Monday, March 31, 2014

For Today, I'm Harry


Harry, for Today, 2014
(Click on images to see larger)

To set the stage: I’m in New York on a Saturday morning, walking from the West Village over to Little Italy to see a friend’s photography that’s on temporary exhibit at a very fancy men’s clothing boutique.
The venue shouldn’t be a surprise. My friend’s a fashionable guy. The boutique is the kind of place where, were I to shop there, your impression of me as a stylish guy would skyrocket in direct proportion to the drain on my checkbook.
Rather than ducking along the more colorful side streets, as is my usual habit, I instead took the more direct route across lower Manhattan on Houston Street. Houston’s not as multicultural as Canal Street. It’s not as touristy as Broadway. It’s a busy thoroughfare with seven lanes of traffic. But there are street vendors along its southern side and it still has a bit of a raffish edge, having not yet attained quite the same gentrified status of nearby Soho.
There are lots of interesting looking people on Houston Street. If I hadn’t been conscious of the time—I was trying to see four photography exhibits in one day—I’d have stopped and photographed a lot of them. The neat thing about New York is that you can stand on a street corner most anywhere in the city and you’ll have more than enough material to keep your camera busy.
But as it was I only seemed to notice this guy smoking a cigarette outside a barbershop at the corner of Houston and MacDougal.
Harry’s Corner Shop looks like a clean enough place for a haircut. There are no old men cutting hair, no pictures on the wall of dogs playing cards, and I’d laid odds on there not being so much as a whiff of Vitalis in the air.
I walked by the guy at first. Then it occurred to me that he might be worth photographing. I turned around and walked back and asked him if he’d mind. He said, “Sure,” and invited me to have a haircut. “I do all the Morgan Stanley guys,” he claimed. (Do I look like I work a Morgan Stanley?)
I did need a haircut. But I wasn’t going to do it at Harry’s. I made several photographs of the guy. In my haste I forget Rule #1 of the Harvey Stein School of Street Portraiture, which is to make sure the subject looks directly into the camera. Doh!
That’s only partially true. I did have the guy look directly at the camera once. But that’s only because he insisted I take a photograph of him in front of the shop to demonstrate to his boss, who’d been yelling to him to get back to work, that he was busy drumming up business.
Before I continued on, I asked whether Harry’s is his. “Are you Harry?” I asked, hoping to engage him long enough for a few more pictures.
He hesitated for a moment and answered, “For today, I’m Harry.”  
Harry Out Front, 2014

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