My father's apartment is like a shrine. All the things people normally put in the attic or basement are mixed in with the ordinary everyday things. He had to be nagged for three years before he would get rid of a black and white T. V. that only played static. My father left home at 20. He took a Yugoslavian freighter to Tangier and stayed there for four years. Aside from a few years when he came back to New York, he lived in Europe, India and Africa until he was 47. Then he came back and moved in with his mother. His apartment is the one she lived in until her death.
If you look carefully you can see that this was once the apartment of an 84 year old, deaf woman. The couch has a floral pattern, though now half of it is piled with folders of writing and my Dad's latest snapshots. There is one of those racks of miniature, collectible spoons in the kitchen. On the bedroom wall is an embroidered motto: "Never Believe in Never".
This apartment is not just a place my Father lives, it is his living archive, his life preserved and kept, in four rooms. He has filled it with the marvelous, the useless, and the odd. For one thing there is the wood and brass clock that has been broken for twenty years but still sits on top of the lamp table. My father says it is a sea clock that belonged to his grandfather. Sitting in a basket in the corner of the living room is a hollow ostrich egg with a hole in it that was used by an African as a canteen. And hanging in the bedroom closet, the one whose door is blocked by a rocking chair with all of my brother's old school books on top of it, are seven pairs of my Grandmother's shoes. My Grandmother died nine years ago.
To my father everything is valuable, significant, a piece of his life. His reluctance to dispose of it is like his reluctance to lose contact with an old friend. Unlike people who stick their past in a box and forget about it, he likes to live surrounded by it. While he is always thinking about tomorrow, he never forgets yesterday.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons he loves photography, why he has made it such a big part of his life. A photo captures a moment so that it will never be forgotten. Time, that element that concerns him the most, is frozen in a photo. These frozen moments cover the walls of the apartment, are stacked in boxes, under tables, fill drawers that were meant for clothing.
To picture my father's apartment you first have to picture books. My father loves to read, he sees books as recordings of someone else's mind, someone else's experience. They are piled on the floor, on tables, and overflow from their shelves. He even buys books he already owns because his own copy is lost somewhere in the apartment and he wants to read it again. Photographs are on the walls and books are every where else.
On the wall above the couch there is a that picture of Jimi Hendrix my father took in bendable mirrors. Hendrix is wearing purple and his face is doubled and slightly twisted. Next to it is a picture of an Indian sadu in black and white and another of my mother when she was in love with him. In the bedroom there are pictures of me and my brother. There is one of my brother when he is ten, climbing a tree in Greece, and there is one of me at two, screaming and covered in finger-paint. We are his children and probably the people he has the most pictures of, and even more than usual he has tried to record our lives through his lens.
And there is my dad sleeping on the bed I was born in and his father died in. He is wearing a purple tee-shirt and black pants and his wildly curly black hair is sticking out in a cloud around his head. When he wakes up in a few moment he will rush down to drop off a roll of film to be developed and to pick up the five that have been. Then he will go to the diner across the street and drink coffee while he writes in his notebook and wonders what the bill will be for that two-hour call to Switzerland this morning when he talked to an old girlfriend about his next show and whether her lips are still as beautiful as they used to be.
*Photographs by Michael Rothenberg