Friday, October 31, 2008


Main Street
Binghamton, NY
October 2008

I spotted Jacob on the section of Main Street that passes through the middle of downtown Binghamton. I thought he might be waiting for a bus, but when I asked him if I could take his picture, he said he had time. He said he wasn't doing anything - just looking for a job.

We started walking down Main Street together, across the river and past the high school, into a seedier part of town where drunk war veterans sit on stoops outside homes and teenagers in bulky jackets meet on corners. Jacob told me they call this "The Strip" and at night, you can see prostitutes and drug dealers.

When I told Jacob that I live in Brooklyn, he told me he planned to move there someday. He said he had friends in the Heights and he had some idea of what neighborhoods you could actually live in. He thought he might have better luck getting a job in a bar or a restaurant and he might feel less alone in the city. Binghamton felt small to him, and sometimes there was no one around and nothing to do. He said you could fit everyone out on the street in Binghamton onto one block in Manhattan.

I asked him if he tried to get a job in a bar or a restaurant in Binghamton, and he said he'd have to work in the back - washing dishes or something - on account of his tattoos. Then I asked if he could do anything, what would he do.

"What's your dream job?"

Jacob told me his dream job was to be a construction worker. I wondered how hard it could be for a strong and strapping twenty-year-old guy like Jacob to find a construction job, and he said, "It's harder than you'd think."

I asked about his family, and he said they had their own problems and he didn't lean on them for help too much. His parents lived in Florida and he had a brother in Binghamton. When I wondered aloud if he was ever tempted to use drugs, he said, "No, that stuff will mess you up real bad."

When we passed a launderette, Jacob said he'd like to buy one of those. He thought you could make a lot of money off those coin machines.

We talked about the election and if the economy might change for the better. He wanted to know who I planned to vote for and when I told him Obama, I held my breathe to see how he would respond. He said, "Yeah, I'd vote for him too."

Before we said goodbye, Jacob looked me over and asked, "Is that the hippie look or just the laid back look?"

I said I definitely didn't consider myself a hippie, so I guess it was the laid back look.

He also wanted to know what I was taking these pictures for, what I was trying to do. I told him I was interested in the struggle of being his age in a place like Binghamton.

I gave him my card and asked if he had an email address so I could send him a photo. He said he was planning to set up a yahoo address at the library, and this week, I got a message from "Joker B".

When I mentioned Jacob to my girlfriend, I said," He wants to live in New York City."

"Don't they all," she replied.

I am leaving for Binghamton again tomorrow. I voted yesterday at the Board of Elections and I plan to celebrate Obama's victory on a late night bus back to New York City on Tuesday that makes a stop in the Greyhound Station in Scranton, Pennsylvania - Joe Biden's hometown.

I hope I see Jacob again - to take more pictures, perhaps, or simply to see how he is doing.


nina said...

I love reading your stories.
And I hope Jacob makes it to NYC and find work he likes.
I think it is great that people still want to come and that NY still represents a place where you can make a life and dreams come true.

Tema said...

Thanks, Nina. I think that New York dream is both fantasy and reality, but I certainly know what it's like to feel that way.

Alexandra said...

Hi T,
Alex here. I LOVE this photo of Jacob.OMG. He is so gorgeous. Maybe as today's my birthday he'd be interested in coming to NYC and romancing me (LOL). Really, is he this gorgeous in person? He is Brad Pitt gorgeous.
I also really like your story. What WILL become of Jacob...I like your idea of shooting the 20 somethings in Binghampton. I have never been there but it has such texture and context.
Miss you - will write more later from my gmail account. Gorgeous work as always. Alex

Katherine Syroboyarsky said...

Wow. What a great narrative Tema. Thanks for the inspiration!

Anonymous said...

I love the portrait, and can't wait to see more! Knowing the narrative is so nice. You write with a real empathy for your subject. Looking forward to showing with you in february. - francesca

Paul Pincus said...

I gave him my card and asked if he had an email address so I could send him a photo. He said he was planning to set up a yahoo address at the library, and this week, I got a message from "Joker B".

your story of jacob's story is painfully beautiful. your portrait of jacob is amazing.

i hope this series (binghamton) becomes a book.

Tema said...

Thank you, Paul. As always, your comments mean a great deal to me. I'd love to make a book of these portraits. I will be showing some of these images at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in an exhibition with Francesca Romeo opening February 19th. It would be fantastic if you could make it to the opening and we could finally meet! Frankly, I am dying to know what Paul Pincus is like in real life.