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They say the neon lights are bright…
Manhattan is the place folks. I get up to The Big City every now and again, often just to wander the streets with my cameras. The trick is to get up and out before all the people muck everything up with their walking and commerce and nonsense. I lived in Brooklyn for a short bit many years ago and would hit Manhattan fairly often, wandering The Village looking for very-hard-to-find records. Mostly I just reveled in the city. New York is The Beast. A myriad of photographers have spent time wandering the streets looking for just the right combination of humanity and architecture. It’s a hell of a town.
In the Spring of 2007 Bruce Springsteen recorded Girls in Their Summer Clothes, a song that was subsequently released on the Magic record. It is a brilliant song. And it has nothing to do with girls, or summer.
In the same vein, I have never photographed a barn. I don’t drive hundreds and hundreds of miles to photograph barns and roads and stores and churches and and trains and whatever else is laying in wait out in The Great Beyond. The effort to produce work with a broad aesthetic has almost nothing to do with the thing out there that the lens is aiming at.
So what is in a photograph?
Much of that is up to you, dear viewer, but always look deeper. The artist (if I may use that term) may have something to say beyond what you think you see.
Outside it’s America.
Sometimes you don’t know you’re off the highway until the car is up and over the shoulder, down and into the field. It sorta feels like that these days, crazy people shouting crazy people things and all sense of order slipping away, cars and trucks sliding off the road to parts unknown. So maybe we fasten our seat belts and hope for the best.
I made this image in Tennessee. I’d stopped to walk out into a field to get a closer look at something that turned out to be nothing and this scene was in my view on the way back to the car. It was a beautiful warm spring day and pretty yellow flowers were blooming all around me. I’d parked at the end of a dead end road. I stopped for a good bit to make a series of photographs, this one included. And then I stood on the ground in a field of pretty yellow flowers at the end of a dead end road in Eastern Tennessee, bound for Neshoba County, Mississippi.
I have many go-to locations when I need to take the muse out of the bag. Adams had his Yosemite, Ford had Monument Valley, Avedon had the white background, LaChapelle has a big pallet of color.
Snow adds a new element, obviously, and every now and then I find the chance to get out and get my feet cold.
Covered ground in Mississippi last Spring, from Laurel up to the timber country north of Philadelphia. Timber is the Mississippi big dog and the market is, therefore, flooded. Everybody knows somebody that can cut your trees cheap. Sure thing mister, Buster and me, we can give you 10 dollars a ton. Maybe not the best time to sell, but the stand needed thinning, so I walked the 110 acres of woods, finally locating the property that once was the Thigpen homestead, way back in the 1930’s. That’s quite a thing to experience, standing out there on a red dirt road in Neshoba County, Mississippi; nobody around, and a warning from the woodsman to look out for rattlesnakes.
Why indeed. Why hang a black and white print, or several prints, in your home or office?
Because black and white imagery lasts. Black and white is compelling. We stop to look. We attach the classic elegance of the well made black and white print to the space we are in. The subtle tone shift from white to grey and to black afford us our own interpretation of composition, form and light.
The slick Vegas strip offers a look back to Sinatra and Presley and reminds us that nothing happens without risk. The enduring American landscape takes us home, the farm, the endless highways, the majesty of the place we remember, the place we are from. Black and white sets us apart, tells the viewer we know where we have been and where we are going.
Call me: Chris Hensel 610-566-888
I had seen him earlier as I took a break from the gig. I was walking outside on a street in Big City America. He was just settling in for the evening, some sort of bed laid out in an oddly appropriate space. He had a book with him. It was his sign that made me stop and think, just for a short moment, and then I was walking and back at the big fancy party with the live band and the smartly dressed party goers and the plates of huge shrimp piled high, the filet for dinner, the celebration of family and love and the future.
I finished up my work and headed to my car. He was there, sitting wrapped in a blanket. I stopped.
He looked up.
“Can I make a photo of you.”
And so we had a bit of a conversation. His name is Steve. He is not from the place where he is now, his circumstances are sad. He is well-spoken and polite.
An increasing number of young people are homeless, living on American streets. I don’t have any answers for them, and I have nothing to add to my time with Steve. Posting this has nothing to do with pity or compassion or making any sort of a point about how to live. I suspect that most of these young people are addicted to heroin. Steve and I didn’t talk about drugs.
Steve and all of the other homeless Americans are part of the landscape. They live and breath and die. No doubt they are dealing with difficult challenges. You see them. You have opinions about them, maybe you have compassion for them, maybe you hold them in contempt. They live and breath and die.