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<Eugene Reznik>

01/31/12 12:08pm

120 dB installation view. (Courtesy eljezel/Flickr)

Anyone who’s scrolled through concert photos online knows it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish between them unless they’re of a spectacular, overproduced or hammy performance. Often angles and lights are awkward; image quality and composition are not always the foremost concerns. How would they look in a gallery? Well, Fort Useless, the small front room of an inconspicuous row house in Bushwick—one of the neighborhood’s better-named, lesser-known DIY spaces—just opened a group exhibition of New York music photography by 13 female photographers who shoot for Brooklyn Vegan, Stereogum, NPR and the like.

120dB, opened on Friday and will be on display for a few weeks at the venue, succeeds because its participants have teased out particular images of value in a couple of ways. Devyn Manibo‘s decisively timed photos (a la Cartier-Bresson) of tUnE-yArDs‘s Merrill Garbus and Kim Schifino of Matt & Kim capture raging, loud emotion at the peak action of eccentric, only-on-stage moments.

Miss Modernage’s well-composed shot of Jack White in Union Square and Gabi Porter’s washy, ethereal Iggy Pop at United Palace are very compelling for the immediate recognizability of their subjects. They remind of iconic images by Ron Gallela, the once despised paparazzo and recently esteemed photographer, whose commercial tabloid shots now adorn gallery walls.

Finally, there are Maryanne Ventrice’s shots of Sharon Van Etten and others at Fort Useless itself that are stylistically restrained and feature some of the richest tones in the exhibition. Crucially, they avoid the seemingly inevitable, sometimes hideous green or red light in which so many concert photos are cast.

120dB is on view at Fort Useless, 36 Ditmars Street.

01/17/12 8:00am

Samuel and Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War
Text by Marc Bovino and Joe Curnutte
Co-Conceived & Directed by Lila Neugebauer

Co-Created by the Mad Ones

Convention in drama seems more and more to embrace the unconventional. The Mad Ones' revival of their first critically acclaimed performance, Samuel and Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War (at the New Ohio Theatre through January 21) has all the usual markers of a popular contemporary play. There's a small cast, a relatively spare set, a mixing of the mediums (radio performance on stage), one character is not mute but doesn't speak, parts of dialogue are unintelligible or un-translated, the lights go out for an extended period of time but there's only one act, no scene breaks, and no intermission. And yet the play turns out far from run-of-the-mill. Because of their idiosyncratic approach and the distinctively nostalgic aesthetic, The Mad Ones pull it off and set themselves ahead of the pack.

For just over an hour, the company transports us to some indefinite dystopian future from which they examine an imagined past. Pleasantly hokey Russo-American accents and a bit of semi-Soviet kitsch set us some place that, at the very least, is not in America–according to the script, that continent is long gone. Allusions are always suggestive, never overtly referential, and proper nouns fly by so quick you never know what's real or made up. This tension with reality is one of the group's main explorations. As with their celebrated play at the Brick, The Tremendous Tremendous (one of our top picks on stage last year), we have a troupe of performers not so much representing, as they are presenting performers.

Engrossed with 1950s Americana, Russian performers stage an English radio play, transmitting it to listeners who could quite possibly number none. The radio play tells the story of all-American siblings Samuel and Alasdair and the girl next door caught in between. At the close, of course, the unthinkable happens and their world comes to an end. A sense of character is fleeting and opaque. Some of the dynamics between them seem to extend beyond the radio play into the overall stage performance, maybe even beyond what's going on at the New Ohio Theatre to the company itself. Actors at times seem to fall into their usual types and familiar roles emerge.

This raises an important question: is this improv? Exiting the theater, someone turned to me and said, "that was great, but I wish the writing were a bit more sharp." I for one don't and believe the cast is conscious of this. The text is spontaneously generated and their writing is collaborative, at times "automatic" according to the playbill. Some of the lines might not be so witty or poignant, might even be poorly imitative, but if anything that says a tremendous amount about the characters speaking them, even the actors thinking them. It's a practice that does away with the notion of a divine playwright behind it all, belaboring every word and imbuing each with grandiose meaning. Far from textbook realism, the Mad Ones simply give us well-executed, spectacular reality.

(Photo: Ian Saville)

12/21/11 4:00am

1. Love’s Labor’s Lost

Supposedly rarely produced because overly verbose, you’d never know it from the Public Lab’s flawless staging of Shakespeare’s four-on-four romantic jousting match. Nick Westrate’s Berowne may stand as our favorite performance of the entire year.

2. Sons of the Prophet

Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet was the hit of the fall season, and with reason: it’s well-made but intuitive and filled with first-rate acting. Great moments: the tickle fight in the hospital room between Joseph (Santino Fontana) and his brother (Chris Perfetti) that drifts into something very ambiguous, and the way Timothy (Charles Socarides) makes a subtle, circular motion with his foot to signal to Joseph, “I’m interested.”

3. Nixon in China

The spectacular Met debut of John Adams’ seminal 80s opera transformed recent historical figures into mythical characters grappling with the contrast between their private lives and public personae.

4. Misterman

The action in this stunning one-man show seems set entirely in the mind of its lead character, a deeply disturbed and purely narcissistic Irishman played by Cillian Murphy; he delivered perhaps the year’s most physical and flamboyant performance, leaping between emotional extremes and embodying several characters as though possessed by multiple personalities.

5. Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws

Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws, a never-produced one-act by Tennessee Williams at La MaMa, proved to be the tastiest treat of the season, with its starry cast of cult movie stars (Mink Stole), downtown theater royalty (Everett Quinton), and downtown It Boys (Joseph Keckler and Max Steele). The unknown Williams play itself proved surprisingly muscular and absurdist, a bold step in a new direction that Williams didn’t take, and the cast was just ideal.

12/21/11 4:00am

During Mayor Bloomberg’s last round of budget cuts, Tasha Glasgow lost her NYC “Advantage” housing voucher. After circulating through the shelter system for the last decade, she and her two children again found themselves homeless.
The night of December 6, they found themselves sitting in the bedroom of a house on Vermont Street in East New York, a home that’s been foreclosed on, vacant for three years. Occupy Wall Street protestors, housing activists and neighbors sat alongside. They had entered the residency illegally, started cleaning and making the place inhabitable again.

“It’s been here for a while,” Glasgow said. “We’re trying to… make it ours and live here.” Her kids “don’t really understand what’s going on,” she said, “but they just feel like, ‘ok, my mom’s happy, I’m all happy.’”

That Tuesday marked the first day of action of Occupy Our Homes. The 99 Percent movement occupied vacant, bank-owned houses in over 25 cities across the country for families that have lost their own. Though homelessness rates in New York are at or near record highs, activists claim there are more vacant properties out there than people living on the streets.

“My children and their mother have no stable environment,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, the father of the family. “It’s unhealthy for my kids.”
“The reason we came to this property,” which he said is owned by Citibank, “is because we not only wanted to address our personal issues, but also the issues that are happening nationwide.”

“A lot of people… they’re ashamed to announce that they’re homeless or that they need help,” Carrasquillo said. “I hope that we give them the confidence to say that it’s ok to let the public know that your situation is not good because it’s not your fault.”

Earlier that day there had been a “real estate tour” of the vacant houses in the neighborhood. Activists gave testimonies at each one. They came upon a man who was supposed to be evicted that day, staged an “eviction-watch” and saved his house—at least for the night.

Bill Dobbs, with OWS’s PR team, estimated that there were 500-600 people there. “Which is great,” he said, “considering it’s a weekday, it’s raining and it’s an outer borough.”

The rain continued through the night. The mood was jubilant, but calm. “The cops have been around but there’s been no violence, no trouble,” said Anthony Brooks, of Vocal New York. “It’s been a peaceful protest.”

No drums were to be heard either. But there was a banjo; several tambourines at one point, too. At dinnertime, demonstrators used the mic check to share the phone number to Johnny’s Original Pizza around the corner.

Herman McClain, a retired 64-year-old neighbor, looked on from a few houses down and expressed his support. The noise was “better than hearing gunshots.”

“This has been the murder capital of the USA twice,” he said. “The prices should have never been this high in the first place. The banks are getting more money, but what more are you getting for it?”

East New York has the highest rate of vacant homes in the city, three times greater than the borough overall.

“Neighborhoods like this where you have poor socio-economic levels of income,” explained Ed Needham, an OWS spokesperson, “and people whose first language may not be English… they were more or less targeted. You have ‘no-doc’ mortgages, where there was no documentation needed, or no money down needed; these were lures to get people into mortgages they couldn’t sustain.”

The community ends up reeling, he said, because when one house goes vacant, surrounding home values plummet; businesses suffer too. “It’s a nationwide disaster.”

The 99 Percent movement is trying to “shine a bright light on this.” In many ways, Needham said, “we’re a much leaner, meaner, more effective organization since we’ve left the park.”

“It’s changed the face of the movement somewhat.” But, with the day of action, Needham said, “you realize that an idea can’t be evicted, and it’s the idea that sustains the movement, not the fact that we had tents in a park.”

Another OWSer echoed the sentiment. “Now we’re really just focused on outreach,” said Jordan McCarthy, who’s been with the movement since early October, working sanitation in Zuccotti. Since the November 15 raid, she’d been involved in efforts like cleaning up the area around a low-performing school in Bed-Stuy at risk of getting shut down. She came out to Occupy Our Homes and was helping clean the once-abandoned house on Vermont Street into the evening.

“Tonight I’m going to stay for a few more hours,” she said, “and I’ll be back until all the work is done.” •

(Photos by Cody Swanson)




12/19/11 2:05pm

jeromeisaacstills.jpg

Security cameras in a Prospect Height apartment building captured from two angles on Saturday a shocking act of violence, the Times reports. Jerome Isaac, 47, entered the Underhill Avenue building dressed as an exterminator in white gloves, a surgical mask, and a tank of fuel on his back; he made it up to the fifth floor and waited. When 73-year-old Deloris Gillespie emerged from the elevator, having just gone grocery shopping, Isaac proceeded “methodically” to douse her in fuel. He covered her from head to toe, lit a Molotov cocktail made from a long-neck bottle with a barbecue lighter, and tossed it into the elevator on Gillespie’s collapsed body. In a manner described by police as “detached,” he poured more fuel on the flame and ran.

Neighbors who heard shrill, “high-pitched” screams and saw smoke coming from the elevator called the police. Isaac suffered burns on his hands and face and had already fled. Gillespie, minutes after the attack, was dead on the scene. After hiding on a nearby rooftop and then wandering the streets to find out that he was wanted, Isaac, “reeking of gasoline,” turned himself in at a transit police station on Sunday morning and confessed. He claimed Gillespie owed him “about $2,000 for odd jobs.”

The Timesfollow-up report has more insight on both parties and the nature of their relationship from interviews with neighbors and relatives.

As for the footage of the attack, what the Times calls “a disturbing silent film,” the “sheer, calculated brutality stunned even the most hardened of homicide detectives.” It makes you wonder what other videotaped horrors the NYPD has stored in its archives…

12/14/11 8:00am

Post Office
Written by David Jenkins
Directed by Josie Whittlesey

"Everybody's too dressed up," a woman in the crowd murmurs. The seats of the New Ohio Theater fill up with the painfully stylish and the exceedingly well-to-do. Post Office, a new play about working life written by David Jenkins' (through December 17), put on with the help team of NYU MFAs, is about to begin. So would this be class minstrelsy? Does one need to be a mailman to understand what it's like or to have something valid and powerful to say about it? Not necessarily, but contact with the object of representation has immeasurable value. Thirteen years ago, Jenkins was "a proud employee of the USPS," and it shows. The play turns out to be brilliantly scripted. It's about ambition, or lack thereof, about what's a job, and what's a calling, and it seriously transcends the somewhat exclusive world of the letter carrying business.

Jenkins does very much with incredibly little—three very talented actors, one set, two diegetic spaces and not an extraneous line or scene to be found. James, played by David Gells, a 19-year-old from a small Midwestern commuter town, joins the ranks of mailmen at the local post office after high school because he seeks a life forever free of any debt. Denny, played by Eric Hoffmann (who would make a perfect Falstaff), is a veteran carrier in his mid-sixties with no managerial ambitions who must temporarily cede his route to James because of a clumsy injury. As they chat and spend time together sorting, Denny becomes a kind of mentor for James, even though Denny initially resents the teen: "For some of us this is our life and we don't like to see it as a consolation prize, or something to do between bong hits." Along James' new route he meets Victoria, a housewife in her mid-forties, played by Anney Giobbe. A problematic, professionally questionable romance ensues.

Josie Whittlesey's compelling direction is particularly notable because there're virtually no set or costume changes, and through the use of lighting, both professional and domestic environments are able to exist on stage simultaneously. James, the only one who goes back and forth between the two can occupy both spaces at once. He might ask a question of Victoria, but Denny is just as likely to answer. It's unusual, non-naturalistic, but all the better for it. The performance is set in any-town-whatever, or rather, Little Neck, Illinois according to the script, not in the 50s. The only thing that grounds the work in a specific time is the price of a postage stamp. Otherwise it avoids all things topical and lacks what seems like the obligatory nod in contemporary drama to Twitter or Google. This doesn't mean it lacks reality. Timeless themes like the devaluation of labor, the withering away of all that is tactile, carry the work. If the mail never stops, Post Office never fails.

(Photo: Adam Koplan)

12/07/11 12:19pm

Photos by Cody Swanson

  • Photos by Cody Swanson

During Mayor Bloomberg’s last round of budget cuts, Tasha Glasgow lost her NYC “Advantage” program housing voucher. No other program existed to help her pay rent. Soon after, her landlord stopped paying his mortgage, skipped town and let the house go into foreclosure. Having circulated through the shelter system for much of the last decade, she and her two children again found themselves homeless.

Last night, they found themselves sitting together in the bedroom of a home on Vermont Street in East New York, a house that’s been foreclosed on and vacant for the past three years. Alongside them were dozens of Occupy Wall Street protestors, housing activists and neighborhood residents. They had entered the residency illegally, started cleaning and started making the place livable again.

“It’s been here for a while,” Glasgow said. “We’re trying to take over the property, make it ours and live here.” Her kids, “they don’t really understand what’s going on,” she said, “but they just feel like, ‘okay, my mom’s happy, I’m all happy.’ He’s happy because I’m happy.”

Tuesday marked the first national day of action of Occupy Our Homes. The 99% movement, joined by community activists, occupied vacant, bank-owned houses in over 25 cities across the country for families that have lost their own. Though homelessness rates in New York are at or near record highs, activists claim there are still more vacant, foreclosed properties out there than people living on the streets.

“We put this all together within a short time period, within the last month,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, the father of the family who works with Vocal New York and is homeless himself; he has been couch-hopping for years.

“My children and their mother have no stable environment,” he said. “It’s unhealthy for my kids.” They’ve been staying at a foreclosed home in Far Rockaway that’s largely in disrepair.

“The reason we came to this property,” which he said is currently owned by Citibank, “is because we not only wanted to address our personal issues, but also the issues that are happening nationwide.”

occupyhomes2.jpg

“A lot of people around here… they’re ashamed to announce that they’re homeless or that they need help,” Carrasquillo said. “I hope that we inspire people and inspire families to give them the confidence to say that it’s okay to let the public know that your situation is not good because it’s not your fault.”

Earlier that day there had been a large rally in the neighborhood, a “real estate tour” of the vacant bank-owned houses. Local activists and residents gave testimonies and speeches at each one of them. They even came upon a man who was supposed to be evicted that day. The staged an “eviction-watch” and saved his house, at least for the night.

Bill Dobbs, with OWS’s PR working group, estimated that there were 500 or 600 people there. “Which is great,” he said, “considering it’s a weekday, it’s raining and it’s an outer borough”—also reasons he suggested why many larger media organizations might not have shown up.

The rain continued through the night. Still the mood was jubilant and calm. “The cops have been around but there’s been no violence, no trouble,” said Anthony Brooks, a community organizer who also works with Vocal New York. “It’s been a peaceful protest.”

No drums were to be found either. But there was a banjo; several tambourines at one point, too. At dinnertime, demonstrators used the mic check to share the phone number to Johnny’s Original Pizza around the corner.

Herman McClain, a retired 64-year-old neighbor, looked on from a few houses down and expressed his support. The noise was “better than hearing gunshots,” he said.

“It’s ridiculous,” McClain said. “The prices should have never been this high in the first place. This has been the murder capital of the USA twice. Twenty years ago, you could see bodies all along this block. So what are you paying for?”

“The banks are getting more money, but what more are you getting for it?” he added, “I’m glad to see somebody is trying to do something against the greedy, because the rich are just getting stupid rich.”

occupyhomes3.jpg

East New York has been particularly devastated by the foreclosure crisis. It has the highest rate of vacant homes in the city, three times greater than the borough overall.

“It is neighborhoods like this where you have poor socio-economic levels of income,” explained Ed Needham, an OWS spokesperson, “and you have people of color, people whose first language may not be English, and they were more or less targeted because they would be more likely be restricted to home ownership through a subprime mortgage.”

“You have different types of mortgages like ‘no-doc’ mortgages,” he continued, “where there was no documentation needed, no money down needed, and these were lures in order to get people into mortgages they couldn’t sustain.”

The whole community ends up reeling, he said, because when one house goes vacant, home values all around plummet; businesses suffer too. “And you look at all the communities that this has happened to across the country and you know it’s a nationwide disaster.”

The 99% movement, Needham said, is trying to “shine a bright light on this.” In many ways, he claimed “we’re a much leaner, meaner, more effective organization since we’ve left the park.”

The trouble with leaving Zuccotti he added, “is that many of the people across country came to understand the movement through the park. So without the park it’s changed the face of the movement somewhat.”

But, with Tuesday’s day of action, “you realize that an idea can’t be evicted,” Needham said, “and it’s the idea that sustains the movement, not the fact that we had tents in a park.”

“Now we’re really just focused on outreach,” said Jordan McCarthy, another OWSer who’s been with the movement since early October, mainly working sanitation crew in Zuccotti. Since the November 15 raid, she had been involved in more community efforts like cleaning up the area around a low-performing high school in Bed-Stuy at risk of getting shut down. She had come out for the Occupy Our Homes rally and was helping clean and paint the once-abandoned house late into the evening.

“Tonight I’m going to stay for a few more hours,” she said, “and I’ll be back until all the work is done.”

12/07/11 4:00am

Sand
Written, directed and designed by Peter Jacobs

"By the way, this is our play in progress," Her (Stephanie Weeks) reminds the audience a quarter of the way into Sand, Peter Jacobs' new multimedia performance piece at the Chocolate Factory (through December 10), in case you just hadn't realized. Most people might not "get it" right away, they might kind of get it, sort of get it (and to be perfectly honest, I only kind of, sort of got it), but that's okay. Jacobs' elaborately choreographed yet textually focused play of sorts is abstruse and intentionally enigmatic. Either it requires more from the audience, more attention, investment and the willingness to interpret and pull meaning from something that seems so ambiguous, or that we quietly acknowledge the Derridean notion that nothing is actually interpretable and trying to tease out meaning from this absurdity is, in a word, absurd. You could say that this is thoughtful and appreciable (though far from brilliant), and the show seems like a perfect fit for a venue known for what the Times' Roslyn Sulcas called "non-sequitur oddness," but that doesn't mean it's entirely satisfying either.

Him (Derek Spaldo) and Her are parent types locked in some irreconcilable conflict, eager but unable to separate. They occupy a whitewashed brick void, an instillation more than a set scattered with emblems of domesticity plucked out from a hallucination-inclined mind—mirror fragments, suspended tape measurers, legless tables with trap doors and dinning chairs held together by strings. Eventually we learn this place is "America 2nd," what the press release calls a "hyper poetic/delusional half planet." Their lines, with one or two exceptions, are recited without emotion; they're not really performed. The text seems to be written in verse; free verse, but verse nonetheless. It's highly alliterative and contains frequent, often very simple couplet rhymes. Much of the dialogue, like poetry recited at the front of a lecture hall, goes over the audience's head. Only a few choice lines reverberate, particularly as a result of the cheeky rhyme. Most are trite as form follows function, but some are surprisingly poignant. "Saying 'I wish to die' instead of 'goodnight,'" Her chides Him, "is like saying you wish to live and just don't know how." Likewise, the audience can wish to "get" and appreciate this play, but because of its lack of humor and humanity, we just don't know how.

(Photo: Theresa Ortolani)

11/22/11 1:02pm

Detail of Occupy Hope. (Courtesy Shepard Fairey, Obey.)

  • Detail of “Occupy Hope.” (Courtesy Shepard Fairey, Obey.)

Ever one to re-appropriate and re-contextualize images (and take flack for it), Shepard Fairey has used his own work this time as the basis for an Occupy Wall Street poster. The new image plays off of his 2008 three-tone “Barack Obama Hope” piece which now hangs alongside photo-realist, oil-clad canvases of presidents past in the National Portrait Gallery. “Occupy Hope” (in full below) depicts a hooded demonstrator with a similar expression as Obama in the AP photograph Fairey originally appropriated, now sporting a Guy Fawkes mask with the caption: “Mr. President, we HOPE you’re on our side.”

To date, President Obama has yet to meet with and publicly address the grievances of demonstrators in the streets. Sixty-seven days and hope is all it seems they can do at this point. However, Bucky Turco at Animal New York brings up a very good point: “Shepard Fairey doesn’t get Occupy Wall Street,” a “party-less, leaderless” movement that has refused to align with any official or settle on a definitive message no matter how much people (including Hendrik Hertzberg in a well-reasoned New Yorker editorial) would like it to.

Fairey’s poster seems to suggest that the movement, a post-ideological post-protest, is still relying on support from a system that demonstrators have been struggling so hard to work outside of.

Occupy Hope (Courtesy Shepard Fairey, Obey.)

  • “Occupy Hope” (Courtesy Shepard Fairey, Obey.)
11/22/11 9:47am

Detail of a photo from Eugene Richardss Stepping Through the Ashes series. (Courtesy the artist.)

  • Detail of a photo from Eugene Richards’s Stepping Through the Ashes series. (Courtesy the artist.)

Boston-born, Brooklyn-based Magnum photojournalist Eugene Richards got his start documenting rural poverty in Arkansas in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “A time of serious social change,” he called it. Since then his work has always been close, confrontational, intimate, socially charged and incredibly candid. Photos from his fifteenth book Stepping Through the Ashes are on display now at the International Center of Photography as part of its Remembering 9/11 exhibition (through January 8). After his recent walkthrough of the exhibit, we talked to him about comfort with the camera—whether you happen to be in front of or behind it—and why he’s not racing downtown to shoot Occupy Wall Street.

L: Did you start out as a street photographer?
Eugene Richards:
No, I started out as an I-have-no-idea photographer in college. I liked photography, I was studying English/Journalism and I didn’t think it was going to be a career in any way. I became more of a social photographer in the South during that time and published in a local newspaper trying to get attention to the conditions in Arkansas, the delta of Arkansas.

What strikes me about your work across the years is that you’re able to catch such intimate situations—a lot of people in bed, people embracing—and they all look incredibly natural. I was wondering how you get that kind of access and intimacy and how you just, uh, make your way into people’s bedrooms?
When I started off, I always wanted to try “natural” photography—whatever you call it. I’m the person who wants to, but is not very good at setting up the situations. I’ve done advertising later and all that kind of stuff to make a living, but it’s not something that I wanted to do. So the place where I have in photography is more hanging out with people. That’s where the access comes from—slowly meeting people and whenever I can, and you don’t have much time, but try to let things go on around you without intruding. I’m usually pretty quiet with people when I hang out. I mean, they know you’re there, people always know you’re there to some degree, but after a while, they kind of forget.

Have you ever gotten into conflicts with people who didn’t want to have you take their photo?
I did a book on the drug world which was very tough; a book called Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue. So that one was really tough in that way, but no, on the streets, I mean, if you photograph in the streets you deal with demonstrations or whatever, and I’ve covered some military situations where on occasion people will say no, but not usually. Most of the time people will allow you to take pictures. It’s like a tacit agreement. So in a sense you ask if it’s okay, making your presence aware, and let life take its course. It’s a little harder, and setting it up in a way is a little easier, you take less time, you can organize these things but it’s an investment.

Shooting the Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue series, did you ever feel that you were in danger as a photographer, or were in situations where having that kind of equipment put you at risk?
I don’t think it’s the equipment so much as just seeing too much. I think any time you’re dealing with people with weapons, which a lot of people carried guns, and people who get high, especially on crack which makes people a little nuts sometimes, the potential is there. Equipment doesn’t matter; I always feel that if anybody really wanted my cameras they can have them. You have got to learn and have some experience when to leave without getting melodramatic about it. And I’ve seen people make mistakes. It comes down to common sense a lot. You do what you can, and it’s like any society. I don’t wear a tie unless I go to a funeral or something and you try to adjust yourself to where you’re working to some degree. I never lie, I’m always a photographer, but you have to, you know, understand the limits of the culture you are in. I’ve been with people—it’s so strange, you know in certain communities you can’t wear short shorts and it’s not my idea, but in certain communities you will take abuse for this. And someone right away did and got in trouble. I think that any place you go, you have to understand where you are and make adjustments.

Has there ever been a situation where you didn’t get a shot, where you didn’t take the photo and you had regretted it later?
I mean, hundreds of times. The ones I remember more was when I actually got the picture because I had gone back for it. Especially a picture you see in the Americans We book. There’s actually a photograph in there that stands out because it looks like a simple picture. It’s a picture of a grandmother in a wading pool in Brooklyn, and when I saw that, it was right after I had just come back from photographing in the gym, not very successfully, and I was kind of in a bad mood and walked past, and it was really hot, super hot day, and I was really tired, and I walked past and I looked and I said, “oh if I go to photograph them, they’re going to say no,” you know, they don’t want to be bothered. So I went up to the subway station and when I got up there I said, you know, ‘what’s wrong with you,’ it was beautiful what I was seeing. And five minutes before getting on the subway, I was like, ‘shit.’ And I went back down and I asked them, because I knew if I just took the camera it would have changed the dynamics. They would have seen me. And the kids, you know, when you take a camera out in front of kids, they’ll come running at you. So I went up to the grandma and said, ‘do you mind if I take pictures?’ And she said no, and the kid went over and threw a bunch of water at me—I remember that—a big pan and soaked me. And it was all so funny and everything was fine and it took about ten minutes for them to go back to being themselves. So, it happens a lot. You always know that if you were a different kind of person—I know if I was a different person who organized things more I could have gotten a lot of pictures. I also feel that if you don’t take a chance today, you can’t go back tomorrow.

In the drug world, I think that’s probably more what you’re asking. When I first went out into Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn—it was the longest time I’d ever spent on an assignment before I took pictures, which was a couple of weeks. Which is—much of the time the most photographers will spend is like two hours before on an assignment, never more than a day. That was a while ago, and I would see all these things happening—a person shooting a person—and I never took the camera out, because I knew that the people in the projects, the dealers and stuff, were establishing whether they thought I was a cop, and then when they realized that I was just a journalist they thought that was funny. Once they thought I was a stupid photographer, things started opening up because they would see I was no threat to them. So it’s tough, but if I had taken pictures right away I wouldn’t have been able to go back.

The number of photographers has increased exponentially; everybody has a camera all the time and people are constantly aware that they are being photographed. Do you think that changes people’s demeanor in public, how they react to a camera?
First off, more and more people are performing. I see that on the subway, people pull out cell phones all the time and snap each other. So photography has taken on a different level, I mean, you’re absolutely right. And I think it’s changing dramatically, even for the news. Some of these photographs of people who are important, so to speak, the ones down in Libya, wherever they are, are taken with cell phones. I also think personally—I’m sure people are getting fed up. In my own head, there’s a huge over-saturation of images. For a long time I never expected myself to feel tired of seeing so much. In terms of “crossing the line into being a serious photographer,” or whatever you want to be, I think it puts a pressure on you too—and not a bad pressure—to try what people aren’t doing. You have to say, “ok, now, that’s the way it is, what can you do to make a contribution that’s different?” And I think that that’s happening more and more because there are so many images. I think photographers still emerge, but they have to think more carefully about what their doing.

I suspect people on the street… I mean, you look at the Wall Street thing and everybody is performing down there. I mean it would be very hard for example to do a story about Wall Street, to do a real story down there because everybody is performing.

It seems like a lot of people down there with signs are ready and waiting to be interviewed, but it’s hard to get a real sense of what’s actually going on.
Yeah, I sympathize and I think the answer is then maybe to go out to a small town somewhere else where they’re doing it, again, but not in such a media-conscious way. I’ve always hated going to parades, to be honest, or demonstrations. I’ve gone to them and most of the time I just don’t like them—I mean, even patriotism is performance. Everything is a performance and it’s very hard to get photographs out of these things. To get “real” photographs that move you, that are genuine, it’s very hard unless you make fun of people.

What’s your advice for photographers?
To try to connect the questions you asked—the question of too many photographs is interesting; the only way that I think people can really make a statement or do anything that’s of any value today is just to not lose their personality. That’s what I think is happening. I see in photojournalism, you look at all these websites, even the agencies, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell one photographer’s work from the other. It’s just a flood of people who been influenced by the generation that came before or whatever it is, and they look the same. So, the only thing for me is to look for people who have maintained their personality. It’s not so easy to do because people don’t want you to. But in my life, you are who you are and you keep going on it.

Photos from Eugene Richards‘ book Stepping Through the Ashes are on view at the International Center of Photography as part of the exhibition Remembering 9/11 (through January 8).