This autobiography mostly spans a thirteen-year period from 1965 to 1977. It starts out with a brief history of my childhood that segues into the beginning of my opening an art gallery, appropriately named The Kravetz Gallery in Rochester, New York, and then goes on to detail my travels thru Europe, Africa and the Middle East, ending with a brief post-travel history. I some how knew that the travels would be special so I kept a journal. I was 26 years old in 1965 and getting into the arts and traveling were both done in an unconventional way.
Over the years I have been to over 50 countries and I cannot see how anyone who has traveled that much is not cynical, unless you’re a tourist on a cruise ship. I am bit jaded as well.
My partial autobiography may not have much to do with photography directly but at least the reader will get a good sense of the man behind the lens. What are the inspirations and motivation and what kind of a persona exists in the mind of this photographer? It’s really all about how that mind shows itself in the work and gives the art some kind form, value, and depth. In theory.
While I was putting together my résumé, I got the idea to make a list of failures in the same format as my resume and include that as well. After all I’m not looking for a job, and besides who is going to hire a 74-year-old hippie.
The reader should keep in mind what led up to the atmosphere of those times. That era is burnt indelibly in my brain. There was then-senator Joe McCarthy and House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings, which may have started it all. The free speech movement in Berkeley and the Viet Nam war were in full swing. The shooting of students at Kent State University, angry marches against the war, Woodstock, Watergate, flower power, Timothy Leary, Huey Newton, Black Panthers, Richard Nixon, Daniel Ellsberg, the Beatles,long hair, patchwork jeans, communes, the hippies, mind expanding drugs and the women’s movement plus the birth control pill were all happening. Sex was now easier then ever. Living together was becoming more common.
I feel very fortunate and lucky to having been part of those times. I got a late start but soon caught up, with long hair, a full beard, and motorcycle which fit right into that period in as if I had been there from the start. Before that I was very traditional, on the outside at least. I was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne from 1956 to 1959 and then had a wife and a child, and we lived in a basement apartment. I owned an art gallery. My transformation came soon after my divorce in 1971. In no time at all I was a part of the antiwar, anti-racism, anti-sexism movements, in both mind and spirit. One could not help but be affected by that time. I was talking to a young man several years ago about that time and he said that he wishes he were there to experience it.
But, hippie-think had other consequences that affected my life, and not in a positive way. I made some pretty foolish decisions; for example, I was in the back of a bookstore in Santa Cruz, California when I was offered the opportunity to buy some stock at a great price for a little start up company. I remember exactly what I said. "Hippies do not invest in electronics”, and instead I invested in a lunch wagon. That little start up company turned out to be Apple Computer, just as it was moving from a garage to a small factory. After a short time I hated the lunch wagon with passion. At one time I thought of loading that truck up with Twinkies and driving it off a cliff. Really. I went down the Nile in Africa without a camera because I had the idea that "one misses the sunset if you take a photo of it." How’s that for bad thinking? One could easily do both. Here is another good one. I had a successful store in Manayunk, Philadelphia for 14 years and at one time could have bought the building that I had a retail store at a good price but no, in hippie lingo I said, “Why buy when you can afford to rent?" On paper I could have a million dollars more had I bought the building my store was in and the Apple stock. I would have hired a ghostwriter or at least an editor, and be dictating my chosen words to them while lying in a hammock instead of going nuts writing this bit of history by myself. I say my history would have been different, but a good friend says I would be intolerable. Ouch.
Writing, for me,is a great deal more difficult than I anticipated. Describing a period of time in written form is more linear than reminiscing, which happens in spontaneous images and glimpses. The whole process turned out to be cathartic, though opening myself up, for others to see what is on the inside, including myself, was scary. It leaves me feeling naked and vulnerable.
How I define the whole body of my photographic history happened long after I took my first photo. As I write this introduction I have to look at the projects past, present, and future and then define them for myself and the reader of this short memoir.
My interests include photographing the homeless, the African refugees, and people who are older then 85 years of age. I found that much more that comes thru the features of all these subjects. You can see a life lived and I like to think that my images give a silent voice to my subjects and show what the passing of time, uninvited, has done.
I guess that I am an advocate photographer with a slant towards the arts. Or is it a love of the arts with a slant towards advocacy? My chosen subjects all have something in common in that they need help and or understanding. My work is only a short step in raising awareness and raising money. I like my subjects and get to know them. I am not just giving the homeless lots empty talk. I give them money. I go into the refugee camps and give them money, not a great deal but I go give. And I even managed, with some help from friends, to get some much needed medical equipment (Ultrasound machine) to a hospital in Somaliland.
I do, however, have some issues as a photographer. Being a rich guy with camera in hand, photographing people in many cases at their worst, I feel like an intruder, taking away what dignity they have left. Even while on a shoot I wonder if the refugees know where I come from. I get plenty of kudos for my images and yet my subjects are still out in the environment starving to death and living on the streets. A loss of money, a war, an unexpected illness, or other circumstances and it may be me right there on the street, hungry. Will someone take a picture of me and have it featured in a gallery opening while drinking champagne? Now I am at the beginning of old age and in good health and with a bit of luck will stay that way for a few more years. My lineage is good but I almost met the grim reaper more then a few times. It’s mere luck that I’m still walking the earth. A funny note. Not more then a few years ago when I had a week's free pass at a health club, when I was walking toward the shower with towel in hand, I saw some old man with sagging butt and skinny legs walking toward the shower and thought well at least I’m not him. I took a closer look saw it was me, in the mirror.