the illustrious life of “bird man”

in my mind, when it comes to kick-ass pictures, there are only two kinds: the ones that you go through hell and high water and work your ass off to get and the ones that the universe just gives to you with a bow on it. the picture i chose for this post is a little of both.

during the summer of 2007 i had an uber intense and emotionally draining photo internship in nyc. i was the photographer for a small web design company owned by a guy named sanford.

sanford was a disgruntled trollish man with a debilitating deviated septum that made him sound like ray romano’s giant tv brother. he was the type of guy that was convinced he knew everything and believed every lie he ever told to be true. all of these things were only compounded by the fact that he was taking steroids to fight an infection resulting from a botched knee surgery, making him extremely irritable and aggressive.

after walking the city taking pictures all day, sanford would sit down with me and critique my selects. but this wasn’t your ordinary critique. in fact, “critique” is a complete misnomer. “mauling” would be a better word. as he scrolled by pictures he disliked, he would pronounce things like:

(in a nasally voice)


“this is complete shit”

“not even close”

“do you even try?”

and my personal favorite:

“congratulations, this one literally makes me want to vomit”

i kid you not. you can’t make this kind of stuff up. this guy was a tyrant. but he taught me a lesson about pushing my work and going the extra mile to get the shot just right. which leads me to my first assignment and the main event.

meet “bird man”.


my assignment was to photograph homeless people in there element. when it comes to being homeless, “bird man” is the real deal. so, as you can imagine, i became obsessed with him. i literally stalked him . but i couldn’t even tell you how many frames i took of this mysterious vagabond. why? because sanford made me delete all of the ones that he didn’t like. which was pretty much all of them.

see? a tyrant, i tell you!

but i didn’t give up on this one, if only to prove to sanford that i WAS trying and that i COULD capture this guy on camera. so i watched this guy from a distance for the better part of a week. i watched him collect cans. i watched him sleep. i watched him panhandle. but i most certainly did NOT watch him sit on a milk crate and defecate on the sidewalk in broad daylight….*shudder*…..needless to say, i got to know this guy pretty well. he had a serious routine. read the paper. take a nap. buy a cheap sandwich and then start working the trash bins for cans and bottles.

Picture 58

despite all of this detective work, sanford didn’t like any of my material. i was reaching the point where it wasn’t worth the anxiety anymore. i was sunburned and dejected.

so i gave up. i moved on to my next assignment: the law students taking the bar at the jacob javits center. not nearly as interesting as “bird man”, but at least i knew that the law students weren’t gonna cut a turd in front of me.

Picture 57

so there i was, sitting on the steps of the j. javits center watching some pigeons annihilate some garbage when i notice “bird man” coming up 11th avenue. im not gonna lie, i got a little sentimental seeing him waddle up the street with that bag-laden shopping cart that i knew so well. then i realized, as i wiped a tear from my eye, that while the pigeons and “bird man” were boring as hell separately, together they could be pretty cool. so i got my camera out and ready to shoot.

and then it happened. as he approached the birds, he searched in his cart and pulled out none other than one of his cheap sandwiches! all i’m thinking is “birds eating + homeless guy eating = cool shot”. my boy starts annihilating his sandwich when, all of a sudden, another flock of pigeons DESCENDS upon the others and swarms the food! the street corner was a flurry of wings and food.


my shot. the one i had been waiting for all week. my hole-in-one. the one good golf shot out of a thousand, nay, a million that makes all the slices, sand traps, water hazards and duffs inconsequential. the shot that i would shove up sanford’s clogged nose. i got butterflies in my stomach. the photo gods were looking down on me that hot july day.

bird man cometh!

all sanford could say was, “you can keep this one, i guess”

that was enough for me. it was all worth it.

Picture 60

here’s a play-by-play breakdown of how it happened.


~ by jacobbmurphy on October 11, 2009.

One Response to “the illustrious life of “bird man””

  1. […] this picture was a clear winner. it always is. people just like this picture. is it the composition? the colors? the humor of the moment you realize “holy shit, my bus isn’t coming”? personally, i think it’s just a really simple image. it’s easy to look at but tells a story at the same time. oddly enough, this is one of the first pictures i ever considered a success. summer 2007. the summer of sanford. the start of it all. for the whole story refer to my oct. 11th post. […]

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