Friends of Late East Village Photographer Hold Vigil on Avenue A

By Patrick Hedlund on October 5, 2011 4:45pm 

Bob Arihood, with his camera in Tompkins Square Park.
Bob Arihood, with his camera in Tompkins Square Park.
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EAST VILLAGE — Dozens of friends of late East Village documentarian Bob Arihood held a vigil outside Ray's Candy Store on Avenue A Tuesday night, recounting stories of how the indefatigable photojournalist touched so many lives in the neighborhood.

Arihood died last week from heart failure inside his East Village home, leaving the many who knew him from his daily trips documenting the neighborhood to mourn.

“I was out on the street, Bob helped me get off the street,” said Jim “Mosaic Man” Power, a local artist whose struggle with homelessness Arihood first chronicled on his popular Neither More Nor Less blog.

“He helped everybody out here. He made stars of a lot of people who were lost," Power said.

Arihood had a penchant for focusing on the neighborhood’s street dwellers, capturing shots of the regular characters who held court in around Tompkins Square Park and at Ray’s Candy Store on Avenue A, where he spent the bulk of his time.

“Anytime I had a problem, Bob helped me. When I had a question, I went to Bob,” said Ray’s Candy Store's owner Ray Alvarez, likening the loss to the Statue of Liberty suddenly disappearing.

“I love Bob and I’ll never forget him. When I’m in my apartment, I cry.”

Other East Village and Lower East Side fixtures — like legendary local muralist Antonio “Chico” Garcia and fellow photographer Clayton Patterson — also paid tribute to the man who became a sort of clearinghouse for anyone passing through the neighborhood.

“Where the action was, that’s where Bob was,” offered Karl Rosenstein, an activist and veteran of the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riots, in which Arihood suffered a beating at the hands of police. “It won’t be the same without him.”

Many echoed the thought that the East Village would be without its “center of gravity” with Arihood gone.

“He’d be here every night… He didn’t do it for any enrichment,” said Chris Flash, publisher of alternative newspaper The Shadow, speaking of Arihood’s commitment to his nonprofit craft. “I cannot visualize him not being on Avenue A. There’s just a big hole.”

Others shared more candid stories about Arihood, including how his neighbor’s tiny Chihuahua loved the burly photographer and always got excited when he came around.

“He was a gorgeous human being, and I don’t think he knew that about himself,” said Jennifer Belton, 40, who recalled how Arihood first consoled her after a breakup with her then-husband.

“He was incredibly sympathetic, empathetic to everybody [and] just so kind to me,” she continued. “I have never had that kind of compassion.”

Matt Rosen, a neighborhood resident who has given locals like Power and Alvarez a boost through his social-networking efforts, said he’d get upset when people said they never met Arihood, given his affability and constant presence in the neighborhood.

“Everyone could have been a friend to Bob like that,” he said, adding that the photographer never sought to portray his down-and-out subjects in an exploitative light. “He was just so warm and open. He never judged a single person, he never called anyone out.”

Those who worked with Arihood professionally, like longtime Villager newspaper editor Lincoln Anderson, remembered him for “his voice, his laughter, his wry humor.”

“I can’t believe he’s not here,” he said.

Photographer Jason Nicholas called him a “warrior and a poet” for the incredible body of work he amassed through the years.

“I don’t like a lot of people. I liked Bob,” he said. “He was one of those people you meet and wish you would have known him your whole life.”

Even those who only recently met Arihood described him in the same way as those who have known him for decades.

“He represented all the culture that everyone talks about when they talk about what the East Village was. As things changed, he remained constant.” said Lilly O’Donnell, 23, a journalism student and neighborhood native.

“He was really encouraging when I first got into journalism. He always encouraged me to write what I saw.”

As votive candle burned outside Ray’s and friends taped pictures of Arihood to the shop, Alvarez added a framed photo of him in his takeout window next a mosaic plaque designed by Power.

Some said that despite Arihood’s death, his spirit would remain on Avenue A.

“I think Bob is living in us East Villagers,” said Coney Island Sideshow performer Eduardo “Eak the Geek” Arrocha, “wherever we go in the world.”

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