I was walking down the Bowery on Tuesday and was accosted by these fellows. A moment early they had been all sitting on the ground and were frankly looking a little menacing but for the fact that it was mid-afternoon and glorious. Had it been a nastier day, perhaps, but anything unworthy of a lamb seemed pretty out of the question on this particular afternoon. They seemed to be lining up for some sort of a handout, although the Bowery these days feels like the last place you’d actually go for one.
As soon as they saw the camera, they hopped to attention. Lots of banter - I guess my camera looks expensive enough and my Domke bag tattered enough that they took me to be a serious photojournalist or something. I was fascinated by what they said to me: “Do something with this”. Okay, they also wanted a couple of bucks. But their main concern was that their image end UP somewhere. “Make a billboard,” said the man in the middle, and he was eagerly supported by the man in the houndstooth jacket.
Make a billboard. Make me famous. Make me look as good as the youths I see everyday giant in the ads, who’re all posturing to look like tough guys on the street. Like me.
They cheered me up. It’s not that I was down, exactly, but it’s just so hard sometimes to photograph the familiar, and even though the Bowery and Chinatown and Little Italy (what’s left of it) are intense, visually rich places that are constantly changing, after 25 years of walking these streets and poking my camera at people and things it’s difficult to take a picture that you feel like you haven’t already taken. And it’s difficult to take a picture that you feel like you haven’t already seen - if not yours, then someone else’s.
Like this picture - I took essentially the same snap in Soweto, in 1986. A bunch of guys, younger than these ones, posturing and hamming and wanting me, through my camera, to make them “famous”.
Same attitudes, same stares, same yearning.