From the series "The Past"

From the series “The Past”

How do you think starting shooting in an era of film cameras affected your attitude towards photography?

Photography is magic. I began taking photographs at an early age before I even knew that it would become my medium of choice. By the time I was in my teens I knew that the roll of film (that I struggled loading into any camera) would transform the way I would see my environment. I could create illusions, I could create truths, and I could do both at the same time.

I always loved the entire process of taking picture. You choose the camera. You buy the film. You set up a shot or one spontaneously happens. And by the time you get into the darkroom it goes under yet another transformation. I have always believed that photography requires a lot of patience and thought. I have reflected on an image I wanted to photograph for months before I decided to shoot it (this was part fear of not thinking the idea in my head would translate onto film). I trusted that all my introspection somehow made the image even more worth coming to be.

I was resistant to digital photography. In a way I still am. I shoot a lot of my digital work with my iPhone (with digital, maybe like most photographers, I shoot way too much because I can). With film I had to be more selective because I knew I only had twelve or thirty-six frames to get usually the one shot I wanted. It gets more difficult to edit work now because you have many of the same images with a slight variation. Digital photography satisfies my need (and adrenalin) to have something, anything in an instant and I am never without a camera.

From the series "Random"

From the series “Random”

Was there more or less of a stigma attached to studying arts in the 80s?

So much was happening with art and pop culture in the 80’s. Dynasty had the first homosexual relationship on prime time television, we met Madonna and the AIDS crisis brought about the foreboding feelings of the end of time. I was 17 and had these ideas of becoming as famous as The Starn Twins and making a living off my art. No one told me I would be bar tending for 20 years to support my work. I really just wanted to be independent, move to the city and be a part of something radical with like minded people. When I graduated college I packed my bags and hitchhiked throughout Europe for two years. I should have done the reverse and travelled first and then figured out that I probably didn’t need to be in debt for twenty five years.

Can you share some of your experiences hitchhiking and train hopping? Highlights/lowlights and anything memorable?

It was one of the most memorable times in my life. It began in Paris with the ending of a dramatic love affair. I hopped a train to Sicily the next day. My cousins lived in Catania and I was the first relative from abroad to visit. They spoiled me with pasta and red wine. After weeks of tales about the Mafia, I was ready to explore Europe on my own. I met and photographed so many incredible people. I travelled with a partner in crime who is still one of my best friends today. I walked inside a glacier, collected pieces of the Berlin Wall, took a photograph of a shrine in Taormino where the face of Jesus Christ appeared, drank at Oktoberfest, saw the Scrovegni chapel, went to a pig farmers ball, witnessed the Loch Ness monster, picked cucumbers and courgette in Greece, worked on the archaeological Minoan Grave sites it Matala, bar tended in London, attended the Tribute for Nelson Mandela at Wembley Stadium, swam in the Aegean Sea, protested the Gulf War, learned how to ride a motorcycle, connected with people even though we did not share a common language, missed all my trains, had breakdowns and breakthroughs, and didn’t realize that it was one of the easiest times in my life. Recently I have been looking through contact sheets and prints from that trip. I am grateful that I found photography and through the lens, I was able to document that time and still have it resonate with me as if it were yesterday.

From the series "Random"

From the series “Random”

Do you feel that photography changed the way you travelled at all, or had a big impact on your experiences?

Photography has opened doors to many situations. My camera is my “Hype” girl.

What impact do you think living in San Francisco has had on your work?

I lived in California for almost three years. It was one of the more difficult times in my life. I could not seem to make anything work, so I tried everything. The only constant was photography and at times it felt like it was all I had. My departure was not planned. I had a mild stroke and I took it as a sign to leave.

My best friends live in San Francisco and I continue to visit. It will always have an impact on my work because I get to see it from a new perspective each time I return. Tony Bennet and Frank Sinatra both sang “I left my heart in San Francisco” and I couldn’t be more true for me.


From the series “Ms. Ulmer”

In 2005 you opened up your own gallery, Bambi. What was your experience running it?

It was like learning a new language and I love a challenge. It was a great experience for me personally as an artist. I learned how to run a business (something I thought I was never capable of doing). I was a one man band doing the accounting, finding artists, designing cards, hanging shows and cleaning the toilet just before greeting guests for our First Friday openings. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to promote so many incredibly talented artists.
Bambi Gallery became a destination in the neighborhood and was key in establishing The Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor in Philadelphia. I am proud that I was able to make it successful not just for me, but for the community.

From the series "Ms. Ulmer"

From the series “Ms. Ulmer”

You discovered Marie Ulmer whilst running Bambi, and mentioned on your site that she became your muse. How different do you believe it is having a muse who is 97 as opposed to more traditional young models people refer to as muses?

Beauty is at any age. (Ruth Gordon in “Harold and Maude” nails it) I recognise Maire’s beauty and would like her to be seen as a role model who breaks any stereotype. She is someone I respect because of her dedication to her work and that in its self inspires me to continue to do my work. I hope we inspire anyone who thinks they are too old to do anything…to do everything. She is my muse for that reason.

What do you think Marie can teach younger artists?

Marie has stayed humble through out her lifetime. She always worked and had a studio practice. She lives to be inspired and is still curious about art and her process. If I asked her this question, she would probably tell me something similar and include that her desire to learn has kept her going.

From the series "Ms. Ulmer"

From the series “Ms. Ulmer”

What sort of people or scenes attract you to photograph them?

Anything that’s ordinary or out of the ordinary.

In that case, is there anything you’re completely unattracted to shooting?

I try and photograph everything because I hate having regrets about missing a shot. But, If I look at my work as a whole, there are not too many images of landscapes.

From the series "Random"

From the series “Random”

From your experience not only being a photographer, but working with other artists, what general advice would you give to artists?

I enjoyed working with so many talented and creative people, but everyone has their moments. This is some advice that I try and follow…

If you want to be successful with your work treat it as if its a business. Don’t burn any bridges. Set goals with yourself in the studio and focus when you are there. Enter competitions once a month. Apply for a grant once a year. Try and be satisfied with what you have finished so you can move on to the next step in your development. Think of a project and do it. Try not to be salty. Rejections eventually add up to successes. Don’t give up. Be yourself.

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