Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Some people have been asking me if I think any of the young men I photographed in Binghamton will come to the opening of the exhibition next week in New York City, and I think the answer to that is probably not. While I was shooting the work, I tried to get as much contact information from these subjects as they were comfortable giving - phone numbers, addresses, email addresses if they had them. In some cases, I noticed that the phone numbers they gave lacked area codes and the addresses lacked zip codes, as though the world for them didn't yet exist outside of Binghamton. And those who do have email addresses don't necessarily check their emails as frequently and compulsively as I do. I have sent information about the show to a number of the subjects and invited them to come to the opening or to see the show during the two months following, but I haven't received any responses yet. I imagine that New York City might seem far away and inaccessible to many of them.

The last time I saw Jacob was in early December. I was in Binghamton for a few cold days driving and looking for subjects and I figured I'd wait to see if I spotted him on Main Street. I saw him a few times, but he was talking to friends, and I didn't want to interrupt their conversations. I noticed he had cut his hair short - almost like a military buzz cut or a skinhead. Then I unexpectedly got an email from him saying he'd lost his phone, as though he sensed I was there, and I saw him later that same afternoon walking alone.

I pulled into the parking lot of Danny's Diner, and we stood outside the car talking for a while. It was cold, and his face was flushed from walking outside, and he was wearing a wool thrift-store overcoat and carrying a plastic bag of groceries in each hand. I imagined photographing him like that but felt intuitively that the more right thing to do was simply to talk and to listen.

I asked about the girlfriend, and that was over already. She did something crazy, and they weren't speaking anymore. He still hadn't found a job in Binghamton and he was thinking about a job in Texas that sounded a lot like working on a fishing boat in Alaska. You could make a lot of money fast but the work was dangerous. You could make $4,000 a month, but he said he'd never been to Texas and he didn't know anyone in Texas.

He asked me if I'd give him a ride back to his house and when got into the passenger seat of my girlfriend's tiny car, he struck me as so much more massive than either of us. He wanted to talk about New York City again and said he had looked on craigslist and had seen apartments you might be able to afford in Harlem, even if you were on welfare. I said it was a really tough time to move to New York without a job. People were losing jobs, and even people I knew who lived there for a long time were struggling with the turn of the economy.

When we pulled up to the house where he was renting a room, we said we'd stay in touch. As he walked up the driveway, a woman about his age who was sitting on the steps of the porch said to Jacob, "Is that your sugar momma?"

I said no from the window of the car, and she said, "Oh my god - she heard me" - and I laughed and drove away. If she knew how broke I was myself, and how my interest in Jacob had nothing to do with wanting sex, she might understand what a poor sugar momma I'd make for him or anybody else.

I haven't heard from Jacob since. I wrote to him a week ago and sent him links to my website and the gallery's website, but there has been no response from him yet. I don't know if he is still checking his messages at the library. I don't know if he is still in Binghamton, or if he is in Texas, or if he is somewhere else altogether. I think the most likely thing is that I will see Jacob sometime in the future walking on Main Street. But peoples' lives are impossible to predict - his and my own.


nina said...

I love your writing as much as your photography!

ruben said...

That was a great story Tema~!