Monday, August 24, 2009
Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland
Fantastic images, great people and check out the photos here: Tsirkus.org
A Few More Details for the Curious:
This was Tsirkus’ second NYC shoot and the first we did in the Big Apple where we sold the photos. Additionally, it was the first shoot where everything for the vintage studio traveled outside of Philly without benefit of private transportation (except for one late-night taxi ride home).
“Charmed” feels like the correct phrase to describe the shoot. Everything went without a hitch from aesthetics to the technical with each photo looking like a little jewel ; the level of photographic results getting better and better as the night progressed. Lea Bender, who assisted and styled, is an accomplished documentary-type writer, dramatic and physical performance artist, and producer. She’s a natural at creating figural arrangements for the camera and has an uncanny ability to put the sitters and ease and draw out their most interesting character and expression.
The 1920’s enthusiasts who had turned out to dance to the syncopated rhythms of Michael Arenella’s Dreamland Orchestra thought the shots were the veritable bees’ knees. Lea and I were busy until about one-thirty in the morning when we finally called it quits. All in all, an incredible collaboration took place between subjects, stylist and photographer.
Camera: Graflex Super D 3.25” x 4.25” Single lens reflex, mahogany body, Moroccan leather covering, best focused without wearing glasses.
Lens: Ektar 152mm
Film: Fuji FP3000b
Lights: Smith Victor floods with regular 200 watt household bulbs. The lamps were positioned to the left of the camera so as to not shine through a doorway onto the dance floor.
The negatives were saved by taping them to heavy card stock and rolling them into tubes so the sticky, wet surface did not touch anything and received airflow. This worked great. The “goops” (throw-away paper negatives) as they are sometimes called had a hard time drying in the ultra-humid weather. This provided a convenient excuse to visit friends and stay until Monday since I wanted to be sure they were fully dry before stacking them flat and taking them back to the studio. The negatives have to fully set before they can be in contact with anything, otherwise the very caustic developing agent will cause the image to self-destruct. Also any dampness on the negatives will get on the scanner glass and that slows things down a lot. Once the negs. are dry, they are fairly harmless and can even be washed to remove surface crystals and dirt.
Getting everything for a full shoot into one college-size footlocker was a real trick. My impulse on a shoot like this would normally be to have a second camera, usually the Crown Graphic, as a back-up. There was nowhere enough room. I opted for a 3.25 x 4.25 Graflex Supe D dating from 1948 and expertly modified by Bertram Saunders (now retired, unfortunately) to take a 4x5 inch holders. The camera had needed some focus tweaking which I recently did and it was good to go. The 152mm Ektar lens is not as good as the 190 Optar on the full-sized 4x5 Super D, that I recently used at The City Kitties fundraiser, but the camera is small and light by comparison.
The trunk traveled easily from home base near Naval Square, Philadelphia to the Chinatown bus at 11th and Arch and arrived in A1 shape at Grand and Allen streets in Manhattan. One thing I’m rapidly learning is “Be prepared for anything.” I waterproofed the camera bag since thunderstorms were predicted, but I never counted on the inner city travel being so physically arduous. The subway was easily over 100 degrees F with near 100% humidity and very hard to move through with a big heavy trunk on a handcart. Being one who usually opts for the stairs, I had no conception as to how inaccessible the whole system is. There are only elevators at certain stations; many stations have long climbs to street level and I saw many people with baby strollers struggling with similar problems to mine. I repeatedly had to lift a seventy -five pound “brick” and then carry it up to the light and air above. Those early morning exercises I guess paid off.
I had plenty of time before the 9pm shoot, but I decided to not go to where I was staying which was near Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Instead I opted to directly travel out to Brooklyn and then come back to eat, shower and dress for the 1920’s. This was fortunate. The interchange at 42nd St. from the R train to the Broadway local would have been pure hell with all that gear—a long walk through the station up and down multiple stairways. It’s no surprise to me that I can’t remember seeing anyone wheelchair bound on a subway train.
To get the studio-in-a-trunk out to Gowanus in Brooklyn, I had to navigate my way down a very crowded Canal street to the “R” train station and then out to Union and 4th Avenue via walking through two block parties to get to the Green Warehouse, a shul that has no air-conditioning. Because it was shabes (forgive my use of Yidish here), they could not open the big pull-down door until after sunset.
When we quit at 1:30, we packed up quickly and Lea hailed a Gipsy cab, and negotiated with them to take me back to 66th and Central Park West, and then to travel on Harlem, where Lea lives, for just $40.
Getting back on Monday, the 24th, was a bit of a trick. Luckily the 66th Street station on the Broadway line has an elevator. The problem was finding a car that was not so packed at 9:30 on a Monday so I could physically get on board. It took three trains before I miraculously squeezed on, probably more out of desperation to get out of the heat than anything else. Even though the Chinatown bus is far to the east of Seventh Avenue, I chose to not try for a cross-town connection since I already knew what I was in for. I opted to get off near Houston Street and walk through SoHo. My stop had no elevator, so I once again carried everything up and then discovered that many of the curbs in SoHo have no cuts for wheelchairs, but I managed. I made the 10:30 bus and was more than ready to return to Philly, friends, studio and un-crowded streets. Will I be rethinking logistics for future NYC shoots? You bet!
Special thanks to Lea, Eileen Regan, Michael Arenella, and my cousin Annie and her husband Herb.
RA Friedman, Principal Photographer
Posted by RA Friedman at 6:17 PM