Coney Island sheet music — of and for the people!

Boardwalk Sheet-music Montage, Coney Island, 1952
Boardwalk Sheet-music Montage, Coney Island, 1952. 

Sometimes the stars just seem to line up! I created this photo montage over six decades ago and have always loved it! The first version of it (below) was published in The New York Times in 1952 courtesy of my good friend, Jacob Deschin, the photo writer at the time. Then about a month ago four inquiries about the photo came to me within a week! One came from a dealer, a few others were from individuals and one came from Merve Salemet, who works with Acik Radyo (“open radio”) in Turkey, who would like to use the image for a public service campaign entitled “Tribute to Music”. Just this morning they sent me a mock-up for the poster they have in mind, which prompted this blog.

The only time I’ve ever really felt envy is when I’ve watched people make music, which made my time living in the now-legendary Jazz Loft at 821 Sixth Avenue in New York, a constant source of agony and ecstasy! How could I make music without playing an instrument? Well, what about with a camera? The truth is — I hadn’t initially “seen” the music of this photograph until Jacob Deschin put his own name, “Music Score”, on it for his column. I simply liked the design! But once the true personality of the photograph was revealed I realized there was another melody waiting to happen here. While the first image — a repetition of lines — evoked a chant or a bass line for a song, I went back to my contact sheets and began to pull out other frames and put them together in a new montage melody!

The original rendering of the montage published in the New York Times.
The original rendering of the montage published in the New York Times.

Maybe the large figure on the first line signals a loud proclamation to begin the piece followed by a couple of grace notes, some pauses and a series of quarter notes in repetition. Since I can’t read music, I have to leave it to my imagination to hear what it’s saying. And, since imagination is what led me into this musical adventure in the first place, I might hear it differently each time!

acik radyo 5stx32-1Suffice it to say, I am happy to see this image as the centerpiece of the “Tribute to Music” campaign. But my interest in teaming up with Acik Radyo goes beyond that. Whenever I can contribute my imagery to good causes that I believe in, I like to do so. Here’s a bit more about them:

Begun in 1995 as a regional radio station serving metropolitan Istanbul and environs, Acik Radyo is a non-profit collective with 92 partners holding equal shares. Their “share certificates” are composed of marked and numbered lithographs of the late distinguished Turkish painter and sculptor Abidin Dino. The back of each certificate says:

“This is to certify the support you have provided for the founding of a free, independent, democratic, dignified, compassionate, and out-of-the-ordinary radio station, which will hopefully lead to the creation of other similar projects.”

Acik Radyo remains one of the rare independent institutions in the Turkish media. Their website declares them as “completely independent from the state, and from any kind of ‘ideology’ except the principles of pluralist democracy, the rule of law, and the protection and promotion of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Their motto speaks to my own sensibilities:

“Open radio is open to all the sounds, colors and vibrations of the universe.”

The station has won many awards over the years — from their campaign about global warming to their promotion of World Music. According to Merve, the “Tribute to Music” campaign is grounded on the idea that if you listen to music, you can feel better no matter what else is going on around you. They will feature a web film showing run-down urban environments but with great music behind it!

There’s one more reason why I’m happy to see this photograph used in this way. It’s my strong conviction that Coney Island is and always will be “the peoples’ playground” — a place where people of all backgrounds come to have a good time. In like spirit, Acik Radyo seeks to empower and encourage the voice of the people through it’s programming and to extend that voice beyond all borders. That’s music to my ears! Wishing them all the best with the campaign!

Here are some of the elements of my montage!

The contact sheet for sheet music montage
The contact sheet for sheet music montage

This is one of several contact sheets I reviewed when making decisions about the montage. Once I decided which frames to use I put each in the enlarger, made the necessary crops, and penciled in each frame’s spot on a piece of plain paper, so that the entire montage was traced on one template. Then I took out the photographic paper, went back to each negative, created a mask around all but the line I was developing and did this six times to complete the whole picture. Remember! Life before Photoshop was very different! For more on that visit my earlier blog on photomontages (see link below).