photo of the day 1/13/12. photo © Mark I Chester
photograph of my ex, gay playwright Robert Chesley on a trip to NYC in 2/1983
(You mean I AGREED to go to NYC in February? I must have been nuts! Or in love.) I am posting this photograph of Robert on the streets of NYC in honor of two things. First it is the birthday of Stephen Collins Foster who many call the Father of American Music. You know his songs even if you don't know that he wrote them -"Oh! Susanna", "Camptown Races", "Old Folks at Home" ("Swanee River"), "My Old Kentucky Home", "Old Black Joe", "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair", and "Beautiful Dreamer" Robert believed that Foster was gay and he died at the age of 37. One of Robert's unfinished projects was a play where each act would start and end with a Foster song. Robert also wrote music and claimed Foster as one of his inspirations. Robert's music now resides in the archives of the New York Public Library. But it is also Friday the 13th. One of those spooky days that you either love or hate. And this photograph is somehow very appropriate.
At that time, Richard Hambleton, a graffiti artist, was painting life-sized male figures in black lurking in alleyways and around blind corners. Considering crime in NYC, they were dark dangerous figures and when you first saw them you didn't know if it was graffiti or if you were about to be jumped. And they could be even scarier late at night while walking the streets of NYC. I started using them as backdrops for photographs of Robert. I found them interesting, but in light of Robert's death from AIDS, over time they have begun to take on a far more ominous quality, like the hand of his coming fate on his shoulder, standing behind him and quietly waiting. This particular photograph was taken at night and I made Robert get up on this fence so I could make the photograph visually work. Robert was very agreeable and loved being the center of attention, even if it was just me taking photographs of him. You can't see the fence because I cropped it out in the camera when I took this shot. I love the circle with the X and if you look closely you can see written graffiti saying 'The Undead' which I was later told was a punk band. But that is the synchronicity of unintended events coming together to say something new. I did a series of 6 or 7 photographs with different black graffiti figures looking over Robert's shoulder. I love them and they send shivers up my spine at the same time.