Saturday, November 22, 2014

Letting People Get Used To Me

When I go to a particular neighborhood frequently, I like to take pictures and turn that experience into a photo series. Then I post the photographs on Facebook.

I live in NYC. Every neighborhood here has a different flavor. At the moment, I have ongoing series that feature the upper west side and my neighborhood of Inwood.

I had one collection called I Heart 168th Street. It ended after Noah graduated from the middle school in that neighborhood.

I took a lot of photographs on 168th Street. Generally speaking, I arrived in the neighborhood slightly early to pick up Noah from school. When I first started shooting photographs there, I was a little bit of a curiosity. I take some pretty unusual pictures. A typical day could include me photographing paint peeling off of bricks, a Flat Fix place, wares in bodegas and colorful signage. I'd also photograph trash there for my Beautiful Trash series.

Unbeknownst to me, the art teacher at Noah's school followed me one day because she wanted to know what I was photographing. Once she saw what I was up to, she thought it as cool and took a picture of it too. She told me about it months after it happened.

Some times people would ask me why I was photographing something. I'd have this quick little thing I'd explain. I'm an artist, I would say. I see beauty in things that other people don't notice. Sometimes I'd show them the photo I just took on my iPhone.

In every neighborhood, there are people just there for that one moment. It's an anomaly for them to be in that part of town. But as I travel to different neighborhoods again and again, I'd see the same cast of characters every day. The men sitting in folding chairs on the street for hours on end. Moms picking kids up at school. Crossing guards.

I noticed that when I was photographing on 168th street, people got used to me doing that. I was simply part of the collective landscape after a while.

Noah started school in a new neighborhood this past September. I go to this neighborhood 1-2 times a day when school is in session. The old name for this place is Hell's Kitchen. The newer, fancy real estate name is Clinton.

I've never been to any section of NYC that isn't photo worthy. Hell's Kitchen is no exception. There are many unique things there that I want to photograph.

The other day, I was contemplating a section of a building that looked very interesting. It was a combination of colors and textures that I liked. In addition, a beautiful morning light further elevated what was already a lovely situation.

I was getting ready to make a mental note of it, but pass on by. There were many people walking quickly along the sidewalk. I wasn't in the mood for questions. I wasn't in the mood for people to notice me.

I didn't keep walking after all. I stood there and thought about it.

If I don't start photographing here, the people in this neighborhood will never get used to me I told myself.

I've chosen to do the bulk of my photography outside rather than in my apartment. Having other people around isn't a once in a while thing. It's a given.

So I took the photograph. I did several variations, some close up, some further back. Some with dappled light, some evenly lit when the sun was behind a cloud.

The way to take on a problem isn't to turn away and retreat. Avoiding the challenge keeps it suspended and untouched. The only way around it is through it. Walking toward it. Meeting it.

I relaxed into my photography in Hell's Kitchen. 168th Street taught me how to do this. The hurried footsteps, the weight of the eyes, the anticipated queries are the necessary soundtrack. I'm listening to the sound and letting people get used to me.

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