Who Shot Rock / Who Shot Walker Evans

Walker Evans - Cemetery, Bethlehem PA, 1935

On my way to give a talk about my punk photography yesterday at the Allentown Art Museum's Who Shot Rock exhibition in Pennsylvania, I unexpectedly found myself in the shadow of one of my photographic idols Walker Evans.  In my haste to prepare for my talk,  I had not foreseen that Allentown was only miles away from Bethlehem and Easton PA, locations of some of Walker Evans greatest photographs included in his classic 1938 book American Photographs.  In fact, before I had even arrived at the Allentown Art Museum, I had Eileen stop the car in a town square blocks away, so I could take this photograph.

Which upon my return to the city, I realized was similar via memory to this Walker Evans shot.

Walker Evans - Main Street Pennsylvania Town, 1936

And so began an adventurous journey into the many layers of my photographic past. The talk went well indeed. From Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Weegee & Brassai, to the Bowery in 1976, I speckled the presentation of my CBGB photography - titled Once Upon a Time on the Bowery - with clips from one of my favorite photography films - Blow-Up.  Directed in 1966 by Michelangelo Antonioni, with David Hemmings cast as the "swinging sixties" photographer David Bailey, it was the first film that actually took me into a real darkroom, a real studio, and in fact a real nightclub.  With an early intense performance by Vanessa Redgrave,  and the classic Yardbirds nightclub scene - this was the film that no doubt eventually drew me to purchase my first Pentax Spotmatic and eerily predicted my "brilliant career" in rock photography. 

"I'm only doing my job. Some people are bullfighters. Some people are politicians. I'm a photographer."

But back to the Allentown Art Museum,  where the current layout of the Who Shot Rock exhibition,  thoughtfully laid out & more intimate with it's small walls than even the Brooklyn show - lives on. As I said the talk went well. The audience hung in there with my eclectic references that strayed between the history of photography, the history of punk, and the history of me. Thank you. 

From there it was back on the road, a few photographs of Allentown, and a stop at the - how could I not? - Bethlehem Diner.

First Avenue looked so Medieval

I was calmly drinking down my morning coffee last week, when my friend Tim Broun, whose Stupefaction blog is burning up the internet, alerted me to a blogpost on Flaming Pablum about this photograph I took of the band Television in the East Village in the fall of1977. It seems that there was a photo quiz posted last spring to search out the location of several cool photographs, of which mine was not only one - but one of the only ones that remained unidentified until last week - imagine that!

Well this was all news to me when Tim's alert arrived. And it just gets better. It turns out the photo detective who finally figured out my shoot location was none other than Bob Egan of PopSpotsNYC, whose indefatigable archeological investigations into the shot locations of several key Bob Dylan LP cover photos I've been in awe of since I stumbled upon them last year. In fact I've been telling everyone who can bear to listen to my Bob Dylan fanaticism that they have to check these out - Daniel Kramer's shot for Highway 61 Revisited, Sandy Speiser's shot for Another Side AND Jerry Schatzberg's shot for Blonde on Blonde.These are so unbelievably detailed, carefully laid out, and delightful to read, that it shudders me to think that the same Bob Egan went out and conducted an investigation for Flaming Pablum to deconstruct the location of my 1977 Television photograph.

Yes he's right it was First Avenue at 9th Street - we had just walked down St.Marks Place (past the recently extinct Holiday Cocktail Lounge and the ever present Stromboli Pizza) proceeding up First Avenue to 9th street when

we encountered this puddle overtaking the whole corner. It wasn't raining that fall day in 1977, so I suspect there was a drainage problem on that still somewhat crooked corner. In any case, it looked perfect for a photo, so I asked everyone to wait while I crossed over to the other side to get this view from across the pond (hoping no cars would turn up 9th and knock me over).

People have asked me quite often over the years about the location of this photo - even people who live in that neighborhood. And I am sometimes stumped myself, because there was still an outdoor fruit and vegetable stand on that corner for many years. And all those quirky little stores - Curtain shops, button shops - are now restaurants.

But what really strikes me about Bob Egan's investigations of Bob Dylan cover shots - and it's true of my Television photo as well - is how close to home all those photographs were taken (well not exactly the Blonde on Blonde - though that might be the most fascinating one).  Freewheelin'  was shot on Jones Street , literally around the corner from Dylan's West 4th St. apartment. Another Side just a block away from his record company's offices on 52nd Street, and Bringing it all Back Home on the front steps of his manager's Gramercy Park Townhouse. And indeed, my photograph of Television follows the same pattern. I was living  on St.Marks Place between Second & Third Ave. while Fred Smith - Television's lovable bass player - lived on St.Marks between First and Second Ave. - which is where we all gathered before the shoot. So the distance between meeting point and this shot was two whole blocks. Were we just lazy or was there just a plethora of great locations in that short radius? A little bit of both (we actually continued our walk up to 18th street to finish the session). But indeed, First Avenue looked so medieval in those days.


I am pleased to have stumped Flaming Pablum's readers with my shot location, and honored to have Bob Egan's thorough investigation (referencing a microfiche of the 1977 phone book - brilliant), but I'm most amused with Tim Broun's post in the comment section - "Nice post, but you could have just asked Godlis - he took the photo". Yeah but this is so much more fun!

Tales From the NY Film Festival / part 4

Here Come the Romanians!

Tuesday, After Christmas


The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu

Have you seen any Romanian films lately? While Romanian films may have flown under the general public's radar here in America, Romanian filmmakers have been making some of the most creative and engaging films released worldwide for the last decade.  The Death of Mr. Lazarescu  directed by Cristi Puiu was the first one to catch my attention in 2005.  In it, a handheld camera quietly follows a 69 year old man's journey through the bureaucracy of the Romanian healthcare system, for 24 black humor filled fatal hours (you can quite often catch it now on IFC or Sundance Channel). Ever since then, it seems that every Romanian film I've seen is a winner - like there's something in the water over there.  Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 2007.  At last year's NY FIlm Fest we were introduced to Corneliu Porumboiu's Police Adjective.  Last spring I saw the hilarious, Happiest Girl in the World, directed by Radu Jude. 

Now at this year's NY FIlm Festival, we were treated to three more great films - Tuesday, After Christmas by Radu Muntean, Aurora by Cristi Puiu (after a 5 year absence), and The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu by Andrei Ujica.  

Cristi Puiu

Aurora, the much anticipated follow-up to Mr.Lazarescu, finds director/writer Cristi Puiu in the lead role as a sullen lone individual on a methodically creepy mission, of which we know very little for the 3 hour duration of the movie. The camerawork, (with a series of typically Romanian long takes), is is at times exquisite, or jarringly exquisite. The humor is black. The effect is mind numbing. 

Mirela Oprisor and Mimi Branescu from Tuesday, After Christmas
director Radu Muntean

Tuesday, After Christmas directed by Radu Muntean is a Romanian twist on the typically French concerns of a man, his mistress, and his wife. Again a series of long takes and superb acting move the narrative swiftly along. In town for the screening were the actors playing the cheating husband and spurned wife, who are indeed real life husband and wife (Mimi Branescu and Mirela Oprisor). 

director Andrei Ujica

Last but certainly not least, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescudirected by Andrei Ujica is a documentary, so to speak.  It is compiled entirely of self serving documentary footage shot at the behest of the Romanian politician/ madman / dictator Nicolae Ceausescu during his reign from 1965 to 1989, that has been cleverly edited together by Andrei Ujica, and bookended by video footage of the trial of Ceausescu and his wife which ended in their executions (wikipedia Ceausescu here). There are state trips to Russia, China, North Korea, England and Disneyland. There are official visits to meat factories, games of volleyball, and speeches to the Romanian state assembly. There are no explanations of what we are seeing, only the footage - only the "facts". And yet you can't take your eyes off the everyday workings of this madman. And then, you are left to ponder that the aftermath of this oppressive state created by Nicolae Ceausescu, is what has led to the incredibly strong series of films we are now receiving  from these Romanian directors. 

Corneliu Porumboiu, director of Police Adjective in 2009
Cristian Mungiu, director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days in 2007
Cristi Puiu, director of Aurora and Mr Lazarescu

Tales From the NY FIlm Festival

1. Closing Night On the RC with Clint and Matt

Sunday was closing night of the 2010 New York Film Festival. That is where have I been for the last month - quietly (and obsessively) shooting photographs of directors and actors at press conferences and in green rooms.  That's what I do every fall. As the unofficial official photographer for the Festival, I  photograph the action behind the screens, and at the same time get to see about 25 amazingly beautiful and sometimes agonizingly artistic new films from all over the planet. Over the next few days on this blog, I'll try to give you the rundown on what I saw, what you should go out of your way to see, and what you shouldn't waste your time on (but need to know enough about to hold up your end of the  conversation). Oh right, and my photographs as well.

Matt Damon arrives with his wife
Luciana Bozan Borroso

T.S.Eliot said "In the end is my begining".  So I'll start at the end. Closing night is a big event, and at 6:30pm Sunday night, I found myself in the middle of the Red Carpet madness, waiting for Clint Eastwood to show up and "walk the carpet" to promote his new film  "Hereafter", starring Matt Damon.  A little background info. This is not my usual beat -  hordes of photographers and entertainment television crews are lined up under a long horizontal party tent waiting to spend several minutes time with tonight's focus of attention. An event carefully organized and played out several times every evening around this city, these same players - photographers and video crews -  move about this town in search of the big money photo, and tomorrow night's entertainment sound bites and blog exclusives, following the carefully laid out rules of the stars and their publicists. They all know the game and are familiar with the pecking order at these events. 

Clint Eastwood talks to the press

The first group Clint Eastwood will walk by are the photographers. Separated into "pens" of about 20 photographers each, behind barriers with some in the front row and others standing behind them on their traveling step stools, they will have about 45 seconds to shoot off a barrage of flashes and call out "this way Clint...to your right, to your left", before he passes on to the next group.  Maybe Clint will do something more interesting for "pen 2", causing those in "pen 1" to grumble for a few more good minutes with him, before he eventually moves on to the hallowed video crews - the place where Mr. Eastwood will spend most of his time on the Red Carpet this evening. On the carpet, video is king. The photographers are the serfs.

Bryce Dallas Howard

But on this night I was given the equivalent of a photographer's "get out of jail free" card - a "Roaming Pass" that allows me to walk and shoot anywhere on the "carpet".  There are three of us "roamers"  tonight, and I  am given this pass because I shoot for the Film Festival.  The other two "roamers" are heavy duty pros who do this every night, so I will keep my eyes on them to guide me through this urban safari. Meanwhile we three  get to wait at the head of the Red Carpet for Clint Eastwood to arrive. He will walk right past us before he heads into the madness. 

Clint Eastwood arrives with wife Dina Ruiz

At 6:45 there is still no sign of Clint. The film is set to screen at 7pm, where the Lincoln Center audience is anxiously awaiting a first look at the new film "Hereafter". Matt Damon has already passed us with his very pregnant wife, and is talking to the television crews. He too is awaiting Clint. Every photographer is waiting to get the money shot, which tonight is a "2 shot' of Clint and Matt. This will be the focus of tonight's madness. When Clint shows up at 6:50 the fun starts, and the flashes in Pen 1 go wild. You can not imagine what it's like to try to stand in front of 25 photographers shooting 10 flashes per second on automatic pilot. This is the crazy modern world that is about as far away from the "decisive moment" as one can get. All these photographers will talk into a microphone on their camera, and read off the name of the subjects in the photo so their editor can ID everyone in the picture. These photos will be uploaded to their agencies wirelessly from their cameras in the next half hour. Time is of the essence. You will be looking at them in your local paper on your way to work tomorrow morning.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Cecile De France
The cast of "Hereafter" with director Clint Eastwood

And speaking of time, the audience inside the theater is still waiting for the start of the film. At 7:15 Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon are separately talking to video crews. Publicists are aware that there are still shots to be taken of Matt and Clint and the whole cast. But the whole cast is upstairs in the green room, having done the red carpet long ago. I am stuck against the photo backdrop of logos, trying to stay out of the background of the television shots. We three "roamers" are patiently waiting for the money shot. The photographers in the "pen" won't get it - they are done for the night. Word comes at 7:20 that the money shot will happen upstairs in the green room. We leave the red carpet and run ahead of Matt and Clint to be able to shoot them entering. And the green room is packed! None of the cast, producers, and friends have taken their seat. They are waiting for Clint and Matt. The audience in the theater is unaware of all this. At 7:25, the cast - Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile de France, and director Clint Eastwood are all brought into the photo section of the green room for our big moment. It will last 5 minutes at the most. It is a very tight squeeze just to stand back and get them all in the shot. In the middle of that bubble it will be very difficult to get everyone to look in your direction. But I've got to admit it's an adrenaline rush. Not my favorite thing to do, but every photographer should experience it at least once. We finish this whole thing up at 7:30pm, Clint and Matt will go directly into the theater to introduce the film, and the show will go on. One half hour later, I will be sitting alone on a park bench  amazed that I survived the madness.

the "money shots"

Tomorrow, more Tales (and photos) from the NY Film Fest 2010.

*One more thing - tonight, the film "Carlos" (about the terrorist Carlos the Jackal from the 70's), by the great French director Olivier Assayas (if you have not seen "Summer Hours" from last year, go directly to Netflix), will be screening on Sundance Channel in three parts - part 2 tonight. I saw it at the Festival last week. Perhaps there will be repeat screenings. But in part 2, there is great use of the Dead Boys song "Sonic Reducer". I know this is late notice, but be sure you catch it somehow.

all photos © GODLIS

the 4th revisited

re: the July 4th photos I posted yesterday.  

July 4th is a street photographer's working holiday.  With Robert Frank's photograph "Fourth of July - Jay, New York" in mind, and camera in hand,  every year I walk through a world of flags, patriotism, parades, and hot dogs looking for one more shot to explain it all. 

July 4th,  1980 - Middleboro, Massachusetts

This photograph from the southeastern Massachusetts town of Middleboro is one of my favorites.  Middleboro, as it turns out, is the hometown of Lavinia Warren, who was married to  General Tom Thumb (yes P.T. Barnum's Tom Thumb) in 1863, at Grace Church in NYC.  So every year, they would commemorate Lavinia's wedding ceremony in Middleboro's 4th of July parade.  You really can't make these things up.  Taken 30 years ago, I can't help thinking that these kids, pretending to be dwarfs, are in their 40's now. 

From Harper's Weekly 1863

July 4th, 1975 - Nantasket Beach, Massachusetts

This photo, which I didn't post yesterday, is also one of my favorites.  I took it on a very hot summer night in the beach town of Nantasket, Massachusetts - site of Paragon Park.  This was the summer before I moved to NYC. This night photograph, with these gypsy types lit up by the amusement park lights, precedes and points to all the hand held 35mm night shooting I would be doing the next year on the Bowery.  

July 4th, 2010 - Onset, Massachusetts

And then there's this year's July 4th picture.  Actually shot on July 3rd, I believe it still qualifies for a July 4th pic if it's taken at the July 4th fireworks. This is the beach town of Onset, Massachusetts nearby to Cape Cod.  Standing atop the bluffs overlooking the beach, I shot this hand held night shot at 1/8th of a second to get the crowded beach lit up by fireworks. Totally a guessed exposure, I pass this info on for the benefit of all so inclined.  

Gotta go barbecue. A final July 4th roundup tomorrow...

It's alright Ma..."Mother: She'll Stop At Nothing"

Just that tagline alone should be enough to convince you to buy a ticket to Korean director Bong Joon-ho's new film, 'Mother'.  Look at that boy in the poster, that only a mother could love. He's accused of murder, and he's - I'm sorry Sarah Palin - somewhat retarded. So his mother is the only one going to bat for him. And she spends most of the film relentlessly tracking down the real killer - with an intensity that only a mother can muster. Established Korean actress Hye-ja Kim keeps the whole train rolling from the opening shot. Don't miss the begining!

You may have seen director Bong Joon-ho's 2006 film"The Host", in which a slimy undersea creature created by toxic chemical dumping in a Korean river, goes into shark attack mode on the city of Seoul, resulting in Bong Joon-ho being called the Steven Speilberg of Korea. When that movie had it's premiere screening at the 2006 New York Film Festival, Alice Tully Hall was packed with the local Korean community for the midnight screening - they definitely knew what was up.

This Friday February 26, Bam Cinematek in Brooklyn is bringing this very cool director to town for a screening of "Mother" in advance of it's March 12th opening, and a five day retrospective of his films. You better not miss it. Snow or no snow, I'll be going out there tonight to see his great early film  "Memories of Murder". I saw "Mother" this past fall at the 2009 NY Film Festival, where I took these pictures of Bong Joon - ho. I'll be back there tomorrow to hear him talk in person. You be there or be square.


Bong Joon-ho, NY Film Festival 2009 © GODLIS

through a glass darkly

I took this photograph one morning in the early 1980's, looking through the window of the Veselka off 2nd Avenue in the East Village. The Veselka was much smaller than it is now, still very much a Ukranian greasy spoon of a joint back then. For years I always imagined this to be a picture of a young couple settled into their morning after breakfast bliss.

Then in the summer of 1986, I exhibited this photograph with a number of others in a restaurant / gallery space lower down on 2nd Avenue. And at the end of the summer, I received this letter from England written by the girl in the photograph! Beautifully pre-email-ish, with her minimally descriptive drawing - a brilliant companion piece detailing the situation from the other side of the glass - revealing that they were indeed "having a massive row." Like a great turn in a novel, that almost made the picture even better.

I say so much for invasion of privacy issues. Every picture doesn't really tell a story. Garry Winogrand once said: "Photography is not about the thing photographed. It's about how that thing looks photographed." 

Yes, of course, I sent her a copy. 

godlis boy pix

yeah, that's me as a little kid - "godlis boy", trying to make perfect sense of a twin lens reflex. i don't remember that camera or this moment. but because someone took the time to shoot not one, but several pictures of me, totally enmeshed in a struggle to make sense of this little plastic machine, I  now actually have a memory of this fleeting precious moment. the camera i do remember playing with a few years later was a classic brownie hawkeye twin lens. a bit sturdier than this one, i loved looking down into the viewfinder and trying to walk around the room using that image as my seeing eye dog. i never really shot any pictures on it.

Actually this is the kind of picture I would have taken - if i wasn't the kid in it. i'm guessing my father took this one (though my mother always claimed credit for taking all the pictures in the family, she appeared in way too many of those same wonderful pictures for her claim to be true).  but i'm pretty sure that she picked out my awesome shoes.

"godlis boy" - years later,  in high school, that was my nickname on the swimming team. kinda rolls off the tongue, fun to say. so in the spirit of fun, i present a few more godlis boy pix, from my personal snapfolio collection.  dig 'em.

what a chunk o' chocolate

Arnold Stang, NYC 1987

I ran into Arnold Stang out on the streets of New York back in 1987. He must have been on his way to do a voice over for a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial. But to me, he was the voice of the Chunky Chocolate commercial in the 1950's, with the infamous line that's still ringing in my head when I look at that candy bar - "What a Chunk o' chocolate!" He was a riot as the nerdy gas station attendant in 'It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World'. Played next to Frank Sinatra in 'The Man With the Golden Arm'. And speaking (ha) of voiceovers, he was the voice of Top Cat.

He was a little comic genius. Here's a brief clip for those unfamiliar.
R.I.P. Arnold Stang.

Where I was at: Bowery Ballroom 12.30.09

so here's the setlist from Patti Smith's Bowery Ballroom show on her birthday - December 30th, 2009 - the lucky recipient kindly held it up for my camera. The show was excellent, as expected. Right out of the box with 'Land', 'Ask the Angels', and 'Privilege'. A ton of well chosen cover songs too. Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean', George Harrison's 'Within You Without You', Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away.' The band with Lenny singing (minus Patti) did two Jim Carroll songs including a knockout 'People Who Died.'

Patti's always been great over the years with her choice of live cover songs. Like a good DJ, she always seems to pull them right out of a hat. Back in the day, one of my favorites was her cover of Debby 'Boone's You Light Up My Life', which I excerpt below from - really - Kids Are People Too.  I can't overestimate the impact at the time of the ironic crossover beauty of a NYC punk poet singing a top 40 megahit by Pat Boone's daughter (I remember her at a record store signing in Times Square telling all her fans not to waste money on the album - "buy the single").

But her best cover song at this year's show was her encore - Patti and the band doing the O'Jays 'Love Train'. Such a feelgood song - I still can't get it out of my head. And so. as much for myself as everyone else, I provide a link to the O'Jays doing Love Train on Letterman (search out the Soul Train Line Dance version from 1973 yourself).

Also for your viewing pleasure, a few choice pix of Patti onstage at the Bowery Ballroom.  "People round the world, join in..."

xmas leftovers - blasts from the past

xmas 1996

and here we go again. another year and another xmas picture. Every year - shooting and picking another new gem. But this year, I'm taking some time off to find some old gems from the archives. Some vintage black and white pix shot on my good old Leica. Yeah - a nice relaxing xmas eve thumbing through my negatives, while everyone else frets about wrapping their presents.

My presents this year are my past...

xmas 1979

xmas 1997

xmas 1993

ok just a few more...

"but I heard him exclaim,
ere he drove out of sight,
merry christmas to all,
and to all... a gezundtheit"