Born and raised in Astoria, Queens, the artist named Gildo has recently taken his photography full circle when he decided to embark on a new project, re-taking images he took in the ’70s in locations all over the world and comparing the “then” with the “now”. Not surprisingly, his photographs not only evoke feelings of nostalgia, but they also tell a story of diversity and change on a global scale. The following are excerpts from my conversation with him in regards to this project.
It started in ’74, but I didn’t know it was starting in ’74. It was more like 2012 when I said to myself ‘Look at all these old photographs. Let me do something with them. Maybe I can scrape up a little beer money selling them.’ I’ve got over 50,000 negatives and 50,000 slides from about 29 countries in my basement all categorized and filed in boxes. I could also go globally but I’m trying to stay locally because there seems to be more interest here. Queens is getting a lot of buzz. There’s a lot going on. You have P.S.1, the Noguchi Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park. Then you have the whole waterfront in Long Island City which is beautiful. Then you’re a hop skip and jump to Astoria where you have restaurants from 162 nationalities. National Geographic recently went there to do a genographic study because it’s so diverse. I mean, I walk down Broadway and I hear 14 languages on any given day.
Also, to put things in perspective, because the neighborhood – and neighborhoods – globally are changing so rapidly. Decade after decade, nothing remains the same. Places where you stood years ago in the sunshine, you’re now in the shadow because you’re surrounded by towers. They just keep going vertical, there’s no more room left horizontally. There’s more traffic, there’s more people, there’s more congestion, there’s more pollution, there’s more shadows. The neighborhood is no longer what it was. Long Island City is not a big hub, it’s not vast. The essence of it is dwindling. Little, old, brick buildings are being torn down and replaced by metal and glass towers that have really no aesthetic value. As far as design it’s just straight trump-tower-ish buildings now. There’s no curves there’s no man-made forms there. It’s all computerized straight lines. So, the thought kinda hit me, I wanted to get some new projects together and this was one of them.
With these photographs, you get to learn about the history of the neighborhood. It’s amazing that the area, from a two-story area, has turned into a 40-story area. The old buildings, they just keep knocking them down and putting up towers upon towers. Then you have, even a local place that sells Chinese food is going out of business because the landlord is running up the rent. So they can’t even sell enough to support themselves.
Luckily, I’ve diversified over the years. I was always doing artistic photography. Luckily I found a venue in ’91 with images.com, a stock agency, they were doing all kinds of edgy artsy photographs so I fit into that mold really nicely and it became quite lucrative when it was just starting out. It would give me fuel to go out and buy a plane ticket and go to some different country and also a different canvas. So to go from England to Bali you have a completely different canvas and you can compose and create some great imagery in that respect.
I take a photograph every day of my life. If not with a camera, visually it’s imprinted in my mind. I used to shoot a lot of people when I was young. I’d ask permission usually. I would point to them, point to the camera and nod, yes or no. I would nod cos there was a language barrier. I wasn’t fluent in Portuguese or Japanese. Then this whole digital conversion, sort of put the breaks on things for a while because initially when the digital camera came out it was really expensive. You were looking at 5 figures for something really serious. I couldn’t go in that direction. But then I learned to diversify over the years to support my arts. I studied fashion photography, then I was doing weddings on the weekend for 22 years. This is why I have all this gray hair. Then I got into the stock agency. So that opened up another door.
Now I’m doing photo tours. I take tourists who are interested in photography and I show them the landmarks [of New York]. Where to shoot, where to get the best angles, and how to get edgier photographs. I’s a company called Citifari. There are 4 tours. One is with landmarks which starts at 9th avenue and 34th street. We go up towards the empire state building and across town. Then there’s a night tour that starts by the UN building, goes down 42nd street to Grand Central and into Soho. Then there’s a central park tour which is fantastic. There’s a lot of different imagery to be taken lots of tricks to learn and conversations. I have my own techniques and my own philosophies about photography and life in general. It’s great for children, too. If you have teenagers that are interested in the camera. I usually blow their mind and they usually blow my mind. It’s a fair exchange.
You have to practice your art every day. Whether with your camera or with your eye. You can’t be buried in your phone texting all day. You gotta smell the roses occasionally. Just stop, put the phone away, put the camera away and just see it and feel it beacuase it’s fleeting. It’s not going to be like this forever. Things are changing rapidly and it’s not just in New York. Every country I’ve been to: Istanbul is changing, London is changing, Dakar is changing, Tokyo is changing. It’s relentless. You gotta take a picture of life with the mind. And then, if you want, pull out the phone, pull out the digital camera and take a hard copy.
You should take at least 100 of your heartfelt images, 100 of your heartfelt letters and emails, and any kind of speeches that you made. Write it all on paper. I still carry paper and a pen because I know it’s concrete and it will last at least 200 years. My negatives are gonna last for 200 hundred years. My digital imagery? I don’t know, nobody knows. You have the old blending in with the new and there’s a clash. That’s why I feel so comfortable with my negatives that I can look at. I look at my hard drive and it’s like I’m just looking at this piece of electronics and all the imagery is inside of it. How do you get it out? You need more electronics. Whereas, I just grab a loop [of film] and hold it up to a light bulb and I’ve got it. I can see it.
Gildo currently has a gallery showing with the LIC Arts Open at the Manducatis Rustica Restaurant (46-35 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, NY 11101). Please stop by in support of his work.