Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Tag: washington square park

I Can’t Breath- But I Can Photograph

My favorite image of the day, to look up and see this display of people coming together with a flag flying was dramatic.

My favorite image of the day, to look up and see this display of people coming together with a flag flying was dramatic.

I want to establish right off the bat that this post is about photography, not the politics. My choosing to take my camera and record the protest does not indicate my personal feelings nor alignment. What I do feel is that as photographers we have a duty to record the world around us. We don’t have to make a living at it, but we are the observers whose observations can outlive us. Future generations will be able to look at your images and share an experience based on what you photographed. That is a scary thought in of itself, and photojournalism is extremely subjective and barely objective. I certainly seek objectivity in the matter, and feel I pretty much got it. I barely spoke to anyone; actually the only person I had a full conversation with was a NYC Parks Dept officer. Our conversation consisted of the fact that it was peaceful.

I don't usually shoot in panarama mode, but when I do it's for really really really big crowds.

I don’t usually shoot in panarama mode, but when I do it’s for really really really big crowds.

However this is the internet and people throw opinions around like police hand out tickets so at the end of this post, I’m going to speak my mind about the recent issues surrounding this protest. It’s my soap box, you can choose to not read or make your comments. Now, back to the photographic portion of this post…

Pissing off the Police Union is where he is.

Pissing off the Police Union is where he is.

As I stated earlier, I believe it is both your civic and artistic duty to participate as a viewer/observer/recorder of the important social issues that occur in your lifetime. I’m not saying you should go well out of your way, but if these occur locally, be there and f8. They are societal milestones, events, and gain the interest of the masses. They can often define the ascendant generation. Going to and placing oneself in the epicenter is a solemn privilege that you as a creative should encourage.

“The world is going to pieces, and people like Biderman and Hill are photographing stars.”

– David George Brommer, December 2014.

I have shot a few demonstrations in my day. The first was a NORML rally at William Patterson College in NJ in the latish 80’s. The next would have been great anti-Iraq war protest that took place in 2003 in NYC. I rolled through the Occupy movement when it was in full force. I heard about the #MillionsMarchNYC from local channels, and put aside the time to go shoot it. Having watched the other protests, mainly the Ferguson and the SF/Oakland ones, I was a bit wary of getting caught up in a mele. I would be simply a citizen armed with a camera, and my opposing force would have truncheons, shields and tear gas. In the back of my mind a spot fear appeared. We all know what fear is right? It’s the mind killer! Mostly I feared getting gassed. I had seen the nasty canisters bouncing up to a CNN crew and the journalists all getting a good hit of it in Ferguson. I dug out my Israeli issue adult gas mask size three and stuffed it into a WW2 vintage ammo sling bag. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and if worse happened, I could keep my vision intact and the cameras clicking.

When protesting, protest in Patagonia. Oy.

When protesting, protest in Patagonia. Oy.

Noon: Inspect the camera arsenal for today’s shoot. I go for the Sony RX10 because I want a telephoto lens to pick out faces and signs a distance away (24 to 200mm f2.8). It’s also weather proof and resilient, so it can take it if the environment gets crazy. I also grabbed my trusty Fujifilm Xpro1 and slapped on the 18mm f2.0. I picked the Xpro1 because it can take a hit, and the look and size of the 18mm (1.5x APS-C size sensor brings it to 28mm effective) would both perform, and fit in my bag. Instead of a camera bag I choose a vintage ww2 ammo satchel, because I like the way it melts to my body and it’s discrete while having an edge. Note, the bag does have a Domke insert to further pad the gear. I also stuffed my gas mask and a fresh filter in the bottom of the satchel. In this game the best offense is a good defense.

Israeli issue M15 gas mask and cartridge. Sony RX10 digital camera. Fujifilm Xpro1 with 18mm f2 lens. US issue WW2 ammo pouch.

Israeli issue M15 gas mask and cartridge. Sony RX10 digital camera. Fujifilm Xpro1 with 18mm f2 lens. US issue WW2 ammo pouch.

2 pm I parked the Vespa on Bleecker and Sullivan. Twitter images showed the masses of protesters thronging beneath the Arch where 5th Avenue meets Washington Square Park. Enter from the rear, so you can get an idea of dispositions of the crowds.

As you neared Washington Square park there was a constant buzz of helicopters. The eye in the sky never looks the other way.

As you neared Washington Square park there was a constant buzz of helicopters. The eye in the sky never looks the other way.

I wanted to capture the faces and signs. I wanted to show the disparity of the protesters, and what they were saying. Simple task.

All Lives Matter.

All Lives Matter.

As I walked further into the epicenter around the fountain I found the wide settings on the camera were taking most of it in. Standing up on bench I was able to zoom into details. The Sony RX10 has swing a out LCD screen, I used my height and tilting out of the screen so I could turn myself into a 8 foot tripod in this fashion. That gave me a sweet perspective on the throngs.

Get that monument in so you can readily arm the viewer with an accurate location.

Get that monument in so you can readily arm the viewer with an accurate location.

There was not a police presence inside the protest throng, except Parks Dept (protecting the trees from being climbed) and this interesting Police Captain from Philadelphia. I do have a regret, I noticed one Parks Dept Officer with a tonfa strapped to his belt. Interesting, but I didn’t feel like getting my lens smashed by it so I didn’t shoot him. I regret that now.

A Police Captain from the City of Brotherly Love.

A Police Captain from the City of Brotherly Love.

The protesters, while mixed with all races, were predominantly white.

Pockets of protesters could broadcast stories.

Pockets of protesters could broadcast stories.

6 pm Time to edit and archive shot images. I shot as jpegs and imported into Nik Silver EFX through Photoshop. Since the subject matter was heavy, I felt that I would add drama and impact by choosing a heavy process. I went to the Film Noir Preset #1 and then decreased the size of the grain 40% while pushing up the structure. I also minimized the spread of the digi-faux rebate edge.

Brommer is now going to discuss his feeling on racism. It might be time to click here for lighter subject matter.

My personal take on the issue at hand is that it’s something that has been brewing in this country since the 1800’s. Racism. It’s not always fair and it’s not easy to understand. It may very well resound in all of us, deep down, hidden and can bubble up in certain circumstances. Others make decisions and judgments based on race with little provocation and thought. I see color and race, I am a photographer and my job is to see. However, I do not let race, nor social standing effect the way I interact with the population. So while acutely aware of racial details and stereotypes the factor is nullified until you give me a reason to respond from your deeds and words. After all, we are all human. And I’ll treat you like a lady or gentleman as long as you are one. That’s how I roll. I’m ashamed when a racist thought runs through my head. My first best friend was Lamont Swain, we played together on the streets and playgrounds. I was a skinny little white kid, and Lamont was a skinny little black kid. R.I.P. Mont Mont, your friendship showed me in the end, we were just skinny kids.

In a perfect world you don’t get taken down so hard you die for selling illegal cigarettes. In a perfect world when you steal and you get caught you don’t resist arrest. In a perfect world the cops don’t have the right to use violent force unless being met with violent force that is un-arguable. In a perfect world a segment of the society was not enslaved and then after generations set free. In a perfect world all the children are taught to respect one another and know right from wrong. In a perfect world no one would take advantage over another. In a perfect world… is just a dream. 

~David

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The Raven Wing : A Study of a Harley-Davidson Sportster and Lust

WatchungWall

Wind

In my hair

Shifting and drifting

Mechanical music

Adrenaline surge…

Well-weathered leather

Hot metal and oil

The scented country air

Sunlight on chrome

The blur of the landscape

Every nerve aware. 

~Rush, Red Barchetta

 

A long time ago in a place far away (1990 and Rahway NJ) I walked into a Harley Davidson dealership with my childhood friend (and then roommate) Ed Fry. They had just gotten something very special in, the oddly named new model, Fat Boy motorcycle. It was huge, like a back streets brawler and had an attitude you could taste, smell, see, feel and hear. I’ll be honest, I have always harbored a fear of the motorcycle; it seemed too unsafe, too unprotected, and too easy to crash with my devil may care attitude towards speed. I couldn’t afford the bike back then, so I bought a pair of gloves.

 

LateShow

 

Life and time passed. I took a road that would not include a Fat Boy. A Harley Davidson is not like any other motorcycle. Riding and owning a Harley says something about your attitude that is not easy to quantify at once, because it spans many aspects of personality, means, and commitments. It’s part Rock and Roll, part Rebel and very Bad Ass. You either get it or not, you either can handle this or are secretly intimidated by it.

 

 

TrashnVaudville8street

Over the years I harbored the idea of riding a hog as they were called when I first spied that Fat Boy. One time coming out of late night speak easy in Seattle a ruffian/artist going by the name of Reuter offered me a ride across town to Pioneer Square on his bike. It wasn’t a Harley, but it was big and dark and fast. I rode bitch and hung on as we sped across a deserted 1st avenue. Damn what a way to cross-cities. In 2002 I got to spend 3 months studying Italian in Milan. During that time I secured the loan of a scooter and learned how to ride on the mean streets of Milan. Those Italians are daredevils I tell you. I actually love a scooter in the city, they are very nimble and make short work of hellish traffic. And you can park virtually anywhere once you Velcro your plate. As a wedding gift my in-laws gave Barbara and I a shiny red Vespa. Scooters might not be big motorcycles but in the city, where your top speed rarely exceeds 30 MPH and you close navigate the other cagers (enclosed cars), trucks, and taxi cabs you gain a skill that is akin to Olympic levels. We have ridden that little red jammer everywhere, but it was the long-range trips that begged to roll out on more powerful motorcycle.

WashingSqPark

This year we had a brutal winter. I longed for a motorcycle, a nice big roaring V-Twin beast of chrome, Iron and rubber that could take me further. Twenty Fourteen would be the time, and NYC would be the place. I hit up the local Triumph-Ducati on 6th and Spring in SoHo. Sitting on an American, the Triumph line of cruisers, I knew a cruiser would be my bike. The café racer style of the Bonneville T100 and the sprightly Thruxton were certainly rating high on the cool factor. While I can wave the American flag along with the best of them, I really have no issue with a British made bike. Triumph has bikes for all; adventure, hipster, brawler, classic, ultra-sporty and lets face it, Great Britain is the ultimate ally of the Allies. But… and you knew it was coming right? No V-Twin. Triumph engines are parallel twins. V is for Vendetta, V for Victory right? I digress… sorry.

 

A clean 1200 V-Twin

A clean 1200 V-Twin


In the fall of 2013 I had a great visit to Harley Davidson NYC with my fellow bad ass photographer (notice as we get deeper in this post the badd-ass-ness just keeps getting louder) Jason Geller. He had the bug for a two-wheeler as well. The trip out to Queens was well worth it; the staff was excellent and they really helped me discover the Sportster 1200 Custom as the bike that was what I wanted deep down. A Fat Boy might be in the future, but I need a little less weight and nimbleness for the city. The XL1200C comes stock with key options that fit my needs really well. I would just have to add saddle bags and the bike would be pretty darn perfect. Over the brutal winter I was reading everything I could about Harleys and checking out Ebay. I found Staten Island’s Lombardi Brothers, a dealership that has been in the same family since 1905! The showroom is tiny and packed with bikes. They listed a 2008 1200 Custom in vivid black. The price was half that a 2014 would be, and it was perfect at 3400 miles. Over a snowy day I took the Staten Island ferry across to check out this bike.

 

They gave the Raven Wing a nice bath before turning her over to me.

The dealership is one of Harley’s oldest. Family owned since 1905! Same location too!

 

Lombardi Harley is a 15-minute brisk walk from the Ferry. When I got there, they were a good bunch of guys and they showed me out back, in a little snow, my soon to be new ride. Right off the bat, the Skeleton Skull looked me in the eye and the bonding occurred. I knew it, the bike knew it, the dealer knew it, and the Carthaginians knew it: this was the one.

 

OurFirstMeeting

 

Mechanical creations of such beauty need a name, and this would be the Raven Wing, named after the fast attack mounted Space Marines of the Dark Angles Chapter. The Raven Wing is fast- the fuel injected 1200 CC V-Twin 5 speed can hit a ¼ mile in 4.3 seconds.

Watchungs Reserve

 

I added a set of cool bags from Viking Leather. The Raven Wing needs to hold stuff for the paintball and photography journeys. The mounting hardware provided by Viking isn’t the best and easy to mount, but the bags are super cool and not overpriced like the Harley saddle bags. Barbara and I had a big fight over the chrome studs. I won.

 

WestPointCombatClassic

The Raven Wing at the West Point Spring Combat Classic, I rode up to the Point at 4 am in the fog on the Pallisades Parkway. I couldn’t see a thing and the pot holes were like lunar craters. Notice the Planet Eclipse Ego 11 with SOD sticker… yea SOD paintball for life!

 

I’ll be the first to admit it and Barbara the next, but riding the bike obsesses me. It’s thrilling, exhilarating, and just plain fun. The throttle is very heavy, and the Raven Wing gives throaty roars when it revs up through second and third gear. The front suspension rises up and you get pulled back into the saddle while hanging on. The Raven Wing is like a wild horse you have tamed, it is heroic to ride but still a little scary.

 

The Cloisters make an excellent back drop for such a noble steed.

The Cloisters make an excellent back drop for such a noble steed.

 

Funny thing about riding a red Vespa and a black Harley-Davidson, the women check you out and smile when on the vespa, but on the hog the dudes check you out and give you thumbs up and nods. Dudes always hating on the Vespa, saying it’s pussy. Nah, the Vespa is confidence and intelligence for an urban explorer. The big Sportster is something entirely else, but not any more masculine, it’s an attitude thing. And hey, the chicks dig the Vespa and the guys dig the Harley… so what’s it going to be those who would say the Vespa is pussy?

 

Bleecker  Street, NYC and home of Magnolia Bakery.

Bleecker Street, NYC and home of Magnolia Bakery.

 

Now if you’re a rider, this part is something you are familiar with, and if you’re not a rider, let me elaborate on riding which is both cathartic and tactile. It takes all extremities to ride, your left hand is on the clutch, left foot on the gearshift, right hand on throttle and front brake and lastly your right foot is on rear brake. All your visual senses are on overdrive looking for road debris, potholes and shitty drivers. Your brain is firing off instructions to your arms and legs and processing data at alarming speeds. You simply are in sense over-drive. Shifting gears is evaluated with your ears and feeling the engine (whine and vibration) while a moment of laxity and it’s the curb for you. It is wonderful to ride, and if you are bothered by the daily grind, when you ride, the grind is gone. It’s magic. It’s called the thrill of riding a motorcycle.

 

Weight of the World

 

So one last story, this past weekend I was at a red light, and a young African man was crossing by and admired the bike, I gave him a wave and he really took a close look at the bike, smiled big and held his hand over his heart and became revenant. The Raven Wing, a HD Sportster moved this man, his emotion was tangible. What is it that can spur such a response? I don’t know exactly, but I look forward into riding into conclusions.

 

Self Portrait at my dream castle, the Cloisters.

Self Portrait at my dream castle, the Cloisters.

 

This post is dedicated to Ed Fry, my mechanic and blood brother. Rest In Peace Brother, a piece of you will always be riding alongside of me down the Highway to Hell. 

 

Two Icons, a V-Twin and the Worlds Fair Jump Towers in Queens.

Two Icons, a V-Twin and the Worlds Fair Jump Towers in Queens.

 

~David

 

 

 

 

 

 

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