A Photographer Grows in Brooklyn

Before leaving California in October 1970, to return to NYC, I bought a 35mm camera at a San Jose pawnshop. Because it was the heavier of the two cameras in my $30 price range, I chose a Nikon rangefinder. I was lucky, 22 years old and wanted to be a photographer.

Back home, I took a photography class at the School of Visual Arts, a job with the telephone company and began photographing my family and friends in South Brooklyn. I never felt comfortable at SVA so I rented a small storefront in Sunset Park and set up my own black and white darkroom. I bought a paperback book on photography, and carried it everywhere, reading and re-reading every section.

I returned to college and graduated in 1972. Over the next few years, I completed a Masters degree and worked as a cab driver, cameraman, waiter, photographer’s assistant, bartender and carpenter. But no matter what I did to earn money, I kept photographing. I made my own prints in a variety of darkrooms – almost always ill equipped for washing big prints. So I often used a bathtub.

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Looking back on it now, I smile thinking of my eager young self. I walked around South Brooklyn with my camera and a hand-held light meter, recording each exposure in a 2 x 3 inch spiral notebook. I enjoyed working as a photo assistant in a Manhattan commercial studio, but deep down always preferred photographing in my neighborhood.

Somewhere around 1975, one of my mother’s cousins gave me a Speed Graphic. This classic camera – made famous by Wegee and familiar to me as the logo of the New York Daily News – used 4×5 inch sheet film.

It was quite a while before I was ready to meet the challenges of photographing with a large format camera but I learned.

When I began learning about the craft and art of photography, I was influenced by Robert Leverant’s book Zen in the Art of Photography: “A camera is an extension of ourselves. An appendage to bring us closer to the universe.”

My universe in the 1970’s was South Brooklyn where my ongoing interest in photographing working class family life and religious expression began. Although I photograph throughout NYC with a variety of cameras, I still like to shoot family events in BxW with an old medium format camera.


 

About the author of this blog post: Larry Racioppo was born and raised in South Brooklyn, and he has been photographing throughout New York City since 1971. Living in Rockaway, NY, with his wife, interior designer Barbara Cannizzaro, and their dog, Juno, he can’t believe his good luck.

You can pre-order and learn more about his upcoming book, BROOKLYN BEFORE, here.

A Photographer Grows in Brooklyn

BROOKLYN BEFORE (cellphones)

There was a time when people didn’t have cellphones. And it wasn’t that long ago. Children played tag outside, lovers kissed in the park, elders sat around the table sharing stories or gathered around the TV. People looked up at the sky. And they weren’t taking pictures with their phones. How did this shape our environment, our relationships, and our everyday lives?

I believe that back then we were more present, more intimate, and more engaged. Nature was a place to get lost in, and the city was a playground waiting to be explored. When people gathered for an important event, they actually looked. The moments didn’t fly by unnoticed.

In a time when fewer people had cameras, every moment was singular, and most photos more candid, not posed for Instagram. The people who captured those moments often had incredible stories of their own. Here are two of them:

Scenes Unseen: The Summer of ’78

In a New York Times article posted today, Jim Dwyer presents a slideshow of long-forgotten pictures made in parks across New York City’s five boroughs late in the summer of 1978. Surprisingly enough, the pictures were a hidden treasure, and had been sitting around in two cardboard boxes for forty years. Unseen.

The images are astonishing: unleashed laughter, a group of little boys flexing their muscles, elderly people dancing in floppy hats, and young ones swimming in hardly anything. No one holds a smartphone.

Brooklyn Before: Photographs, 1971-1983

What did Brooklyn look like before rising to international fame? Photographer Larry Racioppo answers this questions in his upcoming book Brooklyn Before, a collection of 128 images that transport us to the place that was home to working-class community of Irish American, Italian American, and Puerto Rican families. And it is an intimate and rough insight, the kind that only an insider could provide.

The photographs cover a wide range of everyday scenes including balconies connected by clothes lines, children peering through a wire fence, a drum circle on the sidewalk, and a giant wheel, among others. They tell the story of a vibrant borough of neighborhoods, its communities, its connections and traditions. They talk.

So, here’s is an invitation to travel in time and immerse yourself in these stories. It’s an invitation, if anything, to put down your phone for a moment and see. To talk. To become an active observer and appreciate how the human connection is irreplaceable and binding. And hopefully, to learn something from it.

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Recommended watch: “How is your phone changing you?”

 

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She wrote this blog post on a Friday morning and was eager to disconnect. In case you haven’t noticed.

BROOKLYN BEFORE (cellphones)

Outbox: What makes a book timely?

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Ski chalet, Nevele Grande Hotel, Ellenville, New York. Photograph by Marisa Scheinfeld.

by Michael J. McGandy

Book editors are notorious for having too much to read and edit, running behind schedule, and, generally, holding up brilliant work that should have been published yesterday. Whether we are seen as imperious gatekeepers whose ways remain hidden behind in-house processes or as antiquated bureaucrats dithering at our desks, there is a general sense that authors as well as readers are unfairly beholden to our jam-packed schedules.

There is some truth to those assessments, of course. And of late I have been keenly aware of these critical (and sometimes contemptuous) evaluations of the work of editors. Coming back to my desk after six weeks of personal leave, and facing hundreds of emails and tens of overdue commitments, has reminded me of how many people are waiting, some patiently and some less so, on word from me about their book projects.


There is a sense of timeliness that is about the inherent quality of the work—the time a work needs and not what the events of our times might mean for its reception and relevance.


I have also been reflecting on the whole idea of the timeliness of books and the time that it takes to make books, particularly excellent books. Recent political events have turned over lots of publishing ideas with once-important books fated for irrelevancy on their first day of sale on Amazon, and editors and authors chasing after the new hot topic associated with the Trump presidency. Timeliness is, indeed, fickle. Continue reading “Outbox: What makes a book timely?”

Outbox: What makes a book timely?