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A New Day…

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6am in the rain.

The sound of raindrops on my umbrella.

The sound of tires on wet pavement.

House lights come on.

Street light go out.

The city begins to wake.

I like how the air smells,

How the light looks.

So I snap a photo.

Then hop a bus to work.

Another day begins.

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Stalking Bellocq.

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 “We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

— Ralph Hattersley

So I just returned from New Orleans. Well, two days ago. But in many ways the city is still with me. The uniqueness of the place has not fully sweat from my pores. This was my fourth or fifth time to New Orleans. The first time I was there was the late 80’s when I lived and worked there for a very brief time. But I haven’t been back in almost twenty years. I’ve also never been there during August. I was expecting the heat and humidity but nothing could have prepared me for it. As one local commented on the heat, “Yes, it pretty much sucks the oxygen out of the air.” I had gone there for a bit of relaxation, and to take photos and drink beer. I accomplished all three.

Whenever  I find myself in an old historic city I can feel the ghosts of those before me (metaphorically, not literally). And  sometimes I’ll create my own sort of walking tours. In Greenwich Village, for example, I did a bit of research and walked around to places where Khalil Gibran lived, worked, and drank. In San Fransisco I hunted the old beat hangouts of Kerouac. And thus on this trip I stalked E.J. Bellocq.

Bellocq worked as a commercial photographer in New Orleans about 90 years ago, mostly in the French quarter where he spent his entire life. But he also had a secret side to his life in photography. He kept secret that besides his day job as commercial photographer he also photographed the prostitutes of Storyville, which at the time was a legalized red light district.

This at first may seem a bit pervy…a guy photographing prostitutes and not telling anyone about it. But it is the contrary. Yes of course some of the models are shown unclothed, but many were partially or fully clothed. He showed them in the places the lived and worked. In short, he showed their humanity. And it is beautiful. Keep in mind that while prostitution was legal having these photos at the time was not, they would have been considered pornographic and could have resulted in jail time at the very least, and even worse in many ways, personal and public disgrace. Click here to see a good representation of his work.

It’s interesting to note that his photos were never developed in his lifetime. Plates of his photos were discovered in an old slave’s quarters on St. Peter Street behind the Preservation of Jazz. Many of the plates were water damaged and some even had the faces of some of the models intentionally scratched away. There is a great article written at Exquisite Corpse that goes into this in more depth, to read that story, click here.

The morning after my arrival to New Orleans I headed out to St. Louis Cemetery #3 as this is where I had read that is remains were buried. I thought I’d pay him homage, but to no avail. On this day the temperature peaked in the mid 90’s and at the cemetery there was no shade. It hurt to walk around. I often visit famed cemeteries in historic places and was surprised to find that not only was there no office to offer information there was no information to be had anywhere. There were a few tours going on and I interrupted them to ask information but no one could offer any. Seeing a worker’s van down one of the long rows I approached it to find a man sleeping in the air conditioning. After startling him awake he did offer me general advice but nothing concrete. I approached another worker, this one spoke broken or at least heavy accented English. I am usually pretty good at picking up an accent upon hearing it but could not place this sweating and jovial man’s language. It wasn’t until he spoke into his walkie talkie that I realized he was speaking a form of French…Cajun French. But alas, still no info.

The cemetery is vast and as aforementioned has no shade so I began walking back towards the road to seek the shade of a tree. But not wanting to give up I googled additional info as I walked. Sweat was literally dripping from me and onto the screen of my iPhone. I emailed a person who had posted a picture of Bellocq’s grave and surprisingly she emailed me back right away. Unfortunately she could not remember the exact location but only general area. I did go back and look again but to no avail (though I did find the family tomb of Chef Paul Prudomme). At any rate, with the risk of severe sunburn or heat collapse I left the cemetery but  know that I had likely walked right past his grave as they all look so similar.

Over the course of the next few evenings I did what I came here to do…walk around and take photos. The temperature would dip to about 80F in the evening so it was still rather stifling. As I  walked I’d make a point of stopping at addresses that were once home to Bellocq’s studios…Rue Conti, Ursulines, Burgundy. And I’d try to  imaging what it must have been like to haul that heavy photography equipment of his day through this heavy heat.

As I walked I also thought about all the places I have been where I myself have walked at night with my camera on one shoulder, tripod on another, and a belly full of beer. In many this was a sort of deja vue as I had walked these same streets thirty years prior with a camera and tripod. In those days it was with my old 35mm camera, whose prints of that time are mostly lost or packed away in some box in an attic or closet in which I cannot find. When I was here during that time I was so young and had no idea of all that lay before me. I have done so much since then…have changed so much but at the same time am still very much the same. And it occurred to me as I walked that I was not only stalking the ghost of Bellocq but also that of my younger self.

To read a very nice article written about Bellocq for the Smithsonian, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

N.F., ON, CA.

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So I’ve had the past few days off of work, on a sort of staycation to save money. But I wanted to do something out of the norm and took the #40 bus to the Falls. It picks you up in downtown Buffalo and drops you off in downtown Niagara Falls, one city block from the Rainbow Bridge. And all for the whopping price of $2 (here’s the schedule if you are interested). Anyhow, I wanted to be at the Falls as the light changed but when I arrived I was a bit too early. So I walked up the very touristy Clifton Hill and had some pizza and a truly over-priced beer. Thus satiated, and it approaching dusk, I walked the mile or so down to the overlook on the brink of the Horseshoe Falls at Table Rock Center. After negotiating my way to the perfect spot, I set up my tripod, put the camera on it, and snapped a shot. I then took the same shot every 15 or 20 minutes. These photos are the result. After the first shot, because of the light change, I had to use a slower shutter speed (which I love), and that results in the sort of smooth look the falls take on in the remaining photos.  Click any photo for a larger view. To see a series of photos from this same spot from about 2 years ago, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Chasing Light…

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So as many of you know I have been voluntarily car-free for a few years now. It does have it’s hardships now and again (I’d be fibbing if I said otherwise) but the good far outweighs the negative (as is with most things in life). This said, one of the things I love about being on a bike is seeing all that is around me and in all weather conditions. And two of my favorite times to shoot photos are dawn and dusk. I am up at dawn a few times a week for work but usually do not have time to take photos, thus most of them are shot at dusk. The French have a phrase for these times of day…l’heure bleue (the blue hour) because of the distinctive blue hue the sky often takes and the way colors are enhanced. A camera has three ways in which one can manipulate how much light enters it and for how long, this is called the “exposure triangle.” There is also, of course, post-upload software to help enhance photos. But with the camera itself, and the software, nothing can compare to what natural light offers to a photo. And with this in mind–when I have the intention of going out to take photos in the evening–I usually time it…I check the sunset time and head out with enough time to set up my camera and have a beer or glass of wine. The thing is I often under-shoot the time, meaning I cut myself short and have to hurry. Sometimes I think I must look like a crazy person; the waterfront is about 2 or 3 miles from my house and I can only imagine the sight of me…a middle aged guy on a bike pedaling as fast as he can while looking at the sky. The perfect light only lasts minutes, sometimes seconds; one minute can drastically change a photo’s look. This is why I think of it as “chasing light.”

Urban Simplicity.

A Poem by Edwina Gateley…

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 Photos taken at Buffalo Harbor 7.12.15

Let Your God Love You

Be silent.

Be still.
Alone.
Empty
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.

Let your God
Love you.

Urban Simplicit

This is Bob…

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This is Bob (Bob Dendy to be exact…sorta like dandy only with an “e,” he told me). Just when I thought I’ve met every eccentric person in Allentown along comes Bob…wearing striped shorts, wide tie, suspenders, colorful sneakers, and socks pulled up tight. I was out doing one of my favorite pastimes (though I haven’t in a while)…going out for a few beers and taking photos of my eclectic neighborhood. Anyhow, I had a beer and was waiting for the light to change as my favorite time to take photos is but there is still light in the sky which gives it a lovely blue hue (hence it’s designation). And there I was, a pint of beer in my belly and feeling somewhat stunned from lack of sleep, setting up my tripod, when I hear, “Hello…hi…what are you doing?” It was Bob. He was carrying a milk-crate full of stuff and told me he was an educator. When I asked who he educated he told me anyone who would listen. So I listened; I love to hear peoples stories. It turns out Bob is from Toronto; apparently grew up there and here. When I asked if I could take his photo he darted in front of the camera, “Well if you want to. Just tell me what to do.” And when I asked him if he would hold his crate of stuff he grabbed it and said, “Oh, now you want to make it real.” We talked for about 20 minutes, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It turns out there are a lot of coincidences in our lives. When we parted and shook hands I could tell by the callouses on his hands that he has lived a life of hard work. He never did tell me what he taught, but I learned a few things from him. I learned (or at least remembered), that everyone has a story, and this is what I find fascinating. I declined his offer to stop by his place for a beer (turns out I know the person that owns the house he lives in), but nonetheless, people like Bob are what keep life interesting, at least for me.

Urban Simplicity.

Not since 1885…

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The above photo is of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, which is where Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th president of the United States after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. The building was originally built in 1839 as a a sort of army barracks outpost to ward of those crazy Anglo-Canadians (wink wink). But that’s not what this post is about. This is about what happened–or didn’t happen–in 1885, which actually has something to do with today. If you notice the photo above is on an ever so slight slant, that is because my fingers were in pain from the cold as I held the camera. Today nearly set a record. In February of 1885 Mark Twain (former Buffalonian) published the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Washington Monument was dedicated, and Grover Cleveland (former mayor of Buffalo) was inaugurated as the first democratic president since the Civil War.  But also, in the 145 years since the weather has been recorded there was only one day that was colder than today, and that was February 11, 1885 when the temperatures did not reach above -4F. Today it made it to -3F. That doesn’t even make sense to me when I use it in a sentence…”today’s high was minus 3″…I understand the words but how they are arranged seems confusing. The house I live in was built around 1860, and with my steam boiler churning away and logs roaring in the wood-burner it is nice and toasty, but I can only imagine how they kept warm 130 years ago. And with the roller-coaster weather we consistently have these days, if you happen to be a climate change denier please un-follow me and this blog because there is no longer anything to deny. Anyhow, below are a few more photos I took this evening. I was actually warm on the bike (which is pictured in the bottom photo), but when I took off my mitts for just a minute to control the camera my fingers began to sting; it hurt to breath sometimes so I kept a scarf around my face which froze with my body’s own condensation; when I blinked my eyelashes would stick together from watering/freezing. Tonight’s low is supposed to be -14 and I have a two mile ride at 8am, so please send positive energy my way. Click any photo for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

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