Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jihae - CulturePOP preview



I spent a rainy day in Tribeca last week with lovely and talented singer/songwriter Jihae. Check her out at Jihae.net and look for my Photocomix profile on her next Tuesday.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Going Home Again With Steve Buscemi

Posting the photo of Steve Buscemi yesterday, I couldn't help but remember the remarkable morning Anthony LaSala and I spent with him when we were profiling him for our book, The Brooklynites.

It wasn't easy getting him, which made the circumstances of the actual session all the more special.

Buscemi was (and is) one of our favorite actors and someone I always wanted to photograph. We attempted to contact him through a variety of different ways, starting with contacting his publicist, who immediately informed us that Steve wouldn’t have time and couldn’t do it. We knew he was obviously very busy, but from everything we’d read about him we also strongly felt he would be into our project if he heard about it directly.

I had an idea. My then 15 year-old cousin went to camp with Steve’s son the year before, and they were still IM buddies. I called my little cousin and she got me Steve’s home address from her friend. Anthony and I debated back and fourth for a while as to whether contacting him this way would be appropriate, and finally I decided to take a shot. I figured, the worst-case scenario would be Steve Buscemi getting a restraining order against us. I wrote him a very polite note and included a bunch of the pictures, so he’d see what the project was all about. We waited, and waited, but we never heard back. It was disappointing, because we really wanted him.

We moved on, and months later, when we worked with Terence Winter, at the time producer on The Soprano’s, (and now creator of HBO's Boardwalk Empire) we asked him if he knew any other interesting Brooklynites to recommend to us. He said, “How about my friend Steve?” We knew immediately who he was referring to. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, obviously. He gave us Steve’s personal assistant’s number and within a few weeks we found ourselves in East New York with Mr. Pink himself. We always ask potential subjects to chose a location to be photographed that means something to them. Steve picked the neighborhood where he grew up. We loved that he thought about our request and picked a pertinent local and that he made the time to go out of his way to do this for us.

It was there, in East New York, where something special happened. Anthony wrote an essay about the experience for the book, which I'll run below, along with my photos.


Words by Anthony LaSala . Pictures by Seth Kushner

On the 3rd floor of 606 Liberty Avenue we have stepped through a wormhole. It is located in the middle of a small apartment sitting above a deli. Steve Buscemi is with us. It’s the morning of October 20th.

I’m not asleep.

A few minutes earlier Buscemi is standing on a street corner, in front of the home and school in which he spent the first eight years of his life. He’s traveled back to the middle of East New York to see us. We are conducting an interview and a photo shoot. It’s early. Sleep still drifts inside his body. But even through this 9AM haze, you can tell this spot is special to him. He’s looking at these corners and slabs of concrete like mislaid photographs found hidden in the pages of an old book.

And then Chance, a well-known personality on the streets of Brooklyn, leans its head out of a top-floor window.

From the apartment above us, the very apartment Buscemi grew up in, a man looks in on our actions.


“I’m Steve, I used to live here as a kid,” says the actor to the face staring down at us. “Do you mind if we come up?”

Soon after, I’m climbing a crooked white staircase dressed in slanted sunlight so dramatic it’s sucker-punching my early morning eyes, making them tear. As I push down on the backbones of the napping, cranky steps, they let out measured bellows. If I was dreaming, this might be my mind imagining some bizarre ascent into heaven side by side with Steve Buscemi.

But I’m not asleep.

I’m following a man named Michael Rosario as he leads us towards a four-room dwelling on top of a deli. He turns to Buscemi as we go up.

“This is strange. I was just watching one of your movies,” he says. “The one where you are flying.”
“I’m not sure which one that is,” says Buscemi.
“You know, the one with the plane,” says Rosario. “It was just on the T.V.”
“Con Air?” asks Buscemi as we near the top.
“Yeaaaah! Con Air! That was a great film!”

Rosario and his family now live in the residence. It’s a typical Brooklyn home, lived in and comfortable. Photographs on walls. Coffee tables and carpets. But as we stand inside the place, after a mere three minutes, we are undoubtedly in Buscemi’s old apartment. It’s the early 1960’s.

“It was actually in this kitchen where I first started performing,” he says. “This is where I got my start. I entertained my parents and my brothers and my relatives right in here.”

The eyes of Steve Buscemi are a gift. On enormous silver screens they are twin focal points - chameleon pools of anything, everything. Two coals stoking the souls of imaginary characters, giving them life, grit, compassion, reality. Today they are a million times more powerful. Today they are revealing genuine tales. Moments stored and stowed for years and clamoring into the air like heat rising through an old Brooklyn radiator.


He criss-crosses slowly through rooms and the stories continue as we followed him through doorways and decades.

The times his father climbed through the top of a hallway closet, below a skylight, to unlatch the front entrance when keys were forgotten.

The day his mother’s apron caught fire in the kitchen. “Mom, you’re on fire,” he calmly told her. Disaster was averted.

The time he was hit by a bus across the street from his home – his padded winter clothes saving him like modern armor. The city’s settlement money later providing him with a way to go to acting school.

How he slept in the same room as his brothers, the same house as his cousins. How his uncle had a chicken coop in the backyard. His family was all here - until they slipped off to other places.

“One by one they all moved to Long Island. We were the holdouts until we left. My grandmother actually lived here for a long time after we were gone. I used to visit her here.”

We were on our way down the crooked stairs soon after that. Back down the white passageway. Back into the streets of East New York and a 2005 morning. As we left Steve Buscemi on the corner of Liberty Avenue he lit up a cigarette. He was still looking up at the buildings above him, still casting those eyes – those compelling eyes – through the air like butterfly nets, searching for his cobwebbed, vanished memories. Smoke filling his lungs. The early 1960’s still drifting inside his body.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Steve Buscemi & Terence Winter Brooklynites portraits



HBO's Boardwalk Empire was a big winner at this past Sunday's Golden Globes. I thought the awards for the compelling and well wrought show was a good excuse for me to show my portraits of series star Steve Buscemi and series creator Terence Winter. Both were shot several years back for my book, The Brooklynites. Buscemi was shot East New York in front of the church he attended as a child, and Winter in Bensonhurst at L&B Spumoni Gardens.

Today's new installment of CulturePOP Photocomix Profiles of Real-Life Characters looks at Dave Franzese, who along with Mark Miller is one half of the dynamic graphic design duo called Dark Igloo.

While the focus of this piece is on Dave, his business partner and friend, Mark takes on a strong supporting role, as does their home, which as you can see is a sort of headquarters/club house where the partners do their striking and often ironic work. Spending the day with the two at the Dark Igloo HQ inspired me to showcase how their lifestyle and surroundings feed the work, and vice versa.

See it here - http://activatecomix.com/104-20-1.comic

Comments welcome and appreciated, as always. Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Leaping Tall Building coming from powerHouse book in '12


Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner ink a deal with powerHouse Books to publish Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comic Books.

Brooklyn, NY (January 10, 2011) - Due out in Spring of 2012, Leaping Tall Buildings takes the comic book journalism essays and portraiture found on Graphic NYC and remasters them into a whole new and unique experience. Leaping will give readers a cohesive tapestry of the history of comic books through Graphic NYC’s distinctive brand of creator profiles, through Kushner’s iconic portraits of comics legends to Irving’s essays that fuse comics history with aspects of New Journalism.

The book’s synergistic photo and profile approach will document the pioneers and masters of the print comic, all the way through to the burgeoning digital age.

"One thing we've found in talking to everyone—from Joe Simon, who created Captain America, to Jules Feiffer, to Art Speigelman and postmodernists like Paul Pope, and all the way up through Marvel CCO Joe Quesada or even newer talent like Kevin Colden—is that you can actually trace the development of the comic book through their personal experiences, be it on newsprint or an iPad," Irving notes. "Beyond that, though, is that meeting all of these folks has been a helluva’ ride, especially since a few of them are personal heroes of ours."

“There have been so many memorable experiences. Hanging out on a Hell’s Kitchen rooftop with Frank Miller, in a Gotham alley with Denny O'Neil and in front of NYC’s Flatiron Building (The home of The Daily Bugle in the Spider-Man films) with Brian Michael Bendis has been a blast,” says photographer Kushner.

The deal with powerHouse comes as Graphic NYC wraps its second year online, and also caps an interesting year for the GNYC duo of Seth Kushner and Christopher Irving. 2010 saw the publication of Seth's online photo-based webcomix series, CulturePOP: Photocomix Profiles of Real-Life Characters on Act-I-Vate.com, as well as the print birth of Christopher’s Graphic NYC Presents Dean Haspiel: The Early Years from IDW.

"On a personal note," Irving adds, "it was the toughest year of my life: my father, Elliott Irving, passed away in late July as I was wrapping production on the Dean book. Neither Graphic NYC nor Leaping could have happened without his support. As far as I'm concerned, honoring him means making Leaping Tall Buildings worthy of sitting on my bookshelf next to the copy of Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes that he gave me when I was twelve."

"The signing of this contract is the accumulation of three years of work, (so far!)" says Kushner. "It's been a long road since that cold January day in 2008 when cartoonist Dean Haspiel and I had a conversation about a potential 'photo book on comics creators' at the now-defunct Rocketship Comics in Brooklyn. From there, Dean began hooking me up with other cartoonists to photograph, and then, a few months later, he connected me with Chris and that team-up begets our upcoming book.”

“From the first book pitch through the development of the site,” Irving elaborates, “Seth and I have let Graphic NYC organically grow into an accessible and unique view of comics history that can be dug by both comic book readers and those new to the world of comics and graphic novels.”

“We knew powerHouse was the right publisher to bring our dream to fruition when we saw they were as excited by the project as we were," Kushner says, "and we’re confident that with pH publishing and with Random House’s distribution, the book will be a success."

Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner are both represented by Barry Goldblatt Literary.


Christopher Irving



Seth Kushner



Christopher Irving started as an Associate Editor of the Eisner award-winning Comic Book Artist Magazine, and has since written about comics for New York Magazine, Comics Buyer’s Guide, and Alter Ego. Irving wrote and edited Graphic NYC Presents Dean Haspiel: The Early Years this year, as well as Hermes Press’ upcoming release The First Movie Superheroes, which documents the history of the superheroes of the 1940s movie serial. Leaping Tall Buildings will be Irving’s fifth book on comics.

Seth Kushner’s photographic portraits have appeared in such publications The New York Times Magazine, Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, L'Uomo Vogue and others. Seth's first book, The Brooklynites, was published by powerHouse Books in 2007. Currently, he is working on CulturePOP, his photocomix series on ACT-I-VATE.com. Seth resides in Brooklyn with his wife and son, and way too many comics. www.SethKushner.com

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jonathan Ames



I had the opportunity to photograph author Jonathan Ames again recently. I had initially met and photographed Jonathan several years back for my Brooklynites book. That first shoot took place on a snow covered school yard on Wykoff St. in Brooklyn. The next time I shot Jonathan was in his home for Edible Brooklyn Magazine, when the mag was interviewing him about the items in his refrigerator, which turned out to be very few!

Since then, Jonathan has become a true documentor of today's Brooklyn with his HBO series Board To Death, so I was happy to be able to photograph him in front of the borough's famed Williamsburg Bank Tower.

The photos were for an upcoming feature in Heeb Magazine.

CulturePOP Photocomix: Tim Hall


Happy New Year to all!

Today marks the first new installment of CulturePOP Photocomix Profiles of Real-Life Characters of 2011. This week, I profile writer/author Tim Hall.

Tim is the author of the novels, Half Empty and Full of It, two short story collections, Triumph of the Womb and One Damn Thing After Another, and non-fiction essay collection, How America Died. Additionally, Uplift The Positivicals, a freeform column of stories rendered as text images can be seen on ACT-I-VATE.com. Recently, Tim launched UndiePress.com, "a collaborative and curated site where writers can build their own audiences."

With this series, I very much appreciate when the subject wants to be involved to the point where they’re a collaborator. As per my usual process, I met with Tim before our shoot and recorded an interview, then later transcribed and sent it to him to edit. Tim’s a great writer, so what I received back was a whole new piece which was heads and tails better than the original, with perfect beats and a narrative thread which had the whole piece working in a way I never expected. I was thrilled.

In the Photocomix 'Exile,' Tim reminisces on growing up in NYC, running the bar newspaper The Hangover in the 90's, family alcoholism, leaving NYC and his desire to return.

See it here - http://activatecomix.com/104-19-1.comic

Comments welcome and appreciated, as always. Hope you enjoy it!