Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Day with Levi's

Scrambling around SoHo, I had some trouble finding it. The Levi’s Photo Workshop was set up at 18 Wooster Street at Canal Street. While walking down Canal the first time I missed Wooster completely. When I found myself in TriBeCa, I knew I had gone too far and scrambled back.
Normally there would have been no scrambling, but I was running late for a panel where photographers like Marilyn Minter and Michelle Elzay would be discussing different art books that inspired them. Eventually I found the space, though, having traipsed all over and freezing my legs solid. I ended up being early.

It was totally worth it, though. The Levi’s Photo Workshop is (rather, as of the end of today, was) a temporary photography space set up from October to December where people could use all different kinds of photography equipment, from vintage cameras to studio setups and lighting to printers to computers with Photoshop and probably even more that I’m not aware of. For a couple of months in different cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.), Levi’s sets up a workshop for people to use all of this equipment completely for free. According to Levi’s, the workshops are meant to be “a series of community-based venues for collaboration and creative production,” where people can use the equipment not only to produce their own work, but to see the work of others and contribute to a growing gallery space.

The front of 18 Wooster Street, like many spaces in SoHo, is an
industrial one, with a shiny metal and plastic garage door that allows you to see the glories inside as you walk past. Inside, the space has tremendously high ceilings in both the first and second rooms. The first room is home to a series of vintage cameras people can use in the space, as well walls are filled to the brim with photographs from “all the photographers in New York” (one of the workshop’s goals, I imagine, was to get them all into the space at some point). Portraits of some of these photographers hang on a banner spanning the vertical length of an entire wall, including the likes of Mary Ellen Mark among others. Also on the walls are numerous sets of photos from the digital photo booth right there in the space, which the workshop’s employees later used to decorate the space for the closing night party.

The second room, up a short set of stairs, is the more utilitarian space, painted completely white with each section of the room designated for different pursuits: two rows of computers with photo editing and organizing software; a printing area for 8.5 x 11 prints, a printing kiosk for 3x5 and 4x6 prints, a large format printer for large prints, and a fabric printer for printing photographs on t-shirts, canvas, and the like; a makeup area for photoshoots; and the remaining wall space for the shoots themselves. Any kind of photo work you could ever want to do could be possible in this space.

Though the space had been open since October, for whatever reason I hadn’t made my way there until this week, the last week it would be open. This panel discussion was the first time I was there, and it was incredible. I listened to world class photographers talk about what inspires them (Marilyn Minter brought in a Basquiat book and Michelle Elzay brought in a 1970s Playboy) and actually got to have a discussion with one (Elzay) myself. It was an amazing experience and I promised myself I would be back as often as possible within this last week to make use of the space, and even try to print some photos.

Today (Saturday), I woke up at 8:30am to get to the workshop at 10:30, 30 minutes before it opened. I was probably the fifteenth person in line when I arrived, waiting outside in the cold to make sure I’d be able to print (a side effect of getting to print for free on awesome equipment is that everyone wants to do it and there are lines).

When I got there, however, I found there was no more photo paper (a side effect of being non-for-profit and at the end of the program). However, the employee in charge, with spiky charcoal hair, a flannel shirt and thick-framed glasses, told us they needed a bunch of help putting together the final night’s exhibition so if we wanted to help we could. Deciding that I didn’t want my waiting out in the cold to have been in vain, I helped, cutting white edges off blown-up portraits from the photobooth. I also ate the waffles they made fresh for us, knowing we’d be waiting outside to get in (with Nutella and maple syrup! Delish).

I met and talked to different people, all photographers, and for the first time since I’ve been in New York, I felt like I was a part of a community. We were all working together toward a common creative goal, and that felt really great to be a part of. I love New York dearly, but it can be difficult to meet new people and find a space where you belong. I felt like I belonged within minutes of being there, though, so I can only imagine how it would have felt if I had been using the space longer than that. I am kicking myself a little bit, but I’m really genuinely happy to have been able to participate at all.

I did end up getting to print some photos, however, on canvas that I bought at the art store across the street, and they look pretty cool, if I do say so myself. As I left, I said to one of the employees that I don’t know who to thank for such an awesome space, but thank you nonetheless. He smiled and said “You can thank all of us.” But I guess that’s what community is all about. So thank you, Levi’s Photo Workshop, for a fantastic experience and a fantastic day. I only wish you were open longer!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


“Let me know when it’s my stop,” HL said to me.
The closest I’ve ever had to a sister, HL was staying with me for a few days after getting a job in New York. Her job was not too far from mine so we were able to take the train together in the mornings. HL is from Pennsylvania, and though she’s been to New York before, she hadn’t taken the subway too much.

The first day we took the train, I explained everything I had learned to HL—-walk to the end of the train, or as close as possible, so you’re not smashed sardine-style in a subway car; yes, you can put your MetroCard away after you swipe it if your transfer is in the same station; sometimes you don’t have to hold on and you can just surf the rails. Some of it is common sense, for sure, but I spouted away just in case, like a mother hen tending to her chicks.

After leaving one train to transfer to another, HL almost veered off in the wrong direction, but I quickly steered her the right way and we laughed. Having traveled together a bunch of times before, her joke to me was always “I’m here to protect you!” It seemed this time, though, I was there to protect her, too: to make sure she didn’t get lost in the subway station, to make sure she got off at the right stop and that she knew how to get home.

On the second train, she whispered to me to tell her when to get off. It was a stop before mine, and when she got off the train, she waved back at me and grinned. It felt weird, like that feeling mothers must get when they drop their kids off at kindergarten for the first time. You just smile and hope they’re going to be okay (and she did get to work fine, of course).

I decided that part of becoming a New Yorker is helping someone else get settled as well. Because HL is still getting acclimated to New York, having only been here about two and a half days, I have been able to help her and it feels good, like a rite of passage for both myself and for her. I’ve taught her the joys of HopStop, but that it’s not always perfect; that you probably don’t want to live up by the Cloisters if you can avoid it; that Bergdorf’s has the best Christmas windows; that Gristedes is more expensive than Food Emporium. There’s been more, I’m sure, but I can’t remember all of it because it just kind of rolls off my tongue. There are some things you have to learn by experiencing them for yourself, but sometimes it’s just easier if someone tells you so you don’t have to go through the ordeal of buying ice cream for seven dollars in one store when it could have been significantly less elsewhere. But I guess this is what my mother had been trying to tell me about life all along.

This morning, HL and I walked to the subway as before, but we got separated on the train. I noticed she wasn’t near me when the doors closed and looked around quickly trying to find her. A few people away, she waved a gloved hand at me and smiled. I was happy she was there, but then I realized she didn’t really need me anymore. My little girl was growing up!

We transferred and she knew where to get off this time, but still asked me “This one?” quietly, as if to reassure herself. I smiled and nodded, sagelike (if I do say so myself). Maybe she would need me for a little bit longer. But I had promised her long ago that I would always be there.