I returned to New York a little over a week ago. The transition between central PA and the city has been pretty arduous at best, but I'm hanging in there fairly well. I've gotten to see a few friends, meet new ones, and check out a few things. Having no money might seem limiting, but if there's one talent I have, it's finding free fun.
Still, I consistently feel as if I'm not 100% present. I don't know my place yet. I definitely have clear ideas of some things, but am methodically ruling out others. To be quite honest, I'm also throwing my hands up in the air and just letting things happen. My nana had a print in her dining room for years that said "Let go and let God," which was rather ironic for a woman so obsessed with routine. I never understood what it meant until now. It's chaos right now, and the only real advice I've been taking is finding signs like coins and feathers. So far it's working. Soooo maybe I'm just a half-assed Buddhist/born again pagan. "Let go and let feathers!"
Rotten advice I've been getting, for instance, is the oft-parroted trope that I move to a more artist-centric neighbourhood where "things are happening." Flatbush is pretty quiet on that front, so I visited the open studios in Bushwick the other night....and wanted to pull the hair out of my skull. It was like wandering through the desert dwelling of those creepy kids in Thunderdome. The rampant snobbery, artistic temperaments, blasé sarcasm, and general post-art school frippery is not my scene. To be sure, I'm not sure I exactly fit into the Jamaican rasta scene on my block either, but at least the people here are genuine and interesting.
At one point during this foray into Bushwick, I was photographing my friend Erica in a tinfoil room. After a minute someone walked up to me and said snottily, "Ohhhh. Do you consider yourself an iphonographer?" I turned to him and said "Don't worry, kid, I know what I'm doing."
WHAT THE HELL IS AN IPHONEOGRAPHER? Buncha horseshit, if you ask me. These people are so self absorbed and more concerned about the role of art making rather than the art itself. A camera is a camera is a camera. You can make photos out of anything from oatmeal cans to x-rays. It's so narrow-minded and sad to put yourself in a specific box, but I can see now how the corporatisation of art schools have utterly ruined the joy of art MAKING. Everything they do, from their clothes to hair to where they appear, is a self-absorbed performance rather than a process. It is repulsive to me, listening to these people whinge on about Instagram followers and playing the game.
Luckily, I hate games and I hate rules and I am going to use my damn phone. Who cares? I love it. And schlepping around a cumbersome Hasselblad or Mamiya C220 won't yield what I'm attempting: selfies on the fly; a quick moment of reaching out and then disappearing again.
One of the parents of a girl I babysat recently was friends with the photographer Tseng Kwong Chi, who did self portraits in the late 70s-early 80s in a Mao suit. One of his photos hangs in their flat (the same one is currently on display at the Met). His work fascinated me from the start because I understand that alienation and feeling like a square peg; certainly not for the same reasons as TKC, but that social isolation definitely hits home. I want to make friends and experience new things, but I don't think the Bushwick hipster scene is the right fit. It's a cheap shot to make fun of them as a lot because there's always diamonds in the rough, but I'm selective about where I go for that. If I'm going to be serious about my work, I need to stay in Flatbush for the time being.
What I started doing was stuffing a $3 sheer curtain in my handbag and whipping it out at various tourist traps. I usually wear all black or solid dark clothing when I'm out and about because it's easier to blend in. I figured everyone is taking photos at tourist traps. I realized the value of the much-maligned "selfie stick" quite quickly and bought one a few days ago at a Brooklyn Bridge vendor table. The stick allows me to have more of a full body shot and movement. It's a little annoying to set up, but as soon as I put the curtain over my head, I'm in the zone. If I wear headphones, even if they aren't plugged in anywhere, people generally don't interrupt me. I was pretty chuffed when some Arab tourists in Times Square thought I was an attraction and they asked to get selfies with me. I just stood there like a ghost. Next time I should charge a buck like those bogus Buddhist monks with the bracelets!
I have decided to take this idea all over the city. I used my flatmate Monica in a couple of shots, but most are of me. So far I've ghosted Queens, Coney Island, midtown, Soho, and Brooklyn.