Andy poses the question, how did I end up in Chinatown on this particular day, and what brought me to click the shutter at this time. I also ask myself the same question. As well as if this was the exact place to be standing, and I know I had to crop it on left and right… In other words, I see many of the faults, whether real or imagined in the image.
It’s the reason I don’t have my own pictures hanging on my walls. Or anybody else’s other than a poor print of Abbott and Costello. That is a scan from a newspaper, and you see the halftones close-up; but it doesn’t matter. Lou is carrying a baseball bat.
But let me try and remember how I – yes. The first thing was that the more I wandered around the city, the more it became obvious that there were some very (to me) exotic places in this city. I didn’t expect to ever have the money to visit China. But for the cost of a token (that’s what they used then) you could sit yourself on a bench in the middle of a group of women in Chinatown and although you’d be stared at as an outsider, and as a male, they’d make you out for another one of those foreign tourists that are such a pain in the ass.
And since you knew you were going to Chinatown, you dressed the part. Make yourself look like a tourist from the midwest. Hang two cameras around your neck, and eat a stick of fried butter for chrissake. Well, I was using a manual focus camera – the M – something – and did I have a 50mm? Lens. Was I that close? I don’t think so. I think I had a 90mm on it. I love the 3-dimensional feel the woman’s polka dot pants have.
But so that was the first thing that brought me there, the fact that I couldn’t afford a trip to China. Also, of course that I was trying to follow in the footprints of HCB at that time (which maybe lasted a year) – but yes, I copied (or tried to) copy just about every photographer that I loved.
And the first time I was in Chinatown, in that park, I noticed how the women and men separated. That in itself was foreign and as I say, exotic to me. You saw it happen at parties a lot – especially if there was a big game on – how the guys would be in front of the set and the ladies were somewhere near the bar or the kitchen.
So then I was immediately out to try and photograph the women simply because it was more difficult. I had already photographed the men on the other side of the park. So that was the challenge. Stand in the middle of a hundred Chinese women playing something – I still don’t remember what it was – but there was betting involved for sure.
I wonder why the Chinese, in my massive generalization, like to gamble? I wonder if all cultures gamble about the same amount. I doubt it.
Anyway – so I was pre-focused, but couldn’t stand off there with the camera to my eye, so I was trying to get the hang of the game. Trying to figure out when something exciting was going to happen. And yes, I got into the rhythm of it when they were slapping down one card after another. And up the camera came to my eye – and they’re all excited so now they don’t notice me – and slam – click. And that’s the picture.
Most of everything else I took that day was junk.