When it comes to practicing photography, the importance of being an outsider cannot be overstated. When I think of some of the work that inspired me and guided me, the practitioners were outsiders. Not as outside as artists like Henry Darger or Martin Ramirez, not coming from and practicing completely outside the system, but outside in a different way. Outside in a way that makes people slightly uncomfortable, outside in a way that allows one to stand outside the social structure and view it, document it, and comment upon it. Robert Frank and his seminal work The Americans is a brilliant example, or the work of W. Eugene Smith and his epic attempt at visually encompassing the entire city of Pittsburgh. These practitioners of documentary photography purposely moved themselves out to the edge of the social and cultural milieu in order to gain perspective, and to operate from a vantage point that allowed them honesty and clarity.
Standing across the street from a bar on Ninth Street, on a chilly night in a light drizzle, with a tripod-mounted camera and presumably a camera bag, maybe a raincoat…this made me slightly uncomfortable. Anyone on the other side of the street might have thought it odd to see someone going to such trouble to photograph what seemed like a trivial, mundane scene. A scene that would happen again and again, night after night. A scene that would be taken for granted, the assumption being that this is how Ninth Street would always be: Quinton’s crowded on a Thursday night, the front windows softened and blurred by fog and warmth, the blue light of the neon sign gracefully illuminating the brickwork and the branches of the nearest tree, two politely placed benches flanking the front of the building, and the denizens of Ninth Street gently shuffling by on the rain-darkened sidewalk.
The view of this stretch of Ninth Street is changed and different today, 25 years later, and the gentle blue of Quinton’s neon sign no longer illuminates the spreading branches of this tree.