To continue from my previous post, where I discussed a few of the lighter points of my New York City trip, to build a bit more on my Lick the Pavement Series. [Found Here]. I want to talk a bit about the neighbor hoods I walked through.
Now, if you read my first post, then you already know that I warned you. If your reading this post first, then I’d like to repeat that warning. You are about to embark on a frenzied lost cause attempt that will probably confuse or bore you more than inspire.
But the words are pointless in the end, right? It’s the photos that I really want to share and let’s be real, that’s all you want to see as well. So feel free to skip the rambling and feast upon some of the lucky snags I was fortune to grab.
Hope you get something from any of this.
Neighborhood Thoughts for Street Photography
Okay, so why post a blog and not highlight some thoughts on some of the neighborhoods I checked out. Now this list isn’t extensive or detailed, but I thought doing some free writing while thinking about my time there would be worth while. Maybe you’ll get something out of this.
5th Avenue and 57th
This is what I like to call, the “Bill Cunningham Zone” and why not. I can’t blame him for spending so many years here. It was a buffet of people and ever changing. Mind you, it’s not the stylish stereotypical area that we are fooled into believing it is at all times. So don’t get wrapped up in that delusion. However, with the right eye, one can spot plenty of beautiful, unique and stylish people walking about.
The light was wonderful and I was fortunate enough to discover a couple of great little areas where scaffolding was hanging over the sidewalk, creating some very harsh light/shadow spots. Which seems to be my bag these days. So theres that.
The atmosphere was fun and the people are cool, albeit quite focused and inattentive to the goings on around them. This played a huge advantage to a street photographer such as myself, as the less attention I receive, the more I can shoot unencumbered and without affecting the scene. One thing I want to note, is I did not get any of that stereotypical New Yorker vibe most talk about. Quite the opposite in fact, I found everyone very pleasant and little to no attitude while here or in any other neighborhood I visited. Even when putting a camera in their faces.
I’d say this was definitely my favorite location. Which is probably why I returned here multiple times throughout my trip.
Two words are very important to remember… Night & Weekend.
I came down here on a Sunday night and it was madness. Incredibly dense, with a ton of characters available. Do keep in mind however, it’s very touristy and much of the “characters” you find are of the cautionary “folks in costumes” type. So don’t bet on grabbing photos of reality here, reflect the “life” of New Yorkers beyond that of a club night vibe.
Due to the countless massive television screens lining the buildings, one neat thing is you won’t have to worry much about compromising your camera settings. It’s bright down here, particularly for night time shooting and you will be very happy for that.
Admittedly, I grew tired of the area after a while and for me, an hour was more than enough to get my fill. Things got pretty redundant and beyond the sentiment of Time Square, I didn’t really feel a great need to return. I did on Monday however, just to get some extra B-roll recorded and to see how it is on a weekday. Which proved to be a complete dead zone.
When people say New York City is the city that never sleeps, I have to admit, that’s a bit of a partial bullshit statement. Yes, there are still a great deal of folks out at night, but substantially to a lesser degree during the weekdays than it is on Saturday or Sunday, like any city.
Overall, I had to give Time Square a strong C+ or a weak B-. Make no mistake, it’s incredibly exciting and I got a ton of great imagery, but like I said above, the novelty wore off and the carnival like shooting become dull after a while. A definite recommendation to visit, but don’t waste more than one night of your travels here and do so only on a weekend.
Union Square/Gramercy Park
I have three big suggestions you have to keep in mind.
First, the Flatiron Building. While this building has been shot from damn near every angle possible, you still got to grab one yourself. Additionally, the food court here is a lot of fun to walk around and shoot. It’s a very open space and the sun blankets the area. I went through here a number of times throughout my trip and it mid-day there were always a good number of people grabbing a bit to eat, beers and just kicking back. Also, as a street shooter, it’s fun to capture the tourists clipping their own photos of the Flatiron.
Second, the Strand Bookstore. This is a must for anyone who digs book like myself. If your looking to find some great photography books, head up to the second floor and check out the front corner. There are a few open stands with photo books riddled throughout and two massive book cases with more books than you will have time to go through. Trust me, you will not be disappointed and can easily spend hours here if you are not careful. I spent far too much time here and walked away without buying anything. A mistake I still regret.
Lastly, do not leave here without eating at the Shake Shack. It’s a bit pricy for some burgers (at the time of this article, it’s around $18 for a burger, fries and a beer), but their damn good and you can customize. Also, if you get here during the evening, please pay no mind to the workers if they are a tad short or irritable. These cats are dealing with hundreds of people a day and we would all be a bit annoyed and wishing for the clock to strike “close” at that point. Definitely worth it though. I stopped here twice during my visit. Once to eat and the second time to grab a beer with my friend Scala.
This is another one of my favorite areas. It was quite a bit grittier and less swank than 5th Avenue. The people were still pretty dense in this area and seemed to offer longer swathes of individuals walking along the Broadway area. It did get a bit thick and the sidewalks are much narrower, leaving opportunities a bit more difficult to grab. Definitely suggest a wider angle lens here (23mm to 35mm).
I ended up running up and down the Broadway area and dashed down an alley or two. The light was great during the day and the people here seemed much more realistic than 5th avenue. A mix of the comfortable and the struggling and those in between. It’s a bit commercial in this area though, with a ton of stores all along Broadway. One neat thing is, at night, the storefronts cast some great ambient light on folks buzzing by. It’s certainly worth sticking to a block for a while and allowing your subjects to come to you. Very similarly to what I would suggest at 5th/57th above.
If you have some time, take a walk in the International Center of Photography at Bowery and Stanton. Know this, it’ll cost you about $25 to see the gallery exhibit. Something I wasn’t willing to do, but you may and it was worth mentioning.
Oh, and if you have a sweet tooth, do not leave without checking out Eileen’s Special Cheesecake at Lafeyette and Kenmare St. It’s freaking Deliciouso!
Washington Park/East Village
Washington Park is a beautiful area with a magnificent column over head when entering and a massive fountain that will, on the right day, toss some beautiful rainbows around. The park is full of people milling around or walking the inner paths and usually a street performer or two doing there thing. I highly recommend heading hear for some color imagery, as people seemed to wear poppy color attire here. I’m not sure why I noticed this, but it was a neat discovery.
There are a ton of benches within, so if you looking at catching folks just relaxing, this is the area to do so. The light is a bit tricky though, due to the trees, so pay mind to the speckled lighting issue. What I mean is, sometimes its cool to have a space where there are tons of little polygons of light (disco ball style), but it can make all of your images look the same.
While here, keep an eye out for the “bird-man” as I like to call him. It’s this bushy had cat, usually chilling on a bench with a hundred pigeons all around and on top of him. Take a seat directly his opposite and hang out for a while. If you like wing fluttering shots, you won’t be disappointed. Also, he is a very sweet dude and will interact with passerbys, offering them birdseed to participate in getting a bunch of pigeons landing on their heads, hands and arms. A really cool element to play with.
If you get the need to take a wee, there is a public restroom facility located in the south side of the park, but be aware, it closes at 7PM. I learned this the hard way.
I sadly didn’t get to haunt East Village much with my camera during the day. Though I did pass through a couple of times and walked around a bit at night on my last day here. There are some wonderfully wide corners that you can post up on and simply await folks to come to you. Nighttime is neat, because of the headlights that crisscross and throw out some great backlights and offer a ton of silhouette shots.
One other place I’d recommend checking out is the Lomography Store northwest of the park. The dudes inside are kinda odd, but really nice and if you dig toy cameras, this place will make you smile.
What I loved most about this neighborhood was the genuine reach of culture here. Living in the San Francisco bay for so many years, I’d become accustom to the “chinatown” here, which is very, very commercial and tourist driven. There are some areas of areas of realism in SF’s chinatown, but it holds no candle to New York’s.
The people, like much of New York are relatively set in their focus and pay little mind to you. However, when you bring a camera up, you do get picked out much more quickly here and will receive a few hands in over the face. So be cautious and respectful.
The alleys are also great, as there are a number of these little stores that are off the beaten path, with handfuls of folks picking up fruits, veggies and random other goods, which offer wonderful angles and elements for imagery.
Also, it’s kinda weird, but there is a Little Italy neighborhood here, which is rather large and smack dab in the middle of Chinatown. Fully wrapped within and you’ll know your here when you begin walking under these big ornamental dodads weaving around overhead.
I’m not sure how often it happens, but I walked into the thick of the area during a street event. Including live music, endless food stands and a mass of people that moved more like a single organism than a crowd. It was insane and VERY difficult to isolate individual photos. Those local to SF, who have visited the Haight Street Festival can easily compare the two.
The faces in this area are hard and unique. It’s a must visit.
When hunger takes over, pull up Tasty Dumpling on your digital map and GO! You can score 10 pork dumplings and a can of soda for less than $4 and damnit are they good. It took three visits for me to get tired of dumplings and honestly, that’s just what I told myself so I would stop going.
Wall Street/Financial District
Okay, so if you go to New York, the Financial District is a place you’ll have to check out at least once. The history here, for better or for worse, is worth it. The architecture is menacing, yet iconic. The stone work of all the buildings in the Stock Exchange area are simply awe inspiring and while there, be sure to head into the Trinity Church. I’m not a religious guy, quite the opposite and figured I’d internal combust upon entry, but had to check it out and very glad I did. If you do enter, please do me a favor and tread quietly. It’s a tourist site, but a church after all, so be respectful or they will shush your ass until you exit in shame.
A visit to the World Trade Center Memorial should go without saying, but I do have to mention, it’s so much larger than you may envision. The site is magnificent and one hell of an ode to the lives lost on 9/11. You’ve never seen anything like it, I guarantee it and if your lucky, a few groups of firemen in full gear will be walking through the area offering some very symbolic imagery.
Let’s see, what else… There is Battery Park, which was kinda cool but a bit boring after a few minutes. Just a ton of people, waiting in line to get on the ferry. From here you can get to Staton Island and catch a shot of Lady Liberty. But honestly, unless that’s your intention, I’d say pass.
Oh and of course, there is the Charging Bull… A bronze statue that has it’s balls fondled more than Ron Jeremy. I’m serious, you know how bronze will get really shiny when its worn by constant rubbing. Yeah, that bull’s branch and berries cast a damn near radioactive sparkle. Plus, people seem to get testy around there, shouldering in to get a selfie with the massive beast.
While there I caught a great shot [see below] of a lady who was having a full on meltdown, because she couldn’t get to the front of the group to get her selfie [note: there are no lines here, just a mass of folks you have to elbow through, if so desired].
Well, I was in Brooklyn, got on the train and figured, what the hell… Let’s go to Flushing..
Definitely not the neighborhood I expected, but I was instantly drawn to it. It’s very bustling, very genuine and reminds me of long stretch of lower Manhattan’s Chinatown. Although, it did not have the same atmosphere. It was a bit more commercial and had less street and alley shops.
Even still, the light was great up and down the street and the people were great subjects to capture. In true New York fashion, everyone had somewhere to be and remained disconnected to everything occuring around them, giving me a lot of freedom with little to no lingering eyes or questions.
In the hour I walked up and down Main Street, I ended up with a good handful of fun images. While these will likely not find there way into a gallery show any time soon, they have a great place in my personal archive. Each still a potential candidate for future projects.
None the less, while the area was fun, it is a bit off the beaten path and due to the hour up and back, the payoff just isn’t something I would recommend unless you had a reason to visit.
I went back and forth with myself on visiting Coney Island on this trip. If for no other reason than, I am an impatient SOB and the 1.5 hour transit from where I was staying, coupled with the return, creating a 2-3hr block of the day removed, it was a tough decision to make.
Eventually I convinced myself to sacrifice the hours and hit up this iconic park/beach. Unfortunately however, I waited till my final day which was the middle of the week and it was a bit chilly, so it was an absolute dead zone when I arrived.
Now, that sounds like a complaint at first, but in all truth, it was kinda neat. I was disappointed to miss out on the crowds of normal folk, sunning on the beach and filling the park. But having only a handful of people throughout and the theme park itself seemingly shuttered up with no rides flowing was a wild mix of desolation, isolation and eeriness that made it very worthwhile.
I definitely recommend visiting at least once, and I didn’t even experience the full wave of Coney Island. Everything had this kinda drab, washed out colorfulness to it and played on that old-timey feel very well. I had me a hotdog, walked on the beach, ventured out along the pier and snag a good number of travel shots along the way. I even stumbled upon a soundstage in creation, as Woody Allen was apparently filming on the boardwalk. Shortly before my walk came to an end, the space began to fill up with numerous extras in 40’s attire. It was a great opportunity and while I exited stage left a bit soon, I did freeze a few photographic moments that I am sure will offer themselves very sparingly in my future.
Oh and a couple of side notes. First, the Birds… Good lord the Seagulls are absolutely bonkers out there. Especially up around Nathan’s Hot Dog stand (for obvious reasons). Second, speaking of Nathan’s Hot Dogs… Yeah, it’s famous and the dogs and beer were pretty decent, but the service there was about as craptastic as one could ever expect.
The servers didn’t seem to give two shits about anyone’s presence and most customers milled around blindly, unsure as to where to stand to place an order or to pick it up. It would have been funnier if I weren’t so damn hungry at the time. But I only haunted there for the few moments I had been peckish, beyond that, I still logged a couple good hours of walking, shooting and soaking up the rays.
So, I call it a win.
Honorable Mention: NYC Subways
I cannot write a post without quickly mentioning the Subways of New York City. Let me be one of the few out there to say, I love the subways there. No, I am not a fan of the crowds during the rush and yes, my anxiety is off the rails at those times. BUT, catch it in the off hours of the day or night and your going to score a dinner plate of great subjects.
The light was always great, admittedly artificial, a quick white-balance adjustment will quickly resolve that trouble. Flip on the electronic shutter (no noise on the XPro2) and just click away. Catch readers, sleepers, the confused, the angry, the chatty, the passive, the aggressive, you’ll get it all. So don’t drive, seriously don’t drive… just take the train.
All that said, you’ll notice my walks focused mostly on Midtown and Downtown Manhattan and while parts of me wished I had ventured up in Harlem and over to Brooklyn more, not to mention the Bronx and so on and so forth, I still got in a damn good trip… I mean, hitting all of New York City in one go is frankly, an impossible pipedream anyway.
I hope you got something out of all that blathering on. The main takeaway I guess, is New York City is a central hub of opportunity for street photographers. There is a reason we flock to walk these sidewalks and I am honored to say I got that chance.
The people are hella friendly, so don’t get caught up on expecting angry New Yorkers. The people are cool as hell. Just don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk like an asshole, or drive a car… People get mad road rage and taxi cabs don’t give any fucks. Hell, I watched one cut off an ambulance (with active sirens) and seemed proud of himself for getting past. It was creepy, but kinda funny. I do hope the poor soul needing that wagon got through okay though.
The photographic community does seem a bit spread out and less “together” than other places, particularly like here in SF. There just doesn’t seem to be a jiving desire to get together often and most seem quite independent. Which is cool if that’s your thing and I don’t mean anything cross by that. However, personally I like to met, share and chat. It’s why I have a podcast or why I host photowalks and workshops. So it’s no surprise that I fit in better here on the West Coast.
But I will damn sure be back to NY again soon.