The Mean Streets -- Symmetry and Asymmetry on the Street

by Crosley John

the mean streets symmetry and asymmetry on street crosley photography bw seeking critique john

Gallery: Black and White: Then to Now

Tags: street crosley photography b&w seeking critique

Category: Street

Published: Monday 17th of September 2007 11:48:58 PM


Comments

Susan Stone
A classic street shot, good range of tones and definitely a story for my mind to create. This is the type of image I associate with you John, this is where you excel, and the kind of composition that I appreciate but seldom capture (unless it's an old cow). It does have that "hot gritty" feel to it and those crosses smack dab in the middle are so poignant. Life is tough for these kids yet there she goes yakking away on her cell phone, hell I don't even have one of those things.....well actually I'm so far out in the boonies that I couldn't get a signal anyway.

John Crosley
Thanks Susan (copyright notice) This is the 'boonies' in the consideration of many middle class or 'higher' class people (economically at least). Because of past riots and onetime violence and looting, few stores are located in this heavily populated area -- one has to go to the outskirts or where this district intersects neighboring districts to find more than neighborhood stores, which does make it a pretty 'gritty' place, and maybe one where this old white guy is out of place, but I go such places anyway. It's like traveling to a foreign country sometimes, and that's good for the soul -- to see how others live and make a life from far less than I have been used to, and many have good lives in such places despite some deprivation and social disruption caused by ghetto isolation. I was just looking at a capture of a bug-eyed 'black' momma (mother) looking at two or her three wonderful, strapping tall, well-behaved young black boys -- all in their mid to late teens and thinking to myself, I'd be pleased to have them as neighbors . . . stereotypical thinking does occur because there are reasons for many stereotypes, but there are so many exceptions to those stereotypes that it's vacuous thinking to let stereotypes form one's views, rather than getting up close and really examining each person separately. I'd have been proud to call those people -- momma and her three tall and well-behaved teen sons -- friends if I knew them. If our paths cross again, I'll say 'hello' to them with fondness (and they'd acknowledge and remember me.) I've had hell to photograph American black people until just recently, and it seems that moving in a predominantly black neighborhood for this old white guy is so unusual it almost stops traffic . . . especially with me laden with expensive and large cameras and apparently moving around so easily (but still warily -- crime does happen more in such neighborhoods than in Beverly Hills). Trick: I show my victims their captures and they become friendly very quickly . . . a handy trick. Susan, I'm glad to find you've been looking at my work; I haven't seen traces of you around, so I'm glad to find I've another viewer, especially one with such talent. Bless you. John (Crosley) This image is Copyright 2007, John Crosley, All Rights Reserved.

John Crosley
Susan, I actually live most of the time in Ukraine . . . the subject of many of my shots, in part because life is 'gritty' with no social safety net, so if things are gritty, no one will come along and offer help . . .. except possibly a friend or a relative, so people in this (I am in Ukraine now and tend to post U.S. stuff from Ukraine and Ukraine stuff from the U.S.) country have strong family and social ties. I returned to the flat I keep in a large (over 1 million people) city you've never heard of, and the security babushka (grandmother) smiled at me and watched my things (there are 16 stories on a hill), and youths in front who were drinking pivo (piver is how I hear it) -- some of them knew me and helped me carry into my falt some of my six or seven bags, and refused a gratuity -- held their hands up in horror at the thought of receiving money for helping me, because I am accepted. I had to go out to get groceries at about midnight with two cameras -- a D200 and a D2Xs around my neck with appropriate lenses, down a pretty main street, and they warned me about leaving my cameras at 'home' and I told them, I won't ever take photos if I leave my cameras at home. They recommended a nearer supermarket than the one I was going to go to, but I refused since I didn't know where it was and it's on a side street -- we're all pedestrians here. Instead I walked nine blocks (New York style long blocks) down the hill, through the center of town to the supermarket and most of the way back. I'm big (bolshoi) and people tend not to bother me, plus if someone approaches for a handout of something, I veer off, because that and cigarette lighting are two good ways to waylay someone, especially if they're carrying expensive cameras. But in a way, the expensive cameras are so expensive they're beyond the ability of locals to envision stealing -- everyone would know where they came from, as I'm pretty visible, and they'd be caught pretty soon, and with no place to fence them . . . there probably aren't more than 50 D2Xs in all of the country, I'd bet, though it was more sure a year ago -- same with my monster (low light) zoom lenses. But I can be pretty invisible too, as I know how to stand off and look the other way, then swing lens around to nail my target, then just as quickly look the other way, like I never took that shot or series of shots. I'm harder to read, and people who watch me often smile when they see me just standing around then all of a sudden, I spring into action and just as quickly either walk away purposefully, or train my lens on something different to make the objects of my cameras wonder 'did he just take our photo or not?' Keep 'em guessing. Someday, somebody may get a camera, but I know how to walk into the street if followed (it's happened few times), how to double back on myself to reveal followers, how to outwit 'gypsy swamers' -- those young women who toy babies who travel in packs and when they spot a likely target, swarm in on them, pushing and stripping the person of everything before running away. I've been targeted by them, but they didn't expect (on the Moscow Metro at that) a karate stance and a leg high in the air aimed at their faces . . . which caused them to throw their hands in the air and protest they never were up to anything at all, then exit the train (of course I was yelling at them at the top of my lungs, also and for the cops in local lingo). I've been in campus riots with police batons swinging, I've been in Viet Nam with bombs, machine guns, mortars and all sorts of mayhem, and I got my training tutoring in Harlem when being white, I might as well have been wearing a shirt that said 'mug me'. So, I'm pretty careful . . . always testing the waters and always watching my backside. I'm more afraid of the seeming sane ones, like the 'nice' white guy I met in a laundromat as I did my laundry who said 'did anybody ever say to you they'd like to kill you to rob your cameras?' he said some other weird stuff before, and so I stuffed my wet laundry in my car and just took off. No sense in taking chances . . . it's the ones you don't see that get you (like the bullet you don't hear before it nails you). But my life is actually pretty ordinary -- I just don't believe in taking big chances, but I do believe in getting out there, and I quickly make friends. A year ago, in this Ukraine city some drunk guy was making statements to others in Russian about me and my cameras and he apparently meant it, but three or foru people bumped into me and said in english 'Go' which was all they could say. In other words, people watch my back for me, and I just don't ignore them. But Brazil is one place I won't be taking these cameras, my travel doctor says I'll be murdered for just one or a lens, and having been there before photography re-entered my life, I believe him exactly. But Argentina is little problem, at least in Buenos Aires and it's just next door, so to speak. The streets change from season to season and from hour to hour, and one must be in tune with the streets, and learn to listen for footsteps and the cadence of those footsteps behind and walk with purpose when walking, as it's the weak who are preyed on. Even if I am totally weak, I'll give the appearance of great strength -- I don't want to be a baby gazelle who gets picked off by some lion or cheetah, and to that end I always refuse proffered drinks or to drink anything at all when I have a camera on me (I seldom drink anyway and neve get drunk -- getting drunk is an invitation to getting rolled and maybe killed if you fight back. To tell the truth, I'm more afraid in US streets than many places that are seamy abroad, because in the U.S. they have guns, which many countries regulate heavily and often forbid handguns. (But Mexico won't be seeing me soon, because they have guns, narco gangs, and the last time I was in Mexico my cab drive in 3 kilometers got stopped three times and had to bribe police to get his license back each time -- 'the bite' and if I had cameras and were on a rural highway, I'd be 'toast' -- no worries for them about fencing my cameras, as there is a huge criminal culture bred by decades of police corruption and neglect and the US appetite for the narcotics they carry through Mexico. Thanks, Susan for your kind words of warning. And I note that there are big family ties here - if you don't pay back your friends and/or relatives the money they lent you, the next time you're hungry you actually may starve to death -- no GoodWill Industries or Salvation Army to give you a 'cot and three hots'. You'll literally starve. People in Russia, my former Russian wife used to tell me, cheat everyone so they can pay back their friends the money lent them that kept them from starving. (She's the one who got brain cancer.) Cheating, especially in Russia is endemic, but if you leave something valuable out, it will usually disappear, so everybody always says to watch everything closely. But the greatest chance of getting robbed is not in East La or Russia, but Paris, when it is aswarm with tourists and attacts thieves from all over the Continent -- even the world. The U.S. embassy/consulate there is crowded every day with citizens who got their passports ripped off with their purses or wallets (I have been in that crowd of people, once because I just lost a passport -- since recovered -- and another time because someone got it from a pouch in which I had it, putting the kabosh on my travel plans. Paris has the most inventive thieves, including one man who twirled arms outflung through crowded intersectios and streets full of tourists, seeming in his craziness to 'bump into' a lot of people, as he whirled, arms outflung. I am sure when they got home, they looked for their wallet of their hidden stash of bills and wondered 'where did they go' - and didn't even associate them with the whirling pickpocket -- that guy was a real whirling dervish. I watched one time (I couldn't get to the woman to warn her) a pickpicket pair target a young British woman looking at a Paris street/transport map -- she bent over and someone shoved her a little bit -- just a bump - while the othe went into her backpack and robbed her wallet with passport (I was behind a glass window and couldn't even get to the window in time to warn her.) She wasn't even aware she'd been robbed. Safety, therfore, is relative. I always worry in Paris in the summer -- other seasons are much friendlier and safer. I always watch my back -- I want to live to a ripe old age (there are those who say I'm already there ;~). John (Crosley)

John Crosley
Susan I've got that book in mind. My seeming 'meanderings' are maybe meant to be excerpted, put together, or otherwise used as notes for just that book. Whether all or part end up published, they're notes for me about things that I think others might be interested in. Putting it down here is a sort of archive from which I can draw, and at the same time, others can learn from my experiences. I don't know what form that 'book' or series of books will have, or if the info will be used to buttress other publications -- say a photo book or some such, but the interest readers have shown shows me that there is something salable here. I'm a writer at heart, as well as a photographer, so like the butcher who makes use of all but the squeal when he butchers a hog, this is my way of doing the same thing with my postings. Thanks for the encouragement. John (Crosley)

Susan Stone
John, I sure hope you are keeping a journal or daybook about your adventures and that someday you'll write a book, 'cause I got to tell you it would make for some great reading. Your "worldliness" will serve you well in any country you go to, sounds like you've got lot's of "street smarts". My Sis has traveled in the East a lot and was robbed on a train in India once, was wandering around Cambodia when there were still hot spots of warfare still going on.....me I just bum around the Southwest every chance I get and a few quick trips to Mexico and Hawaii are about all the adventure I need.

John Crosley
Susan, more on the photo The crosses stopped me in my tracks (or my car at least), and I parked across from them and waited, cameras below the window to see what would pass, focusing at the last moment so I wouldn't show I was photographing, and even looking 'straight ahead' instead of sideways so I wouldn't reveal myself. This is just one of several good captures using the 'crosses' as a focus. I generally don't post two captures of any subject or element such as the crosses, so the rest may be on the 'cutting room floor', though I might possibly have posted them if this didn't turn out so well. ;-) John (Crosley)

John Crosley
Finally (for now at least) This photo for certain will end up in my 'Threes' Presentation -- photos in which the element 'three' (often three subjects, but not always) in one way or another is a heart of a photo. John (Crosley)

Susan Stone
I appreciate all the dialog about this image and your thoughts on racial profiling, unfortunately racism is alive and well in a lot of these small Western towns and mindsets. I think the one thing that's always a promient thought for me about some of the minority ethnic groups (and that's not the case anymore with our large hispanic population....being minorities.) is that they have such "strong" family connections and interactions, and I envy that as I have relatives that I hardly know and don't even see my own grown children that often. And yes I've visited your portfolio on many occassions, but I don't think of street photography and or B&W as my forte, and with my slow dial up connection and limited time I've been amiss about commenting on your imagery, although if you looked hard enough I'd think you'd find my "voice" on a couple shots. I like your unabashed approach to photographing the seamier side of society, yes I too think if you're pretty straight forward about what you're doing and open to dialog from your subjects, when you do interact with them, that most folks will be more than willing to be the subject of your photograpic interest. But it's the spontaneity of shots like this one that really have the appeal and drama for me, a slice of life so to speak. Be careful out there John, but trust your intuitions.

John Crosley
The Mean Streets -- Symmetry and Asymmetry on the Street It was boiling hot in LA, and though it is nearer the Coast than many places and generally cooler, it also was boiling hot in South Central Los Angeles, a haven for the less advantaged, on this particular day. Your ratings and critiques are invited and most welcome. If you rate harshly or very critically, please submit a helpful and constructive comment; please share your superior knowledge to help improve my photography. Thanks! Enjoy! John

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