On the curation of Stores.

Recently, an ode to video stores went somewhat viral on facebook.  Kim’s video was an amazing resource for finding out about films in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  For me though, it was the record stores and book stores that had a greater impact.

When I moved to NY, I mostly cared about music and photography.  I hit the record stores on St. Marks Place on a daily basis.  Sounds and Venus always had new stock in the used bins.  I once got the first roxie music record “re-make re-model” for 25 cents at Sounds.  It didn’t make any sense that it was only a quarter, the record was in great shape and it is inarguably a fantastic album.  I haven’t played it in years but I can still see that Sounds 25 cent sticker on it.; 2 thick brown circles around the 25.

In addition to the stores I bought a lot of records on the streets.  CD’s were just coming into vogue, so a lot of people were getting rid of records.  As I scoped out the blankets on St. Marks and at Astor Place, I also kept my eye out for photo books.  I got some pretty great ones on the street, and usually paid a dollar or two.  One day I spent at least 30 minutes haggling with a guy who wanted 7$ for a copy of “Invisible City“.  It was way out of my price range but the seller wouldn’t come down.  I walked a couple of blocks away before I hustled back to hand over my beer money.  I was going to have to do without for a couple of days because I needed that book.  The grainy black and white images, mostly shot at night, on the gritty streets and in the run down apartments of Alphabet City cast romantic spell on me.  I connected with the work because it looked a lot like the photos I was taking, but it also opened up a world that I wanted to be in.

A few years later when I had graduated from college, I was working as a messenger and playing in a band.  I was living in a barely workable 1 bedroom apartment share with my college roommate when I went to a party at a friends house.  It was a cramped but classic E Village 3 bedroom apartment and the rent was only $450.  As soon as I walked in I fell in love with the place. I fell all over my friend begging him to let me move in if someone moved out.  To my great surprise he was moving in a few weeks.  My old roomate was a little upset, but there was no way that I could pass up $150 rent and my own room above my favorite bar.

A couple of weeks after I moved in my good friend Letha asked me if I knew Ken Schles as he lived in my building.  I didn’t.  She was a make up artist and worked with him a lot.  She thought I would like his photos and began telling me about his book.  As soon as she started talking I realized that he was the guy who had made “Invisible City” and it made sense that I would walk into that apartment and fall in love because it was the building in that book.  It was imprinted on my brain.  For the next several days I tore apart my belongings trying to find it.  Eventually I realized it was at my old apartment.  It was a wild experience to look back it and see the hallways and streets that had become my hallways and streets.  I had internalized the images and willed myself into them almost as if I had followed the precepts of that book “The Secret”.

During that period I worked a few days a week as a messenger and some mornings typing for an animal rights activist.  My band would practice 2 or 3 nights a week and we played shows and toured some.  My low rent made it possible for me to take a lot of time off.  I would drink coffee, draw, paint, write, and wander.  I was taking a lot of photos of the music scene and also made frequent trips to the darkroom.  The place that I worked as a messenger was near A Photographer’s Place, a book store devoted exclusively to photo books.  There was a big table in the center of the store right as one walked in, and it was covered with new books and lots of remainders.  The remainders were often amazing books by top photographers.  The table also featured new exciting work and I would spend hours going through all the books.  The shelves were filled with less current work, the classics of the photo book world, but I went there to get the cheap remainders and to dream about buying the more expensive new books.  Occasionally I would splurge.  I never talked to the sales people, it was the subtle curation that had a powerful influence on me.  I miss that store more than any other.

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