I moved to Berlin in January of 1986. I really needed to get away from Ithaca, and I had some issues which needed attention. I spent mornings at the Goethe Institute studying German and the rest of the day photographing. I was drawn to the city because of the division; one could see the extremes of Capitalism on the West side, then go through a checkpoint on the same day and see what the Commies were up to. It was like stepping back forty years.
I like the phrase “wer mauert hat’s nötig” which I always took to mean “whoever builds walls needs them”. Which is relevant here as the East Germans built the thing and then called it an “anti-facist barrier”.
In looking over my contact sheets this morning I realized that there are very few people in any of my wall photographs. It always amazed me that even on the West side, people stayed away from it (except the graffiti folks who must have worked at odd hours, as I never saw anyone writing on the thing).
I used to like to take the bus to Steinstücken and wander around. It was an odd little Western enclave almost totally surrounded by the East. You can read about it here. There was a rail line running straight through it and you could stick your head around a corner and be face to face with a guard tower. It always seemed a likely place for a crossing, but I never heard of one. / I met a lot of Berliners and was always interested to hear stories of unique situations with the wall. I was once told that at some locations there were gates where Westerners could use a key to access their gardens in the East. Probably not true, but interesting to think about.
Here is Checkpoint Charlie at night.
The wall has been down for 25 years now. I seriously doubt it was Reagan’s “Mr Gorbachev, bring down this wall” plea that had anything to do with it opening up. More like the East Germans made some really stupid mistakes, which is not surprising as they were running a completely effed up and vile organization.
Craig Williams sent me a link to an article that ran in the Trumansburg, NY weekly paper, and I wanted to pass it along. It is a very well thought out editorial on the potential closing of two Southern Tier psych centers (Willard is also mentioned). Here is the link. I thought of the above photo when the writer spoke about how the alternative to folks getting help in psych centers is to house them in prisons. The above photo is from a project I did in the 1980s photographing early 20th Century New York State prisons. This particular shot was taken in the Elmira Correctional Facility which would undoubtedly end up hosting some of the very people who would not be able to get treatment in the psych centers that are meant to close. I accept that it is all very complicated, but some logical planning on the State’s part should be encouraged.
On a somewhat connected note, yesterday I photographed a very moving interfaith service at the South Church in Springfield called “Creating a Peace-Full City”. There has been an awful spate of gun-related violence in Springfield this year, and many have come together to see if something positive could be done about it. I had never been in this church before and it is stunning.
After I posted the shots of the capitol building yesterday, I found myself thinking about previous visits to the same location. I took the above picture sometime in 1985 (when this Studebaker Lark was already over 20 years old). It was this photo that popped into my mind as I was taking yesterday’s shot.
I took the above photograph on 19th January, 1985 the night before Reagan’s second inauguration. Stacy Dabney (and I am not sure of the exact spelling) was living under these very same steps. My friend Brad Edmondson and I were walking around the building the night before the ceremony and we were surprised to see this gentleman living there. He was happy to talk to us about his situation. He was a veteran and felt he was getting screwed by the VA. The Capitol Police didn’t bother him much, but Stacy was pretty sure they would kick him out by the next day. They did. I remember thinking at the time that this was a HUGE story that no one was covering. A homeless guy living under the capitol building.
Brad and I were back in DC that April working on a story about congressman Matt McHugh (D-NY 1975-1993). We went back to the capitol steps and sure enough Stacy was still in residence. We caught him late at night just as he was turning in. It still seems amazing that not only was he living there, but the police never really hassled him. This shot was taken on 24 April, 1985 and it was the last time I saw him. Do any of you out there remember meeting him or reading about him? I did a search for his name and nothing came up. (UPDATE. Thanks to reader DotRot for letting me know his real name.; Stacy Abner. Here is a link to an article that explains the situation. Still an amazing story.)
I really like this photo of Brad, taken that same evening just after we left Stacy.
Peter and I had an interesting “one-two” today. We had lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl (amazing) and then headed down to the Mall to check out the events surrounding the 50th anniversary of the “I have a dream speech”. Ben’s had CSPAN on so we were able to see some of the proceedings on TV which was really great.
We got to the area near the Washington Monument just as the President started speaking. We were way back, but it was nice to be a part of the crowd. I really love DC. It is such an interesting city.
I also want to add a note to yesterday’s post. The document in the Shanghai Garden window is actually a “permit to raze”, which really bums me out. Once that little building is gone, it is gone for good. I am so glad I got to grab a photo before it was demolished.
Central stairway, Chapin House, Willard Asylum
There are a lot of great and interesting people working on New York State asylum issues. I have been following Lin Stuhler’s work on the Willard cemetery for a while, but only had the chance to meet her a few months ago. We keep in touch, and she just emailed me with a link to her recent blog post about the recent open house, and the bill she has been pushing in the state legislature to name the people buried at the graveyard. There is also a link to a really great video that was made by her local cable company. It is an interesting post and there is some nice video footage of some of the buildings and the cemetery. She has a real passion for this issue and should be commended for all the hard work she has done in the name of Willard patients.
I always try to be positive when I post here, so I will not say much on the death of Margaret Thatcher. But here is a link to a great song. This photograph was taken on 11 November, 1980 on Remembrance Day. It used to be possible to get pretty close to Number 10.
As I was going through my contact sheets I came across a couple of other shots I have been meaning to post here.
I think this is the English footballer Kevin Keegan outside of Buckingham Palace on 9 November,1982, the day he received his OBE from the Queen. Anyone out there who can correct me?
And finally, this shot.
This photographed has always gotten to me. I have a framed copy above my desk here in my studio. I was walking through Victoria Station in November of 1983 and saw this child, with an adult who I assume is his father. A month later the IRA set off a bomb outside of Harrods that killed six and injured 90. I am not sure why I put the two events together, but the connection of toy guns and real violence seems reasonable to me.
I am sitting in the San Francisco airport waiting for my redeye flight home. This morning’s quick meeting with the team ended well. I know know pretty much what I need to do in the next few weeks as far as printing goes.
I had yesterday pretty much to myself. Around noon I met with an old friend from Ithaca, Katie Harhen and we ate a couple of dozen oysters in the Ferry Terminal and had a great time catching up. She is a really wonderful person and has created a great life out here in the Bay Area.
I had been hearing about the Sutro Baths from the Exploratorium folks and Stephanie Bailey said it was her favorite place in the area. I hopped on the Geary bus and after a long ride out to the western-most part of SF got to a cliff above the ocean.
I especially like the fact that except for a few spots one is totally free to roam around the ruins without having to be warned of imminent danger. It is part of a National Park, and for now the only areas that are closed off are to do with a river otter that has taken up residence. (He wasn’t there when I showed up.)
There was a little tunnel through the rocks that was kind of eerie. You could hear the waves crashing and in a few spots could actually see the water.
The ocean was a steely gray for most of the time I was there.
It was foggy and quite cold when I arrived and just as I was leaving at about 5.00, the sun came out.
The flora reminded me a lot of what you would see on the Cornwall coast.
It is a very special place. And the gift shop at the top of the hill is way cool. I got a great mug and a bunch of vintage postcard reproductions. It is always completely baffling to me how something as cool and popular as the baths can virtually disappear. Check out some other links to the history of the place and be sure to visit if you are in the area.
On the first of January bells were rung around Massachusetts at 2 pm to commemorate the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. I had heard that Pelham was going to join in and we went up to the historical society to have a look. This building used to be a church. It was built in 1839 when the government made the town move the worship area out of the town hall due to separation of church and state. The town hall (built 1743) is right next door and is interesting in that it is the oldest town hall in continuous use in the United States. The October town meeting is convened in it and then moved down to the school to be able to hold everyone. Pelham is also interesting in that it is the home of Daniel Shays. It is worth reading about him if you are interested in American history. His story is amazing.
Anyway, we arrived at the historical society and a few folks had shown up to participate. The single bell in the belfry was cast in England in the 1830s and has been out of service for a long time. Somehow enough money was found to conduct an engineering assessment of the structure to make sure that if it were rung the whole thing wouldn’t just collapse. It checked out OK (as they say); a new pull rope was attached and it was ready to go. We all took our turns and it was a surprisingly moving experience.
I like voting in my little town. Paper ballots, and it usually goes pretty smoothly. I asked if I could photograph in the booth but they said it was against the rules.
Just a note of welcome to all of you who read about my Willard suitcase project on the Collectors Weekly site. Those who haven’t seen the story can check it out here. Hunter did an amazing job and he asked great questions. I am very pleased. It even made it to Digg for a while yesterday. If you are new here and just want to see suitcase posts, check out October and work your way backwards. But I hope you will be interested in my other posts as well. Thanks, Jon