A Quarter Century of Life and Photos in the Big Apple – Part I
New York is the continuous celebration of everything. – W.H. Auden
The openness, variety and opportunities of New York were a major attraction for me when I decided to migrate from the American heartland to Manhattan in 1964. Another enticement was the creativity and the arts that were vibrant there, all superbly chronicled by The Village Voice when it was a great weekly.
New York Scenes
With a musical, artistic family background and a liberal education from Oberlin College, I voyaged to Manhattan from Cleveland, Ohio driving a vintage Opel Sedan loaded with jazz LPs, books, pots and pans. I brought with me a passion for modern jazz and a love of literature and the arts.
These influences were nourished while I was studying at New York University for a PhD in political science and living on East Tenth Street in the (far) East Village in the mid-1960s. Across the street from my not too crummy tenement building was The Peace Eye Bookstore, led by poets and activists Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg. They founded the satirical rock group, The Fugs, whose music and bawdy lyrics contributed mightily to my cultural uplift in those days.
I also heard Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot Café on St. Marks Place and Charles Mingus at the Half Note Club on Hudson Street. Years later, after moving to the Upper West Side and starting my photographic pursuits in 1990, I hung out at J’s Jazz Club on Broadway and West 98th Street.
The club was founded by the singer, Judy Barnett, and had an 8:00 PM set with no cover charge, which was really cool for a working stiff with a demanding day job at a midtown PR firm. It was a great listening room featuring young talent, and I photographed numerous groups who played there in the early ’90s.
One of them was the Mark Sherman Quartet (see below). Since that time, Mark has gone on to a fabulous jazz career, which he is still pursuing:
After earning my PhD in 1973, I worked in the City Comptroller’s Office and then in several public relations agencies, founding my own PR firm in midtown Manhattan in 1995. A couple of years later, I moved it downtown near City Hall. Local culture in City Hall Park was blooming when the weather was good, which was where I found three jazz musicians swinging alfresco one summer day:
Another facet of the arts in New York that intrigued me was its array of museums and galleries. I hung at the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden where live combos played cool jazz free of charge on Thursday evenings. An architect friend and I attended gallery openings around town and availed ourselves of heapings of contemporary art along with free wine and cheese, sometimes served with fine crackers.
As my photographic roamings progressed, I started to enter art exhibit competitions and had works chosen for shows in the early 1990s. Not much sold, so I had to schlep framed photographs back to my small apartment on the Upper West Side. Even with a shower/bathtub in the bathroom, a sink in the Pullman kitchen and a bed in the bedroom, there was not a lot of space for my works. But I kept on shooting with my Canon EOS-1 35mm film camera. I did not seek to do anything with some of the images until I went digital in 2010.
I have started to show my work in recent years both in local/regional galleries and online. A highlight for me was exhibiting at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition summer show in 2014, housed in their huge two-level gallery space in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Four images from my Race and Class Collection were selected for a juried exhibition, The World Is Out of Order. In addition, four selections from my Landscapes & Cityscapes Collection and five from the Dogs Are People Too portfolio were exhibited.
One of the pleasures of this show was walking the galleries when much of the crowd had left. I was able to capture the following father and daughter intently viewing contemporary art there (note the heart-warming, subconscious choreography between the two):
My outlook and visual interests have been influenced by the works of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, Marcel Duchamp, S.J. Perelman and the 1920 German Expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This brilliant silent movie is noted, among other things, for its radically slanting lines, which are a feature of many of my surreal photographs.
As I roam, I look for happenstances and what serendipity brings me, particularly people and animals that have a surreal and often humorous edge. In life and in spontaneous photography, timing is everything, and here today gone tomorrow. Sometimes I create a surreal effect with an offbeat camera setting, other times by how I frame images and give them titles. The three samples below from my Surreal Images Collection illustrate these various approaches.
My wife and I live near Central Park, and we love its varied seasons. It is constantly abloom with diverse human and animal life.
The following two images were captured in Central Park during the summer. They both exemplify what I call “Sunshine Surrealism.” The first one was done with a slow shutter speed and produced a result I was not certain of until I saw it as a Jpeg:
The next photograph is typical of many of my surreal realism efforts. These depend upon what seizes my imagination, how I frame the subject and the title I later create for it.
There is an interesting parallel between the second and third photos in this series. Both feature severed limbs from out of right field, as they say in baseball:
The third photograph was taken outside a community garden near our apartment. You never know what oddities you’ll find there. Other surreal images are to be found on my web site.
Landscapes & Cityscapes
I was working in a public relations firm in the early 1990s on lower Seventh Avenue, which had a grand outdoor terrace with far-reaching views. One cold winter’s day, I stepped out and photographed rooftops both with and against the sunlight. The result was related but strikingly different images:
During December 31, 2000, a foot and a half of snow descended from the heavens on New York City. This presented me with an historic opportunity! At eight in the morning, my wife and I flew out of our cozy apartment armed with camera and trusty tripod and headed toward Central Park West. I walked along the sidewalk where I could look down through tree branches laden with the white stuff to the park below. From that vantage point I captured a different kind of view of snowy Central Park:
Later that day I ventured out to catch more snow flakes. I saw a couple across the street from where we lived with the man holding a blue and white umbrella as they walked on the sidewalk. They were moving briskly toward Central Park West, so I darted across the street and jogged in back of them until I could stop and snap their picture among the snow-laden tree branches (see below).
Leaping to the present meteorological era, there was another Great Snowfall opportunity for me in early 2016. I was, however, not as spry as in 2000, so I hung out of our living room window and captured a snowy vista in our own backyard. It was dusk, and the snow sculptures had a luminescent cast bathed in falling flakes (see below for The Great Snowfall of 2000 – Couple with Umbrella and The Great Snowfall of 2016 – Backyard Vista).
Central Park in summer is also a fine place to roam. The trees are varied, and their forms fascinate me. A greenery constellation that I saw reminds me of some oriental art:
A West Side locale that I photographed one fall day represents an aspect of New York that I love. It’s a community vest pocket park tended by neighbors and open to the public free of charge. When I returned a year later, the spell was gone: no bench and no smiling jack ‘o lantern greeting visitors. I was saddened but glad I was able to capture that original moment in 2013. (see below)
Central Park in autumn can also be quite fine:
Sometimes I see familiar buildings from a fresh perspective. I was walking to our apartment one cold afternoon when I looked at these towers through a web of tree branches and took this shot:
To Be Continued…
Stay tuned for the second part of G.H. Strauss’ city roamings in next month’s issue.