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Ben's awareness of photographers, experienced and new, began to grow - Berenice Abbott and her New York cityscapes during the Great Depression, Ansel Adams his majestic mountain ranges, and Annie Leibovitz her rock star portraits. Others emerged over time, such as David Plowden, but Ben remained unconcerned about competition or conflicts. He didn't feel talented enough to run with these big dogs.

***

Several women gathered around a stark black-and-white grouping of four prints at Ben Englander's first gallery exhibition. "Telly's" revealed a simple Greek snack bar which did business near a private pool in the mid-1970s. The outside of the diminutive wooden building, photographed from a gentle side angle, was idyllically shaded by large leafy trees. Charmed, one could feel immediately drawn to it. Inside, with an antique metal cash register in the foreground, a weary waitress handed a tow-headed boy an ice cream cone. His expression seemed pleased, not just for a summer treat, but because he was receiving change as well.

Framed lengthwise as a window would be, the third photo featured a light cloth shade with an embroidered pull-ring. The last was a side shot of Telly himself as he washed dishes. What made it memorable was a black letterboard to his right which listed menu prices, frozen now in time, never to be victims of the ravages of inflation.

One woman questioned if the cafe's owner might be related to another famous Greek, the star of television's popular "Kojak" series, or if that Telly might be the actual owner. Passing by, Ben overheard her question and said, "You might have something there, ma'am. And you know, it never even crossed my mind to ask."

When they stopped laughing, they lavishly praised him for his talents. His face began to redden, and he stammered a "Thank you kindly" as he headed to the far wall.

Another group of mixed older individuals stood transfixed in front of "Fog." A young woman's face - he'd used a friend from the neighborhood - stared with cold eyes into the camera's lens. Shrouded in thick night mist, only one side of her face was revealed, similar to the "Meet the Beatles" album cover. Behind her were the colors of distant traffic signals, all out of focus. The effect was hypnotic.

By evening's end, the consensus leaned heavily toward Ben's "Park Breakfast" as a preview of masterpieces yet to be created. By itself, it was simply a gorgeous framing of a pristine snowfall in Washington Square Park, until he introduced a warm touch of humanity by zeroing in on an old man, coffee cup in hand, and feeding pieces of a stale roll to a gathering of birds with the other.

Some critics were quite taken with his debut, this limited oeuvre, while others took a more conservative wait-and-see attitude. A noted critic, the prissy and often acerbic Thomas La Plante, was hardly effusive in his review, but managed to find a few words of encouragement:

"As this youngster does display a modicum of budding talent, it is my fervent wish that he is never tempted nor lured by fleeting illusions of money and fame."

None, however, could see the subtle parallels bridging the world of Hopper's old art with Englander's new photography. Still, there was no denying his gradual and eventual success: three books continuously in print, each a greater best-seller than its predecessor. Sales of his signed, limited edition photographs continued to increase, and there were more exhibitions and appearances, although Ben dreaded talk shows, radio or television. That shy streak was always a tough one for him to beat, but he was most decidedly on his way.

***

After scouting lush adjoining properties in Branford, a stone's throw east of downtown New Haven, he convinced his parents to put their house on the market so that they could remain close. The moving van completed the daunting task in the summer of 1985, and Ben turned his photographic attention on the small water craft docked in various marinas or yawls gliding on the rivers. He also kept a sharp eye peeled for New England lighthouses. Always.

Later photos created during excursions to New York environs caught a comely woman sitting on a rattan seat aboard an old subway train, Coney Island's Wonder Wheel evident in the distance. It was followed by "Kites" - two children, faces obscured in shade, flying them in the distance atop the wheat-colored hill of a park.

Over in Staten Island, he found an anachronistic black 1949 Packard sitting silent and alone, covered in dust on the floor of a car dealership's showroom. He titled the print after the vehicle.

"Admission" was in soft focus outside a cold, nondescript concrete stadium. It captured a solitary man in a dark brown overcoat as he purchased a ticket for a college football game from an agent, out of sight behind the window.

One of his most disquieting images was the black-and-white "Girl in Summer." Taken on a Long Island beach, it revealed a young woman in a dress as she sat, lost in thought, on a folding wooden chair on the sand. Behind her rose a smooth sand dune untouched by human feet. Wind blew through her blonde tresses, and the photograph came to life, breathing lightly with the spirit of Edward Hopper.

***

[To be con't.]

Copyright 2010 James D. Young


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Comments

The following comments are for "LEGACY (5)"
by JamesYoung

now you've done it!
Here's me doing a google search of Ben Englander .. wanting to see his work .....

*sigh*

You know, I spent five days in New York city with a pal back in 1999 and went through five rolls of 36 pics .... so many awesome sights .. one of my faves was the ceiling at the Ellis Island 'clearing house' which is brick but looks like snake skin because of the design. The other odd thing I noticed when we docked at Ellis Island was how Germanic the eagles looked .. wondered how the immigrants arriving felt when they saw them.

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: April 17, 2011 )





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