I moved to New York City on Saturday, May 6, 2000. It was a sunny day and the Carmel car service I took from the airport smelled like a hospital and hot wings. I arrived at my temporary residence which was literally a floor in an illegal storefront apartment on Bedford Ave. The place smelled like a black cat and Nag Champa because there was a black cat (Sheba) in it…and Nag Champa.
This stretch of Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg is near a vintage motorcycle repair and restoration shop so it stands to reason that there might be cool cars and trucks parked nearby. It’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel or throwing a rock and hitting a guitar player outside of the Bedford L. Easy peasy. The International Harvester 1210 Eight above was shot the weekend before last and is in the same spot as this truck. Quite a bit of graffiti has built up on the blue wall behind it and the artist/poet? cunning linguist (a student of Latin, obvi) has added to it with, “Fear will blacken hearts, drive them away. Leave them lonely.” British folkster, Bill Fay‘s song, “Be Not So Fearful” walks a similar line:
“Be not so sorry
For what you have done
You must forget them now
Here’s the clip…
I think this may be the first car photo I’ve shot in Manhattan. A sweet Chevrolet El Camino. Shown here parked on Bleecker Street in front of the Washington Square Village apartment complex that was built in the late 50′s. Across the street from the apartments was the famous Bleecker Street Cinema seen below in a shot taken sometime in the 60′s. It closed in 1990 and the first film on the last night was Aki Kaurismäki‘s Ariel. Speaking of the El Camino, The Black Keys titled their 2011 album, El Camino featuring a Plymouth Voyager van on the cover framed in a very familiar way. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Here’s a classic example of the Buick Electra 225 a.k.a. Deuce-and-a-Quarter convertible. Two hundred and twenty five inches from front to back. I shot this one a few weeks ago during my trip to New Orleans after having just inhaled a sloppy roast beef po-boy from Parkway Tavern (see pic below). I needed a nap but I saw this sweet ride and of course had to capture its soul. When you visit New Orleans you are in a constant state of searching for food and drink. There are so many great places to eat and so many great dishes that you must have them all. As I type this it is Mardi Gras and everyone in Louisiana is out in the streets drinking, getting naked in front of strangers and going absolutely apeshit to catch beads and trinkets made in China. For everyone else it’s Tuesday. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
In Feng Shui, a painted red door invites the chi into your house. Positive energy and abundance can find its way into your dwelling. That’s pretty cool. And if you’re Catholic the red door represents the smeared blood of Christ and that everything inside is good and sacred. Always dramatic with those guys. My apartment door is painted white and is behind a black wrought iron security gate which means there are virgins inside and that you must have a key to unlock the inner chambers. Experts say that Albert Einstein painted his door red because he wouldn’t have been able to recognize it. Fucking genius! Oh and I really love this Mercedes S-Class
Here we have a 1969 Plymouth Valiant Signet similar to a Dodge Dart. Behind the Plymouth we have the Polonia Democratic Club and Ladies Auxiliary in Williamsburg. There was a story a few years back in New York Magazine about a guy who raised pigeons on the roof of this building. Not sure if it’s still there but a recent Google Maps satellite view seems to confirm the coops. When I think of pigeon coops I think of Jim Jarmusch‘s classic, Ghost Dog. The lead character played by Forrest Whitaker raises carrier pigeons in between his hitman/samurai duties. It’s a great slow-burn film with a fantastic original score (CD released only in Japan) by RZA.
Here’s a link to video taken inside of the Polonia Club:
And a clip from Ghost Dog with Whitaker and RZA:
This Dodge Ram 250 van belongs to a sweet old man named Jackson in Bed-Stuy. He’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet and always has a kind word or blessing for you. During the warmer months of the year he sells watermelons and house plants and when the temperatures begin to drop he moves on to pumpkins, Christmas trees, and poinsettias. Jackson has always wanted to drive down to Mardi Gras in a big Cadillac so I might take him up on his offer to ride down with him one day. It will be our version of Easy Rider except without the motorcycles, hippies, whores and shotgun-toting rednecks. The famous café scene (see clip below) from that movie was filmed in Morganza, LA and features a local cast that were all friends with my family. In fact my uncle was married to Girl #5 (in the green dress), Cynthia Grezaffi. Word is that Dennis Hopper invited the girls back to his Capitol House hotel room in Baton Rouge to smoke weed. That didn’t go over too well with the sheriff much like in the scene from the movie. Easy Rider has always been a favorite film of mine especially because of the Louisiana locations and as a child we would always pass by that iconic café on the way to my grandmother’s house.
Below the Capitol House (now the Heidelberg Hotel) in Baton Rouge, LA
Do you see the aggressively white, Finnish guy with his face planted in the grass? This park is on the grounds of the crematorium which is always a good spot for catching the last of the sun’s rays during the summer if you aren’t actually being burned to dust inside the building. It’s quiet and nicely landscaped with occasional nudity but mostly from guys having a pee on a tree after drinking Koff beer all day. It’s rare to see a huge American car like this in Finland and equally strange that it’s parked in the half-moon driveway of the crematorium. I didn’t look inside the car but if it’s like most station wagons there are probably old McDonald’s french fries under the seat and sticky Creedence Clearwater Revival cassettes strewn about the interior.
And this next clip to perpetuate the “All-Finns-Are-Great-Dancers” myth:
I don’t know much about this 1962 Dodge Lancer other than it has a push-button transmission marked P, D, R, 1, and 2 and was considered to be a compact car back in the day. I love the fins and script Lancer logo.
On this very street in Fort Greene is Middle School 113 which was used as a film location for the Ryan Gosling movie, Half Nelson. Gosling is a drug addict teacher trying to steer his students in the right direction. Here’s a great scene with Gosling and newcomer Shareeka Epps plus Bed-Stuy native, Anthony Mackie:
Another image that works best as a black and white due to a busy background and poor lighting but you get the picture. Wink wink. This is the Swedish Saab 96 which helped establish the brand and was the first Saab model imported to the UK. The model 96 was the car of choice for Finnish rally driver Simo Lampinen in his early races and established him as a “Flying Finn“. Check out the car in action:
I found the Saab after a stepping out of Black and White Records in Hakaniemi area of Helsinki. I like shopping for vinyl when I travel, always hoping to discover that elusive white whale of a record. This shop had lots of great records to choose from including Alejandro Escovedo‘s True Believers and folky, sad bastards, Tir Na Nog but I settled on a nice copy of Jamaican DJ Big Youth‘s first LP, Screaming Target on the mighty UK label, Trojan Records.
Across the street from the record shop is Cafe Talo which has an American diner theme on one floor. While sitting in the restaurant having an American burger (and Brooklyn beer!) I heard a song by Southern rockers, The Marshall Tucker Band. It was a familiar tune but hearing it at that moment and in that place, I started to think more about it. I was able to take it out of context and have a blank slate, a tabula rasa if you will, to enjoy it and form a new opinion. It’s a catchy country-flavored tune but I started noticing little details like the flute intro which stamps 70′s AM radio all over it. Then there’s a descending piano run after the first lyrics of the chorus which brings to mind Summerteeth-era Wilco. A pretty mariachi-style guitar lick right before the second verse rounds out my discoveries. Three little instrumental parts that I never really noticed all these years but somehow make the song kind of special. This experience immediately reminded me of how Jim Jarmusch reveals tiny slices of American culture in his films like Mystery Train and Down By Law by showing it to you through the eyes of a foreigner or newcomer. Could I have formed the same opinion about the song if I heard it say in a Manhattan diner? Maybe so but I like the new context and I like that we have the capacity to see things anew.
This is the first black and white photo that I’ve posted. Not a trend mind you but merely because the colors and light were really off in the original shot and no amount of editing would save them. I love this late-60s Citroën 2CV and it happens to be parked on the same street where Alvar Aalto (see last week’s post) lived. He probably drove something cool like this if he drove at all. Here’s a cool ad for the Deux Chevaux:
I shot this beautifully restored Fiat 600 on the same street as the previous red Fiat 600. As I was shooting that car, a passerby told me about this bright yellow-gold one. Fantastico! I’ve fallen in love with these Italian beauties and the new Abarth version too:
Just behind the trees on the left is the Design Museum featuring many famous Finnish designers like Alvar Aalto, Ovia Toikka and younger talent like Harri Koskinen. You’ve seen their stuff before but you may not have put the name with their designs. I had a chance to visit Alvar Aalto’s home and office that has been turned into a tourist spot. A great place with tons of light and decorated mostly with furniture designed by Alvar himself. Apparently Aalto wasn’t keen to visitors so he had a secret door built in his library that enabled him to escape to another part of the house. Funny that this place is now full of visitors roaming through the rooms with protective shoe covers as if investigating a crime scene. No crime here though, just a beautiful space that is calming and inspiring.
Here on this sloping street in the Kruununhaka neighborhood of Helsinki we have the rakish Volvo 1800ES. It was only made for two years but stands as a fine example of a “shooting brake”, originally an English term for a vehicle that carried a shooting party and their gear. Now it basically means a pairing of a coupe and a wagon. Below we have a pink 1800ES given to the January 1972 Playboy Playmate of the Month, Merilyn Cole. You may recognize her from the cover of Roxy Music’s Stranded. Don’t you want her in your shooting party?
Here in the Punavuori neighborhood of Helsinki we find a pristine example of a Fiat 600 or in Italian, Seicento . Think of it as a cousin to the Mini Cooper and VW Beetle. This is the perfect car for navigating narrow streets and saying, “Ciao!” plus you can take it home with you and stick it in a closet when you’re done driving for the day. The yellow building behind the Fiat was built in 1889 and designed by Selim Lindqvist and currently houses the Ministry of Employment and the Economy should you need that sort of thing. Apparently the building is also on a block called Magpie. A Finnish cover of The Beatles‘ “Penny Lane” references the Punavuori neighborhood. No mention of that in the original Beatles lyrics but maybe the magpie is a reference to Paul’s “Blackbird”? Doubtful.
Here’s a video clip of a ’59 Fiat 600:
Not sure about the make and model of this Jeep-ish little car parked in the working class district of Kallio and neighborhood of Siltasaari, Helsinki. Judging by the decal on the side it may have been adequate enough for a surveyor or cartographer of some sort. Siltasaari and nearby Töölö seem to be the prime spots for Cold War-era film locations as well as the rest of Helsinki. Check out this clip from Gorky Park filmed in Helsinki. This jeep/truck thingy was shot in front of the reddish brown apartment building behind Ian Bannen and William Hurt.
Also shot in Helsinki was the 1967 Ken Russell film, Billion Dollar Brain, the third installment in the Harry Palmer spy series starring Michael Caine. Caine’s character, Harry Palmer meets a spy on the same frozen Töölö Bay right after he goes shopping at Stockmann for a coat and proper hat.
Here’s the what the bay and house look like today albeit without the snow and seductive double agent.
This mid-80s Citroën CX 25 Prestige was the choice model for chauffeurs because it offered lots of legroom and headroom for large egos including French President Jacques Chirac, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and the leggy chanteuse Grace Jones. Check out Jones’ ad for the Citroën CX. Her hair sorta resembles the CX.
An early 90′s Land Rover Defender Tdi parked in front of the Hietaniemen Krematorio chapel in Helsinki. There are two bird sculptures above the door to the chapel. Not sure of the significance but maybe because of the many species that live in the nearby Hietaniemi Cemetery. Buried there is the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and his first wife, Aino and second wife, Elissa. Both were architects as well. I’ll talk more about Aalto in a few weeks. Also nearby is the Hietaniemi Beach that was once a landfill and sand storage area. Now it has a reputation for volleyball, nightly parties and heavy petting which we all know can lead to unmentionable goings-on in the cemetery late at night. Click here to see what the gods do to people who desecrate this beach.
This is a mid-90′s Dodge Caravan Rallye. I don’t expect you would enter this into any sort of race or “rally” but we must look to another definition to provide deeper meaning. “Rally” also means to come together for a common purpose. In this case you and your family or your experimental noise rock band could come together for the common purpose of getting from A to B in a pink ass Caravan with a rooftop carrier that at one point had a little snail as its official logo. Feel free to laugh, cry or both.
I shot this 50′s Dodge 1/2 ton pickup right off of E. Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. I drove down there from San Francisco to view the redwood forests and to see what this Pacific Ocean was all about.
When I was a youngster I really admired the skateboarder, Steve Alba who rode for Santa Cruz Skateboards. It was kinda cool to visit the small seaside town where the skateboard company started. Check out the vintage shot of Alba below by photographer Migmackmonk. Click the link to the photostream on Flickr for some additional vintage photos.
Obviously someone parked this Chevy van on this quiet block of Box Street in Greenpoint and decided to spend the night. There’s a wolf blanket for curtains. See detail below. This is almost equivalent to the Chris Farley‘s Matt Foley character “…living in a van down by the river!”
The East River is a stone’s throw away as well as Newtown Creek which was the site of one of the worst oil spills in the US at the time with somewhere between 17 to 30 million gallons of oil spilling into the water.
A few notable people born or raised in Greenpoint are Mae West, Pat Benatar, Mickey Rooney and one Willie Sutton who according to urban legend said that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.” He denies ever saying this.
There’s no mistaking that this Ford Econoline van parked outside of The Pelican Club in the French Quarter was once part of the Louisiana Coca-Cola Bottling Company. That bold stripe from head to tail begs for a Starsky and Hutch comparison.
On the topic of New Orleans, last night I watched the James Bond film, Live And Let Die. There were great scenes filmed in the French Quarter and swampy waterways around New Orleans. I always dug this film as a kid especially the jazz funeral that turns into a second line parade. A British Secret Service agent is killed and his body is surreptitiously placed in a coffin as the funeral procession erupts into celebratory dancing. It’s a fantastic scene that took place on the corner of Dumaine and Chartres Street right in front of the fictitious club Fillet of Soul. Its Harlem counterpart in the film, also called Fillet of Soul, was at the corner of East 92nd Street and 2nd Avenue. See screen grabs below. Oh to have been on that movie set with those fine 70′s rides!
One of the great things about walking around the city taking photographs is the small details that you see at the street level. You miss things if you cruise past them on a bike or in a car. I’ve walked all over Brooklyn and Queens looking at buildings and cars but sometimes I’m much more impressed by a struggling weed or flower growing out of a tiny crack in the pavement. However this same weed growing in my postage stamp garden irritates the living hell out of me. I want to destroy it. It’s nature’s way of saying, “Fuck you.” But the flowers are saying, “I love you Christopher.” There’s one rampant invasive plant called Japanese knotweed that can completely take over a yard if not kept under control yet I’ve seen it growing as an ornamental plant in a huge botanical garden in Helsinki. The cold winters there keep it in check but in my Brooklyn backyard that bamboo-like plant will grow up your leg if you aren’t watching. One man’s invasive species is another man’s ornamental plant. Which leads me to graffiti…
I like some forms of graffiti and street art like throw-ups, wildstyles, stickers, Banksy‘s stencil art and Invader‘s tile creations but I usually don’t go for murals and tags. One particular artist’s work keeps showing up under my feet, literally. His name is Paul Richard. He does works in mixed media but I like his portraits of gentlemen on sidewalks using a dripping paint technique that is not too far removed from Jackson Pollock or your morning pancake syrup masterpieces. On the sidewalk right behind this 1969 Dodge Sweptline D100 pickup truck is one such portrait. See street view shot. I love their simplicity and I often mistake them for spilled paint which is exactly what they are. Click on his name above the link above and search for the Works on Paper. So what have we learned today. Push and pull. Rejection and embrace. Love and hate. Art and accident. Form and function. You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need. Satisfaction.
“…nothing can go wrong. I’m going and I don’t know how far. So, so long.” So sang Memphis/New Orleans legend Alex Chilton in the song “Big Black Car” by his band Big Star.
Another legend, Otis Redding who left his home in Georgia and headed to 926 East McLemore Avenue, the address of Stax Records in Memphis, sang about cars among other things in his classic duet with Carla Thomas, “Tramp”
Carla: “You know what, Otis? I don’t care what you say. You’re still a tramp. That’s right. You haven’t even got a fat bankroll in your pocket.
You probably haven’t even got twenty-five cents.”
Otis: “I got six Cadillacs, five Lincolns, four Fords, six Mercuries, three T-Birds, Mustang. Ooh, I’m a lover…”
In Greenpoint, Brooklyn I found a fine example of a second generation (’63-’66) Plymouth Valiant parked on a section of Kent Avenue paved entirely in rectangular granite called Belgian block. There aren’t many cobblestone streets left in New York so it’s nice to discover them while hunting for cars. Oh by the way in 1963 Plymouth phased out the aluminum block engine and went with the iron block.
The hard to read graffiti on the green door appears to be a quote from the recently departed filmmaker and designer, Hillman Curtis. I’ll leave you with another quote from him:
“Be prepared to reinvent yourself. Be prepared to go out on a limb occasionally, and be prepared to do the things that you feel strongly about that maybe other people don’t, that maybe don’t have an immediate source of income or revenue.”
Upon first glance I thought this was Dwight Schrute’s Pontiac Firebird but upon further reflection and a little detective work I found out it belongs to a little old lady in Bed-Stuy who attends the local church twice a week. No doubt she is praying for lower gas prices.