It may be surprising, but the blog I’ve linked to more times in my 5 years of blogging isn’t a tech blog: it’s the blog of East Village street-anthropologist and photographer Bob Arihood. I was lucky to find Bob’s blog in 2006 blog by Googling “Mosaic Man,” right after I met the artist in Tompkins Square Park. My view of New York City and the East Village has never been the same.
For years (many years before his blog) Bob told the story of the East Village – more specifically, the corner of 7th St and Avenue A – with both his camera and words. A wordsmith he wasn’t, but next to his poignant and very personal photos, the reader of his blog was sucked into the complex history of the area and the even more complex and dramatic stories of its people. Reading Bob’s blog was better than watching Law and Order… but very much the same. There were common characters, danger, loss… all wrapped up in a story of New York. The big difference, though, was that Bob’s characters were very real.
Jewels, a young man who Bob focused on more in the last five years than any other character, was someone you would read about on his blog, but then also see on the streets, sometimes sleeping in his own urin, huddled by a bus stop, and you really knew his story. You knew about this young man’s love and marriage (Bob was there)… You knew about this young man’s addictions (Bob saw his battles)… and you knew about this young man’s arrests (Bob captured most of them, and tried to talk him down from acts that would have caused many more).
Actually, from reading Bob’s blog, you probably knew to fear Jewels more than the unsuspecting walker-by.
And there were dozens of characters and people like Jewels who went from people you’d just walk by to people you knew, all because of Bob’s work. Mosaic Man, the man behind all of the amazing mosaic work in the East Village, is one of those people. Chronically homeless, the Mosaic Man’s plight and contributions were shared to the world by Bob, likely helping Mosaic Man find the home he needed.
Ray’s Candy Shop is another amazing and important story covered by Bob Arihood. Chances are, if you’ve lived in NYC as an under-30 year old in the past 20 years, you’ve stumbled drunk, late one night, into Ray’s Candy Shop on Avenue A for some belgian fries or soft serve ice cream. However, when you did, you probably didn’t know Ray’s story. Ray has been an undocumented-yet-legal citizen of the US for some time, and an important business establishment in the Lower East Side for years. However, with health department citations, immigration issues, and rent being hiked, old-man-Ray was in a lot of trouble this past year, and needed his community’s help to get all his issues sorted out. Bob’s blog served as a beacon for this cause, and Ray’s is still in business, documented, and on good terms with the health department.
And so it brought me great sadness to hear last week that Bob died last month.
I feel lucky to have lived in New York City with Bob in it. I also feel lucky to have eventually met Bob and become friendly with him. After meeting him in May of 2007, I spent dozens of late nights chatting with Bob on the corner of 7th Street and Avenue A. We shared a passion for photography and the complexities of the East Village’s gentrification. Bob was also a fantastic story teller (he could go on and on and on and on) and I was always willing to be a listener. The last time I saw him was in 2010, and he was talking about taking down his blog. He later did, only to come back with it this past Spring.
Anyway, in digging through some emails, I found this email below. It was something I wrote my family and friends the night I first met Bob. Most of the email is more of the stories I told above, but it’s still fun for me to read in context of first meeting the first and only truly New York artist I’ve really ever known.
Rest in Peace, Bob. You will be very, very missed.
Truth be told, Bob Arihood’s photo blog is one of the best chronicles of the East Village around. I first found it by Googling “Jim Power” after meeting the “Mosaic Man” himself back in the Fall, while walking in park with Evan. Anyway, Jim shows up a lot on this blog, so I found it; I became hooked, and now follow it religiously.
Bob, originally from a farm in Indiana, has been in the East Village for 30 years (he’s 61 years old, but looks 35). He’s seen it all, and lucky for us, he’s been capturing “everything” on camera for nearly the entire time. After reading his blog and seeing his pictures, you can’t walk through the neighborhood the same again. This was illustrated as Sara, Jordan and I walked by a homeless man the other night. To them, he was another homeless man, but because I had seen this man’s life chronicled on Bob’s blog, I knew him as Jewels (and knew to proceed with caution!).
Anyway, the reason I’m passing on the link again is because I finally met the author/photographer last night, walking back from Alex’s place after our Urban Fishing planning session. I had read about Bob’s Leica M8 (his camera) on the blog, so when I passed by a fellow with such a fine piece of equipment I knew it was him and introduced myself. Since I had blogged favorably about him before, and he had stumbled upon my praise, when I told him my name was “Nate”, he said, “Oh, ‘innonate!’”. That made me laugh.
I sat around and chatted with him for about an hour, and in that time I learned more about the East Village than I had in my year and a half of living in the City. His perspective on the area is immensely valuable, and so I’m pleased to share the link to his blog. Also, because some of you are involved in art or media, I encourage you to consider how valuable his photos and stories are, and keep him in mind.