Friday, February 20, 2004
Last winter I walked the streets of New York City and took photos of stray gloves. I used a Canon Elph2 camera and had the film processed at my local drugstore, a Duane Reede. None of the photos were staged. My own gloves were not featured here either.
Taking the photos was the easy part. Explaining why is a bit harder...but here goes. I’ve always enjoyed photography, but I haven’t been really serious about it since I was my High School Photography Editor and that was many moons ago. Anyway, I would put this little camera in my coat pocket and go about my life on the streets of New York. All the while I would keep an eye out for a glove or two on the ground. I always found them, and within a couple of months I had over 150 photos of lost gloves. In fact by springtime I was becoming quite picky over which gloves deserved to be photographed.
The pleasures related to taking photos of stray gloves were multiple. The winter was colder than previous ones and there was lots of snow: all good variables in creating the need for gloves. At first, I was amazed at how many stray gloves there were in the city. This struck me as counter-intuitive: if it is cold and snowy you wear gloves, so how could they constantly be falling off your hands? And yet, and of course, people are constantly taking on and off their gloves throughout the day. Putting in a quarter at the car meter, getting into or out of a cab, opening a door with one hand while holding a bag in the other--these actions and countless others lead to stray gloves.
I realize that I’m beginning to sound like a used car salesmen here, but what strikes me when I look at the photos now is how each one of these gloves is so unique. Yes, there are quite a few of the “black glove that is lying in the gutter” variety. Yet, there are so many other kinds of gloves too: a brightly colored child’s glove that seems it could only fit on a doll’s hand; massive gloves that seemed designed for work in a nuclear power plant; an amazing plethora of surgical gloves--are doctors constantly throwing these out the window after surgery? There are fancy gloves that announce their worth to all, cheap gloves bought on Canal Street not ten minutes before they were lost. Some of the gloves seem positively sad and abused, others seem indignant. There are gloves that appear to be clawing their way toward life and just won’t accept their fate, and others that seem to mock their condition (for example, one with the middle finger derisively extended). Sometimes the glove is of secondary importance in the photograph; instead, one notices the quality of light as it hits the glove, the texture of asphalt or snow, the juxtaposition of the glove to an oblivious passerby, or to the lights of a racing cab. A few of the photographs even take on a “where’s Waldo” quality with a crushed, brutalized glove nearly undetectable in the chaos of the photograph. Seen en masse, the variety and range of possible untold stories encapsulated in these stray gloves form a kind of secret history of the city itself.
Within a few days of starting this project, I found my eyes glued to the sidewalks of the city in this quest to find stray gloves. Within a week I could spot a glove a half a block away. Friends helped here too. When I told them of my quest, they would often say, “hey, I saw a great one in Grand Central Terminal....check it out,” or “I hope you find the glove I lost.” This project, then, is a photo essay of things lost and found.
As shameless self-promotion would have it, you can go to the WVPE web site and check out a few of these glove photographs. And if you want to see some more then come on down to IUSB. The director of the library, Michele Russo, has kindly allowed me to exhibit some of them. So come to a great campus, have a coffee in our new student activities center, gaze at the beautiful library, and go on up to the fifth floor and check out my first and probably last art exhibit of this millennium. And remember: hold onto your gloves.