Age and occupation. How long have you lived here, where did you come from, and where do you live now?
I'm thirty-four and I'm a computer programmer. I was born in New Hampshire, went to school in Maine, and lived in Vermont and Massachusetts after that. I've lived in Brooklyn for six and a half years. Thus disqualifying me from consideration for a "Young Manhattanite" interview series, it might seem. But onward.
Three for You
1. Do you have a guiding philosophy when it comes to your approach to digital photography? If so, what is it?
I'm pretty new to the game, so I'm learning what the hell I'm doing more than philosophizing. But one thing I think is important - and I think this might apply to someone working at any creative endeavor - is to have an outlet.
When I have an idea or a fascination, I beat it into the ground, publish it, and put it behind me. Then after a little time has gone by, I look it over, try to synthesize what I learned from it with what I knew, and get better. You can't close that loop without putting things somewhere and getting that feeling that they're done.
2. You've been known to carry around a spoon in a Prada leather case to create special effects with your camera in impromptu situations. Could you explain what this does and possibly share some other tricks of your trade?
The spoon is a cheap way of bouncing a flash off the ceiling and thus getting diffuse light while stopping action. I learned about flash-bouncing, which photographers with real cameras do all the time, from Khoi and Red.
My other tricks are more social than technical. When you're taking pictures from life, managing what you can photograph is often more difficult than photographing it. The reticent master Quarlo once pointed out to me that at one time people seemed to react differently to having their picture taken by a stranger - there was an air of pride and novelty to it, rather than the "What are you going to do to me with that photo" attitude which is common now. Familiarity has bred contempt, and shit fear-mongering mass media has helped.
So - train your friends not to fear the camera by only using photographs of them that they like. When you're taking pictures of people on the street, smile - they're less likely to punch you. When you want to ask to take a portrait of a stranger, tell them that you like their shirt, or their glasses, or their tattoo - move the focus off their face and onto their stuff, so that they'll push themselves at the lens, instead of feeling like you're pushing the lens at them. (That last idea was given to me by the estimable Mark Powell of Detroit and Mexico City.)
One thing that becomes clear from writing this answer is that the greatest trick of all is to make friends with photographers who you respect, get drunk with them, and then steal their tricks.
The spoon also has a social benefit: when you walk around town holding one, people immediately glean one fact about you: you're the man who's about to cook up a nice batch of black tar heroin. And that's one way to make friends!
And the case is Gucci.
3. Scenario: You've been commissioned by a high level cleric to photograph Darktentacles (hp 75). The area surrounding its home, Relmouth, is dense, dark forest. The sun never reaches some parts of it, which is fine according to the malicious and intelligent creature that waits patiently for victims to wander too close. What's your strategy for this shoot?
Not too long ago, I was asked by two Baptist ministers from Texas if they could project some of my pictures on a screen during their Sunday sermons. So clerics dig my shit - at least the ones who preach in Powerpoint.
At the shoot, I might try to hail a passing Gelatinous Cube and ask whether I could use them for some translucent lighting effects. I'd put the subject at ease by flattering their Dexterity and Charisma - "You're all eighteens to me, baby."
And I'd pack my Spoon of Smiting.
Time travel question: What era, day or event in New York's history would you like to re-live?
I'd have liked to have been a fly buzzing around the sideboard in Sandy Ground, Staten Island, the day Joe Mitchell met the subject of the profile "Mr. Hunter's Grave."
9pm, Wednesday - what are you doing?
Relishing the fact that there is very little chance of running into anyone who will want to discuss "The OC".
What's your New York motto?
"I do what I can."
Best celebrity sighting in New York, or personal experience with one if you're that type.
On 6th Avenue in July, 1998, Harrison Ford asked me which way was uptown.
Describe that low, low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
Let's see, I was in midtown just this past Wednesday, I think it was.
Just after midnight on a Saturday - what are you doing?
Ideally, drinking beer outdoors with friends and my girl, plotting a Sunday which will somehow culminate in fish tacos.
Where do you summer?
Anywhere I can keep a good 25 radial miles between me and anyone who has ever used summer as a verb - other than you, Andrew. On a good weekend that's here.
Who do you consider to be the greatest New Yorker of all-time? (Name up to three if you must.)
I'll stump for the photographers: Garry Winogrand, Joel Sternfeld and Weegee.
What was your best dining experience in NYC?
The first time I went to Babbo was memorable for the sense afterwards of overwhelming contentment from having eaten and drunk very well - I would describe it as the feeling of being rich... a peek over the wall. For sheer joy over what is happening in my mouth, I cannot top Sripraphai in Woodside.
What happened the last time you went to L.A.?
A parrot scared me, by talking. I saw the actor who portrayed "Encino Man" looking at an Andre Kertesz photograph. People wouldn't stop talking about the "June Gloom". It was March.
Medication: What and how much do you take?
Tennessee Williams wrote my prescription: Stella. Stel-la.
Eliot's photography site is Slower.net.