Day to the esoteric Hare Krishna Parade. I am working on photographing every cultural parade in the City, which could take years given their number.
Yesterday, however, I found myself with sense of discomfort. It was difficult to find the rhythm of the shoot and finding out why took some time. Eventually, I discovered my problem: I was afraid in a crowd of Muslims. Not something I like admitting, yet true.
The feeling started when I notice the NYPD Bomb Dog team sweeping the parade vehicle:
I’ve done dozens of parades over the past five years, this is the first time I’ve seen a dog team checking the area. (As a former Explosive Detector Dog Handler myself, I knew the patterns of his search, it was definitely explosive detection.)
Now, combine thirty years of television news footage of Muslim people waving flags and shouting stretching back to Iran in the late 1970′s. Where I should see Americans celebrating their heritage from their adopted country, I could only see Arabic letters and foreign flags. My brain, filled with decades of fear baiting and sensationalist rhetoric reacted with the same unease I experience upon seeing a clown: a small nagging fear.
Once I owned that bias, faced my irrational discomfort, I was able to stop seeing the good people around me as a faceless entity and recognize them as Americans. Waving the flag of Pakistan is no different from waving Ireland, Italy, Germany or Korea, just to name a few of the ethnic parades I’ve photographed. When we stop seeing a people through the lens of prejudice surrender our primitive xenophobia and turn off the damn television feed in our memory, we only see others as people.
238 years ago a band of plucky upstarts told a king they didn’t like him very much. The king sent his Army to correct their attitude. The very first battle of this little tiff took place in Brooklyn, where the locals fought bravely to keep the hipster British from gentrifying the neighborhood. They lost, and retreated to Manhattan where you would think the rents would be to damn high, but found a place in Harlem. Sadly, they were eventually forced to leave the City for Pennsylvania where rents were cheaper and cigarettes didn’t cost so much.
Green Wood Cemetery commemorates this battle every year by symbolically disinterring a poor person’s grave and moving a rich corpse into the space hosting Revolutionary War re-enactors and a festival celebrating the American Revolution. It’s kid friendly and there’s cannon fire, which in the neighborhood around Green Wood is actually not unusual. The event starts at 12:30 PM and culminates in a march to Battle Hill. Come out, celebrate with PBRs and pretentious attire the defeat of George Washington (if your British) or the road to the eventual American Independence if you’re a Yank.
Yesterday afternoon as I commuted home on the subway a young woman sat down across from me with a child of two or three years old. He was laughing and waving at everyone in the car, in that way only a child can: with utter trust the world is good place full of people who do no harm. As I watched my fellow human beings react to his exuberant innocence, sharing his joy, I came over with a sense of powerful sadness. You see, in ten or twelve years the people on the car will not see a beautiful child. Indeed, he will no longer be a child, he will be “Black”.
He will live with suspicion and fear. When he gets on a subway car, people will grasp their possessions closer. They will draw their shoulders closer and move away. Police officers, as a best case, will watch him as those he will suddenly commit a crime on a moment’s notice. (In a worse case they will slam him against the wall and search him, in the WORST case they will kill him.) He will not live in the same world where I walk without fear of repression, he will always be “Black” first and human second. (Again, if he’s lucky, if he happens a She or Gay, or Muslim or mentally ill, human will follow those monikers.)
I hear my fellow Caucasians talk about “Angry Black Men”, as though this were the source rather than the result of the racial tension in America. “Why are Blacks so angry? Don’t they know how much better is now? When I was a kid…” As though the idea that a slight reduction in inequality is reason to celebrate. (This is liking tell a victim of third degree burns “Hey! It could be worse! At least you’re not still on fire!”) The simple act of not being AS racist as we were 40 years ago doesn’t mean we aren’t still racist.
If I walked the streets and everyone saw me as “White Man” and not as a human, I would be angry too. Indeed, I WAS angry being treated this way. Make no mistake, a year of being discriminated against in no way equates to a life time. Unless you are Black in America, you will never know what it means to BE Black in America. I don’t care if you DO listen to Hip Hop and have a Black Friend.
This world, where the police routinely single out African-Americans for searches and interrogations merely because they are Black In Public. (And sometimes kill them.) This world where resumes with “Black Sounding Names” go aside in favor of “White Sounding Names”. This world, where that targets African-Americans with the predatory lending commercials to take more of their smaller slice of the American Pie. This world, where African-Americans represent an incredibly disproportionate number of prisoners compared to their population. This world, where you always were and will be “African-American” rather “American”. This world, which I live in but never even experience and only barely acknowledge, is what is left to the beautiful child on the subway.
What is worse, is I don’t know how to make a better world. I lack a magic wand to wave, transforming 400 years of history into a just and equal world. People I know and love will read these words unable to imagine their place in the world we leave to the beautiful child. They will say I am suffering from “White Guilt” or I am just being a “Liberal”. If I can’t change the minds of those close to me, what good are these words?
I want to leave that little boy on the train a better world, one where he will only be seen as a person. My shame and sorrow at the world he will actually inherit changes nothing. The flames are going to burn long and slow for generation. Even IF I waved a wand all the flames vanished, the smoke would still burn our eyes.
Improv Everywhere is back to the beach with the 5th Annual Black Tie Beach for 2014. The premise is simple, put on your formal wear and head the water. This is my third year shooting Black Tie Beach and it is hands down my favorite Improv Everywhere event. It’s true when they say no one ever looks bad in a formal wear and when you add the beach you are stunning. We took further down the beach from Brighton this time, putting out blankets down in front of the Wonder Wheel. The bigger crowd made for even more fun and confusion. Also this year, the Improv Everywhere family grew a little bit, with a new Agent In Training. Charlie and Cody brought their ten week old son Charles on his very first mission. You MIGHT see a few photos of him out there, since every still photographer and videographer gave them the Red Carpet photo op treatment!