Photos & Projects

A Single Frame – It’s Interesting Because It’s Old – By Gerard Exupery

March 14, 2021

When I was a child, I got it into my head that anything that took place before I was born happened in black and white. Not so unusual when most televisions were black and white and most family photographs were too. To this day when the weather is nice and I am roaming around, I try to remember that 150 years ago in my little town the people who were alive then experienced the same blue sky and green lawns. Their lives did not occur in sepia tone.

Having just scanned this rather old negative and dragged it into Photoshop for a better look, my first thought was it was not very good and not very interesting to look at.

It doesn’t look so much like it was composed as created by my anxious shutter finger wanting to just do something. At that time, I had started roaming the streets of the city and had not yet developed my eye, my way of interpreting something that interested me.  Back then I thought most of my pictures were “camera club” at least until I started to have a life. I had no eye until I worked nights in the city, had my heart broken and was broke and hungry. What plane of reference for emotional interaction with the people and situations that we wish to photograph do we have without a few scars?

But that is not in this picture.

Back then I would say to myself that when I was an old man,  I would finally get around to looking through all of these images and at that time do whatever it was I was supposed to do with them. I believed then that I was note taking my life so I would be able to look back at it and see something.

So I guess I got my eye because along with a lot of good times I got my scars. And, a great many of my negatives from that time were destroyed in a flood  23 years ago and others were simply lost. And I forgot about them after a while.

Last year I guess I decided that I was an older version of me and maybe it was time to see what all the fuss had been about. So I found the boxes of negatives, and I have been very methodically going through them, scanning, restoring when needed, printing and posting.

And to my surprise, a lot of those very early images aren’t half bad. I can even see how my vision was changing from one sheet of negs to another. There were a lot of clunkers, but some I really like a lot. And, those old images, got me writing about photography which I am grateful for.

But this picture as I said isn’t one of those. It’s interesting simply because it’s old. It shows a little street life in the mid to late 1970’s and it gives a plane of reference for how the world has changed.

One of the first things that caught my eye was the TAXI cab in the street. It is a Checker Cab. Made in New Jersey and at one time the only vehicle used as a New York City hack. I drove one of those at night just one week after moving to New York City and starting school.

The car is an early 70’s Monte Carlo and is a piece of shit like every other Detroit car was in the 70’s. That same car, the kid who’s father owned Sonny’s Pizzeria, the place I delivered for in high school, had been given for his birthday. We all knew what business Dad was really in, and it was where I learned to make myself very small when necessary.

The woman isn’t holding an electronic device of any kind. She probably has a book in her bag. She didn’t have to worry about picking up anything her dog left behind either, because there wasn’t any Pooper Scooper law yet, making as I remember, the Summer of Sam frightening and quite odoriferous.

And that avenue is 23rd Street. On the west side, and look those are real New York City tenements across the street with fire escapes and businesses on the ground floor. The building on the left with the 3 and 3 windows was once a private house, probably built in the 1850’s.

Now 23rd street in that neighborhood is all new construction with no fire escapes and rather than stores selling used office furniture there are Starbucks, and Gap stores and places a lot fancier than me.

So yeah, this image is kind of Meh. It is not a great piece of “art”. But it is interesting. Maybe a little more to me than you, because I lived that image.

So maybe an interesting picture is all that it is. Still worth having. I think I am just fine with that.


Help Me Print “Women Hold Up Half The Sky” my Second Book.

My book ‘Subway New York City ‘1975-1985’ is available on Etsy.

Gerard Exupery Website

Gerard Exupery has been a New York City Street Photographer for 40 years, He attended the School of Visual Arts and studied with Lisette Model at The New School. He has also worked as an oil rig roustabout, a photographer’s assistant, custom printer, motorcycle mechanic, audio engineer, video engineer, producer, and Mr. Mom.  Exupery also drove a New York City taxi which he considers his post-graduate work.

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  • Reply
    March 14, 2021 at 4:08 pm

    I wonder what went down in Fishermens Net. With what do you scan these days, Gerard? I just lifted hundreds of films from the 1980s from the bottom of the ocean, or rather some steel boxes in my friend Volkmars garage. With images from NYC 1987 that will be a nice answer to this shot here. Have a good sunday!

    • Reply
      Gerard Exupery
      March 15, 2021 at 3:24 pm

      Fishermen’s Net was a store for people who fish in fishnet stockings.

      I’m using a Plustek Opticfilm 8200i. Generally happy with it. Slow as hell.

      1987? You child!

  • Reply
    Graham Coad
    March 14, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    I also like pictures of different countries and cultures from my own, now and a few years ago.

  • Reply
    Jim Grey
    March 14, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    There’s a lot of value in old photos, even bad ones, with everyday things in it. They bring into relief just how much things have changed.

    • Reply
      Gerard Exupery
      March 15, 2021 at 3:26 pm

      Agreed. I really enjoy looking at old family albums. Az real treasure trove there.

  • Reply
    Scott Edwards
    March 14, 2021 at 10:50 pm

    So much better than “meh!” Love it. Also, love your articles. You’re as strong a writer as a photographer. Bravo!

    • Reply
      Gerard Exupery
      March 15, 2021 at 3:29 pm

      Thank you. I enjoy both the writing and the making of images… almost equally. They are two different kinds of energy and not always present simultaneously or at the same level. I remain extremely grateful for both.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2021 at 2:39 am

    Well it’s also interesting cuz there’s a DOG in it. And I’ve noticed that for someone who grabs a lot of street life in your photos, you very frequently manage to do it without distorting the buildings in the background. They’re often shot straight-on and vertically straight, as though you chose them first and waited for the life to happen.

  • Reply
    Gerard Exupery
    March 15, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    There is not an image in existence that can’t be made better by the addition of a dog.

    Dead on observation about how I do it. I find something immovable and wait for something moveable to pass in front of it. Somethings going to happen what with a chaotic universe and everyone trying to get laid. EZPZ.

    I learned with the Nikon 24mm that if kept level it minimized the distortion.

  • Reply
    Eric Rose
    March 15, 2021 at 4:52 pm

    I know how it feels to loose a large body of work. My first wife was schizophrenic and destroyed 30 years worth of my negs and chromes. And on top of that an extensive record collection. Oh well doodoo happens and I have been hard at work creating another body of work for the past 25 years. Too bad about the really old stuff though.

    I just love your stories, and your photography. Keep it up!


  • Reply
    Gerard Exupery
    March 15, 2021 at 5:01 pm

    Thank you. In case there is any doubt, comments mean quite a lot to me. If it weren’t for the positive comments I’ve received I doubt I would have pursued writing at all.

    That feeling of losing a part of yourself when you realize that what you worked so hard for is gone… Lord let me never feel that again. I think sometimes these things have a bigger meaning to our lives much later on. It can’t help but perfect one’s vision.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2021 at 6:16 pm

    I’ve been to New York City twice, the second time in 1980 to visit a girl I’d been seeing in New Orleans. The visit lasted a few days during which I managed to destroy that friendship. But it was also a successful photographic expedition, though I didn’t fully realize it until a year ago when scanning those old negs. I traded one thing for another apparently.

    Yeah, those cars weren’t mechanical marvels, but damn if they weren’t fun, bench front seats and all.

    41yrs ago. Sheesh.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2021 at 3:25 pm

    I think images like this are interesting because it’s a slice of life. It’s a real place where you could go now, photograph again (even in B&W) and compare it to the one you took 45 years ago. It’s not meant as an art piece or a methaphor for some cultural theme. It’s just life.

  • Reply
    May 4, 2021 at 5:22 am

    In the 1990s as a freelance artist, I couldn’t begin to count the heaps of slides and negatives I relegated to the cutting room floor. Out of 9 or 10 rolls of expensive Velvia and Kodachrome, I would get only a few of what I considered to be usable images and stuffed the rest back into their slide boxes to sit in storage for a quarter century.

    Recently, however, I happened to look through some of those old outtakes… you know the drill – grab a few and hold them up to the window light. After looking a few shots, the next thing I knew I was hurrying to unpack and fire up my light table to get a better look. I was mystified… these actually looked pretty good to me. Why then were they dispatched to spend eternity in the reject bin?

    What happened was obvious, at least to me: at the time I was creating those images, I had a distinct vision for what I was trying to create with my camera. Upon receiving back the processed images, any image that didn’t communicate my original vision was discarded. Now, decades later, I am no longer constrained by my original passion and can evaluate the artistic merit of those “outtakes” as stand-alone works instead of trying to force them into the strict criterion of some (now long-forgotten) vision.

    Best second chance ever.

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