Monday, May 05, 2003

Good Experience Live V

Gillian Zoe Segal: New York Characters

Gillian Zoe Segal is a photographer and author of New York Characters. Segal's work has appeared in the New York Times and Time Out New York. Here is a rough transcript of her talk at Good Experience Live:

I went straight from undergraduate at the University of Michigan to law school and then straight to work as a lawyer. I realized that working as a lawyer wasn’t for me. I 1997 I enrolled in the international center of photography. Every day I would walk from where I lived in the upper west side to the school which at the time was located on the upper east side. I kept seeing familiar faces. Including this man who ended up on the cover of my book. I went up to him and asked who are you what are you doing and why are you always here? He's known as the mayor of the reservoir. It's become his office. And he's well known within the New York City jogging world. What makes New York the best city in the world is the people. Among the 8 million of us, there are some that stand out in the crowd and really give the city its character. Some are highly visible. Some are well known in their neighborhoods. And some are involved in their little subcultures.

I set out to document these characters, these wonderful personalities. Joe Franklin became famous as a radio host in 1950 and then started a talk show. He's now known as the king of memorabilia. He has an office on Times Square, and the ceiling is falling in. His office is piled high with clutter. You literally have to walk in sideways or you'll cause an avalanche.

My next character is Curtis Sliwa who became famous for founding the Guardian Angels in 1979. One of the ways I found my characters was by asking people I photographed for recommendations. Curtis sat down with his crazy rolodex and gave me all sorts of crazy numbers. I'd also show up In a particular neighborhood and ask who's famous around here.

These are the Vodels. They're kind of the darlings of the New York art world. He's a retired postal worker. She's a retired librarian. Since they got married, they'd use her salary to pay rent. And they'd use his to buy artwork.

This is fireman Ed. He's a massive fan of the Jets. He's almost as famous as the team is. He always sits In the same section. He sits on the shoulders of his brother and leads that cheer J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets! He takes his job very seriously. He even confided in me that sometimes he gets so nervous before games that he throws up.

This is the lemon ice king of Corona. He's been in business since 1949 in Queens. He, too, takes his job very seriously. He has one rule: No mixing flavors.

This guy is named Radio Man, but he's really about movies and television. He spends his days riding his bike between every movie and TV set. He's really a celebrity groupie. He even has a hotline you can call to learn where the shoots are. You'd think that celebrities wouldn't like him. But they do really like him.

This is the Polar Bear Club president. The club was founded in 1903. On Coney Island, they swim every Sunday between September and May, when the water is at its most freezing.

Johnny Footman is New York's oldest taxi driver. He's 84 years old and has been driving taxis since 1945.

You can't really live in New York City and escape Rev. Al Sharpton's presence. He's one of our most powerful politicians even though he's never been elected to an office.

This is a crowd pleaser. He's our subway dermatologist. He became known because of his tasteful ads in the subway. What I was curious about was how many doctors were in his practice. He is successful, but he's the only doctor in his practice. How does he come up with those ads? He makes them up himself. He shows them to his family, and if they say you cant air that its disgusting, he runs them.

Here we have John McEnroe. When you think of John McEnroe, you think about how good he is at tennis, but you also think of his temper and his famous temper tantrums. He really is like that in real life.

This is Kitty Carlisle Hart. When I met her she was 93 years old and still so with it. She represents New York's high society.

This man I call the subway dancer. He's one of the most famous subway performers. He dances with his doll Lupita, whose made with a broomstick and a mask. She's attached to his feet, and they dance to salsa music.

One of the benefits of coming to a live lecture is that you get to see some of the people who didn't make it into the book. This is the soup nazi, and he really is like he was portrayed on that Seinfeld episode. He and I got into a fight, so he wouldn't sign my release. So he's not in the book, but I can show you what he's like today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Johnny Footman drove us on a recent trip to NYC. He is crabby. He got mad at us because we only went 10 blocks "I don't want to take you just that far," and when he dropped us off the next (almost) fare asked him a qestion, he told the guy he would take him somewhere but did not want to talk to him...then Johnny just drove off, mumbling something....My son still talks about him--"at least that guy isn't as grumpy as Johnny Footman"