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

It’s 70 Percent of the World, You Might as Well Love It

I grew up on an island, never all that far from the ocean. My dad met my mum because he sailed the ocean as a merchant seaman. He taught me to sail when I was little. I remember standing in the Atlantic Ocean just off Copacabana Beach in Brazil watching a big wave break over my head. I learned to surf in the Pacific Ocean off the Gold Coast of Australia. I skim-boarded the edge of the Atlantic Ocean along Higgins Beach in Portland, Maine, and, more importantly, proposed to my wife there. I’ve sailed in the Mediterranean and the English Channel and the North Sea. I’ve dipped a toe or ten into the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sri Lanka. I’ve been fortunate to touch the oceans and seas of the world from top to bottom. I love the ocean, its incessant sound, both terrifying and peaceful, its swell and fall, its wind, its colors, its life. I love the ocean, but I fear it, too, as any good son of a sailor should.

Happy World Oceans Day

——

Recommended read for today:

marine world
Available here

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director at Cornell University Press. One day he’s going to live on a sailboat. Until then, I guess he’ll carry on marketing books.

It’s 70 Percent of the World, You Might as Well Love It

Spring Burial: The Legend of the Service Tree

We grew up thinking that if there wasn’t pavement under our feet, we were lost,” Marc Kaminsky said, as he sat with his longtime friend George Getzel, who lay dying in a hospital bed at Calvary Hospital, talking about spring. They were two Bronx kids who morphed into two aging, brilliant intellectuals. Struck by George’s tranquility in the face of mortality, Marc asked his friend, filmmaker Menacham Daum to videotape their conversation, and sent a copy to me.

In his better days, George told Marc, he’d loved to visit the New York Botanical Garden in all four seasons. Each time it would be a totally different world: the garden was a symbol of nature and birth and growth and decay.

“I was especially close to the service tree,” George explained. “It’s an indigenous tree in northeast America. It’s a tree that may be considered a bush—but it’s a tree. It actually fruits, and a sweet little fruit comes out of it when the weather warms up. It’s also the first tree to blossom in the woods. It has soft, large flower petals, light pinkish-white, and if you can reach out and smell it, it has the most delicate perfume.”

“Our ancestors had a real problem when people died during the winter, because they couldn’t bury them; the ground was too hard. So what they did was wait till the service tree bloomed, and then they knew that the ground was soft enough.”

That touched me deeply.

Picture1
The serviceberry tree in bloom, courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden.

“So for the last few years, when I could still walk, I would go into the Bronx botanical garden to walk on a trail through fifty acres of virgin forest, and there was the service tree. And I tried—it has a life of flowering of, like, three days— to imagine, ‘Is the ground soft?’ ‘Will I make it?’ And sometimes I made it and sometimes I didn’t, but I think that it is emblematic of my notion of immortality in life: a brief time, a beautiful fragrance, and then passing, disintegrating, falling to the ground, and renewal.”

Alone with his mortality in the hospital late one night, George spontaneously texted Marc some of his spiritual musings. It ended:

 

 

 

Humankind calls out for compassion

For one’s self and then the other

The spent perfume of the petals

Of the service tree

Fall to the forest bottom

When earth loses its chill

Back in the hospital room, George continued to express his deep and thoughtful perspective on life in the face of imminent mortality.“I remember holding my wife’s hand when she was dying,” George told Marc, “and having a great sense of intimacy, the same as when I held my hand over her belly when she was pregnant. There’s this mixture. Even in the face of the grim realities of life that nauseate you and shatter your dreams, I’ve found—with difficulty—deeper meaning.”

“We all hold down to something that we would hope would have permanence,” he continued. “Something that would lead us beyond our grave and have something of eternity tied to it. We discover that the idol—be it money, position, your own children, the neighborhood you live in—it’s not forever and it falls apart and isn’t what you thought it was when you were a young man. It becomes moth-eaten and dissipates, and then with that it’s followed by new growth, new possibilities.”

George Getzel died on January 7, 2018. The serviceberry tree he loved so well will bloom again this spring.

 

Related event: Spring Writes Literary Festival – May 3 to May 6, 2018

POETRYOF

About the author of this blog post: Steve Zeitlin is the founding director of City Lore, and the author or co-author of ten books on America’s folk culture. He has documented, recorded and fallen in love with carnival pitches, children’s rhymes, family stories, subway stories, ancient cosmologies, and oral poetry traditions from around the world.

You can purchase his latest book: The Poetry of Everyday Life, here

 

 

Spring Burial: The Legend of the Service Tree

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)