Monthly Archives: May 2015

Photographing Buildings In Manhattan

Photographing buildings in Manhattan is a challenge, or at least it was for me last week, and for two reasons. First, I didn’t have the right gear, only my little mirrorless Fujifilm camera and a pancake lens. Second, even if I had the right gear, buildings in Manhattan have been shot to death. What could I possibly say that’s original or interesting? So I side-stepped the question. Instead of photographing buildings, I photographed people (since I was really there to do street photography anyways) and was mindful of buildings lurking in the background to give the people context. Here are some of the results.

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Man sitting on fire hose connection with Flatiron Building in background

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Flatiron Building viewed through scaffolding

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Reflection of building in puddle at 5th & E 31st St.

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Girl with violin & the Empire State Building in the background.

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The Chrysler Building

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Grand Central Station at night.

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That Moment of Pause

Not everything in New York City moves at the pace of a George Gershwin piece. People DO take time to pause and reflect. Last week I was privileged to capture some of those moments.

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Gazing over 10th Ave from the High Line.

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Reclining on the High Line.

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Cyclist pauses by the Conservatory Water in Central Park.

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Leaning against the wall at Chelsea Market.

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Here, it’s the window that does the reflecting. It’s the shoe that demands the pause.

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The Digital Moment

From smartphones to camcorders to DSLRs, digital devices have become so ubiquitous, it’s like they’re everywhere. I observe (ironically) with my own digital device, and share (hypocritically?) through digital media. It’s almost impossible now to find a non-digital vantage point from which to observe.

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Selfie on 5th Avenue.

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Not everyone has gone digital.

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Maternity shoot in Central Park.

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Infant looks on while mom texts.

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When you see the Buddha, shoot him!

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Street Photography in NYC – Money

This is related to my previous post about “commerce on the ground” only, in this post, the money is more obvious.

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Cigar-smoking inflatable rat holding money bag.

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Vendor examining a bill.

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Princess in Times Square counting his cash.

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Patriotic lady holding a wad of cash in Times Square.

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Street Photography in NYC – Commerce

When I think of commerce in New York, I tend to think of Wall Street, but there’s commerce on the ground, too: people doing whatever it takes to earn a living. Here are samples that run the gamut from shoppers in the flagship store of the world’s most valuable corporation to buskers in Washington Square Park.

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Dancing in Washington Square Park – note the tip jar on the piano.

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Pushing a food cart across 5th Avenue.

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Waiting for service at the Apple Store.

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Books for sale on a street corner.

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Delivering beer kegs on W 23rd St. by the High Line.

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Street Photography in NYC

I just got back from three nights in Manhattan. I was able to devote two and a half days to intensive loitering as me and my mirrorless camera honed our street photography skills. Street photography in Manhattan is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s so easy. I can think of a number of reasons why this is the case.

The first and most obvious reason is the intensity of pedestrian traffic. With so many people on the streets, it produces a continuous stream of interactions and exchanges–the dramatic subject matter of street photography.

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Hailing a cab on 5th Ave at E 53rd St.

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Tourists

Tourist season is upon us. One of the advantages of tourist season is that me and my camera blend in more easily. When I try to do street photography in the off season, my presence is really obvious. But in the summer, I dress like a tourist — hat, shades, shorts, sandals — and wander around as if I’m seeing my hometown for the first time.

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Young & Full of Beans

Remember that scene from Unforgiven when Will & Ned are talking by the fire about the old days when they were outlaws? Will is a puzzle, even to himself, because he usually killed for no particular reason at all. Then Ned (Morgan Freeman) comes out with his “we was young and full of beans” line. Referencing that scene has nothing to do with anything, but what the hey! I dedicate this post to street shots of the young and full of beans.

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Pulling a suitcase up Yonge Street.

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Maybe literally full of beans?

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Skateboarding past OCAD.

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The Proper Subject of Street Photography

What is the proper subject of street photography? Some people seem to equate street photography with stalking the homeless. Maybe they think photography isn’t authentic unless it’s gritty, and it isn’t gritty unless it portrays suffering. Who knows? I’m no mind reader. Personally, I find myself conflicted over the question of shooting vulnerable people. On the one hand, it feels exploitative. I prefer not to gain my advantages on the backs of other people. On the other hand, I recognize the value of photography’s role in social documentation. However, without a commentary to accompany the photograph, a photographer’s intention is often ambiguous.

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One way to analyse a photograph is to address the triad of power relationships that it produces (amongst subject, photographer, and viewer). Ask: who gets to determine outcomes in the production of this image? Did the subject give permission? If not, did the photographer accord dignity to the subject? Is the viewer cast in the role of voyeur? Does the image manipulate their emotions in an obvious direction? Or does the image create space for the viewer to draw independent conclusions?

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One rationale for surreptitious shots of the vulnerable is that it increases their representation in the media. Somehow, we magically enhance the social position of the marginalized by using photography to make them more visible. If we took shots only of professional white men in suits, our photographs would produce a distorted view of the world in which professional white men in suits appear more important than other people.

Well, yes and no. I think each photograph has to be considered in its own context. A surreptitious shot of a vulnerable person is quite a different beast than a surreptitious shot of a professional white man in a suit. As social documentation, both shots might have legitimacy. But the latter has about it a whiff of subversion, snatching power from power. The former has about it a whiff of exploitation.

Perhaps my opening question is misguided. Perhaps the proper subject matter of street photography is beside the point. Instead, it may be more fruitful to ask: how has the photographer behaved in the production of this image?

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Motherhood

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You may have noticed a hint of irony in the title for this post. Normally, we think of motherhood as this joyous life-sustaining institution. But the expression on this woman’s face, her whole demeanor, suggests a more realistic (demystified?) account of motherhood. The word “melancholy” comes to mind. I think Betty Friedan would approve.

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