The Night I Became Serious About Photography



Neighborhood: Sunset Park

It was raining, and I was tired and drunk, well let’s say high, walking home at 3 AM from a party in Sunset Park when I saw a blown-out umbrella between two parked cars on 5th Avenue. I was about two blocks from my parents’ apartment on 40th Street. I was 23 years old and had returned to Brooklyn a few months earlier from California, where I had spent the previous two years as a VISTA Volunteer. I was living there while deciding what to do next.

I thought that this would make a great photo but didn’t have my camera with me, and I’d need a tripod anyway for a long exposure. So I continued on my way.

When I got home, I took off my wet clothes and was about to go to bed. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that white umbrella in the wet street with the lights of passing cars illuminating it. So I changed into dry clothes, loaded my 35mm pawnshop rangefinder with a roll of Tri-X film, put my hand-held light meter and a cable release in my coat pocket, picked up my yard sale tripod and headed back out.

The umbrella was there, but the wind had blown it up onto the sidewalk. Still OK, I thought. As the rain and wind increased, I set up my tripod and attached the camera. I took a light reading, adjusted the f/stop and shutter speed accordingly, and looked through the viewfinder just as the umbrella blew away.

I stared, cursed, then burst out laughing, enjoying my Buster Keaton moment. I retrieved the umbrella and put it back about where it had been. I focused the camera, made a few exposures and walked back home.


Larry Racioppo returned to South Brooklyn in 1970 after two years in California as a VISTA volunteer. He took a course at the School of Visual Arts, began to photograph his family and friends, and has never stopped. 

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