A small portion of a colorful graffiti covered wall, Brooklyn
I used to have a firm policy of virtually never photographing graffiti, and when I couldn’t avoid it I would remove or modify it in post so as to not be part of the sharing that might encourage the sort of graffiti that is really simple vandalism. I still avoid photographing simple “tags” in most cases, especially when they offer little more than the evidence that some anonymous person wrote on a wall. I also have this nagging feeling that photographing graffiti-ridden cityscapes can too easily become a street photography cliché.
However, I’ve become more open to the idea of finding and photographing the accumulative juxtapositions of layers of drawing, painting, posters, and weathering that show up on some urban walls. That’s my way of explaining why I stopped to photograph this Brooklyn wall, moving in close to find compositions among the colors, lines, and shapes that have built up over time and which have been revealed as time has weathered away later layers.
If you wander about in New York City with your eyes open, who knows what you might see? We had an extra hour or so, and since we had been staying nearby for about a week and were only a short walk away, we decided to make a quick amble out onto the Brooklyn Bridge, even though it was cold and raw and trying to rain. The bridge, of course, was crowded with walkers, even in this uncomfortable winter weather. That meant that there were lots of opportunities of people watching and people photographing.
Most people go by so fast that only a quick photograph works, especially when crowds obstruct the view past the closest figures. Oddly, at this spot in the bridge the foot traffic seems to momentarily thin and break, and I could see this small group — perhaps a father and sons? — posing for a rather unusual Brooklyn Bridge photograph. Each of the kids was in a costume and mask of some sort, and the juxtaposition of these “little monsters” with the bridge was a surprise.
A man stands near the doorway between two cars of a historic New York subway car
This is another of my historic subway photographs from late December 2015 in New York City. During the holiday season, on one day the system trots out the old rolling stock and folks can ride the old trains over a section of the modern subway system under Manhattan. We got there early and caught the first run of the train heading uptown, then caught it again for the trip back.
The experience is remarkable. Some of these subway cars are very old, and while they still look like subway cars there are aspects of the experience that are quite different. They are very noisy! Sometimes the lights switch off for a moment, presumably as the train rolls over un-powered sections. The passageways between cars are entirely open — the ends of the cars bounce up and down relative to one another and the wind streams past. This photographs looks through that inter-car passage and toward the connected car, where a man stands in the aisle.
Subway rail fans waiting at the station for the historic “nostalgia” train, Manhattan
A few days earlier we visited the Subway Museum in Brooklyn, where we had a chance to wander through a bunch of old to very old historic subway cars. I was fascinated by how old some of the rolling stock is, and by the history of the system that I had not known about. I was also a but surprised to realize that some of the trains currently still on the tracks have been there for a long time. A big draw at the museum is the fact that the old subway cars are parked in this old station and one can wander in and out of them.
With this visit fresh in our minds we decided to catch the historic “nostalgia trains” event that brings many of these trains out of the museum and runs them on the subway system for one day in December. Not surprisingly this draws out lots of fans of New York history and a lot of “train people.” (It also surprises a few folks who don’t know what is going on when these really old trains arrive at their stations!) I’m not sure what it is about train people, but the seem to stand out. These guys had apparently ridden the train partway up Manhattan, crossed to the adjacent platform, and were now waiting to the train to come back for their return trip.
A family pauses on the sidewalk in front of a Chinatown market on Mott Street on Christmas Eve.
I have been a bit surprised to find a lot of photographs of families, often with a kid in a stroller, among my street photographs from this December 2015 visit to New York. The photographs range from an adult family posing for a selfie (yet to be shared here) to families on busy downtown streets to night photographs like this one — and strollers seem to be a repeating theme. I’m not sure what this means.
While trying to figure out where we would go for dinner after discovering that our first choice and its neighbors were way to busy, I took a few minutes to wander up to the end of this very narrow street. This corner market featured a wild and colorful assortment of produce in outdoor stalls along the sidewalk, made more intense by lighting under the awning. My first thought was to photograph this colorful subject, but then I watched to see who might wander by and populate the photograph. A family stopped, father looking at his wife and child and the woman casting a glance in my direction.
A woman walks past scaffolding in front of Manhattan shops
There are several things that I find interesting about this photograph. First, I don’t remember making it! I remember many other subjects from this evening — we had walked across the Williamsburg Bridge, stopped in a tavern, visited Stand Bookstore, and more. But I have no recollection of making this final photograph of the evening. Second, the scaffolding lining the sidewalk and, above where we cannot see it in this photograph, seems like a common feature in Manhattan. I walked through, past, and around scaffold-covered buildings frequent.
My subject here is yet another example of that modern species of human who walks (at least at the moment of my photograph) along city streets and elsewhere, absorbed in the world of that little handheld device and giving no indication of being connected to the surrounding world. OK, I like the light, too. The light from the shop spills out of the front windows and across the sidewalk, creating shadows that are muted and filled by light from the surrounding neighborhood.
Three pedestrians share an umbrella on a rainy New York morning
My recollection is that we had gone to sort of the East Village area on this morning, first to find some pastry and coffee for breakfast at a place we’ve been to before, and then to wander about making some photographs in this urban area on a cool and wet morning. Breakfast and coffee taken care of, we started walking and watching the urban landscape and its human wildlife.
There is, of course, quite a lot to see, and much of it appears and disappears quickly. I rarely have a lot of time to think about a photograph, and quite often I have to move fast, composing on the fly. When this trio walked past I immediately noticed their color palette of basically black and red/pink and thought that there might be a photograph. We were already walking this direction so I quickly made a few exposures of this group of friends or relatives as they walked along, close together and sharing an umbrella on this drizzly morning.