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Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories Ham Radio–Struck by Lightning & (94) ARTSY Billboards

JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories Ham Radio–Struck by Lightning & (94) ARTSY Billboards

STRUCK BY LIGHTNING

I’m going to tell you about the time I was knocked down by a bolt of lightning.  On this July day, it was a Saturday, and my old man was working a half a day.  The house was quiet.  We lived in this five-room house.

The front bedroom, which was on the front of the house, was my bedroom, my own thing.  It was right on the corner, so there was a window on my left and on my right.   I had put posters all over the walls and I had my amateur radio rig there. In the corner of the room was my desk, which was my great pride and joy.  I’d built my amateur radio rig on the top of this desk, on a rack I had built out of angle iron.  My whole life revolved around that amateur radio transmitter.  Up on the roof of the house I had an antenna, a twenty-meter dipole, just stuck up there.

On this beautiful Saturday morning, it’s the beginning of July and our school vacation has just begun.  I am sitting at my desk and I’m on twenty-meter CW at the time. The band is very lively with a lot of stations on.

Now, around my house, as in the case of all kids versus their parents, there is a great gap between my mother and me and my old man and me.  It is always thus.  In the front bedroom I am doing what they call, “Making all those noises.”  Anybody who’s ever played with amateur radio as a kid, always hears, “Would you cut out all that noise up there, we’re trying to sleep!”  And, “You’re making that sound on the radio again!  Will you stop it!”  It’s always called, “Making that noise.”  Well, of course, what you were doing was involve yourself in worldwide electronic communication.  You weren’t “Making that noise,” which was way above and beyond the ken of anybody else in my family.  My old man’s technical knowledge stopped short of how to use Simonize.  My mother’s technical knowledge consisted of how to get the most mileage out of a Brillo pad.

And so I was sitting in there doing this mysterious thing.  And I was always on the defensive about it.  They couldn’t understand what all those beeps were.  My mother would see all this stuff—I had rectifier tubes that would glow blue when I put my key down.  They looked spooky to both my father and my mother.  It not only looked very spooky but it looked unbelievably dangerous.  Which, incidentally, to tell the truth, it was.

Let’s face it, I had a power supply that delivered fifteen-hundred volts at two-hundred mil.  That’s quite enough to knock the front end off of your house any time it wants to do it.

So I’m sitting in there working away with my rig on this day and my mother’s out in the kitchen.  Every time I got on she would look in my door and say, “Now, be careful.  You’re going to get a shock.  Be careful with that.  And stop making those beeps so loud.  Can you turn it down?”  And she would go back into the kitchen.  She always thought I was going to get a shock—playing around with electricity.

Well, I had gotten my share of shocks and, I might add, RF burns —Radio Frequency—which is another story.  When you’re tuning up a section network and you start getting an arc off of the knob—I got an RF burn one time that caught me in the thumb and burnt me all the way down to my ankle.  It bore a hole in me.  So I had my share of it, but I never told my parents about it.

(More lightning to come.)

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TORN BILLBOARDS

In the early 1960s, with graffiti and all other kinds of mayhem burgeoning, I noticed some billboards that were torn in—shall I say—“interesting and artistic” fashion. Either by wind and rain or by human intent. I began photographing them. The one that first attracted my attention and led to my fascination, was the “I got my job through The New york Times” poster in the subway. Note his job. I returned with my camera, and so began my extended interest.  To point out the obvious–for me, finding stuff to photograph involves two aspects: one is having an eye for good possibilities, and the second half is closing in on and, from the entire scatter, shutting out the excess and forming a strong composition. All billboard photos shown I took circa 1963-6. I did not tear or in any other way alter what you see here.

Under highway overpasses, on subway platforms, elevated platforms. I began using a tripod. A subway cop stopped me, saying I needed a permit to photograph in the subway. I got one, and though it lasted only a few days, that didn’t curtail my artsy activity.

At the time, I didn’t realize that a couple of known photographers had done torn-subject photos before I got the idea. But they were somewhat different—many of mine tended to have a rather bold, abstract expressionist look. I had some of my 35mm slides converted to color prints. Surprisingly, the color translated well to prints. I sold a couple at the Greenwich Village Art Show in 1963. I showed a selection to Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, John Szarkowski. He liked my photos and wanted to show some of them in a slide show he was putting together—that show never happened.

John Szarkowski as quoted on the Internet

“Photography is a contest between a photographer and the presumptions of approximate and habitual seeing. The contest can be held anywhere… “- John Szarkowski

“The study of photography touches the broader issues of modern art and modern sensibility.” – John Szarkowski – In B&W Magazine.

I framed some photos and keep others in a portfolio,

which I glance at maybe once or twice a decade.

Here are more.

“A photographer’s best work is, alas, generally done for himself” –John Szarkowski

[Might we equally say the above about one’s thoughts and writings?]

My good friend, Riff, suggested I photograph his eyes with the “HE PEOP” torn poster.

He didn’t like being photographed, but, surprised that I included his whole upper body, he accepted that my image of him included his hands and arms.

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