New York Daily Photo Analytics

Friday, June 17, 2011

Abandon All Preconceived Notions Ye Who Enter Here

The Story of Mark Birnbaum, Part 1.


There are many outlandishly dressed characters in New York City. I find the extreme cases rather sad - to me, they appear like a cry for love and attention from a lonely person reaching out. I have seen some of these as regulars at multiple parades where their outfits are completely inappropriately themed, appearing at the Easter, Halloween and Mermaid parades, dressed in the same attire.

Yet I have been proven wrong in my judgement more times than not, inspiring a series of stories Abandon All Preconceived Notions Ye Who Enter Here - the title being more self-talk than admonition to others.


I had caught a glimpse of the man in today's photo just a few times, always walking with a very slow, deliberate, confident gait. I quickly characterized him as the Mad Hatter incarnate, likely a deranged, pathetic, lunatic. At one time, I had taken a photo of him leaving a park. It was blurry and unusable, but just as well, since I had no opportunity to speak to him and find out who he was. I don't feature anonymous individuals and brand them as lunatics. Another time perhaps.


Another time presented itself in the most remarkable circumstance. On Friday evening while strolling home from work, I crossed Houston Street, the largest crosstown street in Manhattan. It looks and functions virtually like a divided highway with a landscaped median. At the end of one median at West Broadway, a park bench has been installed in what can easily be argued as one the most visible and inauspicious places. It is unimaginable that anyone would want to sit between 6 lanes of traffic, whooshing by in two directions. I have never seen it used.

But there he was, carefully composed sitting on a bench, a photo begging to be taken. Brightly colored hair extensions, an enormous mad hatter style hat, face paint, necklaces with skulls and bones, heavy gloves on a hot day, a sport jacket with no shirt, a knotted tuft of hair under his chin, his enormous signature silver-glittered platform boots, a cane and smoking a cigar. Calm, cool and collected.

Approaching someone like this can be very tricky with unpredictable response. So far my experience has only been positive - I have concluded that anyone so outlandishly dressed is certainly not averse to attention and quite used to others taking photos. See the list of links below which feature profiles of some of the most interesting individuals I have encountered in my travels in New York City: Ferris Butler, Professor Robert Gurland, Gaby Lampkey, Jenn Kabacinski, Driss Aqil, Susan Goren, the Creative Expert, the Swaggertist in Blue, Hector, the Misfits, Jim Vehap, Walid Soroor, Flamboyant, Todd Bentley, André, Dave, Reverend Billy, the Dance Parade, Narcissism Gone Wild, and Spike.

Although permission to take a photo in a public place to be used for editorial purposes is not legally necessary, I prefer to seek the consent and cooperation of subjects when they are featured in a story. So, I opted to ask permission. His response "of course" was surprising. He was extraordinarily cordial and a small mini-photoshoot ensued. He was so accommodating, I decided take a seat next to him.

An hour and a half passed, interrupted by the myriad of passengers and pedestrians stopping to take photos. I could see that if one is interested in drawing attention, dressing like this and sitting on a bench on Houston Street will certainly achieve that. I recorded over 40 minutes of a conversation so engaging, that at its end, my companion said "we rocked." It was a real life My Dinner With André meets Alice in Wonderland, New York City style.

In Part 2, you will meet Mark Birnbaum. Trust me - he is not the man you think he is at all…

Note: To those who have asked, Mark's shoes were purchased at Trash and Vaudeville.

16 comments:

Steffe said...

Nice build up to part two. He seems an interesting character for sure.

Mary P. said...

Can't wait! You had to do Part One on a Friday!!?

Sue K said...

Ok, so now I seem to have the exact same hat! It is a Mad Hatter's hat and I got it at Disney World about a year and a half ago. I love that hat! And this guy looks like a great character! Can't wait to hear more. Don't have the boots, but my hat still has the hair attached. Maybe I should wear it into the city and look for him!

Sérgio Pontes said...

I agreed, he seems an interesting character =)

Thérèse said...

You are turning in a real New-York reporter! I can't wait the Part 2...

time traveler said...

I would trust this man's words more than I would trust some silk shirt and tie politician..

Jack said...

We shall see. I need to read the next post first, but my going-in assumption is that not all of his bolts have been tightened.

Anonymous said...

I've known Mark Birnbaum since we met at an artist colony in Virginia in 1987. We've talked on the phone regularly ever since, sometimes daily, sometimes with big spaces in between. I live in North Carolina.
Mark is one of the most compassionate, brilliant people I know. He is at the top of my list of friends I can "really talk to." I'm so glad you are featuring him in your series.
I assure you, Mark is not a lunatic. In fact, he is one of the sanest people I know. Eccentric, yes, but not crazy. And, he is an excellent musician and composer.

Tamari said...

new york is a motherland for people with limitless sense of style, like this man. and i absolutely love it.

H A R R Y G O A Z said...

SUPER images !

Have a great week.

500beine said...

hey, that's me!

Fred said...

Kinda looks like Hunter Thompson.

Anonymous said...

Love the boots! So Elton John circa 1973...

Chicken Underwear said...

Ya had to drop this on a Friday ..................................

myra smolev said...

Re your thought-provoking title, Abandon All Preconceived Notions and your statement. "...yet I have been proven wrong in my judgments more times than not", referring to your initial notion about Mark
Birnbaum. The prominent evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould had a lifelong belief that scientists' biases could skew the results of their research. He once accused a physical anthropologist of unconsciously manipulating data in his famous (mid-19th century) study of human skulls to reflect his preconceived racist notions, that Caucasian skulls had the largest brain volume and were therefore the most intelligent of the races. A team of physical anthropologists recently reviewed the data and found no evidence that Morton believed that brain size correlated with intelligence. What they did find was that Gould himself, ironically, was guilty of a bias about Morton that influenced his own results!

Loved the article!

Myra

mfontana1@nyc.rr.com said...

One of the most beautiful things about Mark and his ilk, is that rare as they are, the wonder of his kind can be found most greately concentrated among the inhabitants of our fair little town. A town like no other, our hunk of Schist is the Schizolla. Our bed rock is a jewel in that there are magically, extraordinary people all around, in every guise. Here in our well fruited shire we live within oceans of notions with horizons that strech out as enlessly as they are majestic. Sometimes they shine so brightly that they are imposible to miss. Sometimes they shine so strangely they are all but impossible to identify.