It’s that time again when I haven’t updated long enough to finally get an email asking if I’m still doing the site and/or selling Jesus Dressup magnets. The answer’s yes. Plus I’m also selling Trumps & Mohammeds as well. Can you think of anywhere else that combo of themes is available??
At the moment I believe I’ve posted the last Amazing Strangers video for a while. You can see all of the latest ones there in the right sidebar. There comes a time when I just can’t seem to find anything worthwhile enough to edit. But that could change at any point because I am indeed working through all those folders preparing a paperback book which’ll be stories & art, but mostly photos of Union Square Amazing Strangers.
My local bookstore/coffee shop Book Nook has offered to print it up for me through their publishing company, West Vine Press here in Whitehall. Then later this winter I’m planning to host video presentations here at the shop. We’ll see how that goes. I’ll be sure to make the book available for purchase here on the site.
I’ve yet to get any offers on a place to stay in NYC to encourage more frequent visits. But I do have a friend willing to rent me a room for a month in May. If it’s still available to me by then I’ll be taking her up on the offer. That’s when you can expect brand new, current footage added to youtube.com/normalbobnyc.
In other interesting Amazing Strangers news, my friend Nick (New York Nico) back in 2014 purchased one of Roman’s signs for a dollar, and has since had it framed! It’s now hanging in his hallway, and I thought you all might like to let your envious eyes lay upon this lovely piece of art.
There’s a video getting a lot of attention right now on YouTube of several young guys getting kicked off a plane for speaking Arabic. The video is short, of a guy yelling into his camera phone about how he and his buddies are being booted for speaking a foreign language while he was on the phone with his mother, and chastising white people on the flight for letting the toss-off happen. CBSN described Adam Saleh as a “YouTube star kicked off Delta.” And that he most certainly is. You see, I have a history with Adam Saleh and his “True Story ASA” gang, and now seems like as good a time as any to share with you who they are and what it is they’re doing.
I had been documenting Union Square Park in NYC for the last decade or so, and 2014 – ’15 I would see them there trying to bait people in one way or another. For instance, trying to get New Yorkers to complain about a Muslim praying in public.
They’d lay out a rug and pray on the park path, but no one cared. So they’d have one of their friends try and drag people over saying “Yo, you gonna let him pray like this? It’s mad disrespectful, right?” and still people wouldn’t jump on board with the enthusiasm they needed for a video. The last resort was having a friend pretend to be offended and complaining, blur out his face, call it a real passer-by, and there’s your video. It’s shameful and cringe-worthy, and not very hard to figure out if you’ve got even an average eye for social studies.
Immediately when I first started seeing this “Kicked off Delta” story circulating through my Facebook feed I knew that they’d gone and done it again. I wasn’t even aware (until now) they’d already posted videos of themselves causing this kind of trouble on planes before. In the past they’ve recorded themselves counting down from 10 to 1 in Arabic loud enough for everyone on the plane to hear, and laughing while they did it. Yes, Adam is this type of guy. He needs this sort of attention. And his YouTube channel, with over a million and a half subscribers, is audience. As a videographer myself I understand the pressure to get material for a YouTube channel. I understand the urge to make something happen when nothing’s happening. And it’s clear Adam has embraced this method without regard for his own reputation, or the reps of his If-he-jumps-off-a-cliff-so-will-I friends. The host of WeAreChange did a better job of illustrating this in a video than I ever could.
When I first posted my video with Joey Boots criticizing them and their methods, they immediately flagged it and got it taken down. I had a back and forth with their “legal rep” (I posted the entire exchange on Reddit), but in short their defense was that I didn’t ask permission to use their clips in my critique of them. Of course I am allowed to do that without permission, so eventually they gave up and the video remains. It’s an amusing exchange if you need a good laugh, or want some insight into their mindset.
They’re clumsy with the amount of incriminating information they leave out there, terrible actors, and no shame at all when it comes to seeking out creative ways to look victimized. I think that’s what disgusts me the most about them. So when they’re pretending things like being arrested for being Muslim, or his embarrassing fake crying, it comes off like kids playing make-believe (which is exactly what it is, I suppose).
Watching their videos, seeing them around the Square all the time, and my direct encounters with them, I can assure you these are not a group of guys you want to trust. They’re pranksters, which is not a bad thing, but they’re also liars & con men, which is. They don’t understand how playing these sorts of games & getting caught hurts the credibility of those who really are victimized in real situations.
I have a hard time picturing how this won’t come back and bite them in the ass in some way or another. Especially now with them pranking the airline industry with terrorist jokes. They’re really just a bunch of obnoxious, unsupervised kids with a popular YouTube channel, but this time they may have bitten off more than they know.
Aug 3, 2016
My names Atilio and I’m a 24 year old living in Calgary Alberta up north in Canada! I’m a huge fan and have been following your art for the last few years. I've been into photography for a few years now and after lot of thought and inspiration from your work I've decided I want to branch off into anthropology as well.
Calgary has a few locations not too different from Union Square and I’m going to try and create a documentary about the people of these areas. I was hoping I could get some advice from you as your art has been a huge factor in my decision to start this project!
I've never created a doc and really have no idea what I’m doing! What kind of equipment do you use for your videos and any advise that would help make the locals more receptive to being recorded and photographed? i hope to hear back from you and id really appreciate your time.
I'm definitely pleased to hear that I've inspired you to do something similar to what I was doing at Union.
Interestingly enough, when I first found myself at the Square I had no plans at all about documenting it in any way. I just fell in love with that park the minute I saw it. It was such an amazing place for people watching. It's those two factors that made it a great documentary possibility. #1 Amazing people watching. #2 Falling in love with the place.
It wasn't until after a couple years into hanging out there I realized I had to have a camera to start filming what I was witnessing there. At first I bought cheap little cameras that didn't exceed $200 and took mediocre photos, and really crappy videos. Mind you, this was around 2004 before digital photography & HD videos got as popular and affordable as they are now. And I'd already had the online presence with Jesus Dressup so I was ready with a platform to showcase my work.
Looking back, the thing I had most in my favor in regards to making people receptive to being photographed, and/or simply allowing me to shoot what I wanted whenever I wanted, was seniority. The more time I spent at that park and the more years that passed, the more comfortable I felt, and the people there just got used to me always being there. They'd even approach me wanting to be interviewed. Then when it came to filming the eccentric regulars like Wendell, Signs or the crusty punks who'd normally shun photographers, I was able to develop a relationship with them before pulling out the camera at all. As time passed and I reached the 8 to 10 year mark I was permitted to film almost whatever I wanted because the people there simply knew who I was, what I was doing, and were even there to back me up if I looked like I might be getting a bit nosey to someone unfamiliar with me. Then it wasn't until probably 2012 or so that I really developed a skill for interviewing. Now that I think about it, that started with me interviewing Shaggy for Year In Reviews. That's probably when I discovered I could basically use the same method of getting information out of anyone.
It also didn't hurt making it all into a game on the postcards to get people involved. Having something tangible to show gave me credit of sorts when approaching strangers and getting them interested in being interviewed on camera.
Around 2008 or so, after the Amazing Strangers section of my site started to actually get noticed by making the Peepers famous I had a fan email me telling me to "Check your PO Box." When I got to the post office, inside waiting for me was a brand new $500 Canon Powershot SX50 HS. I asked the anonymous emailer why he got it for me and what he wanted in return for such an expensive gift. He simply replied "I'm sick of watching the crappy quality of your stuff, but I love what you're doing there." All I had to do was promise him I'd continue to document and upload NYC for him to see. That began my love for the Canon Powershot. And it's the 2012 model that I prefer most. It has the most dependable mic, the farthest zoom reach, and has lasted the longest of the followup models I bought later.
As for editing, I've always just preferred the iMovie program that came with my Mac. As long as I was able to move audio & video around easily, and maybe a few special effect options like slow motion and fading clips together I had all I needed. All of it I found easy to teach myself over the years.
Since I started the one thing I wish I would have invested in earlier would have to be external hard drives. I've lost plenty of photos and videos that I'd give anything to have back simply because I was a cheapskate and put off buying something to back everything up on. Now I have a stack of them, and I'm so pleased to have everything safely saved in several places. In my opinion getting something like a 3 terabyte Toshiba is easily affordable, will store years and years of footage, and could save you lots of heartache in the future.
I think the biggest challenge for you will be finding a place as easy to find subject matter as Union Square was for me. I've asked people from all over the world (who were visiting NYC) if they've ever seen a park like Union in their travels, and almost unanimously the response has been, "Nope. Not like this." But I'd be really interested to see what you can come up with there in Calgary Alberta, Canada. I've yet to see anyone else documenting a park like I have, and to me it seems like an obvious hobby for any filmographer out there.
Thank you for the compliments. I hope I answered your questions thoroughly enough!
Thank you so much for the advice Bob! I was not expecting such a thorough reply I greatly appreciate it!
I hope to start this project soon after some more investigation into the different areas of my city. Luckily I have almost identical equipment to your own but I'll definitely be picking up a hard drive for back ups! It's awesome to hear about the gifted camera and doesn’t surprise me at all your works incredible and you have a lot of fans!
Once i get this whole thing kicked off I want you to know you’ll be credited in any video I produce and I’m absolutely honored to be mentioned on your site! thanks again for everything bob!
It seems even when I’m far far away the Amazing Strangers continue on with their lives, and the drama of Union Square moves forward without even the slightest bit of nudging from yours truly.
Last Christmas I got a distressed email from the one and only Jolly Cathimself accusing me of slander for the videos I’d been posting of him over the years. He emailed me years prior about removing them and I politely obliged. But then he kept showing back up at the park and doing the exact same show for us again and again! So I put them back up. Then finally, back in December he sent me another email, and it went something exactly like this:
I noticed after you deleted my videos you posted them back up. This is slander and here is why. My characters actually bring lots of laughter and joy to many ppl and receive big applauses but on some days like when you caught me in the park ppl weren't laughing and I looked really bad. It is a false representation of what I do.
I am letting my manager know about this and if you don't delete all my videos he will contact you with the next steps we must take. I hope we can handle it now.
Sincerely, Vinny Hat in Cat
Dec 29, 2015
In response to this I decided that the videos weren’t all that important to me, so I took them down and replied:
Good to hear from you! I don't believe it's slander to show video of you not making people laugh. Maybe if you were making them laugh and I edited it so they weren't. But showing exactly what happened isn't lying, or slander, or any kind of deceit at all. It's showing what happened. There's nothing illegal or protected about showing video of public performances.
The problem is that you're blaming the audience instead of your act. I thought that was the joke? Apparently not.
Dec 29, 2015
Despite all of this I granted his request.
Now, 6 months later, what do I see? Jolly Cat performing his trademarked act on America’s Got Talent with exactly the same results I witnessed every single time at the park. And here is that amazing video.
The way I found out about this AGT video was Shaggy calling me up frantically asking “Where are all your Hat in the Cat videos?!? I can’t find them!”
I’m sure I’ll probably hear from him again, but none of what I filmed was edited or taken out of context. It’s what Shaggy, I and many others had to bare witness to when he chose to perform in front of us. So with great pleasure I bring you back to the Original Hat in the Cat, more famously known as “Jolly Cat” as we all know him from Union Square NYC!
And to Jolly Cat – I think the burden is on you (or better yet, your manager) to produce and distribute video of you making people laugh. It is not my responsibility. I mean, if I do not witness it, it is impossible for me to film it. Right? And portraying your show as something other than what I see would be committing High Perjury! Then I’d have to let my manager know about this so he could contact your manager about taking the next steps in regards to all of this. Anyhow I’m also happy to promote the video you asked me to promote in this video.
Jolly Cat’s “A Wacky Love Story” feature he promoted in the previous video.
And this is the first time I ever saw and recorded Jolly Cat back in Feb 2009.