I have written a short diarised version of my current trip to NYC to talk at the SVA, show work and attend PDN Photoplus. I freely admit that I have modelled it a bit on Peter Dench’s excellent diary series ‘The Diary of a Sometime Working Pro’ in the UK-based ‘Hungry Eye’ journal (a must-read for both photogs and film-makers alike). I guess in Peter’s seemingly random daily ruminations I see my own disjointed life narrative that makes up my sometimes surreal and very personal experiences as a photog.
Thursday 13th October
Wake up at 4am after a bad nights sleep still jet-lagged. I had added an extra day to my trip before giving a brief presentation at the SVA in the hope that I would be well rested but no luck there. Start the day completing a general marketing brief, sending material for social media and website updates for the studio in Cape Town and preparing for talk later in the day. I try and sleep some more but with no success. Go into Manhattan to do all my international magazine and journal shopping – smthg I am very much starved of in Cape Town. Come back at 4pm – plan to relax a bit and make my way to the SVA at 6.30pm.
8.50pm – wake up in a daze… where am I?! Oh yeah – in NYC – isn’t there smthg I am meant to be doing?… FUCK!!!!
In a confused mix of daze and panic I phone the SVA event organiser Lavonne Hall. She confirms the event is nearly over but is thankfully merciful and relaxed about the whole thing. She tells me we will re-arrange the talk and confirms our meeting the next day anyway.
I decide that getting some sleep is a top priority.
Friday 14th October
4.30am – awoken by messages on my SA phone asking me about studio hire and equipment rates in Cape Town on Saturday the next day. I am instantly annoyed as I just know this request won’t happen by the tone of message. Go through the motions of arranging with my ever reliable first assistant and get back with other info. Tell the potential client to confirm before 3pm SA time knowing full well they won’t and try and get some more sleep.
Spend morning showing work briefly and then end up at the MoMA with Lavonne. End up seeing photography work much of which I’d mostly seen before. Nan Golding’s exhibition there for example… interesting little exhib of scenes of destruction from Aleppo, Syria in back-lit mahogany boxes. Lavonne comments on the fact you can see the shadow of the wiring coming through in a few of the boxes. The Photographer could probably say it was all intentional. That’s the beauty of art photography.
Trump – Trump – Trump-ety Trump everywhere. I can see why the US is so sick of it all – away from the TV in NYC, all mentions of Trump are usually a comedic ruse at money-making.
Saturday 15th October
11am – Outside of photography I have 2 goals for the immediate future. One is to become good at kitesurfing (or at least not get blown into the bushes at the back of the beach so much) and the second is to watch as many Arsenal football games in as many different settings as possible. I decide to go to the Blind Pig off Union Square to watch Arsenal vs Swansea. I only make it for the second half in the end… but the pub is crammed full of Arsenal memorabilia, TV screens all dedicated to Premier league football and with American Arsenal-loving supporters almost as mad and passionate as fans in the UK… this could honestly be a pub around Finsbury Park. ‘God Bless America’ I think. Can’t resist the temptation of ordering a pint of Guiness to take in the atmos…
1pm – Go get a bite to eat and spend the next couple of hours drinking as many liquids as possible trying to get rid of the buzz that comes from 3 pints of Guinness before going to an open gallery event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
3pm – The Brooklyn Navy Yard is an interesting place. Packed with studio spaces for various types of artists – from photographers to painters to sculptors. Spend the next few hours mostly trying to find all the exhibited work in the sprawling redevelopment…
Sunday 16th October
On the way to meeting a friend for dinner, I pass through Times Square. The buzz and atmos of the place – and of Manhattan in general is amazing – it almost feels like in the areas immediately surrounding Noting Hill in London as people walk away from the carnival – but all the time. The throb of people becomes uncomfortable as I pass an event dedicated to the ongoing Hindu festival of Diwali. Having been to a few in London I am not so interested and instead take pics of the statue of Francis Duffy there – a priest and First World War hero – juxtaposed against images of 20th Century icons. I hear one of the speakers talk about how there is renewed evil in the world and about harking back to better times. I am instantly annoyed and see in his speech undertones of the ‘Make America Great Again!’ theme of the Donald – I wonder whether the speaker was at or even helped organise the recent ‘Hindus for Trump’ event in New Jersey (where Trump infamously and nonsensically said ‘I am a big fan of Hindu and India’)… ‘Humans have always been evil dude’ I think to myself and walk off to meet my friend – my disinterest in the event complete.
Monday 17th October
3.30pm – Had an interesting meeting today at Polaris Images – my reportage and documentary agency with the legendary in photographic circles, JP Pappis – its head. Before the meeting I was pleasantly surprised to receive a cheque for library images sold… that’ll cover my spending (and part of my drinking money) on this trip…I look at the list of images sold. One particularly lucrative sale was for: ‘Current Afghan President Hamid Karzai’ – ‘Fuck’ I thought – I’ve never photographed Hamid Karzai – I’ve never been to Afghanistan for that matter’… I consider for a while whether I should mention it and risk losing the sale. In the end I mention it… turns out it was thankfully a small admin error and the sale was mine.
Spent over an hour chatting to JP.. awesome character. He gives me the lowdown on the ever-depressing state of the reportage and documentary world of photography. Apparently Getty caught everyone unawares this year at Perpignan by announcing that Getty Reportage would close down and be replaced by Verbatim – still run by Aidan Sullivan – but focusing on corporate work instead. We also talk about the rise of Shutterstock and royalty free micro stock images and what it has done to the business. He tells me about his accident where he tripped and broke three ribs a few days before having to travel to Perpignan (for Visa pour l’image – the annual photojournalism festival in France) – but still got on a plane and went- even driving to and from Barcelona. As I say – legend.
I tell him about all my new focus on different types of work and that I don’t do reportage and news any more – ‘I’m 40 and I’m Greek – it’s all about the money now!’ I joke. We discuss putting up a corporate portfolio on the soon to be revamped Polaris website. I get interested though in discussing how the South African narrative – internationally speaking – has stuck with independence and Mandela when so much has changed since then. I offer to send some story pitches in this regard as well… guess I will always have a finger in the reportage pie one way or another.
I leave the Polaris offices happy that my last meeting was so fruitful… I go to the bank and cash the cheque. Walking up to meet a friend in Bryant Park about 8 blocks uptown, the wheels of my roller bag which I use to transport my smaller portfolio catches on something. I aggressively try and free it before realising it is catching on my one and only decent leather jacket which was draped over the bag. I inspect the damage to the jacket and ruminate that a new one would cost as much as the cheque I had just gotten. I arrive in Bryant park in a dark mood. A Hare Krishna passes and offers a small bright, golden-coloured leaflet. I take it – partly out of curiosity to see whether it was yet another NYC hustle and partly because I have an affinity with Hare Krishnas after they had kindly and mercifully put a blanket around my shoulders almost two decades before during one particularly bad moment at Glastonbury when I had lost friends and had run into their tent to seek shelter from the torrential rain. The young man stops and turns with a speed and focus that can only mean he is about to ask me for money. ‘Take it back take it back take it back’ I say firmly waving the leaflet over the palm of his now outstretched hand before he can say anything. He takes it back and leaves me alone.
Wednesday 19th October
wake up at 4am again – I decided before the start of PDN Photoplus today and the start of very hectic 12 hour days (if you include openings and after parties), I should say smthg about my trip to NYC on social media. I get depressed thinking that very much in the same way that if a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it making a sound, then if I go to NYC and don’t talk about it on social media – did it really ever happen?
I write 2 blogs then decide to get an hour’s sleep before having to head to the Javits… I set my alarm this time.