Friday, March 30, 2018

Dog Walker in Central Park


I came across this dog walker sitting on a bench near Central Park's 81st Street entrance.  He was laid back and allowed me to take his photo while we discussed what it was like to be a paid dog walker in New York City.  It's become a big business in upscale Manhattan neighborhoods as the area's wealthy residents discover that no matter how much they love their cute pooches they have little interest in following them around the Park with doggie bags and having to clean up after them. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Eleven

Later, Quinn sat beside Violeta and described to her his meeting with Ito.  He said nothing, though, of his discovery of Behan’s photos or of following Ito across town.  “I know I shouldn’t have lost my temper with the man, but I couldn’t help it,” he concluded.
“Do you really think this Ito had something to do with the murder of your father?” Violeta asked.  “What connection could there possibly be between the two of them?”
“I haven’t any idea,” Quinn lied.  “It may have been that Behan’s real concern was for one someone else.  Perhaps he was afraid for one of his models.”
Violeta thought it over.  “It’s possible, of course, but Behan’s models were old enough to take care of themselves.  Your father may have warned them to stay away from shady characters – I can easily see him doing that – but that’s hardly a motive for murder.
“Personally, I think you’re just clutching at straws.  You have to realize that an investigation such as this takes time.  You can’t expect the first suspicious character you come across to turn out to be the murderer.  That only happens in books.  In real life, it can take months, even years, to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.”
 “It bothers the hell out of me to think Behan’s killer is running around free while we sit here talking.”  There was indignation in Quinn’s voice.  “What I want is payback.  I may not have been the best son in the world, but I owe my father that much at least.”
Violeta cast a questioning glance at Quinn.  “Perhaps it’s your guilt at not having been a better son that’s really driving you,” she suggested.  “Isn’t it possible that you feel so horrible for not having seen your father in such a long time that now you want to make it up to him by finding his killer?  Even if you do, you know, it won’t bring Behan back.”
“Yes, I realize that.  Nothing I can do now will make any difference to Behan.  We like to think the dead are out there watching over us.  It’s not true though.  We only tell ourselves that because we don’t want to admit the finality of death.  There aren’t any second chances.  It’s only when people are still in the world of the living that we can show them how much we care and can do things for them to prove it.  Once they’re gone, it’s too late.”
“Then be patient.  Take your time until you’re sure you have the right man.  Otherwise, you will end up doing more harm than good.”
Quinn reached for the bottle of cachaça on the table beside him.  He poured himself a good sized shot, knocked it back and then chased it with a beer.  “Brrr,” he said.  “That is one nasty combination.”
Violeta looked critically at the level of liquor remaining.  “Ha,” she exclaimed.  “I see you’re developing a taste for this.  I’m going to have to buy another bottle soon.” 
“I don’t know if you should,” Quinn joked.  “I’m starting to worry I might develop too strong a liking for it and end up in the hospital needing a liver transplant.”
“Just enjoy yourself.  A drink or two never hurt anyone.”
“Famous last words,” rejoined Quinn.  He nevertheless took the bottle from Violeta’s hand and poured himself another.  “One thing’s for sure though.  If I stay here in the city much longer, I’m definitely going to have to find a new way to support myself.  I can’t very well travel around the globe taking travel photos and keep on searching for Behan’s killer at the same time.”
“Fashion.  That’s what you need to do!”  Violeta slapped Quinn on the knee.  “Why do you want to wander around these crazy places at the ends of the earth that no one visits anyway?  You know Americans never go anywhere but to Disneyworld on their vacations.  What you need to do is to shoot beautiful clothes and the women who wear them.”  Violeta smiled mischievously.  “Besides, it’s a great way to meet models.  They would go crazy over a good looking guy like you.  And to be honest, you need a girlfriend.  It’s not healthy the way you’re alone all the time.  New York is too cold a place to be without anyone to love.”
“Hell.  What do I know about fashion?  I’ve never shot any type of clothing in my life.”  Quinn scoffed at the idea.  “Fashion week isn’t until February anyway, and I’d need a whole new set of press credentials to get inside.”
“Don’t worry.  The designers on Seventh Avenue are always putting on shows for buyers.  And then there’s editorial work.  You’ll find plenty to keep you busy.”
Quinn looked doubtful.  “I don’t know.  It sounds like fun all right, but I’ll have to get my foot in the door first.”
“Leave that to me,” said Violeta.  “I have a couture show coming up soon.  You can go there and get some shots for your portfolio.  It will be good practice.  The designer is South American and a friend of mine.  He’ll put your name on the list if I ask.”

A half hour later, there was a knock on the apartment’s front door.  When Quinn went to open it, he found Sloane standing outside.
“You working this late?” asked Quinn.  He regarded the detective doubtfully.  “I’m sure you didn’t come all the way over here just to cadge a beer.”
“I heard from Viktor that you’d taken the apartment,” Sloane said as he pushed past Quinn and into the room.  “I thought I’d drop by and see how you were doing.”
“You didn’t have to travel all the way here to find that out, did you?  You could have given me a phone call.  I’d have been happy to tell you how super things are going.”
At that moment Violeta, who’d been taking a shower, stepped out of the bathroom wearing only a towel.  She gave Sloane a cold look.
“Yeah, I guess they are at that,” Sloane remarked.  He glanced knowingly at Quinn.
“This is Detective Sloane, Violeta.  He’s the one investigating Behan’s murder.”
 “We’ve met,” said Violeta as she pulled the towel tighter about her.   “After Behan’s body was found, Detective Sloane contacted me and asked me to come to his office to answer all the many questions he had.  He interviewed me for a very long time but finally decided I hadn’t killed anyone.” 
Sloane raised his hands defensively.  “If your name and phone number had been found in a murdered man’s address book back where you come from, I’m pretty sure the authorities there would have wanted to talk with you too.”
Without saying another word, Violeta turned, went back into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her.
“She talks our language pretty good for someone from a Spanish speaking country.”
“Just because she’s from Rio that doesn’t mean she can’t understand English,” Quinn admonished him.  “And for your information they speak Portuguese in Brazil, not Spanish.”
“Don’t get so touchy.  I was only trying to pay your friend a compliment.”
“Never mind.  Trying to teach you to be politically correct is hopeless.”
“You don’t think you’re hurting my feelings, do you?”  Sloane let out a loud laugh.
Quinn gave up.  “I’ve got more important things to worry about than your lack of tact.  Do you have someone watching me?”
Sloane was suddenly all business.  “No.  Why do you ask?”
“I saw someone hanging around the building today.  I thought there was a chance he might be one of your guys working undercover.”
“Get over yourself.  You’re not important enough to rate surveillance.”
“Yeah.  Everyone tells me how unimportant I am.  Why shouldn’t you join in?”
Sloane threw his hands up in the air.  “Will you stop being so sensitive all the time.”
“Why are you here anyway?  And please don’t try telling me you were only stopping by to see how well I was doing in my new home.”
“The real reason I’m here is because I heard you went to see Ito today.”
“Let me guess.  He called to complain, right?”
“You knew that was going to happen when you went there.”
“Maybe.  He’s got some nerve calling the police.  The lowlife should be deported.  Instead, he’s got the cops running over here to give me the third degree.”
“Don’t even go there.  As a matter of fact, I ended up having a long talk with Mr. Ito.  His complaint got passed to me and that gave me a chance to ask him about those DVD’s.”
“Did he have any explanation why Behan was holding onto them?”
“No, why would he?  But even assuming Ito knew Behan to begin with, he didn’t have any reason to kill him.  Cranking out nasty films doesn’t make him a murderer.”
“Maybe the motive is there if you look hard enough.”
Sloane sat down on the sofa.  He plucked absentmindedly at the stuffing oozing from its side.  “What’s with you anyway?  You don’t have the right to question Ito or anyone else.  You show up at his place and threaten to rough him up and then you’re offended when he complains he’s being harassed.  What did you expect him to do?”
“I was hoping I could stir him up enough so that he’d call someone besides the police, someone who might panic and try something desperate to get rid of me.”
“So now you’ve got a death wish?”
“I’m still working out the connection between Behan’s murder and the DVD’s.  Let it go at that for the time being.  When I come up with something solid, you’ll be the first to know.”  Quinn went to the kitchen and returned with two beers.  He handed one to Sloane and popped open the other.  “What about that ‘accident’ I had where someone tried to drop a pile of bricks on my head?  Did you find out anything there?”
The detective took a long drink of beer.  “We were able to verify that something fell where you said it did.  That much was apparent from the foot long crack in the cement sidewalk.  There’s no way for us to tell, though, what it was that fell or when it came down.   Whatever it was – I’ll take your word that it was bricks – was cleaned up long ago.  There’s no evidence to suggest a crime was committed.”
“So you’re just going to let it go and forget about it.  Is that it?”
“It’s not our fault that you took your sweet time telling us about it, is it?  If we’d been able to check the scene that same night it happened we might have come up with something that would support your story.”  Sloane held up his hand before Quinn had a chance to argue.  “The building manager is the only one who might know anything, and he’s on vacation somewhere in the Caribbean, the lucky dog.  No one seems to know where exactly, and if you think I’m going to send anyone down searching the islands for him, you’re even more nuts than you look.  When he does come back, I’ll send someone over to talk with him on the unlikely chance he has any information.  Is that good enough?”
Quinn crushed the empty beer can in his hand.  “I guess it will have to be, won’t it?”
“Hey, don’t blame me for your own failure to report what happened.”
“Ok.  I get the point,” said Quinn.
“We did hear from your hot looking roommate about the SUV that tried to run you down in Chelsea.  I suppose you were going to tell me you were too busy playing detective to report that incident also.”
“I would have gotten around to it.”
“Gee, thanks.  Don’t knock yourself out on my account.”
“Have you found out anything?  It shouldn’t be too hard.  It was a late model SUV, painted black, and it had tinted windows.  I thought it was illegal to have those in New York.  And Violeta got a partial plate number.  If you were doing your job, that would be enough.”
Sloane put his beer down, rose from the sofa and walked slowly to where Quinn was sitting.  “Listen, guy, I know how rough you must have it with both your father and your sister gone.  And I appreciate you must be feeling awfully lonely now.   That’s only natural.  But you’re letting yourself get too carried away with this crusade to find Behan’s killer.  It’s become an obsession.  You have to realize your father was no fucking saint.  I’m not saying he was so bad that he deserved to die.  But when we find out who killed him, it’s probably going to turn out he was up to his neck in something he shouldn’t have been involved in.”
Quinn leapt to his feet without warning and took a wild swing at the detective.  Sloane grabbed Quinn’s wrist and put him into a headlock.  “Are you crazy?” he asked as he pinned Quinn against the wall.  “I could book you right now for assaulting an officer.”
“Go ahead,” shouted Quinn.  “I’m not going to sit here while you piss on my father’s memory, especially when he’s not here to defend himself.”
“You really are out of your mind, aren’t you?”
“Say whatever the hell you like.  I could care less.”
Sloane released the headlock.  “Jesus, when are you going to get wise to yourself?”  He let out a sigh.  “We’re doing everything we can.  And you know it.  If there’s something I should be aware of, you can tell it to me now.  Otherwise, just keep your mouth shut.”
Quinn grew silent all at once and moved back to his chair without looking at the detective.  He hesitated before answering.  “No, there’s nothing I know that you don’t.”
Sloane studied Quinn closely.  “Are you sure about that?  If you’ve discovered something and are holding it back, I’m going to be pretty damned upset with you.”
“If I think of anything I’ll let you know.  But you cops should be doing more on your own.  Behan’s murderer should be on Rikers right now waiting to be put on trial.”
“Him and who knows how many more.  Anyway, I still think Behan was lucky to have you for a son.  You must be the only one who ever gave a shit about the poor guy.”
“Too bad he’s not here to appreciate it.”  Quinn gave a bitter laugh. 

After Sloane had gone, Violeta, still wearing the towel, came out of the bathroom.  “Are you all right?  I heard you two arguing.  I thought maybe I should call the police.”
“Hell, he is the police.”  Quinn massaged his wrist where Sloane had bent it back.  He looked up at Violeta as though deciding how far he could trust her.  “Would you believe that Ito had Behan’s photos of Penelope at his studio?  He had actually framed one of them and hung it over his bed.  I was thinking of telling Sloane but decided not to, not yet anyway.”
“No,” exclaimed Violeta.  She quickly poured herself another shot of cachaça.  “What you’re telling me can’t be true.  Are you sure Penelope was the woman in the photos?”
“Positive.  I knew it was her as soon as I saw them.  If that wasn’t enough, I followed Ito in a cab over to the East Side.  And who do you think he met with while he was there?”
“You didn’t mention any of this to me before.”  Violeta appeared hurt.  “What would Penelope want with someone like Ito?  And why did he have Behan’s photos to begin with?”
“I’m not sure yet, but I’m damn well going to find out.”  Quinn’s voice was as grim as it was determined.
Violeta thought it over.  “You were right when you told me there had to be some reason Behan had those DVD’s,” she said.  “He was worried about Penelope.”
“I’m going to have to get in touch with her.  I’m still not sure exactly what she has to do with Ito, but if he is planning something she could be in danger.”
“You are just like your father.  Now you’re the one trying to protect her.”
“Penelope’s no innocent I’m sure, but I wouldn’t want to see any woman end up as one of Ito’s film actresses.”
“You don’t have to play white knight.  I’m sure Penelope can look out for herself.”
“Yes, maybe you’re right at that.  Maybe it is none of my business.”  But Quinn didn’t sound convinced.
Violeta laid a hand on Quinn’s arm.  “I don’t want to see you hurt.  This woman had a bad influence on Behan.  It may even be because of her that he’s dead now.”  She gathered her towel about her.  “I’m going to go out and get myself some dinner.  I’ll bring you back something to eat.  If I left it up to you, you’d starve to death.”
Quinn smiled. “Thank you, Violeta, and not just for the food.  I appreciate you taking the time to listen to me whenever I go off on some wild rant.  It can’t be easy.”

After Violeta had left the apartment a few minutes later, Quinn took off his clothes and stretched out naked on the bed.  He lay awake a long while staring into the darkness surrounding him.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Photo Exhibit: Facing the Camera - Selected Portraits

Those with an interest in early photography and what are now referred to "alternative processes" cannot do better than to view the selection of portraits currently on view at the Hans P. Kraus Jr. Gallery at Park Avenue and 82nd Street.  One has here an opportunity to study the manner in which the earliest photographers apporached the venerable tradition of portraiture and employed the new medium not only to build on that tradition but also to create innovative effects quite distinct from those acheieved by painters.

First there are prints by the famous names from the very dawn of photography.  Henry Fox Talbot is represented by Bust of Patroclus (1842), a salt print from a calotype negative.  In choosing an immobile sculpture as his subject, Talbot found a means of dealing with the inordinately long exposures required by the early processes. Thus Talbot was able to achieve a degree of sharpness that is highly unusual in a salt print and is testament to his emerging skill with a camera.  That he photographed the sculpture from different angles (this one is more full face than the better known profile in the collection of the Met Museum) demonstrates that he was making a conscious effort to master the intricacies of portraiture.

Perhaps the finest photography to have been created in the medium's first decade was that of the Scottish team of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson.  Though their photographs of Edinburgh citizens going about their business appear quite spontaneous, the poses were carefully orchestrated and then frozen for the length of the exposure. Hill's knowledge of painting was indispensable in allowing the pair to imbue everyday scenes with a sense of authenticity. At this exhibit they are represented by two works, one of women fishsellers hawking fresh herring and the other of young women gathered by a bird cage (the latter is a modern carbon print made from an original calotype negative).

Though long unrecognized, Julia Margaret Cameron was one of the greatest portraitists of the Victorian era.  This can clearly be seen in her study of her niece Julia Duckworth, mother of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and a favorite model of the pre-Raphaelite painters.  The photo has an otherworldly quality as the sitter's eyes seem to stare heavenward at some vision only visible to her.

Lewis Carroll (the pen name of Charles Dodgson), best known as the author of Alice in Wonderland, was also an accomplished photographer whose finest works, not surprisingly, were depictions of children.  This can easily be seen in his 1873 Xie Kitchin as a "Dane," an albumen print from a collodion negative.  In contrast to this portrait of a young girl in costume a nearby profile of a seated man, also by Carroll, seems lifeless even if technically correct.

The most fashionable portraitist in nineteenth century Paris was inarguably Nadar (pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) who in the course of his long career photographed virtually every important French writer, painter, and composer.  The reason for his success can easily be seen in his portrait of Alexandre Dumas, père.  Although the novelist stands motionless, the sitter's volcanic personality blazes forth in this 1865 photograph and brings him vividly to life.

Edgar Degas was not a professional photographer and worked with the medium for only a relatively short period late in his career.  As described in Edgar Degas, Photographer, a Met Museum catalog that accompanied its 1998 exhibit of the artist's photographs, Degas's methods were totally unorthodox and yet the knowledge he had gleaned from his years as a painter allowed him to achieve some stunning effects with only minimal lighting.  At this exhibit he is represented by a portrait of one of the Halévy family.  Degas was close to the Halévys during the time he worked at photography, and much of the information we have concerning his technique is derived from the correspondence of Daniel Halévy.  The Halévys, however, were Jewish and Degas a virulent anti-Dreyfusard so that a rift between them was inevitable.

The surprise at this exhibit was something of an anachronism - a 1929 portrait of an old man in Taos by Ansel Adams.  Taken long before Adams cofounded the f64 School, the portrait, printed on warm tone matte paper, is almost soft focus - or at least shot with the lens aperture wide open - and all the more engaging for that.  I've never cared for Adams's supersharp Yosemite landscapes printed on glossy paper that in my opinion aren't anything more than well crafted calendar art, but this atypical portrait is engaging and conveys very well the sitter's personality as well as giving a strong sense of wisdom acquired through age.  It's a shame Adams didn't create more work in this vein; he would have been a much more interesting photographer.

The exhibit continues through April 11, 2018.

Friday, March 23, 2018

On Amsterdam Avenue


I photographed this man, with his permission, on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 72nd Street a while back.  Even though he was requesting help, he still maintained a quiet dignity that greatly impressed me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Ten

Returning to his apartment later that afternoon, Quinn turned on the desktop computer Behan had left behind and once again searched online for whatever information might be available regarding Japanese “pink” films.  His previous attempts hadn’t yielded much.
While trying to locate additional links, Quinn returned to one he had clicked on during an earlier search.  It led directly to the website of Ecchi Films, Ito’s production company.  There had been no change since his last visit.  All that was shown was a single page announcing that Ito was currently at work on a project in New York City and for that purpose had relocated to a midtown manufacturing loft on Eighth Avenue.  After having quickly jotted down the address, Quinn grabbed his jacket and hurriedly left the apartment.
Less than a half hour later, he stepped off the C train at the Penn Station stop and made his way upstairs to 34th Street.  Once on the sidewalk, he saw a neighborhood not yet fully transformed by gentrification.  A few rundown storefronts still housed fast food joints and discount clothing outlets while, further on, adult DVD emporiums displayed over their blackened windows bright neon signs that glared “XXX” in bold lettering.
Ito’s studio was housed in a dilapidated building near the corner of 38th Street.  Its façade was covered with decades of grime and the windows didn’t appear to have been washed in years.  Inside, there was only one elevator for both passengers and freight.  A glance at the directory showed Quinn that most of the tenants were low-rent garment center businesses.  Racks of clothing, mostly dime store dresses, stood on the sidewalk outside.
Quinn got off the elevator at the top floor and pushed the buzzer set in the wall outside the studio entrance.  The green-painted metal door was immediately opened by a gnarled figure Quinn knew must be Ito himself.  The director looked absently past the spot where Quinn was standing.  He didn’t ask him his business or even his name, didn’t say anything at all, only walked silently back into the studio while leaving the door ajar so that his visitor, if he so chose, could follow him inside. 
The Japanese was wild eyed and ancient.  A happi coat was draped loosely over his skeletal figure.  His long hair was completely white and fell about his shoulders uncombed.  “Do you know why I moved to New York?” were his first words, apropos of nothing.  He spoke English fluently and with only the faintest trace of an accent.  His gaze wandered over Quinn without focusing on him.  He was restless, continually cocking his head to one side as though listening to some voice only he could hear.
“No, I don’t.” Quinn surveyed the studio from where he stood.  It was large enough to have housed the offices of a film production company, but there were no cameras or audio equipment anywhere to be seen.  The overhead lighting was dim.  Most of the space was occupied by huge aquarium tanks that held, not fish, but brown fernlike plants.  Others stood empty, their glass panels coated by a sickly green fungus.  All the windows were closed, and the smell of dead vegetation hung heavy in the humid air.  At one end of the room a cat with a split tail slunk silently away.  “My name is Quinn, by the way.”
Ito paid no attention.  “Years ago, I visited the city for the first time.  I took the subway down to Bowery and walked for hours looking at the old buildings from the nineteenth century.  Vagrants sat on the pavement drinking from bottles of cheap wine.  There was so much there to be admired.  The area was so filled with decay and despair that I thought I could use it as a setting for my own work.”  He paused.  “I make films, you know.”
“Too bad the Lower East Side’s not like that anymore.  The bums are gone and the Bowery itself has gone high rent.  The last time I was down there, the Sunshine Hotel was the only flophouse left.  Even the building where McGurk’s Suicide Hall once stood has been torn down to make room for some flashy new condos.”
“Yes, I know.  It’s all changed.”  Ito looked more closely at Quinn.  “New York is a city that has no sense of its own past.”
Quinn got to the point of his visit.  “I had a friend named Behan who recently died.  When the cops went through his apartment, they found inside a whole bunch of sex films you’d directed.  Probably every one you’d ever made.”
“I’m sorry this man Behan is dead.”  Ito bowed his head slightly.
“You knew him then?” asked Quinn.
“No,” said Ito.  “I never heard the name before you mentioned it.”
“Are you sure about that?  He was a photographer here in the city.”
Ito lifted his hands in a helpless gesture.  “Why should I lie to you?  For what purpose?  There are many photographers in New York.  It’s true I’ve met some of them, but I can’t be expected to know them all, can I?”
Quinn gave Ito a disgusted look.  “I traveled here all the way here by subway just to talk with you.  I don’t appreciate being stonewalled.  It makes me unhappy.” 
“You’re a very impatient person, aren’t you?”  The film director drew himself up and focused his full attention on Quinn.  “Just how did your friend die?”
“He was murdered.  Shot to death.”
Ito’s eyes all at once lost their crazed glint as an unreadable expression flitted across them.  “What makes you think I had anything to do with your friend’s death?”  He tried to keep his tone dismissive but failed.  “I’ve never been involved with murder.” 
Quinn stepped forward.  “Maybe you haven’t, but I’m sure your yakuza friends in Tokyo have done their share of dirty work.  The reason I came here was to find out why Behan owned so many of your DVD’s.  He wasn’t into the kind of dumb t&a flicks you churn out.  But you’re standing here saying don’t know anything.  That’s not very helpful.”
Ito clearly found Quinn’s talk disagreeable.  He had stiffened at the mention of the yakuza.  “Many people object to my films.  I can see you find them distasteful yourself.  But they could not have been the cause of your friend’s death.  Of that I’m sure.”
“No, not likely.”  Quinn agreed.  He glanced about him with a scornful expression.  “You know, this place isn’t at all what I expected it to be.  It’s too weird for me.  When I decided to come here I was under the impression you were some high powered film director who might be able to provide some insight into what was going through Behan’s mind.  But no, you’re just some old man off his nut.”  He again moved forward until he towered over the diminutive Japanese figure before him.  “Am I wasting my time here?  Should I leave?” 
Ito could sense the physical threat in the presence looming over him and grew even more uncomfortable.  “If you wish, I’ll show you my studio before you go.”
Quinn nodded his head in satisfaction.  “Sure, why not?”  He watched a swarm of flies lift off a pool of algae in one of the aquarium tanks.  “This isn’t where you make your films, is it?”
“No, they are shot elsewhere.  This is where I prepare the storyboards.”
“I didn’t think there’d be enough room here for any type of work with all these weeds around.”  Quinn grimaced.  “I don’t know how you’re able to put up with their stink.  Did you ever think of opening a window and letting in some fresh air?”
“Do you know why I have these particular plants?”
“I figured they must’ve been all out of geraniums at the flower shop.”
Ito ignored the joke and continued, “Their smell of rot and decay darkens my mind and provides me with inspiration.”
“Then you should ride the subway up to the Bronx and check out the corpse flower they’ve got at the Botanical Gardens.  Maybe it’s in bloom now.  Up until a few years ago, that stinking plant was the borough’s official flower.  Very appropriate, if you ask me.”
Ito dismissed the remark.  “These plants are rank with the smell of death.”
“And here I thought your films were all about sex.” 
Ito gave Quinn an inquiring glance.  “Sex is a form of death.  Didn’t you know that?”
“Sure.  I’ve read Freud too.”
Ito walked slowly to the back of the studio.  Quinn followed, looking about him as he went and taking careful note of everything he saw. 
As they proceeded to the rear, Quinn noticed thumbtacked to the wall an old movie poster.  It was wrinkled and torn in several places, but Quinn was able to make out the title Yokohama Assassins in small English lettering beneath the much larger Japanese script.  “Hey, wait a minute,” he called out.  “Are you the one who directed that picture?  That was one of the best noir films Nikkatsu ever released.  I had no idea it was your work.”
Ito stopped his fidgeting long enough to glance at the poster himself.   “Yes,” he confirmed.  “I intended the film as a tribute to Woolrich.  I’d read all the books I could find by that author, his entire ‘black’ series.  In them, he showed the nightmare world that exists in big cities once daylight fades; under cover of darkness the most heinous crimes are committed and the innocent, falsely accused and on the run, can only hope for dawn to save them.”
“You’re not kidding.”  There was a touch of awe in Quinn’s voice.  “What a sense of desperation that film had.  I could have choked on it, it was so thick.”
“That was how I wanted the audience to feel.”  Ito’s eyes sparkled.  “The characters – lost souls, all of them – were running for their lives through pitch black city streets in the dead of night.  There was nowhere to turn, and they never found out who was after them.  You see, it’s the very impersonality of violent death that makes it so frightening.”
“Well, I have to hand it to you.  You did a great job on that film at least.  I still can’t watch it, even today, without checking out the shadows around me.”
Ito looked pleased and smiled for the first time since his visitor had arrived.
In the back, behind several fish tanks that had been placed side by side, Quinn saw an alcove that had been made into primitive living quarters with nothing more than an old army cot and a chest of drawers.  Hanging alone on the wall above the bed was a single framed black & white photograph.
Quinn stopped in his tracks when he saw it.  Then he walked toward it for a closer look.  His whole attitude changed and his expression darkened.  “If you never knew Behan,” he demanded as he turned angrily on his host, “then how do you happen to have one of his prints here?  Where did you get hold of it?”
Ito looked at the photograph as though seeing it for the first time.  It showed a startlingly beautiful blonde model, her hands at her sides, standing fully clothed in extravagant couture, a dark gown whose flowing lines reached almost to the floor.
“Is that your friend’s work?”  Ito asked.  He never took his eyes from the print.
“Stop playing dumb.”  Quinn’s voice rose another notch.  “You know damn well it is.  Now why don’t you tell me what the hell it’s doing here?”
Ito continued to stare lovingly at the print.  “It’s a beautiful image.  Your friend was truly a great artist.  I wish now I had had the chance to meet him.”
“Yes, Behan was talented all right.  I’ve never seen that particular shot before, but I recognize the style.  There weren’t many photographers still working with infrared film.”
“Ever since the day I first saw that photo, I knew I had to possess it.   I so admired its use of chiaroscuro, the manner in which the shadows gather about the model as if preparing to enfold her.  Thank you for informing me of its creator’s identity.”
“Cut the goddamn poetry.  I’m not one of the pathetic losers who buy your DVD’s.  If you didn’t know the photographer, then how did you happen to come by his work?”
Ito opened his mouth to answer and then abruptly stopped himself. 
“You might as well tell me,” said Quinn.  “I’m going to find out anyway.”
“I’m not quite sure where I obtained it.”  Ito gave an elaborate shrug meant to suggest nonchalance.  “I suppose I must have purchased it at a gallery here in the city.  But I cannot remember offhand which one it was.”
“Bullshit.”  Quinn lowered his face until it was only an inch from Ito’s.  “Behan never exhibited at any galleries.  None of them was ever willing to give the poor guy a show.”
Ito stared at Quinn without blinking.  “Then I must be mistaken.”
Quinn clenched his fists.  “You’re a lousy liar.  You know that?”
“I’m not obliged to provide you with information,” Ito pointed out.  “You’re not the police and have no right to question me.”
“No, I’m not the police.  They have to play by the rules.  I don’t.  That’s the difference.”  Quinn pushed a fist in front of Ito’s face.  “What’s the big secret anyway?  If you really are the print’s legal owner, you shouldn’t have a problem telling me where you got it.”
Ito seemed to realize he’d already said too much.  “I think this conversation is over.”
“Is it?”  Quinn’s mouth twisted into a terrible grin.
“Yes, I definitely do think so.”  Ito took a step back.
“You’re a funny guy.  A minute ago you were so anxious to show me the sights.  All right, I’ll get out.  But before I go, I want to see whatever other of Behan’s prints you have.”
“What makes you think I have more?”
Quinn laughed.  “Call it a wild guess.”
“I didn’t steal them.  As I explained, I obtained them from the rightful owner.”
“I’m not disputing that.”  Quinn’s tone grew mild.  “I only said I want to see them.”
“And if I refuse?” Ito asked.
“Then it’s going to take a hell of a lot longer for you to get rid of me.”
“You may view them briefly,” said Ito with stiff formality.  “Then you will leave.”  He walked to a nearby file cabinet from which he pulled a manila folder containing roughly a dozen matted prints, all of them featuring the same model as that on the wall.  In each, she was standing upright and fully clothed as she stared directly into the lens. 
“I suppose you keep these for inspiration too.”  Quinn flipped through the photos once and then studied them more slowly to better appreciate the model’s beauty.  “This woman has a perfect figure for fashion,” he mused out loud.  “I wonder how tall she is.  If she’s five nine, she could be a top model at any agency here in the city.  But if she were listed with a major agency, then I’d most likely have seen her photo somewhere before this.”
“Fashion doesn’t interest me,” Ito remarked quickly as though looking for a way to change the subject.  “It’s too banal.”
“No, I suppose whenever you look at a woman you imagine her naked and in chains.”
Ito regarded Quinn with disdain.  “Have you always been such a prude?”
“As long as I can remember,” answered Quinn.  He returned the prints to the folder and handed it back to Ito.  “You know, I don’t give a shit what a sleaze like you thinks or says.  If it floats your boat, you can call me a prude and whatever else you want.  Trust me when I tell you that whatever you come up with, I’ve been called a lot worse. ”
Ito had regained some of his courage.  “Your attitude is totally offensive.  There’s no reason I should put up with such insults.  I intend to report today’s intrusion to the police.”
“You go right ahead.  If you want to scare me, you’ll have to come up with something better than that.  The police are on my back already.  Maybe if they find out I’ve been here, they’ll finally wake up and get busy investigating Behan’s murder.”

After leaving the studio, Quinn had time to walk a couple of blocks down Eighth Avenue to White Castle and pick up a sack of burgers before returning to 38th Street and taking up a position on the corner opposite Ito’s building where he wouldn’t be particularly conspicuous.  He glanced at his watch, pulled his jacket more tightly about him and pressed himself more deeply into the shadows as he prepared to wait.
Quinn hadn’t had time to finish his burgers when ten minutes later Ito, still wearing his happi coat and now carrying a portfolio case, hurried out the entrance of his building and raced to the curb without bothering to look about him.  He never gave a glance to the opposite corner where Quinn stood watching him.  Furiously, Ito began waving to the cabs rushing uptown past him.  One finally braked hard in front of him and Ito climbed in the back. 
Gulping down the last of the burgers, Quinn signaled to a taxi himself and pointed out to the cabbie the vehicle in which Ito was riding.  It was fast disappearing amid the afternoon traffic.  “Follow him.  Don’t get too close.  Just make sure you don’t lose him.”
“What the hell is going on, man” the cabbie asked nervously.  “Are you planning on ripping off the guy inside?  If that’s what’s going down, I don’t want any fucking part of it.”
“I only want to find out where he’s headed, that’s all,” Quinn reassured him.  “Once he’s there, I’ll tip you good and you can take off.  You won’t ever see me again.”
“Just as long as you don’t pull any shit that’ll get me busted,” the cabbie replied.  “I’m on probation as it is.  I don’t want my wife having to visit me in prison again.”
“There’s not going to be any trouble.  I don’t plan on having the man see me or knowing I was anywhere near him.  You can rest easy on that.”
The cabbie gave in.  “Then let’s do it.”
The two taxis turned on 42nd Street and headed east through Times Square and past the Public Library.  On Madison, Ito’s cab turned north and Quinn’s followed a short distance behind.
Once in the East 80’s they both circled back to Fifth and then down half a block until Ito’s cab pulled up in front of a high rise condo with a doorman standing in front.  Quinn’s own cab kept going until it had passed the other.  It finally stopped at the corner.  Quinn cautiously opened the door.
“Thanks, buddy.  You did a good job.”  Quinn paid what was on the meter and then gave the cabbie the only twenty he had left in his wallet.  “Buy your wife a box of candy,” he told the driver.   Then he stepped out, waited for the light to change and crossed to the other side of Fifth where the plaza in front of the Met Museum was being torn up to make way for a more tourist friendly space.  He mingled with the crowds leaving the museum but never lost sight of the condo entrance.
Another ten minutes passed before Ito, portfolio case in hand, came out of the building.  This time he was accompanied by the same woman who had posed for the photo hung in his studio.  Quinn recognized her at once.  Though she was wearing a full length coat and had wrapped a Hermes scarf over her head, she was every bit as beautiful in real life as she had appeared in Behan’s prints.  “Wow, what a looker,” he said aloud.
The incongruous pair, the elderly wild eyed Japanese man standing beside the elegant model, were far too busy talking with one another to take any notice of their surroundings.  Eventually the woman nodded to the doorman who at once whistled for a taxi.  When one pulled up in front of them, Ito and the woman both got in together.  The cab then sped down Fifth Avenue and was soon lost to sight.
Quinn didn’t bother to follow.  A quick glance in his wallet had shown him he hadn’t enough cash for another ride.  The satisfied smile on his face indicated he had learned what he wanted to know anyway.  He turned his back and began making his way across the Park to the West Side and home.

As Quinn approached the block on Riverside where his building was located, he suddenly stopped short.  There was nothing out of the ordinary to be seen.  But still Quinn didn’t move forward.  Instead, he stepped back into a neighboring doorway and carefully made an inventory of whatever passers-by were about.
Even as Quinn stood there, a furtive shadow eased from an alleyway on the other side of the block before gliding fluidly away.  It had already grown too dark for Quinn to make out the features of whomever had been keeping watch on his home. 
Viktor was vacuuming the hallway when Quinn entered the building.   
“Have you noticed a stranger hanging around lately?  Someone who doesn’t belong in the neighborhood?” Quinn asked.
Viktor turned off the vacuum long enough to think about it.  He shook his head.  “No, not really.  There are always strangers passing through.  Why do you ask?”
“Don’t mind me.  I was tailing someone in a cab earlier today.  The experience must have made me paranoid, and now I think people are watching me back.”
“That’s not a good sign,” said Viktor and tapped the side of his head meaningfully.
“Don’t I know it.”
“It’s your imagination,” said Viktor.  “Everyone in this city is too busy with their own problems to take the time to check on you or me.  We’re not flashing enough money to be worth their attention.”
“I guess you’re right,” Quinn admitted.  “I just need to chill.”

Viktor gave a sardonic laugh.  “If you want people to look at you in New York, just put on a suit.  Then everyone will suddenly take notice of you.  Do you know why?  You’ll have made yourself a target.  That’s the reason.”  He pointed to the worn jeans and hoodie Quinn was wearing.  “But as long as you’re dressed like that, you’re safe enough.  People will cross to other side of the street to get away before you can ask them for a handout.”

Monday, March 19, 2018

Kodak Announces Return of TMax P3200


Kodak continues to delight film photographers by bringing back long discontinued classic films.  Last year, Kodak Alaris - a UK entity that emerged from Kodak's 2012 bankruptcy filing - surprised everyone when it announced it would once again begin producing Ektachrome color reversal film.  The company then followed that up last month by tweeting that TMax P3200 would be coming back as well.

I used the 3200 primarily when I wanted a grainy newsprint-like effect and often shot in in daylight through an orange filter for added contrast.  As an all-purpose high-speed film, however, it never appealed to me as much as Ilford 3200 which had much less grain even when pushed to ISO 6400.  (Neither film had a true ISO of 3200 but responded well to push processing.  The fastest film was actually Fuji Neopan 1600.)  Still, it's good to have an alternative for use in low light situations.

Now if only Kodak would bring back HIE, the best infrared film ever manufactured.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Street Portraiture - US Veteran


I photographed this veteran as he sat on a bench on Columbus Avenue in back of the Museum of Natural History.  He was a friendly guy and had no problem letting me take his photo, even putting the cigar back in his mouth for better effect.

I'll be posting more street portraits in coming weeks, almost all of them shot on a Lumix GH4 with a 14-140 lens (equivalent to 28-280 on a full frame camera).