“See…the flash is making my boys nervous, they are worried you might be cops.”
For my second instalment of my ongoing project…Into The Night – which documents an old New York that lives on after dark…I headed to Washington Heights. I took my friend Juan to act as my co pilot/body guard/translator/talent/super hero. Juan made the introductions in Spanish while I stood there looking pretty – camera poised ready to fire.
You never know how people are going to react to being photographed. While some people embrace the opportunity, others take offence. While there is almost nothing I wouldn’t do for a great photo I would also prefer not to get beaten/stabbed/shot and if I get mugged and lose my camera then the whole exercise is pointless. Knowing all of this still doesn’t change the fact…there is almost nothing I wouldn’t do for a photo opportunity. With this in mind, it is in my best interest to have Juan along to act as the voice of reason and asses the possible risk of heading down that block or jumping into that car. I am clearly my own worst enemy.
At one point during the night, we approached a block with a younger crew. We had been shooting some of the older guys playing dominos on the street. I felt the reception had been warm and a few people even asked to have their photo taken. But this felt different. I made the decision going into the project to shoot the body of work with flash because stylistically it is aggressive and revealing and in my opinion – a perfect match for the streets of New York. It also attracts a lot of attention and I hadn’t considered that as a result, I might be mistaken for police. One of the younger guys approached us. “No disrespect” he said “…but what are you photographing?” Juan explained the project while I offered my business card as a sign of my legitimacy. He nodded. “See…the flash is making my boys nervous, they are worried you might be cops.” We explained we had been photographing some of the guys playing Dominos down the block. He nodded again. “See…those guys are old school – they’re actually playing Dominos. Our games are just a front to sell drugs.” Juan and I nodded in understanding. I couldn’t believe he had been so upfront with us. If I had been a cop – he had just ratted out the entire operation. We agreed to head in a different direction but asked him if I could take his photo. He agreed. I took his photo and he told me he lived in the shelter around the corner…. “23 and doing it tough” he said. I nodded in agreement.
As the night went on, word got out that I might be a famous photographer. People rolled around in cars asking for my details – wanting to work with me, asking if I shoot bikini girls, could I photograph their nieces christening? One guy told me he had an idea for a movie. I handed him my business card…not sure how I was going to make his movie a reality but happy to oblige.
The night ended with Juan scaling a fence in an attempt at walking the Washington Heights Bridge and getting caught by the cops. They informed us we were trespassing and suggested with the current state of terrorism it would be advisable if we moved on. With those words of warning, we decided it might be time to head home.
It was truly an adventure ….Into the Night. Thanks to Juan for for killing it as my co-pilot and delivering me and my camera home safe and sound.
Julatten is a magical place where magical people live…I am sure of it.
Being an introvert…I am particular about who I spend my time with. As a result…I feel like I form closer friendships. My friends are my chosen family and I offer them the loyalty I expect in return.
Raine is one of my people. You always want your people to choose partners who will help them be the best versions of themselves. Raine chose Eli and now Eli is one of my people…I love him almost as much as Raine. It’s refreshing to meet someone who’s ego matches my own.
Raine & Eli are the friends who don’t run from the hard stuff. They are there for me…always. Earlier this year – I spent a week with them and they took me to Julatten in the Cairns hinterland in Australia where Eli’s mum – Sally lives. Julatten is a magical place where magical people live…I am sure of it.
Thank you to Sally and her family of dogs who welcomed me into their home. I can’t wait to go back.
“I feel like we tapped into the energy source of the city, found an authenticity at street level that tells the story of an old New York that lives on after dark.”
I recently attempted to walk 100 blocks in a night, with my friend ‘Samuel’ as my partner in crime. We almost made it – falling just short at 67 after the police used a megaphone to kick us out of Central Park.
But it wasn’t a failure….the end goal was never really the 100 blocks but to discover and capture a grittier side to NYC, an old New York that many associate with the 90′s before the gentrification of the new millennium.
It was an adventure through the night with a myriad of characters to colour the journey. I was attacked by a crack addict and her dealer in Tompkins Square Park, I spoke to a couple of musicians who let me photograph them and invited me to their show, I shot a man smoking on his stoop, chatted with a guy roaming the streets with all his possessions in search of a bus to anywhere but here and was privileged to a performance of The Harlem Shake. I feel like we tapped into the energy source of the city, found an authenticity at street level that tells the story of an old New York that lives on after dark.
This is the New York I want to know. I am excited about making this a regular project and continuing to explore and document a darker side to the city.
Enjoy the journey.
“For the first time…I consider the worst-case scenario. Being that my visa gets denied and I have to fly back to Australia leaving behind all my belongings and the life I have built for myself in NYC”
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5TH
12:20pm – I call the US consulate in Canada to schedule my visa meeting. I’m hoping for something in two to three weeks time. The operator informs me the next available meeting is tomorrow morning at 10:30am and after that sometime in October…..October is not going to work…tomorrow….well…I’m going to have to make it work.
I hang up the phone and call dad for advice. It’s sometime in the middle of the night in Australia but he answers. He always answers because he’s my dad and he’s awesome. “Am I doing this?” I ask. “Go for it” he replies. That’s always his answer. I think it has something to do with the time of night I call him and his subsequent level of intelligence. Regardless, I continue to call.
I check flights. The only flights that are going to get me there on time arrive one hour before my visa meeting. I presume that customs in Ottawa is a walk in the park and the airport is probably a 20min drive from the airport. If both my flights run exactly on time…I might make it. I’m not going to have time to check in anywhere and drop off luggage and I know they are particular about what you are allowed to bring into the Consulate – so I won’t be able to bring any luggage with me; Just my documentation, a small handbag and the clothes on my back.
1:30pm- I head off to my friend Jake’s place to print my visa documents. Jake proves himself to be ALL TIME and even paperclips my documents for me. I hug him goodbye and wonder how long it will be before I see him again. For the first time…I consider the worst-case scenario. Being that my visa gets denied and I have to fly back to Australia leaving behind all my belongings and the life I have built for myself in NYC. Mini panic attack ensues.
2:15pm – I jump in a cab and head uptown to shoot a wedding. I try and push aside my personal Armageddon to focus on the job. I am a pro after all.
7:00pm – I finish and head home. Check and re-check my documents. Download and backup the days wedding. Shower, eat and head off to bed for a few hours sleep.
THURSDAY, JUNE 6TH
2:45am – I wake up (hating life)
3:15am – Leave for the airport (hating life)
4:00am – Arrive and check in
5:30am – First flight boards on time. I am off to a good start. I already feel like a warrior of life. If I can pull this off I can achieve superhero status…surely.
7:30am – I arrive somewhere to get my connection. They keep calling it Dulles – its not until I’m halfway through the airport that I realize I’m in Washington DC. United Airlines sends me an email informing me my gate has changed but my flight is on time. Hallelujah. Round two…winner!
8:00am – I call Bank of America to put a travel notice on my cards. They ask me when I’m leaving the country. “Right now” I reply as I literally hand over my boarding pass.
9:15am- I land in Ottawa 15mins early. When does that ever happen? Breeze through customs and jump in a cab. Apparently I look fancy because the cab driver presumes I am a visiting dignitary heading to the consulate for a meeting. I don’t bother to correct him. He is surprised I don’t have accommodation booked and points out all the fancy hotels close by. I indulge the fantasy and nod like I’m considering them.
9:50am: I arrive at the consulate
10:00am: The security guard rejects my handbag because I’m carrying my laptop. In Australia – the consulate stores your electrical items for you, apparently not in Canada. The security guard tells me to put it in my car and come back. “I don’t have a car”- I tell him. “Not my problem” He replies.
10:05am: I’m out on the street searching for somewhere to stash my bag. The lovely lady at the home wears store across the road informs me that although she can’t take it, there is a coffee shop around the corner that does that kind of thing. I feel like I’m trying to buy drugs. I head off to said coffee shop, drop my bag off, thank them profusely and run back to the consulate.
10:20am: I go through security at the consulate. The guard asks me if I found somewhere to store my bag. I did…I tell him. “See”…he says… “that’s why God gave you a mouth” he replies. Thank you asshole!
10:25am: I take a seat…stoked I have made it this far.
10:35am: They call me up to check my paperwork. She files it away and gives me a number. I sit back down and wait.
12:00pm: Still waiting
1:00pm: Still waiting
2:00pm: Still waiting. I haven’t had anything to eat or drink since 7:00pm the night before. Not even a glass of water. There is no water available and it crosses my mind that this might be an interrogation technique. I start wondering at what point I will become dangerously dehydrated.
2:30pm: They call me up for my interview. I am immediately terrified. My future and everything I have worked for lies in the hands of this man in his plastic throne. Dear god…please let them approve my visa. I’m trying to play it cool but I’m already considering the cost of flights back to Australia. He comments on my cute Australian accent. I reward him with a flirtatious giggle. (At this point I am prepared to do literally anything) He tells me he has approved my visa. I break out into a huge grin. He smiles back. My first thought is….thank god. The second is…I can’t believe I’ve pulled this off. I can pick my visa up on Monday he tells me. I leave and try to high five the security guard on the way out. He dodges me and looks at me like I’m retarded. I float to the coffee shop to retrieve my belongings. “I was approved” – I announce to no one in particular. The girl behind the counter gives me a free latte and I buy a croissant and a bottle of water. The first thing I have had to eat or drink in almost 20hrs. I slump into a chair and broadcast the news to my family and friends.
3:30pm – I have a visa but nowhere to sleep for the night. I am too exhausted to search for anything so I decide to treat myself to one of the fancy hotels the cab driver pointed out. I head to The Westin because it’s the closest and because I know their beds are amazing. I tell the girl at the reception that my visa was just approved and I am celebrating. She upgrades me for free.
3:45pm – I get into my fancy room and collapse into bed. I have no intention of leaving the room. I order room service, watch a movie and take pics of my feet whilst boasting to pretty much anyone who will listen about my amazing life. I am obnoxious but I don’t care. I have my visa. I sleep for 13 hrs.
FRIDAY, JUNE 7TH
10:00am: I wake up and stretch luxuriously in my king size bed. Check out is midday and I need to find somewhere else to stay till Monday. I book into a place with airbnb in downtown Ottawa. My airbnb – Karen – confirms my stay.
11:59am: I check out and commence a period of mourning for my king size bed and fluffy robe. I need to buy a change of clothes, find a Starbucks and bust out some emails. My life in NYC is continuing without me.
5:00pm: I meet my airbnb host and immediately like her. In true Aussie style I rename her Kaz. Kaz is an aging rocker who spent years travelling the world working in community radio. She tells me a story about selling weed to The Stones in India. She immediately becomes one of my favorite people.
6:00pm: Kaz (my new bestie) and I head out for dinner and drinks.
7:30pm: I wander around the trendy part of town called ‘The Market’ and finish the night with a whiskey at the Chateau Lafayette.
SATURDAY, JUNE 8TH
9:00am: Kaz takes me to an alternative yoga class that involves a lot of chanting. Surprisingly, I love it and float out on a yoga high.
10:30am: Kaz and I enjoy breakfast in the sunshine at a local café
2:00pm: Kaz and I enjoy a romantic stroll together along the canal. Ottawa is surprisingly beautiful. I had no idea Quebec is literally the other side of the river.
3:00pm: We head out see Lucky Ron at the Chateau Lafayette. Lucky Ron is a country music legend who has been playing the same set at the Chateau for 30 years. It’s a true locals event and I am grateful to Kaz for the locals insight. The bartenders recognize me from the night before. (probably because I am wearing the same clothes)
3:30pm: I try Poutine…the French Canadian take on Chips and Gravy. They add cheese curd, which sounds revolting but in reality is next level. It morphs to my ass immediately but tastes delicious.
4:00pm: I try and go drink for drink with Kaz, which is a grave mistake. We are drinking huge bottles of beer in tiny glasses. I think this is a crazy Canadian trick to get you to drink more. It works.
5:00pm: Lucky Ron comes on and the party steps up a gear. Everyone knows the words and sings along…rocking out hard to Johnny Cash. Ron’s wife Kathlene looks like she might have been to every single concert for the last 30 years. She stands side stage and conducts the crowd. Ron rewards her with a love song entitled… ‘Sweet Kathlene’. Umm…yeh – there aint nothin sweet about Kathlene. By the second set I am up dancing with the rest of the crowd…. pulling out some sweet thigh slapping lasso moves that are a hit with the locals.
7:00pm: In a random turn of events I recognize someone I have been talking to on Tinder. He is a musician in town for a gig. We chat for a while before he heads off for his gig.
8:00pm: (or sometime that night) I end up at the bar doing Drambuie shots with some dude possibly in his 70’s with limited English. I keep referring to him as ‘the homeless guy’. Note to self…just because he has a beard doesn’t mean he is homeless. I have vague recollections of moving furniture at some point. My next clear memory is grabbing pizza with Kaz and heading back to hers/mine for a nightcap. I collapse into bed in a drunken slumber.
SUNDAY, JUNE 9TH
8:00am: I wake up to messages from my Canadian Tinder friend. He invites me out for breakfast. I roll out of bed and attempt to look presentable. I may or may not still be tipsy.
9:00am: Super fun breakfast date… for me anyway. We have what I’m pretty sure is exactly the same conversation as the night before. None of which I can remember. Steve is a good sport and lets me retell my life story for a second time. (High five Steve) After coffee and breakfast I start to feel human and head back to touch base with Kaz.
10:30am: Kaz is taking me to her friend’s lake house today. It’s 40 mins outside the city and a beautiful summers day. The sunshine, the spontaneity, the adventure – I’m loving the moment. I feel so grateful that what I thought was going to be an awful experience has turned into such a glorious adventure.
12:30pm: After helping officially open the lake house for the summer, we relax with beers on the deck. I put in some quality floating time in the lake and drip dry in the sun…this morning’s hangover a distant memory.
4:30pm: We head back to Ottawa after a late BBQ lunch. I’m expecting to hear about my visa tomorrow. Kaz tells me where I need to pick it up from, how to get there and even hands me the bus tickets. I am humbled by her generosity.
MONDAY, JUNE 10TH
12:30pm: I haven’t heard anything about my visa so I decide to wing it and head to the depot on the off chance it has arrived. I have a phobia of catching buses along with post offices, nail polish (makes me feel like my nails are suffocating) and filling it out paper work. Luckily Kaz’s directions are so good, I breeze through the semi traumatic bus experience and make it to the depot. Yes they have my passport and yes the visa is inside. They hand me my passport and right then and there I decide it is my most valued possession.
12:35pm: Outside the depot I fall into step with a cute German boy. He has been studying in Montreal and is off to visit friends in California. He regales me with stories of student life in Montreal. I make a mental note to put it on my travel wish list. I have made plans to catch a bus back to New York that night at 7pm travelling via Montreal. As luck would have it, the cute German is on the same bus. Thank you life.
5:00pm: Kaz gets home from work. She is going to walk me to the bus. I can’t believe my luck that I landed with Kaz for the weekend. I am forever grateful. Canadian people are literally the nicest people in the world. I challenge anyone to say otherwise.
7:00pm: I give Kaz the double handed salute and jump on the bus…. searching for the cute German boy. I locate him; he recognizes me and we start to chat. He asks me what my blog is called and we fall into silence while he checks it out and I consider the ‘candid’ nature of my writing. He is quiet for quite a while and I ask him what he thinks. He is surprised the blog is so personal. Sigh…I can see where this is going. I retreat into Kirra world and we ride the rest of the journey in silence.
9:30pm: We arrive in Montreal and I bid my cute German friend goodbye. He disappears – leaving me with thoughts of what could’ve been.
10:45pm: I board the bus to NYC. The last leg of my journey. I am exhausted and can’t wait to sleep in my own bed.
12:00am: (or some stage in the middle of the night) We cross the boarder and my phone vomits messages at me. Life in NYC has continued without me. We stop at customs and the customs officers bark orders at us, herding us out of the bus like cattle. Their whole demeanor screams “Welcome to ‘Merica assholes”. Yup… definitely not in Canada anymore.
12:15pm: They let me into the country. Hurrah!
2:30am: I unsuccessfully attempt to sleep on the bus.
6:05am: I arrive back in New York. I am exhausted and emotional. I actually tear up as I leave the bus depot and breathe in the city. I’m back. I made it. It’s a grey rainy day but the city never looked so god damn beautiful. I take a moment to reflect on my journey and how hard I have had to work just to be here. I hail a cab and head back home. That’s right…home. Can’t get rid of me now.
P.S : No luggage also meant no camera but here are a few of my fav iphone pics