Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Todd Gross: What Was He Thinking?

Todd Gross is a photographer based in Queens, NY. More of his work can be seen here and here.

One of those days when I shoot for several hours and head home with near certainty that I have nothing but a bunch of shit on the memory card. It's during these keeper-less times that I'll grumble to myself, curse the camera, the light, the focal length of my lens, my potential subjects and myself. The black cloud descends. What's the point? What's the use?

I got off the 7 train right by my pad and noticed that they finally, finally closed the Crossroads Diner. I mean, it was no wonder. Talk about a shit house! Some of the most dreadful meals I've had in my life. I ate there all the time.

Anyhow, I figured now with the sun in the right place, it was time to get a few pics of the joint. As I approached I noticed the wind blowing the bag about. That scene in American Beauty crossed my mind, but I was undeterred. I made a few frames and walked home.

This one was shot in Bryant Park in mid-town Manhattan, a five minute subway ride from my neighborhood. It was a favorite I-don't-feel-like-venturing-far lazy day location for me back in 2004. I had just purchased the same 60mm macro lens that Martin Parr used for his Common Sense series. A great piece of kit that can also be used as a normal lens. Also, quite an investment for me at the time. So I had to find something to photograph with it.

I was hanging out, probably shooting some chess players or sunbathers when I happened to glance down and catch these two in action. I figured...why not?

I was killing time on Delancey Street, waiting for the man, when I noticed that New Roma Pizza was shuttered. This created a huge swath of red that wrapped around the corner. When I see big colors like this, I run to them like a fly to shit, arms flailing and eyes rolling back in my head like marbles.

I waited for a bit, making a few frames, when this family in red came strolling down the street. I have to say I wish I'd caught these folks with a bit more grace and precision. But this one will have to do.

I often pick a neighborhood to explore with my camera based on what I'd like to have for lunch. This day I decided on the Mini-Star Diner in Astoria. I don't know why I'm attracted to that joint. It's far from special (good fries though) and there are far far better and more interesting places to chow in the neighborhood. But this was a Mini-Star day.

I had just gotten out of the train when I spotted the fella in the cherry-picker. Figured there's a photo in there somewhere. I saw the bird and the idea seemed obvious. After, I thought, well that's kind of silly but so what, right? Now I look at it and appreciate the tenacity of these pay phones more than anything. Either way, that was the shot of that day.

I don't think there's a day that goes by when I don't have the desire to fit McDonalds into a photo somehow. The iconography, the food, the patrons, there is so much potential there. Here though, I was probably just following the light, which on Winter days at lunchtime shoots straight up the avenues of Manhattan. During the Summer, in the evening hours, the light shines across town through the side-streets. Just so you know.

Anyhow, first I spotted the well-lit dude devouring his Big Mac with some serious intent. I framed him up, made a few exposures, when Garry tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me to tilt the frame. Which was just in time for guy not having a good day to walk into the frame and complete this picture of current and future indigestion.

Every New York street photographer has to make a pilgrimage to Coney Island at one point or another. It's a must, not because there is some unwritten rule but because Coney is a very generous location. There's an image to be made everywhere you look. Go. You will see.

Anyhow, I was shooting blanks all afternoon. I was ready to tear what's left of my hair out, when I ran into Bruce Gilden and his wife. I had a little chat with them and got to see Bruce in action. This was a not so small consolation in lieu of good photographs.

Feeling like a mo, I headed to Ruby's Bar for a few beers. I made some friends while sucking back budz and listening to doo wop and Billy Joel on the juke. The sun started to set. Well buzzed, I made my way to the train. I sat down in the car and made this picture.

I hadn't been downtown to shoot in a long long time. I use to work in the area, so it's very familiar ground for me. But on this day everything seemed totally fresh and new. The air was cool and dry, the light was brilliant--which always inspires.

I was covering a lot of ground, feeling good, even making some frames that I was happy with. Having fun. I headed into the local Au Bon Pain for a piss break. I was standing in line (probably with my face in the phone), waiting my turn, when I happened to look up and saw this fellow lit just so. I got the connection between the lamp and the light straight away and made three frames before this gent moved on and it was my turn in the lav.

The thing with shooting on the streets is, you've just got to believe. I mean, inevitably you will go through stretches of searingly painful soul crushing disappointment. Hours of walking about that add up to nothing more than corns on the foot. When I'm going through these dry spells, I comfort myself by imagining that I'm just laying the down-payment for future luck. After all, with no pain there's no gain. Ya gotta be in it to win it.

I was losing faith one afternoon when I spotted the red arrow. I thought, well that's nice but what else? Ok, I'll frame it up and see what happens. I didn't have to wait more than a minute for the gentleman in red to make his way by.

Just goes to show you.. something.

Like most New Yorkers, I hate Times Square. I usually do my best to avoid the area. I'm not saying anything new when I note that It's an over-crowded, overly commercial cheezfest, jammed with tourists running about like chickens with the head cut off. Having said that, I do catch films now and again at one of the multi-multi-plexes on 42nd street. I had just gotten out of a show, had some time to kill, so I said sod it and decided to have a go at the area.

I was going through one of my (what I would now label as ill-advised) creamy bokeh adventure phases. I thought the lights of the square could look quite cool at 1.4.

I'm on a budget when I shoot film, every frame counts. There are no spraying and praying strategies that can indulged in like with digital. I loitered for quite a bit before I found the right subject. I think I chose wisely. I love this lady. She says it all for me.

September of 2005. For various reasons, mostly personal, I was not having a good time during this era. I kind of woke up one day and realized I was an adult (!?), that life had started a while back but I hadn't been paying attention. Where have I been, where am I going? This was also the end of a very productive photographic period, I was feeling burnt out creatively. Maybe I had nothing more to say with the camera? I became frustrated and distracted.

This picture was made in Forest Hills, the neighborhood I grew up in. Specifically, this is the ritzy part of town, known as Forest Hills Gardens. With privately owned tree-lined streets and multi-million dollar English Tudor style houses. I've been drawn to this area throughout my life. First as a little kid taking afternoon walks with my Oma, later as a teen with friends horsing about, drinking beer and smoking dope. Even later just as a place to walk, think and chill out.

I was chilling with the camera this day, unenthusiastically pointing it at the ground or at the clouds when I spotted this guy sitting on a lawn looking just as out of sorts as I felt. I ran across the street and quickly took the shot. I didn't pick up the camera for five years after I made that frame.


JDionesotes said...

Re the paper bag: not to worry. Yas Ishimoto made that picture with newspapers in Grant Park, Chicago probably sixty years before "American Beauty:",r:1,s:0,i:85&tx=67&ty=42

loongan said...

spraying and praying! lol

Stan B. said...

The creamy bokeh phase may have well been ill advised, but that one photo made it worthwhile...

Hernan Zenteno said...

impressive the photo of the lamp, the man, the cross and the buildings. Maybe you need to put name to your photos Todd. Anyway, I like it very very much. Love the Coney Island come back train image too. All the best

Anonymous said...

Nice read as always, much appreciated B.

Jonathan Allen said...

Nice laconic style of writing, as well as photographing.

Paul Treacy said...

I too very much like your writing style, Todd. Compliments your terrific photo work extremely well.
Continued good hunting to you.
- Paul Treacy (.com)

troyholden said...

"I often pick a neighborhood to explore with my camera based on what I'd like to have for lunch."

This is a great approach. I've used a variation substituting "what I'd like to have for lunch" with "what bar do I want to end up at".