Sunday, July 15, 2007

1.5 - Tony Vera, The Comic Fireman

WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK, September, 1985 - A street performer sets a spectator on fire as the finale of his act. The crowd goes wild, and fills his fire helmet with cash as it's passed around the fountain. An improbable event? No, just a regular weekend happening in the park. I know, I was there.

And he didn't really set anyone aflame, that's just your eyes playing tricks on you. Shot with a 200mm lens from a distance of only about 75 feet away, all planes-foreground, midground and background-are compressed together, so it only seems like the gentleman with the crossed ankles and folded arms has burst into flame.

I love shooting people in a crowd with that lens. You can get so close and intimate from far enough away that no one feels conscious of the camera. It leads to a more natural, more relaxed photograph. Being amidst a street performance was wonderful; I could shoot without restraint, since no one was paying attention to me, and I could pretend to be shooting the show. Which I was doing as well.

Tony Vera was a great performer, and eating fire (or more spectacularly, spitting fire), was only part of his schtick. He balanced bicycles on his chin, he balanced metal folding chairs with small children in them on his chin. He told jokes. He riffed on the crowd. He had about forty-five to fifty-five minutes of material, and through the hierarchy of the group of weekend performers in
Washington Square at the time, he was a headliner. He even had an opening act.

Tony moved to the west coast not long after this picture was taken. Since then he's been doing his act on weekends in
Venice Beach. He's got a website, and a myspace page, neither of which have been tended to in some time, and are a something of a mess, so I won't bother putting any links here. That's what Google is for.

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