Thursday, August 26, 2010

Know where you belong

                                                             I'm Nobody! Who are you?
                                                             Are you -- Nobody -- Too?
                                                             Then there's a pair of us!
                                                                             -Emily Dickinson

Is an artist born or made? Either way, I could not have found a better place to be born or made than New York City. The artistic history, diversity, and sensory intensity available in the city that never sleeps can make or break you, and for me it did both, to my great good fortune. It is both blessing and curse to be sensitive and insatiable in surroundings that will feed all of your best and worst vulnerabilities and ambitions. I left my native city almost a decade ago after spending four there, and I will always think of myself as a visitor anywhere else I go, however long I stay. I have the soul of a traveler, at home everywhere and nowhere, but I belong in, and to NYC.

The floor outside apartment 62
                                                     My eyes, like millions of
                                                     glassy squares, merely reflect.
          -Frank O’Hara from “Nocturne”

NYC trained my eye to see and my heart to enjoy the small details as well as the vast scope of life, often existing side by side, the way extraordinary kindness and unyielding toughness co-exist in its natives. Small neighborhoods that contain worlds, intimate eating and watering holes one turned corner away from huge open spaces filled with multitudes in motion, deprivation and overabundance, the deafening unnerving rackets, the magical meditative stillnesses…living in the city heightens one’s sense of contrasts, contradictions, extremes, but also deepens the faith that if you can get through all the overwhelming ugliness there will be that moment or scene of serene beauty for those who seek it, wait for it, and give it the attention it deserves.

which of us is subject window mirror for all our gazing never coming nearer?

As we come close to the end of this season of taking time off to go away or go home, I've been reading a lot lately online about love affairs with cities and landscapes and how that passion for place can inform and inspire us as artists. When I visit my native city, I have the twin pleasure of being both away and home, where all is instantly familiar and stunningly new, and I fall in love again, every time, like the first time. There is always something different, even in a view seen many times, like a favorite painting you keep going back to, because it keeps having something fresh to tell you about itself, and about yourself. I've seen  Edward Hopper's “Early Sunday Morning” reproduced endlessly, and yet when I turn a corner and come upon it in the gallery, it still knocks me out. Period.

   down this street empty of passage moves a moment melancholy cool

That’s how I feel about my city. So many resident or transient writers and artists have succumbed to the charms of Manhattan. Berenice Abbott, whose photo below of the old elevated train has outlived the structure itself, understood all images of the city deserve the long perspective, sharp angles, lines leading in unexpected directions, and stark oppositions of dark and light that exist in its soul. NYC will always be my first love, my best muse, a right bastard at times…but home. I haven’t done any traveling this summer, and envy everyone their exotic and intimate photographic records, so here I offer instead some timeless revisited images of NYC, the place I would always rather be, and never really left.

home is what you have to leave to know where you belong


  1. Excellent thought...and words...and way to fell the things around us.
    Amazing photographs!


  2. Thanks, C! I'm glad you enjoyed the photographs and words. I really do need to get back home for a visit before the end of the year - and bring plenty of film! Hugs to you too.

  3. What a wonderful post both in words and photographs.


  4. Thank you, Robert! Good to see you here, and I'm glad you enjoyed this one! Have a great week.