Category Archives: The Film

Some Music for You

Bach Sonata in B minor for unaccompanied violin (BWV 1002). Recorded at the MacDowell Colony in the Sprague-Smith studio.


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The Nicest People in the World

Many years ago, when A Life’s Work was granted fiscal sponsorship by the New York Foundation for the Arts, I met with a NYFA advisor. She was a wonderful woman, a filmmaker, with positive energy emanating from every pore. She looked at the people I had lined up to work on the film and commended me on my choices. I told her a few of them had agreed to work for rates well below what they usually charged, below the friend rate, even. The advisor said, “It always amazes me. In the film business, you meet with the nicest people in the world, and the … not nicest people in the world.”

I interacted with both recently. And in a previous draft of this post I included the latter but I’ve cut it because there’s more than enough negativity going around. So here, the latest instance of dealing with the nicest people.

Laboratory for Tree Ring Research U of AZ
Matthew Salzer in front of a 1,407 year-old giant sequoia from California.

In January I went to Tucson, AZ, for a pick up shoot at the Laboratory for Tree Ring Research; they have a couple of crosscuts of the Prometheus tree there and I needed those shots for the film. I had been using a placeholder, a couple of stylized shots taken from a Nova episode I digitize from a VHS. When I reached out to license that footage, the company that owned it wanted an obscene amount for 10 seconds. So obscene that flying out to AZ, renting a car, buying meals and gas, all of it, would be significantly cheaper. And I’d get the footage I wanted.

Canon 5D on slider

I lined up the logistics of the shoot with Professor Matthew Salzer of the University of Arizona’s Laboratory for Tree Ring Research and needed only one thing. A camera. (My camera is obsolete.) I considered renting one and looked at prices, and they were reasonable, but being the poor, cheapskate that I am, I asked filmmaker, collaborator, and dear friend Wolfgang Held if he had a camera he didn’t need that week and would he consider renting it to me. He offered me his Canon 5D, two lenses, some other accessories, and a traveling bag. And he would not rent it, but he would lend it to me. I was  deeply moved by my friend’s generosity.

I paid him back with lunch and a thousand thank yous. But I like to think I paid him back in another way, too.  Enter my colleague at the education factory, Sam Richman.

When I was about 13 and developing an interest in photography, my father brought home a camera bag with an old Pentax 35mm and some lenses; apparently, “they had fallen off a truck.” Inspired by cinematographer Andy Bowley’s use of funky lenses, I brought them into work for possible use with our 7D. Sam and I played with them a bit, and then into the factory’s camera bag they went.

About a month later, Sam asked if he could borrow my 35mm lens (the one in the foreground) for a personal project.  I didn’t ask about the project or how long he’d need it, but said yes without hesitation. He borrowed it for a weekend and on Monday he showed me why he needed a slightly wide lens.

Here is the result: a video he made with his band for NPR’s Tiny Desk competition. Sam is on drums.

Sam paid me back with enchiladas. Later he told me he finds himself helping out his friends’ film projects just to help them out.

And so it goes. You’ve got to  keep the giving in circulation.

Do you have a favorite pay-it-forward story? How about sharing it in the comments below!

Big shout out to Matt, who made the shoot stress-free.

If you’d like to pay it forward by helping out A Life’s Work, you can do so by clicking the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute. All we need is $10,000 for color correcting and sound mixing and then the film will be ready to go into the world!  Pretty exciting, right?

Click the button, that’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting, too!


Documenting a Time and a Place: Meryl Meisler, Photographer and Artist

I met Meryl Meisler  in the late 90s. I was working for an education nonprofit and Meryl, a NYC teacher, was on their board. We hit it off immediately and have stayed in touch long after the nonprofit fell apart.

It’s been such a pleasure witnessing the well-deserved press Meryl’s documentary photography work has been getting over the last few years.

Meryl’s work does not focus on any of the four subjects featured in A Life’s Work. So why did I want to interview her? In addition to being a good friend, a wonderful person, and a fantastic artist, I am interested in anything or anyone with a very long view. And certainly Meryl fits in that category. As she says, “Making art is a process; it is my life’s work.”

When you were taking these photos, what were you intending to do with them?

These photographs were part of my Masters thesis exhibit at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My exhibit consisted of drawings/illustrations and B&W photographic prints. They served their original purpose — to create a body of work and “defend” it in questioning with my thesis committee. The same photographs were used in a portfolio to be admitted to Lisette Model’s class at the New School when I moved to NYC in 1975. I kept pursuing the photographs of (predominantly Jewish) Long Island family and friends, and enrolled in a photography book course with Bob Adelman. He set me up with a writer to submit a proposal to a publishing company he was associated with, and the proposal was not accepted. I kept doing the series anyway, and in 1978, the work successfully helped me receive a C.E.T.A. project Artist position as a documentary photographer for the American Jewish Congress (AJC). I created a photographic archive of “Jewish New York” for AJC, which also included my personal project, interviewing and photographing extended family members to learn about my Eastern European Jewish roots and immigrating to the USA.

In the midst of all this, I was a young person coming of age in NYC in the 1970s and loving it. I carried my camera everywhere I went  —  clubs, discos, beach scenes, parties, on the streets day and night. My camera was my best friend and diary.

I was working as a freelance illustrator but photography was my passion. I set up a darkroom in the laundry room of my cousin’s building where I rented a room. Photography was and still is my passion and art. Several important people in the photography world, Cornell Capa and Lisette Model among them, were highly encouraging of my work — they saw something special in it. I thought I would be definitely famous by time I was 30. Alas, that did not happen. Perhaps that notion of fame might come by 75?

While working as a C.E.T.A. artist for AJC, we had to do community service. I chose to teach photography to homebound handicapped adults and to children. Even though my Bachelors degree was in art education, I was scared to teach. The community service work helped build up my confidence. When CETA ended in 1979, I was still doing freelance illustration work but the bills were coming in faster than the paychecks. I needed a steady job. The CETA teaching experience helped build my teaching confidence and portfolio. I became a NYC Public School Art Teacher, teaching photography four days a week “per diem” (no benefits) to elementary school students in the Learning to Read Through The Arts Program in September 1979.  When a full time art teaching position with benefits opened up in Bushwick, December 1981, I started carrying a point and shoot camera to photograph going to and from school. When I began teaching, there was much less time for going out at night photographing or spending hours in the darkroom. I started working with color slide film and 35mm format because I needed to, wanted to photograph what I was witnessing and where I was going. I had a solo exhibit “School and Surroundings” in 1984 and it was prohibitively expensive for me to have archival Cibachrome color prints made on my teacher’s salary. I couldn’t afford to keep making the prints, but never stopped photographing. I started painting illustratively on some of the “bad” archival prints of Bushwick. The painted photographs of Bushwick was the body of work that was awarded a NYFA fellowship.

Throughout my 31 year career as a NYC public school art teacher I always worked on my own artwork — continuously exhibiting, applying for and sometimes receiving grants and commissions. I was always plugging away.

The Disco, Go-Go and other “decadent” nightlife photos were never exhibited. It would have put me at risk of losing my job and means of support. Upon retirement from the NYC public schools in 2010, I had more time to focus on getting my work “out there.”

What has it been like for you to go through so many photos that you took more than 30 years ago?

I’ve come to realize that for me, photography is a form of memoir. The photographs are like diary entries from 40 years ago. The moments and emotions are as fresh and still exciting. In the past, I’ve always had trouble editing my work. Time, distance, and the deadline for publishing a book help the decision process immensely. I’m actually impressed with how dynamic my photographs were right from the start and can say to my younger self- you have a good eye, mind, and heart.

Any thoughts or feelings about this work getting discovered instead of work that you’ve done in the last, say, five years?

David, I’ve always fretted that such and such series was too old or worried what will I work on next. For example when you and I met I was working on my NYC Immersions series. It was exhibited in Grand Central Terminal, in a poster throughout the transit system, in the Brooklyn Museum and thankfully a few pieces are permanently installed at the Columbia School of Social Work Library.

It was time to let that series go, “enough with the water,” but I didn’t know what to work on next and that was depressing. Then, a series of wonderful circumstances made me start digging through my Bushwick photographs from the 1980s and I realized how beautiful those images were. I became obsessed with them; I had no idea that they would be deemed historically important and the Bushwick art scene would become so phenomenal and welcoming.

Taking the time to dig through my archives makes me realize I’m always seeing, photographing, playing with brush and pigment. Looking at the past becomes the present. Good work stands the test of time, and ages well.  With the gift of health and well being, I hope to continue digging through the archives and creating. Making art is a process; it is my life’s work.

What’s next?

I’m working on my next book, the third in the ‘70s trilogy. This one will make my first my first two books seem timid. I have to put the ‘70s in perspective to prepare for the subsequent chapters in this memoir continuously in the making.

Currently I’m documenting Resistance marches and rallies to show to the world we will not let the 45th administration destroy our country, heart and soul. In a new phase, hoping to get the urgent messages out to larger audience, I reported on the Women’s March on Washington for VICE  and protests against Muslim Ban for Gothamist . Photographs from several marches will be hand painted and installed at a group exhibit “Fractured Union” at Brooklyn Fire Proof, 119 Ingraham St., Brooklyn. The exhibit opening reception is Friday May 12th 6 – 9PM and runs through June 2017.

I’ll be in a show of Brooklyn Photographers at BRIC house in September, and hopefully another solo show during Bushwick Open Studios in October. I’m working on a new series of self-portraits, returning to painting with photography. Then, I also want to continue finding, interviewing and photographing people who were in or knew the people and places in my Bushwick 1980s photos as a follow-up book to Disco Era Bushwick.

The most extensive body of my work that has yet to be seen is my 36 years from an insider’s point of view of NYC schools. I photographed throughout my career as a NYC teacher, and continued photographing 2011- 2015 as the NYU Art Education Field Supervisor, overseeing student teachers in both private and public schools.

With the gift of health and well-being, I hope to continue digging through the archives and creating new work for many years to come.

Thank you, Meryl.


Meryl Meisler is the author of the internationally acclaimed books A Tale of Two Cities Disco Era Bushwick,  and Purgatory & Paradise SASSY ’70s Suburbia & The City.

You can read and see more of Meryl’s work in these publications.

The New Yorker – Andrea DenHoed – February 28, 2017
Backstage At The Ringling Brothers Circus, 1977

The New Yorker – Genevieve Fussell – June 3, 2015
Seventies Long Island: The Whole Mishpocha

The New Yorker – Genevieve Fussell – August 7, 2014
Meryl Meisler’s Disco Era

New York Times – Jonathan Mahler  – June 13, 2014
Stayin’ Alive

A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick 

Vice Video


Thank You 2016

It’s a Thanksgiving tradition dating all the way back to 2009! If we’ve interacted about the film or my other work or if you inspired me in some way, chances are  you were thanked. Want to find out for sure? Just put your name in the search field.

thanksgiving_monsterMark Cantor, Paul Galloway, Tim Dodd, Oskar Munoz, Paul McAllister, Peter Miller,  Susanna Steisel, Florentine Films, Robin Stratton, John Nichols III, Liana Liu, Amy Linn, Paulette Livers, Anne Ferrer, Jon Henry, Ian McDonald, Terence Nance, Lisa Danaczko, Jan Freeman, Craig Urquhart, Steven Petrow, Beverly Sky, Leslie Pray, Christina Vogel, Lucinda Bliss, Laini Nemett, Bryan Reisberg, Katherine Smith, Chanelle Aponte Pearson, Larry Dark, Sara Pleydell, Kalia Pang, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Josselin Salazar, Phoenix Art Museum, Madeleine Cutrona, Charles R. Williamson Jr., Mikhail Hallak, Theresa Marchetta, Isabelle Prince, Keaton Hargraves, George Lugg, Didi Cao, Fang  Zhang, Matthea Marquart, Sara Nodjoumi, Mitchell Teplitsky,  Bill Diamond, Ly Ly, Beth Johnson, Leah Shore, Jan Svankmajer,

And thank you again to everyone who supported the crowdfunding campaign.

Continued thanks to these people (2015) these people (2014),  these people (2013), these people (2012), these people (2011), these people (2010), and these people (2009).


The Story Behind the Story

My short story, Lavender, is included in the Best of Boston Literary Magazine, Volume II. I am deeply honored.A Story Published in the Best of Boston Literary Magazine Vol II

If you feel like supporting a wonderful literary magazine, consider buying this paper book.  You’ll get a whole mess of short stories and poems that you can enjoy forever and ever.

About the story: It’s about grief and it is more nonfiction than fiction. I changed the names and the family’s nationality  and some smaller details but otherwise….

I based the story on a visit to my mother shortly before her death, and a few months later helping my widowed father move into a smaller apartment.

It took three years before I could approach the subject of my mother’s death. The urge to write it came while I was cooking–stirring tomato sauce with one of the wood  spoons my mother used in her kitchen. I thought: she made countless meals with this spoon. No, not countless.  Eminently countable. I put down the spoon, went to my desk and jotted down the line and the rest of the story was born from that. I wrote maybe three drafts of Lavender and the piece came together very quickly. That’s not to brag; the piece is very short, and for me, the shorter the story, the less time I spend on it.

I sent it around and the Boston Literary Magazine published it in 2008. It was the first time my fiction had been published anywhere.

And that’s the story behind the story.

Big huge giant thanks to Robin Stratton, who selected it back then and selected it for the Best of.

More writing here.

Banner photo by Peter LaMastro.

Thank You for Making the Indiegogo Campaign a Success!

These generous folks supported A Life’s Work during the recent Indiegogo campaign and are now part of Team Awesome.  They each deserve a post of their own, but I’m afraid this will have to do. For now!

awesome_004If you missed the crowdFUNding extravaganza, you can still become part of Team Awesome by going to the A Life’s Work project profile on the  New York Foundation for the Arts website page. Your gift is 100% tax-deductible and since NYFA controls how the money is disbursed, you can be sure it  will be spent on the film. (Read about NYFA and ALW’s relationship.)

Donate Now!

Okay, thank you to:

Bill Gonzalez, Forrest Wynne, Anne Stephenson, Karen O’Reilly, dfalk37, Cecelia Specht, Gayatri Martin, Dana Eugene Creasy, Ray Magee, Sherri Paris, Kathy Leichter, David Hartman, ecooney, cwood329, Robin Stratton, Anonymous, Manuel Olmedo, Aimee Madsen, Anonymous, James McNutt, Roberta Kowald, Gretchen Knudsen, Rob Elder, David Mayne, Ron Erickson, Will Georgantas, Jen Jorczak, Barbara Frank, ejewett, Kathy McGuire, AT Audio, Pola Rapaport, Greg Lichtenberg, Susan Robinson, Tony Tadey, Daria Price, Andrew Moore, Tara L. Masih, Anonymous, Anonymous, Rita Flores, Roberto Westbrook, thewrightcaroline, Dorothy Robinson, Danielle Futselaar, Julia Ridley Smith, Sarah Verasco, Randon Billings Noble, Niall David, Mary Toepfer Dolce, Lori DeFuso, selbe, Maura McEvoy, Wayne Olsen, Alison Victor, whatisart, Robert Featherstone, Jeff Jackson, Cornelius Sailer, Anonymous, David Licata (not me, the glass artist), Jessica Cowan, Amma Appiah, Kristine McInvaille, Louis Dallara, John Copenhaver, Kimberly Wendell, Laini Nemett, William Bailey, atk2, Beverly Sky, Cliff Garstang, David Cerchio, josiahmail, Laine Valentino, Lisa Heslop, Meredith Miller, corolla150, Charles Graeber, arcodesign, Diane Martin, jplhaupt, Renee Ashley, Laura Powers, Lora Vatalaro, Jeanne Larsen, Rob Venusti, Diane Kelly, Harth, Adriana Gatto, Steven Petrow, Rachel Cantor, Paulette Livers, John Metzdorf, Anonymous, Barbara Campisi, Alison Gibson, Alison Gibson, Marianne Yoshioka, Pola Rapaport, Lauren Taylor, Anonymous, Lisa Carey, Frances Bartkowski, Y.W. Chung, Robert and Mary Darden, aliceag, Stacey Derasmo, Scot Siegel, themehope, Jessica Lipps, Kyu Nakama, Jayne Marek, Brendan Hay, sciencewomansociety , Lucinda Bliss, James Carnahan, Paul Outlaw, Kimberly Johnson, Anonymous, J. Walter Hawkes, Kristin Licata, James McNutt, jahamad88, clof101, Charles Smith, Doug DeFeo, Evan Losow, Steve & Martha Oates, Cassandra Malatak, Rosario Strano, Bob Marovich, Linda Carlson, Faye C, Ed Kelle, Anonymous, Duane Kelly, Karen Bell, Mike Guarino, Judy Fox, David Lewis, Pedro Ponce, Anonymous, Kathryne Leak, Kate McGraw, Indrani Nayar-Gall, Megan McNamer, Joshua Zeman, John Egan, Edwin Stepp, Irene Westcott, Robert Gatto, Paul Lucas, Thomas Bachman, thedavidmiller, crackiecat, Anonymous, Laurie Marsden, Harry Goldstein, Leah Dimond, CM Burroughs, Jill Tarter, Kathryn Schwille, Louis Dallara, leamcox, William Heffner, Paula Whyman, Tina Schumann, Anonymous, Marcie Lenke, Jessica Rosner, Anna Licata, D.W. Young,  bb2316, John Martin, Meryl Meisler, George Kosmides, Daria Price, Judith Pratt, Judith Jones, Jack & Helen Axcelson, Jamie & Jennifer Newton, Marianne Petit, Wolfgang Held, Pete Pazmino, Benna Golubtchik, sgrace1122, Carmen Cormier, Jane W. Deschner, Charles Williamson, Jr., Jennifer Chen, Rob Licht, Ahmad Jarara, Roland Tec, Larry Dark, Heather Kabel, Anonymous, William Swearson, Corey Todaro, Stone Harbor Films – Judith Vogelsang, John R Yearley, danicanov, Audrey Ward.

I may (or may not) write something about my crowdfunding experience. If I do, you’ll see it here first.

And here are the video thank yous wherein I probably mispronounce your name. I’m sorry.

Thank You!

Bride of Thank You!

Son of Thank You!

Return of the Son of Thank You!

Thank You: The Final Countdown!

Bach & Parachute – Sound & Image for You

Here’s a video just for you. Cinematographer Andy Bowley was seriously captivated by this billowing parachute at Arcosanti.  I love listening to, learning and playing Bach. Two great tastes that taste great together. I hope you like it.

Prelude for Cello Suite No. 1 for Guitar.  Recorded super lo-fi in my living room.