It’s been raining for two days straight.
That never happens.
It’s so rare, when I asked my wife and daughter if they remembered the last time it rained like this, they said September 2019.
Getting a lot of rain in the desert is great, especially as we’re coming out of a historically bad drought.
When the heavens opened yesterday, Jessie suggested the drought might be over, and of course it felt symbolic.
How could it not?
Hearing the incessant patter on our metal roof, watching the freshly green aspen trees bend under the weight of the water, looking at the gray sky, where normally there’s blue, it feels like we’re somewhere else.
More than anything, it reminds me of spring in New York, where I once lived, and New Jersey, where I’m from.
Forgive me for having home on the brain, but as I wrote last week, I’ll be there, taking a few days of R&R, when this column goes live on Friday. (I’m writing on a Tuesday, which also adds to the sense of dislocation. I never write on Tuesdays!)
But here we are.
The mountains are hidden in the storm, their snow-topped peaks enmeshed in clouds, so all I see is green grass, green trees, gray skies, and lots of rain.
Which after two days of this, really does remind me of the East Coast.
Of New York.
Why am I stuck on this subject today?
Well, there’s always an easy answer, when it comes to a photo book review column. Today, I reached into the bottom of the book stack, and found a submission from October 2020, which was 8 months ago, back when our “old” life just about began to feel normal. (But before the awful horribleness of the Covid Winter.)
What was in the box?
I found a nice note, from Paul Matzner, thanking me for some advice I gave him at the Filter Photo Festival a few years ago, and a copy of “Seeing You in New York,” a self-published book, (printed by Edition One,) that came out last year, with a foreword by Aline Smithson.
Full disclosure, Paul also thanked me in the liner notes, at the end of the book, so I guess our conversation made an impression. (I also published some of his arresting street portraits in the blog as well.)
Time for more honesty: I don’t think this is an amazing book. (Sorry, Paul.)
It’s not bad, by any means, and on the right day I’d call it very good.
I like it, but don’t find it super-distinctive, within the genre.
So why am I writing about it?
For as long as I’ve had this column, my main criterion for review is whether a book inspires me to write.
If, after looking at a book, a column germinates in my head, and my fingers slide across the keyboard in rhythm, allowing the flow, then that book is worthy of review.
And that happened today.
Because of context.
You simply can’t look at these images, which were shot between 2008-18, and view them as you would have before the pandemic.
It’s not possible.
Paul captured a wide range of New Yorkers, from diverse cultural backgrounds and age groups, going about their previously “normal” lives.
We see skateboarders, lots of dogs, stoop-sitters, side-walk walkers, stroller pushers, subway-riders, it’s all here.
What once would have been a warm-hearted group of street photos, back in 2008-18, now looks like a naive record of humans doing things we all took for granted.
It’s a life we may have again, but as I wrote last week, we’re all different now.
Will anything ever feel “normal” again?
I’m getting on a plane on Thursday.
What comes next?
I don’t know, of course, and Paul Matzner’s book wound me up on this rant.
When sweet pictures feel sinister, as if they represent the last people frolicking on the beach before the Tsunami hits, you know I’m going to be curious.
Hope you enjoy the book, and see you next week.