Weir Farm – Yellow Squash

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April showers bring May flowers…and vegetables.

Movies have scenes that end up, as they say, on the cutting room floor and don’t get included in the final film. Likewise, there are photographs that I intended to include in my book Weir Farm National Historic Site (Arcadia Publishing), but had to be cut due to space constraints. And the image above is one of them. It has never been publicly exhibited or available for acquisition as a print.

Weir Farm is known for much more than the art that has been created there for well over a century. It is also noted for its historic gardens and orchards, which make for inspiring artistic subject matter. The property’s Terraced Gardens and Secret Garden are very popular with visitors as is its Sunken Garden. The latter was so well designed that, in the late 1950s, a prominent photography team was dispatched by Treasury of American Gardens to feature the Sunken Garden in its magazine.

The gardens at Weir Farm were developed for more than just decorative reasons. They were sources of food as well. During World War II, citizens were encouraged by the government to grow Victory Gardens as a way to offset rationing at home and to provide produce for the troops overseas.

Nothing went to waste. When the gardens yielded a quantity of vegetables that was beyond what could be eaten, the excess was canned and stored. The pantry at the Weir House has replica mason jars on display holding faux string beans, corn, peas, carrots, and tomatoes.

I was motived to create the photograph because I was intrigued by the Lilliputian viewpoint and the crown-like composition of buds and stems. The tender shoots in the center are almost like a crowd gathered to admire the emerging yellow squash.

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1950 Philco AM Radio (Model 51-631)

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For a time, my father had a small radio and television repair shop. We were living in Brooklyn, but I think his place of business was in Manhattan. In his day, working with radios and television sets was on the cutting edge of consumer technology. It’s akin to today’s programmers working on the latest apps and software.

Later on, that interest blossomed into an appreciation for these precursors to the modern-day smartphone. He started buying radios at flea markets, which was supplemented by the advent of eBay. It didn’t matter if the radios were broken. He had schematics, testing equipment, spare parts, and knew how to bring them back to life.

Eventually, he was buying more radios than he had time to repair. It didn’t matter. He liked the way they looked – their design, colors, and the materials of which they were constructed – and how they reflected the aesthetic of their eras. He also liked how his collection was a physical timeline of radios morphing from clunky wooden behemoths with tubes to handheld plastic boxes with transistors.

An ongoing project of mine is to identify, catalogue, and photograph this collection my father left behind. Of course, I am looking to create a traveling exhibition or, at a minimum, a book showcasing these rare pieces of our technological history.

The first piece I decided to photograph is this Philco AM radio (model 51-631) from 1950. It can operate on either AC current or DC current. It also has the option of being powered by two D batteries, which makes this item a portable one.

The radio measures almost 10 inches wide, a little over 6 inches tall, and over 3 inches deep. It weighs four pounds without the batteries. So, yes, portability is relative to the heavier home consoles of the time. And at 15 watts of output, it packs plenty of power to crank up the volume for your next shindig.

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Planting Fields Arboretum

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Well, this certainly does not look like a street though I suppose the shadows do suggest the paths of several intersecting roads. But I am using “street photography” broadly here.

Much of my work is created for commissions by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). That work is methodically planned out and involves an assortment of equipment as well as historical research. During the course of many months, the resulting images are pored over, selections are made, post-processing is applied, and a sequencing of the images is determined. A formal collection is, thus, presented to the NPS with an overarching visual and intellectual theme.

It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. Sometimes, I just want to have fun without having to think too much. And for me, the art of street photography affords that liberty. It’s about limiting my equipment to just one small camera and photographing spontaneously on the streets of New York City. No thinking. Just instinctively responding during a fleeting moment of time to whatever is happening around me.

That approach, however, is not limited to the streets. It can be transferred to other environments like Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, Long Island. I was there in April 2019 just wandering around. Suddenly, I noticed the long shadow of the tree behind me reaching out menacingly across the lawn as if trying to seize his or her fellow trees on the other side.

Perhaps that’s what Arbor Day on April 24 is all about – a reminder to be kind to our trees and nature in general lest we risk the environment meting out its revenge on us.

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Weir Farm – Library Bookcase

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World Book Day was established in 1995 by the United Nations (U.N.) to promote reading and publishing. It also celebrates the importance of copyright as the legal protection of an author’s written work.

It is celebrated on April 23. The date was initially proposed to recognize the death of Miguel de Cervantes, best known for having written Don Quixote, which many consider to be the first modern novel. The date was then adopted by the U.N. to officially mark the event because, conveniently, April 23 was also the day that William Shakespeare passed away as well as being either the date of birth or death of several other prominent writers.

As I explain on page 89 of my own book, Weir Farm National Historic Site (Arcadia Publishing), Dorothy Weir was an artist, writer, and an avid reader. She and her husband teamed up with her sister and brother-in-law to remodel the original entrance of the Weir House into a library. Bookcases were built into the walls complete with glass-covered doors. The project was completed in 1932, which they commemorated by having their initials hand-painted over one of the doorways.

Dorothy would also come to use the library as her study. For many years, she worked from this room as she diligently prepared a manuscript telling the life story of her famous father, Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919). From the library, she contacted art dealers around the country to create a catalogue of her father’s art work. She died before the manuscript could be completed. But her efforts were not in vain. In 1960, The Life and Letters of J. Alden Weir was published posthumously by Yale University.

This photograph was not included in my book due to space constraints. It has never been publicly seen or printed before and was created as part of a commission from the U.S. National Park Service.

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Kissimmee Billy Strand

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April 22 is Earth Day, an internationally-recognized annual event that began in 1970.

I was invited by the U.S. National Park Service to spend a month at Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve as its Artist-in-Residence. While there, I created a series of photographs to artistically document the invasive species issue that is plaguing the environment there. This included both plant and animal invasives that brought me into close contact with noxious plants like the Brazilian Pepper and deadly snakes like the Burmese Python.

To better illustrate the delicate landscape needing protection from these invasives, I also photographed some of the visually unusual areas around Big Cypress. The preserve is a huge swamp that feeds into the Everglades. So, despite their different names and locations, Big Cypress and the Everglades are one giant ecosystem. What affects one will impact the other and vice versa.

One of the most intriguingly beautiful sights is the Kissimmee Billy Strand in Big Cypress. A strand is essentially a swamp forest of hardwood trees. It is one of the most unique plant communities in the preserve.

My photograph’s compressed view of the strand flattens the landscape into both an abstraction and a study in line, color, and shape. Like some of the other photographs I am offering this month as a White Glove print, the digital negative of this image remained untouched and unseen in my archive until now.

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Street Photography: 210 West 14th Street

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In a previous blog post, I described my experience revisiting West 14th Street, an area I frequented many years ago when I worked in the music industry.  Although the area has changed, I photographed a residential building — number 200 — that stood on West 14th for over one hundred years.

As I continued walking down the street that day, it wasn’t long before I again came to a dead stop to marvel at another red entranceway — number 210.  The door also featured a sculptural piece.  But this one was of greater interest.  Whereas the sculpture in the other building was an architectural trope, 210’s semi-circular one painted in bright yellow seemed custom made.

The man in the relief sculpture is wearing a loose garment and is holding some kind of an instrument. So my thought was that maybe the building was originally some kind of a shop or small factory and that the man was a generic representation of the work that was done inside.  But what kind of work would that be?  To me, it looks like he’s holding a soldering iron, except that there is no electrical wire connected to it and its unclear what it is that he is holding that is being soldered.

It was a nice surprise to find out that the apartment building was the residence of the famous French artist, Marcel Duchamp (1887−1968), a key figure in the avant-garde Dada movement that swept Europe in the early 1900s. He moved into the building’s top floor in 1942 and remained there until his death in 1968. Duchamp is probably best known for his radical sculpture, titled Fountain, which was a urinal layed on its back and placed on a pedestal.

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Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. As if the piece was not baffling enough, Duchamp intentionally signed it as “R. Mutt.”

Differing accounts identify the building as having been constructed in either 1910 or during the 1840s.  But what of that mysterious piece above the door?  I came to learn that it’s called a tympanum and that the figure is not representational, but bears the likeness of another artist named Pompeo Luigi Coppini (1870-1957), who also lived in the building.

Coppini emigrated to the U.S. from his native Italy.  Not able to achieve recognition in New York, he moved to Texas where he consistently procured commissions to produce monuments commemorating George Washington, the Declaration of Independence, and many confederate figures.  His studio in San Antonio continues as the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts.

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Old Mastic House

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April 13 marks the birth of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). He was a Founding Father, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the owner of Monticello, a southern plantation worked by slaves. There are, of course, many other aspects of his life that have made him a complex historical figure.

Up north, there was William Floyd (1734-1821). Like Jefferson, Floyd was also a Founding Father and a Declaration signer. His plantation in Mastic, New York, was also worked by slaves. But, unlike Jefferson, much of Floyd’s life remains shrouded in mystery.

During the Revolutionary War, the British commandeered the plantation while Floyd and his family sought refuge in Connecticut. As a result, his personal effects were destroyed leaving only the barest traces of Floyd’s history.

What is known, however, is that Jefferson visited Floyd at his plantation’s Old Mastic House. One can visit the house today, go on a tour, and step through the same rooms that both of these influential leaders walked in. Floyd was a general in the Revolutionary War and served under George Washington. Jefferson would go on to become the third president of the United States. James Madison succeeded Jefferson as the fourth president and he, too, visited Floyd at Old Mastic House.

By 1810, Floyd had five slaves remaining. Within six years of his death, slavery was outlawed in the state of New York. By the time of Jefferson’s death in 1826, his estate still had well over one hundred slaves. His home state of Virginia would not come to abolish slavery until 1865.

This image has been widely exhibited. A few of the venues it has appeared in include the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City, the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, and the U.S. Customs House in Philadelphia.

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Cathedral of St. John the Divine

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For some, Easter is not complete without attending a church service. For the Episcopal church in Morningside Heights, commonly known as St. John’s, that sense of incompleteness has lingered for well over a century.

Construction of the church began in 1892 and the first service was held in 1899. And, yet, the structure remains unfinished. The delay in building the remaining one-third of the church has been caused by a combination of design changes, lack of funding, and other logistical challenges.

One example can be seen in the photograph above. The southern tower – designed to house a bell – is cut off from its intended height. Construction of the tower began in 1982 and was halted in the early 1990s due to a scarcity of both funding and skilled labor. Indeed, an English stonemason actually had to be brought to teach the ancient art of stone carving to young unskilled workers drawn from the community.

On the left is a sculpture of Michael the Archangel, which is part of the Peace Fountain that was constructed in 1985. And in the church’s grand tradition of incompletion, to date, there is still no water in the fountain. The sculpture is a mélange of giraffes, Satan’s decapitated head, a giant crab claw, a gazelle, the double helix of DNA, and smaller statues made by children. As if that is not odd enough, the grounds by the fountain are known to have live peacocks, including an all-white one, roaming around.

I processed this image not long after I created the initial photograph in 2019. But it is only now that it is being publicly seen and made available as a print.

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Street Photography: 200 West 14th Street

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It’s been a while since I have posted any street photography work.  It’s easy to get backed up especially as I was starting a new National Park Service commission that gave rise to some artistic and technical and challenges.  Now that so much of the world is under some sort of quarantine, the commission is on hold and I’ve had time to catch up on previous work.

This was a photograph I made about a month ago.  I was walking along West 14th Street, which I had not been to in quite some time. Many years ago when I was working in the music industry, I actually had a small office space toward the end of this street.  It was in a loft where a client — the Record Pool Business Center (RPBC) — was based.  The record companies furnished RPBC with their latest dance music vinyl releases. RPBC, in turn, distributed these records to their DJ members.  The DJs played the music at their night clubs, radio programs, and events, and furnished RPBC with audience feedback that was then reported to the record companies for marketing purposes.  The cycle of this ecosystem served all the parties well in the days before recorded music started migrating online.

The neighborhood is different from what it was in those days.  But there are some spots, like the building above, that have remained largely the same for over a hundred years.  What has changed is me.  When I walked down West 14th Street back in my music business days, I was walking with a purpose. I had a meeting to get to, I was walking and talking with a client, or I was rushing back home after midnight.

Last month, though, it was broad daylight and I had time to observe my surroundings.  That’s when I passed by number 200.  I caught a glance of it within the periphery of my vision.  It’s easy to miss as it is tucked in between two garish retail stores.  Perhaps that’s why, in an effort to compete for attention, the entranceway to the building was painted bright red — a color I doubt was original to the building.  The conspicousness of the red is only matched by the twin statues framing the door.  It was such a peculiar sight that I started to think how it might make for an interesting photograph.  A few doorways down, I came to a dead stop and immediately — without bothering to turn myself around — sped-walked in reverse.

I got the photograph I wanted, but it’s only now that I finally had an opportunity to do a little checking to find out more about this unusual structure.  The five story brick residential building was constructed in 1889 in a style that was common in France at the time.  Indeed, the building is named The Jeanne d’Arc, in honor of the teenager who led the French army in battle against the English in the 15th century.  She was later captured, burned at the stake, and canonized as a Roman Catholic saint in 1920. I did not think to look toward the upper stories of the facade, as I often do, but a white statue of her is set between two windows on the third floor.

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One of my father’s caryatids.

The sculptures that I did notice were the ones gracing each side of the doorway although I chose to only depict one in the photograph.  I have come to learn that these are called caryatids.  Adopted from ancient Greek architecture, they serve as a more decorative version of the pillars and columns used to support the horizontal beam — or entablature — that rests on their heads. The typical caryatid, unlike what is seen on The Jeanne d’Arc, is a complete female body draped in a full length garment called a peplos.

That bit of information enhanced my appreciation of two wooden carved pieces measuring close to three feet in height that I have in my studio. They belonged to my father, who reproduced one-of-a-kind antique chairs for a variety of clients that included Chris Jussel (later cast as the original host of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow).  These pieces, which appear to be made of oak or ash, were handcarved by one of my father’s colleagues.  I think his name was Giuliano, a talented Italian immigrant who worked out of his basement shop in his Brooklyn home.

These were either sample pieces or leftovers from a job that my father could not bear to discard.  So they have lived with the family for at least 40 years.  In all that time, I did not know until now that they are caryatids.  It provokes a hazy memory of my father explaining that they were designed for use in supporting a table top.

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Big Ben’s Rainbow

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I was in London to meet with the cultural attaché of the U.S. Embassy to the United Kingdom. He expressed interest in presenting a solo exhibition of my photography at a new building that was to be constructed at Nine Elms.

While there, I also visited the National Poetry Library to explore the possibility of exhibiting my photographs of the Longfellow House. And I finally got to meet Sapna Dhandh-Sharma, the Editor of the UK-based Aspect Ratio magazine, who published my photographs of the slave cemetery at the William Floyd estate along with my 5,000-word essay.

When I was not busy investigating opportunities to extend the reach of my art, I walked around London to do a bit of street photography. For me, walking around aimlessly and avoiding the touristy spots is an interesting way to explore the city and to learn about its people. It did not take long to realize that being in London is certainly a very different experience than New York City, although the two do share some common attributes.

As much as I made a deliberate attempt to avoid the icons of London, it seemed like they have a magnetism that pulled me in their direction nonetheless. I had no idea where I was in the city, but it was one of the more crowded areas I had been to that day. The rain was clearing up and I was busy creating esoteric images – photographs of tightly cropped street elements and reflections off of bus windshields that resulted in abstractions.

I was using a large DSLR camera rather than the smaller and stealthy one that I typically use when I am photographing on the streets of New York City. This time, however, the presence of a big conspicuous camera and lens was an advantage. Lost in what I was doing, an Irishman saw me, got my attention, and urged me to turn around.

And there it was. Not just Big Ben. But Big Ben with a big rainbow. The prismatic arc was one of the largest, brightest, and longest-lasting I had ever seen. The sunlight and inclement sky seemed to create a mash-up resulting in this very unusually colored background while the clock tower shone as if it was cast in solid gold.

The digital negative of this image has been lying dormant on my hard drive for years. So, this is the first time it is being seen and made available as a print.

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