I’ve been photographing my hometown, New York City, for many, many years. To put things in perspective, the Beatles were still making music when I bought my first “serious” camera. I was mainly shooting sports at the beginning, but soon started hitting the streets in earnest.
When I’m out shooting, I try to catch a particular moment in time before it’s gone for good. There’s always the chance that something can happen at any time, so I’m alert for anything that catches my eye. I love the rhythm of the streets and the randomness of it all. Besides candid shots of people, I shoot the urban environment – structures, walls, posters, ads, architectural details. I generally don’t like to define myself, but, if pressed, maybe street/urban landscape will do.
My main love has been b&w film, though I did shoot many color chromes in the past. To me, b&w is a bit more mysterious and abstract. It has more of a timeless feel. It’s more about the subject and composition because there’s no color to help the image. I still shoot b&w film almost exclusively. A friend once gave me a cheap digital compact and I use that for my color observations. I like the tactile, tangible aspect of film. I’m just more comfortable working with it. Perhaps I’m just stuck in the past. Personally, a digital image is a little too perfect. A bit sterile. I kind of dig the imperfections of film. Grain is good. Noise is bad. When putting together my photobook, Today’s Special, New York City Images 1969-2006, I made sure that the photos, the majority of which were shot in the 70s, 80s and 90s, actually looked like they were taken then. Just very minimal post processing of the files. I didn’t want them to look like they were taken by a high-res dslr.
It’s still a thrill to look at a contact sheet. And my main backup are my negatives. They’ll outlive me. As I’ve gotten older, I try not to have many high expectations when I’m out on the streets. Shooting candids of people is mostly about failure anyway. Too many variables can ruin the shot. I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. Most of the images in this article were shot with slrs, but for the past few years I’ve been shooting a lot with compacts and ignoring the viewfinder.
When I started out in photography, very few people were walking around with cameras. People are now more suspicious of cameras because of social media, especially if kids are involved. I have some strong shots of kids playing back in the day. I don’t even attempt to shoot kids now. I don’t think Helen Levitt would have had a career if she was around today. I also find it harder to shoot on the streets compared with the past because everyone is now staring at their phones. Hard to capture a good expression when someone’s head is down.
The city’s really changed over the decades. It’s a much kinder and gentler place to live. The trade-off for a photographer is that it used to be more interesting to shoot in a grittier city. I’m really not complaining. The excitement and vibrancy is definitely still there. If you’re shooting the streets, you couldn’t be in a better place than NYC. [Official Website]
My photobook, Today’s Special, New York City Images 1969-2006, was published last summer by Coral Press Arts . It contains 48 black-and-white images, many evocative of a city that has all but disappeared. The book also includes an introduction by the art critic Robert C. Morgan. My most recent show was my book launch/exhibit at H.P.F. Christopher in NYC.
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