please wait, site is loading

Other Photography

Click on the toggle button above for full screen slideshow

A Personal Photo Essay

This photo essay covers many years of my life.

Starting with the full-screen background slideshow, I took photos from the same view through my living room’s bay window, during the 14 years that I lived in the same building, in Wrocław, Poland, between 1998 and 2012. The view is of a park across the street, with the German Consulate in the distance.

Of all of the photos I have ever taken, my favorite dates back to the beginning of my first trip to Europe, in 1979. The subject is four children having dessert at a wooden table inside of a small cabin that had been built in just three weeks for a couple that was about to have a baby. These children belonged to a small international group that was then forming a community, right where this cabin was constructed, on a hilltop overlooking a tiny village in the south of France named Fa, which is some 75 miles southeast of Toulouse. Lunch had just finished and there were three unopened bottles of red wine awaiting the adults who were about to return to the table. The girl standing is the daughter of a man from Los Angeles, who had married a Parisian woman. He had submitted a photo of a small abstract, stained glass, window for a competition sponsored by a magazine called Glass that I edited in Portland, Oregon (See From Glass to Rock).

Along with the photo of the window that was installed above the front door of his home in Fa, he submitted a short text describing his “daily love affair with life.” I was so inspired that I visited him in France in the spring of 1979. His letter changed my life profoundly as, eventually, I would live for many years in France and other parts of Europe. I have hung this photo on the wall of every home I have lived in ever since, from Santa Monica to New York, Barcelona, Paris and Wrocław. Currently, it is right beside me in my Los Angeles studio, as I type these words. For me, the photo of the four children is the inspiration of a long journey that lasted many years.

 

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

After returning from my first visit to Europe to my native home of LA in 1979, I was at the airport when the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League returned from Tampa Bay, where they had just won the conference championship. They were about to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in their only appearance in the Super Bowl during half of a century in LA, before moving to St. Louis, where they played for the next 20 years. During all of that time, I lived in Europe. Remarkably, they returned in 2016, and I beat them by 4 years.

In the early 1980s, I became one of the pioneers of the downtown LA art scene, when old abandoned warehouses were converted into loft spaces, as had happened in New York’s SoHo district during the 1960s. I leased a loft on the top floor of the Victor Clothing building on 2nd and Broadway, right across from the Los Angeles Times newspaper’s headquarters. Next door was the office of my landlord, Linda Burnham, publisher of High Performance magazine, which documented the activities of the performance art community.

As the downtown arts scene boomed in popularity and real estate prices began to rise, the city imposed strict living regulations in warehouse spaces that forced many artists to leave. I was having a soundproof room constructed inside of my large space, for the sake of rehearsing and recording music with a band I was putting together at the time. This was never to be, when one day inspectors entered and informed me that the almost completed wooden wall frame was no longer acceptable and that it had to be made out of metal. It was torn down before the sound studio ever saw the light of day. I moved out and became art director of Rock magazine in Hollywood, which was quite a challenge for the short time that it lasted.

Near the ocean, in downtown Santa Monica, another newspaper office building, of the now extinct Santa Monica Evening Outlook, was being torn down, soon to be replaced by a new shopping mall. Ironically, that spot was where my first solo art exhibition, of The Underground Cathedral, took place in 1986, at an experimental public contemporary art exhibition space sponsored by the University of Southern California.

I rented a studio space in Santa Monica, where I produced new work for the show. It also did not last long as real estate costs were skyrocketing, the building was sold, my space was cut in half by the new owner and my rent doubled. A gentrification invasion was underway forcing artists, business owners and renters to leave prized neighborhoods. In 1988, in a cover story Linda Burnham wrote for the LA Weekly about why many artists were leaving the city, she lamented:

The Reagan administration has cut so many social programs that hard times are literally visible, with the sick and the needy panhandling outside of every business in town. Poverty is rampant and nobody knows this better than the artists and staff of a small arts organization eking out an existence a few blocks from Skid row (click here for the full article).

This was the brutal reality I lived with daily. Every night returning to my studio meant forcing a bum to move, who slept in an alcove directly in front of the building’s door. It meant having my car repeatedly broken into, windows smashed twice, the car itself stolen once. It meant once coming to my studio door inside of the building to be greeted by a man who threatened me with a knife.

By the time Burnham’s article was published, I had already left for New York’s East Village, where I resided from 1985 to ’86, and was living in Paris in 1987.

Wanderlust had gotten the best of me, but leaving LA was never easy and leaving California, as the Eagles sing in “Hotel California,” is even harder: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” I took this photo by the beach in Santa Barbara, which is around 100 miles north of LA. It conveys the sentiment of many people about Angelenos, who are stereotyped for their artificially crass superficiality.

Off I went, not to return for 25 years, aside from several infrequent visits to family and old friends. The first one was in 1992, just in time for the second devastating riot in the city in my lifetime, the other having occurred in 1965. I found this lounge chair to be symbolic of the dichotomy of the luxury everyone is able to enjoy of southern California climate, contrasted with the mindlessly self-destructive behavior of angry minorities burning down their own communities.

Both riots were triggered by seething frustration an East LA community of poor African Americans and Hispanics. This photo and the one below are, for me, symbolic of the laid back car culture capital of the US – albeit casualties of extreme civil violence against small businesses, owned by outsiders, that were being burned to the ground. How this impacted me was an exceptional act of strange fate, as has so often been the theme of my stories, yet far from where the rioting occurred:

One sunny Sunday afternoon, while I was attending an afternoon barbecue far from where the riots had just about petered out, a curfew imposed on the city was lifted. Just when I was about to leave a private outdoor barbecue party, I heard a helicopter circling overhead. I walked into the street of a quiet residential area of the San Fernando Valley far from East LA where most of the violence had taken place and noticed police cars and many people standing around close to where my car was parked at the end of the block.

As I walked down the street to see what was going on, I noticed that my car was tilted just a bit, the front wheel of the passenger’s side up on top of the curb. Upon approaching my car, in utter disbelief I discovered that the entire driver’s door had been completely crushed. A police officer told me: “We were chasing two teenage boys all the way from East LA, who we suspected had murdered somebody,” he explained. “When they turned the corner, they crashed into your car.” Then he pointed to a van that had bounced off of my car, skidded across the lawn of a house next to my car and crashed into a concrete wall.

Welcome back home to LA! Talk of capturing a moment in time, what were the chances of this happening on a quiet residential street far from the scene of the riots? What were the chances that only my car was struck and directly in the driver’s door, just moments before I left the barbecue in a neighborhood I had never before visited – and that this occurred during a brief visit home from Spain?

Two years later, while living in Barcelona, a terrible earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles, where my sister lived, and she was one of many residents who lost their homes. This photo typifies what I found when driving around, piles of the remains of decimated house interiors. In the front is a children’s toy named “Etch-A-Sketch” something of a mechanical stone-age graphics computer, which was extremely popular in the 1960s. A child’s bicycle is buried in the rubble and a street sign points to a most ambivalent direction of where to go from there. For me, this was once again a sign that my return home was not to be for long. 

SIGNS AND SYMBOLS OF ANTI-AMERICAN SENTIMENT

Conflicting with what the ominous spray-painted warning in Santa Barbara advised, the bizarre turn of events on a lazy, sunny southern California Sunday, was like being hit by a lightning bolt from the heavens, telling me that it was not in the cards for me to stay. But where did I belong at this point of my life? Alas, not only was being a native of LA a cross to bear, but the lofty reputation of the United States in the world was changing – and not for the better, as the stories I tell on this site about my experiences in both France and Poland clearly demonstrate. Inevitably, I had to live up to not only being from the both revered and despised media capital of the planet, but from the US, plus I was of Jewish family ancestry. Another spray-painted statement, in this case found on the street of a small city in western Poland, Luban, delivered quite a different message about the experimental cultural melting pot of humanity known as the United States of America.

A terrible price was being paid back home, thanks to the militaristic Bush Administration’s disastrous policies in the Middle East. Upon returning to LA in 2012, I attended an outdoor festival downtown, where I found another symbolic statement in the street. This photo says: “Everyday a US soldier commits suicide.” In the eyes of so many abroad, America had been transformed from that of savior, which played the central role in ending WWII and rebuilding Western Europe, to that of an imperialistic aggressor overturning political regimes, while imposing a vacuous, disposable pop culture on the world. Back home, many veterans of war suffering from PTSD found themselves feeling like pariahs, a dispiriting sense of having fallen back to earth from the twilight zone, which I have often identified with since my return.

CATALONIA AND SPAIN

Nevertheless, the influence of neoliberal policies and the bombardment of globalization also became wildly popular, as evidenced by the display on my Barcelona neighbor’s back with the Coca Cola logo. This woman, who resided with her husband beneath my first apartment, during the 6 years of my life in Barcelona in the early to mid 1990s, lived as primitive a lifestyle as I had ever come across. Her home did not even have electricity. Yet, even she was a walking advertisement of American’s global corporate interests.

Much was changing in the city at that time, as it became engaged in a major urban renewal program in the run-up to the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics. While architect Xavier Nieto’s execution of public monuments (seen her at La luz’ inaugural event) designed by famous New York painters and sculptors graced the skyline, a casualty of this transformation were the “chiringuitos,” quaint and charming restaurants along the shoreline of the port called Barceloneta.

My favorite, “El Salmonete,” had tables on the sand. It was a wonderful sensation to remove one’s shoes while dining, especially on a hot balmy summer evening. Sadly, the chiringuitos were demolished because they did not meet new building and safety standards that were imposed on existing architecture. A local journalist said to me that, to him, this was the city’s greatest loss. Today, new modern chiringuitos have opened their doors, though they lack the old-world charm of those that they replaced.

However, an eclectic recycling of old styles blended in with new styles became the rage in Barcelona. That was hard to miss, when in the early stages of conceiving my new bar and restaurant in Poland, I returned to Barcelona for ideas and inspiration. Styles ranged from traditional Spanish, to chic, to kitsch, which became the rage as a post-Franco fascination with modernization waned. Here are a few examples:

When I later conceived a “global tapas” bar in Poland, I thought at the time that it was an original idea. Then, one day, out of curiosity I researched the term and I came across a review from Sydney, Australia of a new “global tapas” bar, which, the critic said with a yawn, was just one more of many. Perhaps down under this was due to a lack of traditional authenticity, given the geographical distance from Europe. Nevertheless, having never seen anything like it before – let alone that the very concept of “tapas” was virtually unheard of then in Wrocław – it was a big surprise to make another return visit to Barcelona after Abrams’ Tower had closed in 2011 and to discover a new “global tapas” bar, one named “Tickets.” In fact, it was so popular that one had to make a reservation three months in advance! The tapas was nothing like I had ever seen before, its appearance rather like children’s toys, or colorful miniature sculptures and its decor was playfully original:

At the time that Poland became a member of the European Union in 2004, I decided to begin selling wines from around the world which until then had been prohibitively expensive and difficult to import due to strict regulations and ridiculously expensive import tariffs. I assume that this was intended to protect the sales of domestically produced vodka and beer. Then I made another return visit to Spain, this time with the aim of meeting with winemakers in relatively unknown south-central regions of the country (specifically: La Mancha, Yecla and Jumilla) where the latest technology in wine production resulted in excellent wines that were sold at remarkably low prices. Having worked for many years as a glass artist, the reflective, refractive and luminous qualities of the glass involved in the whole bottling process, became a fascination for me as a photographer. Here are examples of photos of the display windows of wine shops, the automated process of bottling wine. Also, here are shots of wine bottles and the bar of my restaurant decorated with artificially illuminated empty wine bottles:

MANNEQUINS AND WINDOW DISPLAYS

Shooting through shop windows of all sorts eventually became a preoccupation of mine, not only for the sake of capturing unusual window displays but because the reflective quality of glass creates a natural double exposure effect. Unexpected juxtapositions are often the result of capturing the inside and outside views simultaneously, creating ghost-like effects that one rarely notices with the naked eye.

This theme began during my first visit to Poland in 1989, when I shot a rather eerie display in the window of a bridal shop. As if the mood of the people, even when engaged in what should be a joyous celebration, the head of the mannequin of a young bride is tilted downward in a melancholy pose. Meanwhile, behind her stands a mannequin of a young man dressed in a white tuxedo, who appears to want to reach out to her, but his hands look like they have been amputated. Aside from the exterior wall that evidently had not been painted for decades, the odd poses of these mannequins spoke to me of the sense of helplessness many young Poles felt – with marriage considered obligatory at a very young age, before it was possible to discover one’s identity as an adult.

That one bridal shop window led to a fascination with the subject in different countries. Eventually, I began taking photos of any intriguing window display. Perhaps the most surprising image of all was of a wig shop. Completely unknown to me until the processed 35 mm film came back from a lab, an elderly woman with a frightened look on her face was standing in the shadows behind the mannequin heads wearing wigs. Somehow this spoke to me of what lurks behind alluring, artificial facades. Here are several more shop windows:

LIGHT

The other aspect of my artistic work, beginning with stained glass that has influenced my photographic sensibility, is the awareness of luminosity and spontaneously captured special lighting effects:

FLEETING MOMENTS

Whereas a camera may sometimes inadvertently capture fleeting moments and juxtapositions of subject matter that are not consciously seen by the photographer, some of my favorite images were taken when I was in the fortunate position to catch a one-in-a-million moment in time. Here are several such photos, the first three having one subject in common, insects. It wasn’t that I searched for this specific subject, but these photos are evidence to myself of being present to the unexpected, to the magic, to the serendipity that has shaped so many of the most remarkable experiences of my life.

Descriptions of the above eight photos:

1. A ladybug, on the face of a female statue, outside of a castle in the Polish countryside

2. Flies caught between a poster and a shop window that appears as if they are sitting on a girl’s face

3. A black bee on a bright yellow sunflower, at Rockaway Beach, New York

4. A flower bouquet swept by the sea from God only knows where to the shoreline of the port in Barcelona, Spain

5. A real rainbow behind an artificial palm tree that was erected by a Polish artist at a busy intersection of Warsaw, Poland

6. An artificial rainbow of cars passing below my apartment’s bay window in Wrocław, Poland

7. Men situated before a large outdoor mural of men from the Warsaw Ghetto, exhibited outdoors in Old Town, at the time of the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising 

8. Women and girls situated before a large outdoor mural of women from the Warsaw Ghetto, also exhibited at the time of the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising

NEW YORK DURING THE 3RD ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11

The most profound event of all while I was living abroad was 9/11. At the time of the third anniversary of the attacks, I came home for another visit, first landing in New York. Upon passing by the site of the World Trade Center, I took these photos that convey how the minds of Americans would be impacted forever. They capture the extreme degree of amplified patriotism, the mourning, denial, fear and soul-searching that was the outcome of the first major attack ever on US soil:

 

WELCOME HOME

Back to LA one decade later, my European life in the rear view mirror, the ghouls were out in full force for the annual West Hollywood Halloween street parade, once again inviting me home.