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Everyday Surreality: When Civility Meets Anarchy

Is it just me, or is life just surreal? The common theme of this photo series is conveying everyday surreality. Granted that New York is a very good place to capture this, but to some degree, examples of this can be found everywhere. There is normality and order, and then there are exceptions to this. I find the exceptions stirring. Is there a moral or profound conclusion? I don’t think so. Some aspects of life can escape notice to an untrained eye — I used my camera to linger on them long enough, intending to bring them more firmly into the conscious mind.

Life Goes On

This is an image of New York City, one of the busiest corners in midtown, 34th St. and 6th Ave, at the Victoria’s Secret across from Macy’s. There used to be a lovely/exploitive photo of a woman in lingerie here, and that juxtaposition against the grit of the streets of new york was a previous area of exploration for me. But this image, with the photo boarded up, with damage up and down the street, that’s another juxtaposition. On any given day, people don’t perceive that the social norms and civility are just a few degrees away from anarchy. Uncertainty. We assume order but we live in instability.

After The Flood

This was taken just about 50 feet from that boarded up window. I stumbled into another photographer’s photo shoot, who may have been shooting fashion or framing surrealism of her own. I love the juxtaposition, and I’ve amplified it by removing the color from the rest of the photo beyond the two models. After the flood — it has two meanings, the dye line on the bottom of the models’ dresses, and life resuming after some undefined cataclysm.

Bamboo

This was a bondage shoot in a city park in Baltimore City, Md. The model is Astrid Brandt. Her rigger took advantage of a wild growth of bamboo in the woods to do this suspension. The tight crop and dark editing are meant to cast shadows on the nature of the activity. A sense of danger and foreboding. In reality, though Astrid and her rigger live a very alternative lifestyle, they are about a dozen times nicer than your typical straight-living evangelical. Ironic, isn’t it?

Past, Present, Future

A surreal edit on a new age storefront on Christopher Street, about a block and a half west of the Stonewall. This neighborhood is very eclectic. Superstition and cold reading in the age of cold logic. These things can coexist and flourish.

Mamma Francine, Christopher Street

Mamma Francine is Renee’s stage name. Renee is a TS exhibitionist. I admire her freedom.

Mamma Francine, Love Queen Layla, Christopher Street Subway

Mamma Francine and Love Queen Layla are members of the pro-domme lifestyle world and though they are separated by nearly 40 years, they are great friends and have adventures and outings together. There is a fairly extensive underground world of fetishism, dominant/submissive lifestyle, sex-workers, etc. in New York. So many social layers coexist.

Hot Spot

I liked the juxtaposition of this ‘Hot Spot’ sign against this boring facade. This was in Hurricane, West Virginia. I think it’s just a bar, but a nice, surreal image.

Often Go Awry

This was a country restaurant which failed, and became a trucker’s home. The unadorned building on an asphalt parking lot just struck me as perverse. Feng Shui, anyone?

Country Pride

Also in West Virginia. They’re out there. I’ve never felt compelled to write religious statements on my car. I think independent thought, and non-religiosity are just terrifying concepts to some people. It’s easier to surrender thought and freedom to a myth.

Queen Layla, Washington Square Park

Queen Layla is an exhibitionist in a world of conformity, for the most part. I delight in finding things that are not ordinary.

West Exit, Washington Square Park

This couple was leaving the park and the overhang of trees formed a line of sight down their path. I find this exceptionally beautiful.

Cancel All Lockdown Rents

That would be nice, wouldn’t it. But it isn’t going to happen.

ATM TATTOO

I am attracted to storefronts and this one is so flush with objects, color, light and dark, and the young lady taking the chair inside at the end of the day. To me, the composition fits surreal.

Prime Meat Market

Outside dining, but a good color and function offset between the table set and the meat market. These juxtapositions are more common than you might expect.

Cary Rubin phone booth

I find the method of protest interesting. There are some very strong and disturbing allegations made against this landlord? I believe. But the underlying desperation necessary to write this diatribe in sharpie on a public phone booth — I just find it startling. And disturbing.


George L. Stein is a photographer and occasional writer. Born in the Chicago area, he grew attracted to the rusting and decaying architecture of the manufacturing economy, of which his city is a prime example. In 2004, he started photographing abandoned buildings in Gary, Indiana, attracted to the architecture of failure and rejection and what happens to a city and to a people when focus and resources are directed away from that system. The word for it is abandonment, whether by intent, prejudice, or by economic forces at a higher level. Eventually, he became interested in photographing people, models, or family members in those locations. Among the rusting steel and broken concrete, the human aspect juxtaposed against this backdrop seemed the next logical artistic progression. Rather than implying presence or power by omission, utilizing people added complexity and more direct emotion, especially when their actions or poses contradicted their surroundings.

George’s current work generally keys on the juxtaposition of unlike elements. He expects the viewer to try to construct a narrative for what is transpiring in the photograph, and that narrative is a function of elements within the photo as processed through their life and experience.

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