This article was originally featured on the B&H Photo explora blog.
My maternal Great-Grandmother’s family owned three cinemas during the Great Depression. You could say film and photography runs in my blood. Or, ran in my blood, until my Grandmother’s father passed away and the ties to the cinema were severed when they went to her brother. “The rest of the family wasn’t interested… I think there was a possible splinter or a grudge was held.” my aunt regaled. My mother’s older sister remembers far more than my mother does, and as she intends on living the longest, her story is the one I’m sticking with today. That, and she was the first to respond to my text about my growing collection of vintage cameras – many of which came from my Grandmother’s - now my mother’s and father’s house.
It was the house that my family moved into when I was entering the eighth grade. It was the house my mother grew up in. It was the house that her mother grew up in. Up until we moved in, the house was practically preserved from the moment my mother and her twin sister, two of the youngest, went away to college. The house was downright magical when I was growing up. My cousins and I would play alligator in the four upstairs bedrooms, jumping from the bed to the oriental carpets to an armchair and back again as fast as we could to avoid the “alligators” that lay in wait on the hardwood floors should we slip off “land.” Hide and seek was infinitely better in a house with not one, but two staircases leading up to the second level. Closets were filled with old prom dresses that my aunts wore and left in the cedar closets in the smallest bedroom above the front porch. An old pool table sat in the basement. Rusted farming equipment that children were definitely not supposed to play on sat in the barn. A gardening shed, a garage, and even a chicken coop housed even more relics of a time that was before my own making nearly every visit to my Grandmother’s house an adventure.
“Your Grandmother had a Brownie that we had to hold real still when someone was going to take a picture. And then there was the Polaroid and a Kodak Instamatic, that you had to turn the flash just right. But these cameras only came out for real special occasions. A first communion or a graduation, not necessarily a birthday or the holidays… And whenever someone was born – which was practically once a year – she would have a professional photographer come take our picture. I think she was so busy taking care of all of us kids, she didn’t have time to take our picture with her own cameras.” My aunt said when I asked which of the cameras in my collection belonged to my Grandmother. “Your Grandmother and Grandfather were married in 1946. They started a family after two world wars and then the Depression,” my aunt reminded me. “She was 29, turning 30, and he was 35 turning 36. Between 1946 and 1960, your Grandmother had ten children in nine pregnancies. And this was during a time when mothers weren’t documenting their children the way mothers are today!”
I didn’t have the same connection to my paternal Grandfather’s house. We didn’t visit as often, and when we did, I mostly busied myself with the strawberry hard candies that he had on his coffee table instead of exploring.
Like my mother's father, who came home from the Second World War, my father’s father was also enlisted in the military, only he was quite a bit younger and served in a different war. In 1951 or 1952, he was stationed in an anti-aircraft gun crew in Germany for two years during the Korean War. His eight-digit service number was written underneath his name on the side of his Brownie Target Six-20 that my father passed down to me. My Grandfather never spoke to me directly of his time in the war, and frankly I didn’t even realize he had served in the Korean War until I saw his military service number on the side of the Brownie camera.
In 1954, my paternal Grandfather married my Grandmother and nine months later, they welcomed the first child of nine into the world. In 1959, my Grandfather built his house, the house my father grew up in, the house I ate strawberry hard candies in. Professional pictures didn’t line the mantle in my father’s childhood home like they did in my mother’s. But from the sound of it, pictures were taken much more often on my father’s side of the family than they were on my mother’s side of the family. I asked my father where all of the pictures went once they were taken, “I’m not really sure myself. I guess they were in shoeboxes in the house somewhere. We didn’t have any albums until my sister made one for me, and my other siblings after I was married.” He responded.
“Dad wasn’t big on professional pictures, but he always had a camera kicking around. There were more snap shots of the family… Most of the pictures were taken with an Instamatic. That’s the one I remember the most, except I might have a vague memory of Mom looking down and taking pictures with an older Brownie. But I could be making that up. I was only about three or four years old!” my father recounted the different cameras he remembered growing up. What he didn’t remember was actually holding the Brownie in one picture while one of his aunts held an Instamatic in what looks to be the backyard of his childhood home.
“Your uncle, Marty has pictures of your Grandpa in his military uniform, you should give him a call.” My Dad suggested a couple days before this very article was due. I couldn’t help but wonder which aunt and uncle had which photographs, and how tedious it might be to get my hands on all of them. “That’s ok, I think the next time I’m in Kentucky, I’ll just travel from one house to another with my scanner and computer in tow seeking out these pictures.” I responded. He laughed, and most likely sighed, knowing that he’ll be the one warning his brothers and sisters of my impending visit.
Tracking down images of my mother’s side of the family might be a little easier, as the majority of them are tucked away in a box in my parent’s house. But it’s the mystery of this rare Polaroid of my mother’s mother that I’m more interested in solving. For a woman who had a professional photographer take pictures of her children, owned several cameras, but rarely used them, this coffee-mug stained Polaroid feels like a rare glimpse of my Grandmother that was not often captured. What was she doing? Who took this picture? And which camera did this picture come from? Clearly I have more work cut out for me.
A few months ago, while visiting my 'Seoulmate' in Dallas, we wandered in and out of boutiques and galleries on our way to dinner in the Bishop Arts District. While my friends tried to decide which candles to stock up on (unfortunately, I had already blown my budget on antique finds), I couldn't stop taking pictures within the tiny storefront. Roughly the size of my living room, I was overwhelmed by the amount of style SOCIETY had to offer. If you're in Dallas, it's certainly worth a visit!
Whenever someone says, "Oh you're from Cincinnati?" I quickly respond, "I'm from Northern Kentucky, NOT Cincinnati. Kentucky is much cooler." (Not everyone believes me and jokes typically ensue about how I have shoes on and my brother must be my uncle...) Regardless of which side of the state wars you align yourself with, it's hard not to enjoy places like Rhinegeist Brewery, which have started (at least since my last visit home) popping up.
I'm starting to warm up to Cincinnati more than I ever did when I lived across the river. As Andrew and I shared a flight and watched games of cornhole (or bags, if you prefer) I felt like I was almost back in Brooklyn - except there was a lot more space, we had a car parked a few blocks away, and then a girl I ran track with in high-school walked in the door. It was the best of both worlds (where I'm from and where I am now) and just might make the list of "Places we could move when we're finally exhausted paying rent in Brooklyn." (which isn't happening anytime soon... but it's still fun to think about!)
Bunsmith is within walking distance of my apartment and everything down to the water glasses makes me feel like I'm right back in Seoul. Cans of Hite? In Korea, beer is not exactly the specialty, but suddenly a bout of homesickness for the country washes over me and I'm suddenly responding "네 하나 주세요!" (Yes! One, please!)
One of my favorite things about living in Brooklyn is, oddly enough, that I can feel as if I'm in an entirely different country at any given moment. Here at Bunsmith I'm back in Korea until I walk outside and I'm back in the heart of Brooklyn walking a couple of blocks home.
Wowzers, it's been awhile since I've had a blog! The itch is back. Rather than deleting old posts, I've decided to let a few of my favorites live on here. Lots of fun coming soon... But first, produce!
I never really thought that I would think "Oh this reminds me of home" standing the middle of New York City... and then I stepped foot in Vinegar HIll. It was a little on the deserted side when I visited several months ago. It was so quiet, I could have very well been in the middle of my hometown several hundred miles south of The Big Apple. Instead, I was a couple blocks away from DUMBO and staring straight across the East River into Manhattan (when the view allowed). A photo of the Golden Girls on my way back to a subway station only made the visit that much sweeter.
Neighborhoods of New York, much like the latest evolution of this blog will most likely be an experiment - until a project (or two) finds its voice. For the past year I've wanted to continue blogging, but wasn't quite sure of how I wanted to go about it. So I kept waiting, until I could figure it out... Until now, I'm tired of waiting, and have decided there's nothing wrong with experimenting until something- or all the things- feel just right.
My advice for your inaugural visit to the Brooklyn Bridge is to go early. Head out of High Street station and walk through the park towards the Brooklyn Bridge entrance. It'll be a little dark under the overpass, but it's hard to miss, especially with all of the signage and tourists heading in the same direction.
Initially, walking towards the bridge didn't feel very special. You're very much in the middle of an expressway and most likely, surrounded by a a ton of people with cameras and tour guide books, most of whom are oblivious to which lane they should be walking in. There are two- one for bikes and one for people, not one for one direction and one for the other direction. If I were on a bicycle I would have run into half a dozen people in the wrong lane. Fortunately those who were on bikes had a lot more patience than I might have had.
The closer you get to the first arch, the more special the visit starts to feel. You're not as in between cars whizzing by on either side, as the traffic is now below you, and the cables going in what feels like a thousand different directions seems to almost mask out everyone else. It also helps to look up admiring the cables creating lines and angles in every which way.
As I stood under the arch, reading the plaque, I patted myself on the back for remembering that it was Roebling who designed the bridge. I knew this because he also designed the (John A. Roebling) Suspension bridge linking Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati nearly thirty years before The Brooklyn Bridge was built. In fact, John A.'s patent of wrought iron chain links are nearly identical to the ones his son, Washington would later use to secure The Brooklyn Bridge. Cool, right? Or maybe only cool to those of us from the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area.
I think the view is better walking from Brooklyn towards Manhattan. You're always walking towards the impressive downtown skyline. And if you walk all the way across the East River, you'll find yourself in Chinatown, where you could easily spend the entire day sampling pork buns and picking up cheap t-shirts, sunglasses, perfume, handbags, etc. etc. OR you could turn around in the middle, like we did for some famous pizza. Don't miss out on the "Welcome to Brooklyn" sign on your way off of the bridge walkway. Because I'm new to both Brooklyn- and having a home again- it gave me a wonderful warm and fuzzy feeling knowing I can humbly say Brooklyn is my home!
Andrew and I became members of The Brooklyn Museum shortly after we moved into our apartment just down the street. My immediate motivation was to attend a talk about street art in Brooklyn by BrooklynStreetArt.com founders Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo. Afterwards there was an open panel that included Swoon, a Brooklyn based artist who currently has Submerged Motherlands on display in one of the museum's rotundas. The talk was great and Swoon's exhibition is pretty rad- but more on that later.
Before you even get into Ai Wei Wei's According to What? exhibition, don't miss S.A.C.R.E.D. This installation was made specifically for the Brooklyn Museum exhibition. We walked right by it, because we either didn't see the sign, there wasn't one, or we were oblivious. Perhaps it would help if you are more attentive than we were. From first glance the installation just looks like giant iron boxes perhaps left-over from or in preparation for some building construction. If you see a smaller wooden box sitting against the bigger steel box, go stand on it (like this little guy in with the awesome bike helmet) - and look down!
The boxes are, according to Brooklyn Museum, "mini-prisons that show scenes from Ai's 81-day detainment in a Chinese jail, where he served time for tax evasion charges in 2011. The dioramas depict Ai eating, bathing, and sleeping with guards hovering over him." You can also view the inside of the boxes from little windows on the opposite side of the "ceiling" view sides. (It'll make more sense when you see them, I promise) En route to the elevators, it's harder to miss the Forever Bicycles installation. To hear Ai Wei Wei's inspiration for the installation, watch his video explanation here!
With my friend, Gina in tow, our first stop was to have a little fun in front of one of Michelangelo Pistoletto's mirror paintings. Back in August, Andrew and I saw these mirror paintings at the Louvre while we were traveling around the world. I love it when I recognize artwork, and even more when I can remember where I saw it last! Gina and a friend have funny glasses that they wear for pictures in different places and send to each other. She let me join in on the fun!
We got a little turned around thinking we'd see Ai Wei Wei first and then Swoon. This was a bad idea. After our trip and the many, many museum visits in many different countries around the world, Andrew and I have decided we should probably start a museum consulting firm. As much as I already love The Brooklyn Museum- their signage is terrible! There aren't any maps (that we could find) anywhere, and when I thought I was picking up some information on Ai Wei Wei, it turned out to be a pamphlet on how to become a member... WHEN I ALREADY AM! Lesson to share: just head to the fifth floor first. Seeing Swoon's Submerged Motherlands will make up for any prior confusion. While I admit- I couldn't stop taking pictures... you must read more about the exhibition here, and then go see it in person.
If you're not as familiar with Ai Wei Wei, I urge you to check him out. I'm a huge (*huge*) fan. He's one of those artists I want to meet, have a cup of tea with, hang out in his studio for the rest of my life hours with... Perhaps you might feel the same. Unless, maybe you're attached to Han Dynasty vases...
Preface: This blog took a major backseat as Andrew and I shuffled around from one friend's pull-out sofa in DUMBO - to a two-month studio sublet in Midtown - to another friend's futon in Crown Heights as we looked for an apartment of our own all while grieving the loss of our friend Leanne and then making a last minute trip down to Kentucky to try as best as I could to be supportive for my oldest and one of my dearest friends who was going through a difficult loss of her own. I'm pretty sure that run-on sentence doesn't even begin to convey how challenging our first few months in New York City has been.
When we were in Mozambique stuck on 13+ hour long bus rides with Andrew's swollen (infected from the Tanzanian bus crash a few short days prior) leg, we'd ask each other if we'd rather be teaching our worst class periods back in Korea. We would laugh, and inevitably agree the 13+ hour long bus ride was better. It helped put things into perspective. As we tried to navigate these past few months, I think we'd both agree that even teaching our worst class periods would have been more enjoyable. It's been a rough, rough few months. But we're finally settled into our own (glorious walk-in kitchen and three closets included) one bedroom apartment. And while I'm still searching and interviewing for jobs, it's much easier to focus on this project now. So here we go. Apologies for the delay. Hopefully life won't get in the way of exploring New York City any longer, Spring is so much prettier to photograph anyway!
With the new beginning of this blog, I thought it fitting to explore one of around our new home in Brooklyn. We're in love with the location, and after exploring some of Prospect Park, The Brooklyn Museum, and The Brooklyn Botanic Garden you can probably see why! If you head out of the subway stop exit and double back on the south side of Eastern Parkway, you'll find yourself at one of the entrances to The Botanic Garden. If you want some greenery, but not the crowd, head up the slight incline into a small (but quiet) section of Prospect Park. This little section is cut off from the rest of the park by Flatbush Avenue and seems to be a bit of a respite in between the Brooklyn Library and the Botanic Garden. On the few occasions that I've walked through, it seems to be a popular spot for moms (or nannies) and small children, who could probably entertain themselves for hours on the sweet playground set up.
Or head through The Brooklyn Botanic Garden for a stroll. I have to say- it's the absolute perfect getaway from the urban grind of New York City. After this slog of a winter, walking under the cherry blossoms in bloom feels downright magical. And even though the park was crowded (there are always long long lines down Washington Avenue over the weekends) there was still plenty of room and space within the garden so you didn't feel the same effects as you do, say, stuffed inside a subway car.
Hot Tip: Bring friends and an appetite.
And whatever you do, get at least one ice cream sandwich.
Fact: Everyone in New York knows - and will tell you where you can get the best pizza in New York.
Fact: Everyone will tell you a different place.
I'm still in search of my favorite. And in this search (and out of curiosity) I had to check out Grimaldi's and Juliana's under The Brooklyn Bridge. These pizza places might be more famous for the rivalry between them than they are for their pizza, but I had to find out if a visit to either was worth the long lines often winding down the block - especially on a Saturday. I should have been more scientific about my comparison, but I wasn't. I took one friend to Juliana's first (last week) and another friend to Grimaldi's today. I didn't even get the same kind of pizza, so I'm not quite sure I can speak to one being better than the other... (I know, I know, What good am I?)
You're probably wondering about this infamous rivalry. And if you want a detailed report, read this article. The same article is hanging in Juliana's front window, so you could wait until you visit to read up on the details. To make a long rivalry short- the original pizzeria was owned by Patsy Grimaldi and called Patsy's. But when a group took over his uncle's pizzeria (the original, so to speak- of the same name) in Harlem in the 90's, he was forced (by way of an expensive legal battle) to change his own Brooklyn pizzeria's name from Patsy's to Grimaldi's. In 1998, wanting to retire, Patsy and his wife, Carol sold the business to Frank Ciolli. What began as an amicable relationship between Ciolli and the Grimaldi's began to wan over time, as did the quality of pizza- according to Grimaldi that is. Despite the pizza not being made to Grimaldi's high standards, restaurants began popping up around the country. Recognition grew- but the institution began to turn into a chain much to Grimaldi's dismay. After a separate legal battle involving Ciolli, the Grimaldi's decided to open up a new pizza joint in the original location, with the original pizza oven. They named it after Patsy's mother, Juliana.
I decided to head to Juliana's first. My friend, Sarah and I arrived around noon on a weekday, hoping there wouldn't be a line. When we arrived, there wasn't a line, but I'm pretty sure we got the last available seats at the bar in the back of the restaurant facing the chefs and pizza oven. It was busy, and we had to wait awhile for our pizza. So long that by the time it arrived I completely forgot to photograph the pizza itself because I was so hungry. We ordered the No.4 (tomato, mozzarella, arugula and prosciutto) and while it was good- I would have liked more mozzarella and an unanticipated wave of nostalgia for a pizzeria in Seoul washed over me. Strange, right? But you see, the pizza in Seoul was served with a warmer- and the pizza at Juliana's could have benefited from something similar. By the time I reached for my second slice, the pizza was already cool. Perhaps we were talking too much, or eating too slow, but it wasn't as hot- not even as warm- as I would have liked it to be.
A week later, I went with another friend to Grimaldi's. Again, I suggested a weekday and we arrived to the restaurant a little after one in the afternoon to a short line, but no wait at all for a table for two. We compromised on our order and got a regular pizza with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. I liked Grimaldi's grittier setting. I felt like I was in an old school pizza joint compared to Juliana's more modern approach. I wasn't as fond of the waiter yelling at customers for sitting in the wrong spot while we waited for our pie. I read later that the waitstaff's gruffness is a standard, one that I'm not really a fan of. Grimaldi's felt much bigger, but our pizza came much quicker and seemed cheesier than Juliana's. It also seemed to stay hotter longer. By the time we left, a longer line had formed, similar to our experience at Juliana's. But I didn't feel rushed at Grimaldi's like I had at Juliana's. I want to like Juliana's more than Grimaldi's but I'll probably head back to Grimaldi's first, and then perhaps Juliana's immediately after for a more proper comparison of the two. Who's with me?
...sometimes the building is just as beautiful as the art inside of it.
Andrew got a job! We went to Shake Shack to celebrate! It was our first time... and it was amazing. Perhaps relief of having at least one income again flooded our tastebuds, but our burgers tasted glorious. It was our first triumph in New York City; a job and a burger to celebrate. For this reason alone, Shake Shack will always hold a special place in my heart.