Sweet Oliver & the Crabapple Trees
Mapesbury Road, London – 2011
Sweet Oliver & the Crabapple Trees
Sweet Oliver & the Crabapple Trees
Mapesbury Road, London – 2011
Took this pic of @kingsaladeen just as he finished this mural across the street. His work is dazzling, and now he’s on his way to Art Basel.” He tells me:
“I come from where ppl don’t do Art ,I never been in one Art school or Class ever I always just seen it In my head,And my boy JP said if I left my nut ass Job,to explore my Gift I would soon take over ,,4 years later,now I’m here!!! I come from the slums of Philly,Ain’t no hype or silver spoons around,just row homes and poverty ,So this ain’t never been done ever!!”
@revolttv Art Basel #PCNY #ChangingTheArtGame #YoungKing #NowArtIsDope #WenotTheSame #BillionDollarHands #Jp4ever
@billyhayesnyc photo cred in Nyc@kingsaladeen
I used to take the subway 2 -3 times a day at least, but that changed once I stopped working in an office 9 to 5. A couple of months ago, though, I started taking piano lessons from a teacher in Brooklyn (a first–I’ve never learned to play an instrument in my life), so I’m back on the red line on Tuesdays, mid-afternoons. The cars are surprisingly empty at that time–sometimes just 3 or 4 other people; very different from the commuter crushes I was used to. Peaceful.
One day, a man got on at Wall Street and sat on the opposite bench. He saw me studying my piano flash cards–last-minute cramming; I still can’t recognize musical notes–and asked me about them. He told me he had played piano all through his childhood in Costa Rica–his mother made him. Now he works for a bank. “I wish I hadn’t stopped,” he said. He had long fingers, so unlike my stubby ones, and I could imagine that he might have been good.
We started talking, one thing led to another–he noticed the camera slung over my shoulder–and I told him about my “chair portraits” project. “Let me take your picture,” I told him. He said he was game, and he took my business card before getting off at his stop. But I’ve come to learn that this almost always guarantees that people will not follow up–the ratio of business-cards-given to photos-taken is something like 100 to 1. To my surprise, he did. The following week, he managed to leave work a bit early and come over to my apartment for a “sitting.” It was very quick–he had to get home to his wife and kids.
“I never do things like this,” he told me as he took a seat.
“Then, why did you?”
“Because I never do things like this,” he said.
I always feel like I’m running late these days, and I was dashing from one place to another, making my way through the crowds at Union Square at 5 p.m. on Friday. I saw this girl walking toward me and it wasn’t one thing that struck me–though her long white cotton dress, a dress exactly like ones my sisters would wear in summers in Spokane in the early 1970s, caught my eye–but everything at once: her small, heart-shaped face, her little wristwatch, wire-rimmed eyeglasses on a chain around her neck, her dreamy expression, her soft brown hair. And this too, perhaps: she wasn’t holding a cell phone, led by a cell phone, like every other zombie in Manhattan (you notice, there isn’t one in her hands, and she didn’t even carry a purse). Our eyes met. But I let her pass by at first, thinking, You’re already late, keep going. But I couldn’t. I turned: “Excuse me, excuse me, hello?” She stopped, turned, and I said my thing. She said yes, I could take her picture, polite and sweet, and as I fumbled with my camera, she added apologetically, “I kind of have to hurry–I have to meet my mom,” which I found incredibly endearing, but she waited, and I took a picture as fast as I could. I said thank you, and let her go, then thought to call after her, “What’s your name?” “Rachel,” she called back, and I said, “My name’s Billy.”
In almost all cases, I don’t know the people I take pictures of in the chair–or, didn’t know, until I photographed them. I think of them as street photos–taken indoors. And so it was here. I saw a young man taking a photo with his iPhone–not a selfie exactly, but a photo of his shadow on a pink wall. He was about half a block away near Hudson. He was clearly taking his time with the composition–checking the image, trying it again. When I neared him, I said impulsively, “Can I see it?” And he shared it with me–it was a very cool image. He told me his name was Ousman, and he was a photographer. I was with my friend Oliver, who is continually amazed and sometimes embarrassed by my forwardness with strangers: “Chutzpah raised to sublimity,” he once called it. Ousman and I chatted for a moment, and I invited him over to “sit in the chair” for a portrait. He said yes at once. In this way, it is just like street photography: people don’t hesitate; they immediately say yes or no, one or the other. Ousman came by yesterday, and within a few minutes, we got this shot. I’ve done 45 of these pictures by now, yet he was the first to try this pose atop the chair. The possibilities are endless….
I recognized him by his ears. He was asking people for money on 14th Street. I almost passed him by then realized I’d talked to this man before; I had taken his picture, right here on 14th. It was the last day of November, and it was his first day out of jail: “Rikers, just got off the bus,” he had told me, with a look that said far more about terror than any relief he might be feeling about what some would call freedom.
Now, I stopped and walked up to him: “Hey, didn’t we meet? Didn’t I–”
“–you took my picture, man.”
“I did, I remember well–your ears.”
He looked at me quizzically, as if, what about his ears?
“Maloof, right? How are you, how are you doing?”
“Still out,” he replied. He must have to remind himself of that every day, I thought–at least he’s out.
He told me he’s been living in a halfway house with 15 or 20 other guys. I asked if it was okay there, and he said, yeah, it’s okay, but he didn’t have any work or money. He asked if I could buy him some food. I took out my wallet. I felt self-conscious in a guilty way of how much money I had in there–I had just been to an ATM and saw a bunch of twenties; I had an impulse to give it all to him but did a sort of compromise with myself and gave him a 10-dollar bill.
He looked surprised. “You can buy it for me, man, if you want.”
“No, I trust you,” I said. “Get yourself something to eat, or whatever….”
He thanked me and we stood there for a moment in the middle of the sidewalk. But he couldn’t stay still. He kept moving in place, like he was bugging out. Was he high? Maybe, I wasn’t sure. Just as possible, he was stressed, hungry. “It’s hard, man,” he said, “I’m 54, you know, what am I gonna do?”
We are the same age, I thought to myself: Fuck, I am lucky, so fortunate, lucky just to be on this side of 54.
I asked him if I could take his picture again, and he sort of smiled and said sure, man. So I did. I took a few. He wanted to see the pictures, so I showed him on my camera. Maloof looked right over my shoulder; I could feel his breath on my neck. He nodded then, I guess he liked them. I did not notice until I got home later and looked at the picture that there was a squad car in the background.
I said I had to get going and told him I was sure we would see each other again.
Maloof said so long and then asked if I could spare a couple more bucks.
“Not today,” I said. “Take it easy, man, take care of yourself, okay?”
This whole photo project started because it got so cold in NY this winter that some days I didn’t want to go outside to find pictures, or if I did, the streets were empty, or people didn’t want to stop to have a picture taken. So, one day I decided to bring New York inside my apartment instead.
I had bought this simple wood chair when I first moved here 6 years ago; it was cool-looking but uncomfortable to sit in; I never used it except to stack newspapers on–until now. I had the idea to put people in the chair for portraits–old-fashioned “sittings”–but it took me a couple weeks before I got the guts to invite someone in. (Nearly everyone has been a complete stranger.) The first guy I shot, I saw in a restaurant on a Sunday night. I approached his table. I gave him my pitch and my card, and to my surprise he agreed to do it and came over one day. We talked as I shot, and I got to hear his life story. The pictures of him in my chair by my window came out well. That gave me the nerve to do more. I started asking people I’d see, strangers, just like on the street–a FED-EX guy, a woman in a park, a kid walking his dog–though far more people have said no or didn’t show up, as promised, than said yes. A number have been from my gym. I’ve done about 25 now–this is Tate, #20, an art student and dancer. I want to do lots and lots. I picture a hundred of them taped up onto a wall, like they are in my apt. Here’s a selection so far:
“I’m homeless,” she told me right away when I asked her if I could take her picture. She said it as if this were a reason not to take her picture, the way some people say, ‘I look terrible today.’ I told her I was sorry to hear that she didn’t have a home.
I said I really loved her earmuffs, which (though you can’t tell here) were pink. “I don’t have any teeth,” she added, as if this were another reason not to take her picture. We got to talking. Leonora was waiting for a bus. I felt glad that she was dressed warmly; it was a windy day.
“I was a model once,” she said, grinning, “a Penthouse magazine model. Can you believe that?”
“Of course, I can,” I said, “you’re a sweetheart.” I took a bunch of pictures then, and she enjoyed it. She did not ask me for anything; sometimes people do. I gave her $20 when I said goodbye.
“Oh my! I can buy a suitcase with that!” Leonora exclaimed.
I went out to take pictures late this afternoon. It was bitterly cold–way colder than I’d expected or dressed for. I didn’t know the weather had changed. I’d been ensconced on the 17th floor of a hospital helping someone I love get through a surgery for the past 3 days.
Despite the cold, it felt good to be out. I took a bunch of pictures, none of them really worked, but it didn’t matter. I ran some errands and bought coffee beans. I felt like I do when I come home after a long trip.
As I was walking back to my place, I saw an attractive young man on a skateboard waiting at a red light. (What skateboarders wait at red lights? I thought to myself.) When I got closer, I saw he was holding a small bouquet of flowers. Adorable–they must be for his girlfriend, or maybe his mom, I thought. This could be a cool picture. The flowers looked surprisingly small in his large hands.
“Hey there–I’m wondering, can I take your picture?” I say.
He turns. “Um, sure.” He moves a little to the side.
I snap a couple. What a handsome face, nice smile. I back up and take some more. He asks me why, what this is for, and I tell him I just like to take pictures of people on the streets of New York. If they want it, I’ll give them a copy, I say.
“That’s funny, how crazy, I mean, it’s sort of like what we’re doing–”
“My wife and I just started this thing where everyday we give flowers to someone on the street, a stranger, not someone we know. Just as a surprise. Just to make them smile.”
He looks totally sincere. Even so, I am incredulous: “Really? That’s amazing, that’s really amazing, how sweet.”
The light changes to green.
“Can I give you these flowers?” he says.
“Can you give me those flowers? Are you serious?” I honestly feel like this is as close to a proposal as I have ever gotten or will get in my life. “Yes, yes, absolutely.” I start to tell him about the past 3 days, how stressed out and tired I am, and how unexpected his flowers are, but he doesn’t need to hear my story. That’s not what this is about. The handsome young man on a skateboard in the West Village puts the flowers in my hands, and smiles softly, as do I. He pushes off with one foot and rolls away.
I threw open the window, took 8 or 10 pictures, then got back into bed and fell back asleep.