Friday, October 28, 2011
R.I.P. Bob Arihood
Bob Arihood passed away during the week of September 30th 2011.
We will be maintaining the blog indefinitely, along with Nadia Se Conoce. The site will be preserved exactly as Bob left it, except for this post. New comments will be allowed but only on this post.
The following is an introduction to Bob, his work, and to NMNL.
Steve Jobs of Apple Computer fame died the same week as Bob. One obituary (from the WSJ) said this about Jobs: “no one could figure out what he was. He was no engineer or technologist. He was no conventional businessman either….he made himself up as he went along, improvised himself out of scratch, occupied a job category whose total size was always one”.
This is a pretty accurate depiction of Robert Arihood as well. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, and although was never formally employed as an engineer, he knew more about buildings and structures than the structural engineer we once worked with on a rebuilding project. Bob applied his training and practical experience in building and fixing things, but was always drawn to the arts: painting, sculpture, and especially film and photography. As an example of where this led, he built the film storage facility for the original Anthology Film Archive down in SoHo.
He began photographing in a casual way in the 1960’s and 70’s, using a Leica M3 part of the time (and later M6). He never intended to become a photographer; it was never his dream, just a hobby, but he became more and more meticulous about this ‘hobby’. His main business was still building things, generally off of his own new ideas. After his last major venture ended circa 1994 or 1995, he became a full-time photographer, basically hanging out on the corner of Avenue A and 7th Street. There was no grand plan, just a commitment to becoming a master of what he did, and to keep evolving, to keep improvising himself out of scratch.
He began selling photos on a free-lance basis to the Times, the Post, and the Villager; some may have appeared elsewhere. He became a regular at the Villager, probably publishing about 400 or 500 pictures there, maybe more, with his most active period coming during the summer of 2004, especially during the RNC. (See editor-in-chief Lincoln Anderson’s tribute at
He never intended to be a journalist either, but the stories naturally followed. Fiercely independent (and a true master of his trade), he often disliked the way his photos were cropped or printed. He was also irritated when details and facts he collected were missing or did not appear in print versions of stories written by others. He constantly told us he was going to hang up his cameras and retire...
He started NMNL in 2006, mainly to help out Jim Powers, but the site took on a life of its own. As he said just before starting NMNL, but after (mostly) ending his association with newspapers “I do not miss being part of the media. Really, I never desired to have anything to do with journalism.”
Yet he took the journalism seriously, and developed stories he felt were important, whether it was saving Jim Powers or Ray from eviction, covering crane collapses and building department gaffs, or exposing shenanigans of a particular real estate developer. He was not at all a community activist, as some have labeled him, except in the original meaning of the term: someone active in the community in which he lived. He looked after his neighbors, and if he had unique abilities to highlight one particular gross injustice or public negligence in his city or neighborhood, he would. That's why he kicked off the Save Ray movement, and that’s why he reported on DOB issues and the like.
He often complained, especially in the 2000’s that part of what he did was not about photography, and in fact, having to shoot this subject matter in the way he did actually made his photography worse (one of the reasons he later started Nadie Se Conosce, to showcase photography more than reportage). But it is NMNL that received the primary attention.
He was still shooting more film than digital through 2008, but by 2009 he was mainly scanning negatives not printing them, and with the arrival of Leica’s M9 in late 2009, he went mainly digital, finally being satisfied enough with digital output. But in his heart he still preferred film and he’d still bring out the M6 sometimes because, as he wrote “I still want to make pictures that look like ‘real pictures’.”
When he retired in 2010, for about a year, it was for three reasons: he had grown weary of the number of hours it took standing on the corner for very little material; weary of the hours it took to process all the images, and since he was meticulous, it took many hours to do so; and finally, the source material really had grown less interesting and plentiful. In an interview he gave to the Times , he added that, “the lack of pay and the new profusion of bloggers, cellphone photographers and Twitterbugs didn’t help.” Spending several thousand hours on that spot with him, we concur that there was less material per night than years earlier. After a night (May 17, 2010) that we stood outside for hours and the only thing that happened was a little dog eating waterbugs, he knew he had had enough. His retirement was only partial: he had started Nadie Se Conosce, he contributed photos and other info to EV Grieve and others, and couldn’t stop carrying a camera. In fact, he kept upgrading his equipment and systems.
But like Michael Corleone in the later Godfather movies, Bob complained that he got sucked back in. He came back to NMNL in mid-2011, but was now somewhat of a celebrity, even a bit of a ‘living legend’. In the interim a number of media outlets had done stories on him, including the New York Times, NYT and he met dozens of other bloggers and aspiring photographers, many of whom would just introduce themselves to him on the street (easy enough since he was unmistakable on that corner). As the Times said, “His style of reporting was of the old-fashioned shoe-leather sort and his main subjects were the itinerant travelers, street drinkers, punks, poets and sidewalk sleepers that once proliferated in the East Village but these days make up a vanishing tribe.”
He had fun with NMNL, but was growing tired of it again just before he died, and was threatening to once more ‘hang up his cameras.’ Still, the week before he died, he had upgraded his internet connection in order to begin uploading video to the site, and he had upgraded his computer systems as well. He wasn’t exactly sure what he would do next, but Bob was still improvising, still re-inventing himself.
In Bob’s own words taken from one of his comments on a NMNL post called General Assembly:
“I photograph and write about what happens here in this neighborhood. I often write in jest of many things. I photograph and write mostly of things that nobody else will cover. There is still some local color here, I photograph it and write about it but that does not mean that I support it or that I am romanticizing it. Much of what you find here is little more than entertainment, cheap thrills and nothing more. Sometimes I do take a serious stand on an issue or an event. I do so publicly, openly with my name clearly displayed. I stand on a corner too , and speak to what I believe publicly and at times I am even recorded, photographed doing so…..there is an obligation on my part to report on this or any such event, [politically] left or right. This is what I did. If some people don't like this, well too damn bad grow up and live in the real world”.
A comment on Bob’s photography and journalism, and favorite posts.
Bob was an extremely talented photographer, although much of what is here is not representative of his very best work. He also, despite himself, was a fine journalist in the old cast-he frequently quoted Walter Cronkite that a good journalist needed to be a person of broad general knowledge and he would add and a good ‘bullshit detector’. His best journalism, ironically, was generally when he left the corner of 7th Street and Avenue A. It is these pieces in which Bob’s photography, his reportage and writing, and his knowledge of engineering and buildings all come together to produce something no one else could. These include the crane collapse series on 51st Street in March 2008, an even better series in February 2007, another crane collapse series in October/November 2008, the 120 St. Marks saga in 2006/07, and the St. Brigid’s campaign, all on this site, and a much older building collapse series in the Villager around 2000 or 2011. His extensive coverage of the protests surrounding the 2004 Republican National Convention is also noteworthy but was only published in the Villager (and perhaps a few shots sold elsewhere). Other of our favorite posts include “Independence Day 1996 Little Italy” (we were with him when those were shot), a Feb 2008 post called “Pieces of Avenue A” , but there’s a ton of them. We also recommend Nadie Se Conosce for some of his older images.
A note on his videos
We intend to leave them up but we do point out that Bob didn't think he wanted to keep the videos. In an email 2 or 3 days before he died, he stated: "i think that since the quality of them is so low, i will remove these videos. Particularly the sound is poor... The problem is with this camera...to make serious video, one does not use a camera like this."
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