Street corner and ode to Bob Arihood. Alphabet City. East Village, New York City.
Autumn weekends are draped in a chilled warmth down in the East Village and on the Lower East Side. Trees hang their colorful limbs lazily over the multitudes of people who unwrap their weekend day slowly and casually. The East Village has changed so much over the last few decades but sometimes on days like this one glimpses of its charm radiate so brightly that it is almost impossible not to smile.
Yesterday, one of the East Village’s (and really New York City’s) most brilliant photographers died. His name was Bob Arihood. He was the last of a dying breed.. He covered the not-so-pretty side of the East Village taking great care to carefully document the colorful personalities who made up the mosaic of the East Village over the years. A few years back he was profiled in the NY Times: An East Village Blogger Hangs Up His Mouse and he maintained two blogs: Nadie Se Conoce and Neither More Nor Less.
I had the pleasure of meeting him for the very first time after being a long time admirer of his work at a burlesque birthday party for Ray, the owner of Ray’s Candy Store in the East Village last winter. I will never forget the first five minutes of conversation with him. He asked me where I grew up in New York City and I said “Queens!” and he looked at me, smiled wryly and said “Oh, Queens. They have an entirely different currency in those parts.” We both laughed and talked about cameras, the changing face of the East Village and his work. After that, I ran into him quite a few times in and around Tompkins Square Park, at Ray’s Candy Store and on East fourth street. He was always kind, always had time to talk, was an incredible listener and had the biggest heart of anyone I have known. His humility was one of his most stunning characteristics. In fact, he was almost embarrassed that he had made it into the NY Times.
The last time I saw him and spoke to him was at the beginning of summer. It was a bittersweet conversation. He spoke to me about wanting to find a way to convert footage he had of the East Village in the early 1970s to a format that would be viewable online and he said something that has been haunting me ever since I found out that he passed away yesterday.
We were talking about how he managed to get the incredible photos of people that he had captured over the years and he spoke about being an admirer of Arthur Fellig (Weegee) for many years and that he had spent years befriending and getting close with many of the gangs, vagrants and fringe element in the East Village just so that they would be comfortable enough to let him into their circles and photograph them. That was what made him so unique. He had a distinct compassion for those who society often overlooks. He would sometimes take in the junkies, homeless and other lost souls who populated the East Village and give them food and the ability to take a warm shower. Sometimes he would listen to police radio to try to assess if anyone he knew from those circles were freshly involved in altercations (ala Weegee).
He spoke with sadness about not being fast enough to catch these things due to his increasingly poor health and how he was considering a car at some point. It was then that he leaned in and said softly to me “It feels like life is passing me by.” Something about that moment struck me with incredible sadness. I put my hand on his shoulder and just nodded because sometimes words just aren’t enough.
Whenever I spoke about him I would tell people that he was one of the people who deserved a documentary. I still feel that way. He was and remains a legend. It’s hard to believe he is gone but he will never be forgotten.
You can view the announcement of his passing as well as a beautiful write-up of him here on (only) one of the East Village’s best blogs: RIP Bob Arihood