Back in '99 when I did this portrait series perhaps I hadn't yet found my "voice" as a photographer (maybe I still haven't :-). Plus, for the series, I was unsure what form the pictures should take and so I was a bit all over the map. I photographed in 35mm, 120mm, black & white, color (negative and slide films), blurry, sharp, intentional grids, posed and not posed, and several instances - like this one - of simple photo-collages. My strategy was to throw a bunch of stuff against the wall, see what stuck, and then hope there was interesting text to go with the best of the bunch.
As I look through the photos, many of which I'm seeing for the first time in 17+ years, I can see that the approach I took was not only sound, but in fact (imho) overly pessimistic: with just a handful of frames for many of the people I photographed (plus I was without the on-the-spot feedback we have today thanks to digital), I am psyched to discover that I have interesting and sometimes amazing photos of nearly everybody!
Here's Roy Dreistadt. On the Thursday that I photographed him, I remember he was walking somewhere in his own neighborhood, maybe he had just had lunch. He told me that he was a computer programmer. I know now that in fact he was a psychologist who was moving away from that profession and toward computer programming (in the PASCAL computer language).
A couple of weeks ago, I met up with Mr. Dreistadt (he's ~86 years old) for the first time since '99, and I learned a bit more about him. Not only is he a lifelong New Yorker, but post-childhood he has lived in just one apartment - and it's the same apartment he's living in today, and it's just a short fraction of a block away from the corner where I met and photographed him in 1999.
Here he is in 2017 (at the same corner):
Q&A with Roy Dreistadt (4/20/2017)
Has your neighborhood changed over the last 17+ years, or is it still about the same? I think it's gotten more quiet and the economy is not so good. There's a lot of businesses that have moved out. Right across the street the deli is gone. Was that because of the 2nd Avenue subway construction? No, because the deli closed when the construction was nearly finished. They had been there for at least 50 years.
Do you ride the subway? Yes. Have you been in the new stations? Yes. They're great, really. They took a very, very long time but they did a really good job. Terrific on many levels. And I expected it to be practically at the street level, but it's way down.
How's your health? Pretty good.
Do you have family? Just a sister. She lives over on the west side. How often do you get to see her? Maybe a few times a year. She lives near Times Square. She's younger, but it's only a two years difference so it's the same at our age.
Does time go faster as you get older? A little bit. Usually you notice it afterwards. While it's happening a lot of time is passing and you don't notice it, but afterwards you say all that time has passed, and you look back a little bit.
Is there a favorite place you've traveled to? I'm not a traveling person. There's no favorite place. When's the last time you left Manhattan? I don't know. I never went very far. The farthest I went was like New Jersey, Connecticut (twice). I was in Queens, but that's still New York City. Did you ever fly on a plane somewhere for a vacation? I never flew on a plane. No interest? Fear of flying? No time? No money? I haven't got that much fear of flying. If it was really necessary I could do it. But I don' like to go out of my way to fly. I don't consider it that safe.
Did you ever drive a car? No. I never got a license to drive in the first place because I figured there's no point in getting a driver's license unless I can own a car or rent a car, and I never had no money to spend on this. You don't need it - there's a lot of transportation here.
Do you feel that you've reached the age you're at and your health as you said is pretty good, and that you're walking strongly, because you're a New Yorker who stays active? Yes. Do you walk every day? How long? Yes. Could be for hours. A few hours. Even in the rain or snow? Yes.
What's a typical day? Most of the time I get up at about 10:30, but that's most of the time. Sometimes it's much earlier ... Mostly I eat Corn Flakes - dry, just the way they are, and blueberries. No milk? No milk. Do you make coffee at home? I get coffee at the deli. Now I have to walk down to 90th Street because that deli closed. How far is that? One block. But the closed deli was right downstairs.
Do you watch TV? No. Do you still buy the paper? I usually pick up the free newspapers, like AM NY and Metro. Do you have a computer? I've never had a computer, but I worked on computer programs for a bank. Do you not have a computer because of the cost? A computer itself is not very expensive - a few hundred dollars - but it's what it costs every month.
Do you have friendly neighbors in your building? I seldom see my neighbors. They're busy working. And then on the weekends they seem to go someplace. Maybe they have another place.