Monday, October 3, 2011

Bob Arihood

In the vanishing New York, people also disappear. People who made the city better because they loved some small part of it so well, or represented a piece of what's being white-washed away, or because they helped to preserve the often overlooked details. Photographer and blogger Bob Arihood did all three.

Bob was found dead of an apparent heart attack in his bed on the night of September 30, according to his friend Chris Flash, and may have been dead since September 25. There will be a candlelight vigil at Ray's Candy, tomorrow night at 8:00. Organizers Lindsay Wengler and Shawn Chittle say, "Bring photos of Bob, prints of Bob's photos, flowers, candles, etc."

memorial at Ray's Candy

Bob Arihood had long been suffering with severe back pain. According to Chris Flash, this was due to a police beating at the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riot. Said Flash, "he was always in pain, sometimes mildly and other times badly. This poor guy was feeling the results of those blows for the past 23 years." Other friends have written in to say that Bob suffered from back pain even longer, well before the riots.

Now and then, I'd get an email from Bob telling me about the pain he felt, the exhaustion he battled, the feelings he had about quitting blogging and photography. He expressed surprise when strangers let him know how important he was to them. After an illness, he wrote, "A surprising thing has been that people have shown such concern for my well being . Strangers walk up to me on the street and ask how I am . they say that they had read about me somewhere and were simply concerned ."

After he shut down Neither More Nor Less and received so many comments and emails begging him to keep going, he said, "I didn't realize that what I was doing mattered to some as it seems to do."

memorial at Ray's Candy

But Bob did matter to many people.

Despite the pain and the lack of income-generating work for his photography, he was always in the trenches, up close with his camera to capture the action on the street. He spent many late nights haunting the park and Avenue A, camping out by Ray's Candy where he photographed the forgotten people of the streets and the startling juxtapositions between the culture of the old and new.

With his blog Neither More Nor Less, and later Nadie Se Conoce, he inspired many people, myself included, to follow in his footsteps. He encouraged bloggers like Melanie and Goggla to keep taking photos and sharing them, even as he often felt discouraged about the reception to his own work.

He championed the underdogs, like the Mosaic Man and Ray of Ray's Candy, whose beloved shop he certainly helped to save more than once by calling attention to it on his blog. He was the only one reporting on a rash of beatings of homeless people in Tompkins Square Park, including one incident that led to the death of a young girl named Lesia Pupshaw. His portraits of the East Village's most marginal men and women are unparalleled in their empathy and humanity. He introduced many readers to people they would otherwise never know--like the unsinkable L.E.S. Jewels, the philosophic Biker Bill, the Avenue A Groper, and wild-eyed Marlene, also known as "Hot Dog."

These people lived with us largely because Bob brought them to our attention. Forgotten, invisible, pushed to the gutter, they existed in some way because Bob conjured them into our lives with his camera and reporting, with his sensitivity and indefatigable dedication.

Where will they go in our imaginations now that Bob is gone?

by Hugh Burckhardt, More Than Usual

I heard from Bob just before he died. I had referred a schoolteacher named Rachel Birdsall to him. She wanted her class to learn about gentrification and Tompkins Square Park and I thought Bob would be perfect for it. He wrote me this email:

"Hello Jeremiah , I spoke to a group of kids from the Urban academy yesterday . we met in TSP near the chess tables . While they were asking questions some of the old neighborhood folks , winos , junkies and general park criminals walked by and said hello to the class . some even contributed answers to the kid's questions .A sort of total immersion event for the classand their teachers .

Thank you for directing Rachel and the class my way.I relearned that kids are different from adults.answering questions and explaing things to school kids is quite different from communicating with the park regulars .


photo: courtesy of Rachel Birdsall (and her students)

Rachel Birdsall also wrote in and had this to say about that day two weeks ago with Bob on the corner of 7th and A:

"The students had lots of questions about the changes to the park and the neighborhood since the ’88 riots and Bob listened to them all with great interest. He took their ideas seriously, even when he didn’t agree with them, and gave them great stories to hang the history on to.

While we talked, so many people—some of them the homeless who live in the neighborhood, most of them locals to that corner—stopped to say hi and join in the conversation, that one of my students commented that 'he must have paid them something for this.' The student was joking. Bob obviously knew these men and women and they clearly had great affection and respect for him. The fact that Bob knew the individual stories of these people and shared with us how they were connected to the history of the neighborhood and the larger city was important for all of us to hear.

After the students left I spoke with him for a while longer. Bob had a lot to teach. He thought I had to read up on Hausmann’s brutal restructuring of Paris in order to understand what was happening here and he recommended a bunch of books on the subject (Walter Benjamin as well as official French court records). When I left him we talked about continuing the conversation soon. I am sorry we will not be able to."

Bob in the New York Times

In the end, Bob was teaching--and learning, as he had just started editing with Avid software and adding videos to Neither More Nor Less, lastly, of an interview with one of the young women protesters pepper-sprayed by the NYPD. There are no comments on that post because Bob was not there to approve them.

In other videos of that day, during the Occupation of Wall Street, you will catch a glimpse of Bob in the background, hunkered behind his camera or with it hanging on his shoulder. This is how I always saw him, sort of loping along the sidewalk or ducking into Ray's, dipping in and out of a crowd at a protest, always with camera in hand. He was just always there.

And there he is, again, in the background of this promo video for the show Curb Your Enthusiasm. You catch a glimpse of him. He raises his camera, for just a moment.

And then he's gone.

Read more tributes to Bob Arihood:
Bowery Boogie
Runnin Scared
Single Linds


Melanie said...

What a beautiful piece Jeremiah. I am glad Bob got involved with teaching--he had a gift for it. He was always sharing information about a vast variety of things including the Pelopannesian War and one of his photos from Nadie Se Conoce--were the people coming or going from the shore? Was a war over or had it just begun. His work was deep. Talking with him about a photo really gave me more insight.. Tears are fallng from my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god. This is so sad.

I had been wondering why he hadn't update his site.

Why to do the good die young?

Rest in peace, Bob. Rest in peace.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I shared a few chats with him on Neither More Or Less. I remember there was bar on 7th St & Ave A years ago, Bob recalled one too. He will be missed.

JM said...

In all of his work, he always seemed like a wonderful man; his heart was certainly bigger than mine. I'm not ashamed to say that because I have a feeling it's true of Arihood compared to the great majority of people. The fact that he always seemed so humble when reporting on the most humble among us, so human and decent, is part of the greater lesson to learn from him. Neighborhoods change, alcoholics, junkies, and the mentally ill find other neighborhoods in which to stand outside 'normal' life, but people with heart and humility--especially when combined with talent--are much rarer and valuable than their environs. I never knew or met Arihood, but I read his blog and read about him. From that evidence, this seems like a pretty big loss.

Marty Wombacher said...

A wonderful tribute to a great guy. R.I.P. Bob, you inspired us all.

Bowery Boogie said...

guy was such a nice dude. was always comforting seeing him standing outside of ray's, protecting his domain.

it's just so sad.

EV Grieve said...

I wish that he knew how much people appreciated his work, from reporting to supporting those in need in the community.

Shannon said...

I am so sad to hear about this. I loved his blog. What a profound loss for the EV.

JAZ said...

What a terrific eulogy - thank you.

I wish I could say that I met Bob one day, and told him how I loved and admired his work and passion for NYC. Unfortunately I never met him - but through his work and the comments of others, I feel as though I knew him.

People like yourself, Marty, Goggla, Mykola, EV Grieve, and some others are people I consider friends due to the passion shared for the real heartbeat of this city - which has sadly become more and more faint by the day. I hope to meet every one of you one day - but even if I don't, you are still friends to me.

R.I.P. Bob

ShatteredMonocle said...

Shocking and tragic. His work repeatedly blew my mind.

This is probably my favorite.

Claribel said...

Just heart wrenching. There's always so much to learn from his posts and photography. I loved seeing the EV through his eyes and will miss that. I find his night time photos of TSP hauntingly beautiful, his portraits of the many contradictions in the EV provocative and honest. They transcended judgment, which so often afflicts our ability to see clearly. My deep condolences to all of you out there who knew him personally.

esquared™ said...

Lovely tribute.

One regret I have is that I never introduced myself or spokent to him whenever I saw him around. I always just gave a nod or a hat tip when I did see him.

Hope Bob is now photographing the angels and saints up above.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

"His portraits of the East Village's most marginal men and women are unparalleled in their empathy and humanity. He introduced many readers to people they would otherwise never know..."

This is what I loved about him. As Calribel says, his portraits transcended judgment. What an amazing and talented man - I'm so happy my life path crossed his and have taken away so much inspiration.

It makes me sad to think his blog will never be updated - to think of comments that could be waiting that we will never read. I really miss you, Bob.

Thank you for this tribute.

glamma said...

When I first read this, I grabbed my own heart and gasped. Bob, you will be sorely missed. Thank you so much for all the warmth and truth you spread to so many varied layers of humanity. On a personal level, I'm sad I will not get to see my neighbor anymore... but you will always be with us in spirit.. A milion thanks for your rich contributions to life here in the apple.

ShatteredMonocle said...

He really should have a street named after him. He's the modern day Jacob Riis.

! said...

This is terrible news--I found his blog by accident and loved it. This is a serious loss. May he rest in peace.

Shawn said...

I've been reading this over and over and just breaking down every time.

Absolutely perfect tribute Jeremiah.

bayou said...

Jeremiah -

This is exquisite. Bob spoke and wrote in few but significant words. His images were so expressive.

Equally stunning was his nature photography. So many of those trees are gone too. The rats remain.

Many thanks for your well-thought and heartfelt tribute.

Still click his links on EVG every morning. With time...

Steve Reed said...

I am so sorry to hear the news about Bob Arihood. I've been a reader of NMNL for years and I admired his ability to get out among people who were otherwise marginalized and get the story. He was a crucial voice for so many.

sallyonegun said...

This was the most beautiful article I read about Bob Arihood. I didn't know him personally but his contributions to the East Village, and the people of the East Village, that were part of the real framework of the East Village will hopefully live forever. His caring was beloved to all, and his contributions to that will be greatly missed. I am very saddened by his much too early passing.