Sunday, March 15, 2009

Girl on Myrtle Avenue

Myrtle Avenue, Bushwick, NY
The girl crossed the street under the subway tracks in a hurry, on her cell phone. Caroline ran after her. "My husband would like to photograph you."

"O.K." and continued with her telephone conversation.

"Let's move over hear a little, it's better light," I said, and she followed me, still talking on her cell phone. Then I began asking her about school and does she go to Manhattan etc. and she answered me still with the phone to her ear. I asked her to move a little this way and that.

"Call you back," she said, and snapped the phone closed. She stuck her hands in her back pockets.

"That's it, don't move." I took the picture and she hurried away, head down, pressing the keys on her phone.


  1. Myrtle Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY
    A famous American writer who was brought up in Brooklyn in the 1920s wrote this about Myrtle Avenue:
    ...I saw a street called Myrtle Avenue, which runs from Borough Hall to Fresh Pond Road, and down this street no saint ever walked (else it would have crumbled), down this street no miracle ever passed, nor any poet, nor any species of human genius, nor did any flower ever grow there, nor did the sun strike it squarely, nor did the rain ever wash it. For the genuine Inferno which for the last twenty years I give you Myrtle Avenue, one of the innumerable bridlepaths ridden by iron monsters which lead to the heart of American emptiness...

    No prizes to those who know who wrote this and in what book.

  2. What a comment on a place by this writer! I wonder if the young woman has these sentiments or what experiences she has had on Myrtle Avenue? Her expression shows toughness and her posture is attractive!

  3. It's funny I forgot the reference to saints and here she appears this splash of white surrounded by black, brown and gray.

  4. Miller deplored even more Driggs Avenue nearby where he grew up- now the epicenter of hipness in Williamsburg. Like Anonymous I see toughness and good posture. However, given how your subject behaved in essence treating you and Caroline as if you were nuisances interrupting her cell call, the American emptiness Miller describes is apparently still alive and well on Myrtle Avenue.

  5. I won't say "Well done, John," because it was not a difficult questions. (But we did think that you would be the only person we knew who would answer the question correctly, or anyway be the first to answer it correctly.)

    Your connecting the girl's stance to the emptiness Miller refers to is the sharpness in your observation. Thank you.

  6. I know it's the cut of the jacket that emphasizes this, but her waist looks almost impossibly small. Also, I love the way the fur trim on the hood echoes her hair.

  7. Tom, I love the way the fur trim echoes her hair too. I also love the purple belt between the white jacket and blue jeans.
    She exudes confidence and I think rather than finding the interruption a nuisance,
    it was all about time management.

  8. Confidence? Looks to me more like the silent equivalent of "Whatever". Yes, I can see time management too, in her unspoken "hey mister, can you take the shot already. I haven't got all day you know" glare. Let's face it, the only draw here is the blond hair, cute face, ribald outfit, wasp waist, and hand on butt. That's it.

  9. The soft pastels are what I liked about this picture when I first saw it. Unexpected considering Myrtle Avenue was all darkness, concrete, and steel.

    Dmitri asks his subjects to maintain a certain expressions and hold their stance. He did with this girl. That a person stops and agrees to have their picture taken is a great honor. It is unusual these days.

  10. No doubt, she is stylish. And of course, Dmitri's shot compliments her, bringing out all of those soft pastel tones beautifully. The thing is, she doesn't look (like you and Dmitri apparently felt) honored here. And given what you wrote above, Dmitri's intervention after she hung up seems to have amounted to little more than hold it ("That's it, don't move"). How many seconds of prodding did this take? And now I'm curious, does Dmitri really get turned down that often? How unusual is it these days?

  11. Dmitri should answer this. It is related to a question that a lot of people ask me. How does Dmitri stop people and ask to take their picture? And John and I wonder, how is it different approaching people today than it was 20 years ago?

  12. Yes, I'd be curious to know both. Another question for Dmitri as well- have you ever taken someones photo without approaching them or asked for their permission beforehand?

  13. Last first. Yes I have. It is hunting and stalking without being spotted. You must not look like a photographer (only one small old camera, dress plainly and move slowly, learn not to have to focus etc.) And if you are spotted don't hang around to explain. It's fun. I'll find an example and post it.
    Next, about accosting subjects: I walk up to them and say, "I would love to take a photograph of you." If they pause, I continue with a reason, "You look wonderful in that hat." Provided they are not in too much of a hurry, or they are not afraid you are a policeman, they usually agree. (I'm too old to be a policeman, and I speak funny, (English accent from the thirties) which is also an advantage.) Then when I have Caroline with me it adds an element of respectability.
    I don't think it's much different from twenty years ago.

  14. Great strategy! I look forward to your example.


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