A New York love story

August 24, 2010

A couple kiss while waiting for the subway in New York May 11, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

New York is consistently touted as a cold, aggressive, and hectic city with no personal connections possible. A populace of hyper-efficient and emotionally starved citizens, or at least that’s what I had heard before I moved here.

I arrived in New York almost 4 years ago and immediately found these preconceptions to be mostly untrue, with an exception of the hyper-efficiency. The city forces you to interact, albeit most often very briefly, with thousands of fellow New Yorkers on a daily basis – on the trains, sidewalks, buses, and bike paths that keep the city humming with activity year-round. I have used public transportation ever since arriving in New York to work as a staff photographer for Reuters. This most often means taking the infamous New York City subway.

A couple embraces as a subway train arrives in the station in New York May 24, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

This subterranean method of transportation probably forces the most intimacy with total strangers of any in modern society. A morning rush hour commute has you standing fully pressed up against half a dozen people. Hundreds of commuters per subway car struggle not to notice each other and keep their ‘game face’ of indifference and impatience on. It is in this most public of settings that I notice some people feeling no shame or embarrassment in kissing, snuggling, holding hands, fighting, or hugging in full view of dozens of strangers. This unabashed intimacy with a loved one within the public setting of a subway car seemed crazy. But it immediately struck me as something interesting to photograph.

A couple kisses while riding the subway in New York June 1, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

This collection of images did not begin as a “project” but quickly became a creative release for me. It has become something to do as I wait for the train home from work (I almost never shoot on the train going to work for some reason). In the beginning it was a chance for me simply to photograph without the limitations or barriers that I constantly deal with while working. It is pure creativity. The process allows me to capture genuine moments that happen so often in New York. I fully credit this project with pulling me out of a creative funk and allowing me to photograph as I wish I could everywhere.

A woman drops an umbrella while waiting for a subway car with fellow commuters in New York March 27, 2009.REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Finding the subjects usually involves a combination of luck and being tuned in to something that most people ignore. I am one of those people who usually walks the length of the track to stand at the spot where the train will let me out right at my exit staircase. This is a skill honed by my hyper-efficient self, developed since I moved to New York.

A couple embraces while waiting for the subway in New York March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Every once in awhile I walk past a couple who is oblivious to all but one another and I work to subtly try and find a good angle for an image. My favorite shots are when the platform is really crowded. The stark contrast between indifferent commuters and an engrossed couple often makes an interesting frame. Sometimes it is as simple as pointing my camera and snapping a couple of frames while they are too engrossed in each other to notice. And sometimes it requires a shot from a camera hanging at my hip or sitting in my lap.

A couple kisses while waiting for the subway in New York June 2, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

I have honed my hip shooting skills by doing this project for over a year now but I often find the live-view capabilities of the newer cameras to be useful in a project like this. It’s good not only because it allows me to compose a photograph but also to fire the shutter with less noise. The 5DMKII is amazing at being virtually silent while allowing me to focus the lens – all without raising the camera to my eye.

Couples ride the subway after New Years celebrations in New York January 1, 2010.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

To most people, an image is captured only when the camera is raised to the eye – a fact I take full advantage of as often as I can. When people are aware of a camera, they often lose the honesty in their body language or expression. The project is not meant to be anything other than a collection of moments that force the viewer to take a closer look at something that is often ignored. The kisses, the fights, the snuggling – all of it will likely be forgotten almost as soon as it happens. I doubt any of the subjects will even remember the experiences I have photographed. However, these images prove that even in the hustle and bustle of New York, there is time to love.

A couple embraces as a subway car speeds past them underneath Union Square in New York April 1, 2009.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

12 comments

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you just made my evening with this post, thank you! love nyc even though i’ve only been there twice but i agree with everything you said, even though it looks cold at first i can bet there are beautiful stories happening there everyday
i raise my hat to you, sir.

Posted by alexwu | Report as abusive

Fab stuff Lucas – you’re making me miss my old home.

Posted by gtorod | Report as abusive

The fourth one, with the falling umbrella, is my favorite. I imagine the woman standing there was startled by the sight of the lovers and dropped it.

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive

We New Yorker’s are a great bunch. Wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Posted by osito3 | Report as abusive

its amazing to see all these pictures capture the wondrous moments….it does remind me of the unforgettable picture post world war of a nurse being kissed by a sailor :)

Posted by kanix | Report as abusive

Love NYC too, for sure!! Wanna live there… It’s interesting to notice though, this idea of being ‘strange’ to hug and kiss while other people are around, in a busy city for example, is highly cultural. If you go to Latin American (I’m from Brazil) or Europe, everybody is making out everywhere. And if you go to Japan -I’m told- very few even dare the minimum you see in the NY subways…

Nice pictures though

Posted by keenhumor | Report as abusive

Please do not allow yourself to believe that a City with the competitive spirit of NYC cannot do very much harm to very many people.The cultural considerations are many and varied, and in all too many situations lead to a contaminated envionment. simply because some need a little
more time to develop, both emotionally and intellectally.
without which, they cannot compete successfully.
Trust me the psychogy counts. And NYC can be a very negative place to live if you need a little more time.
Giambra

Posted by giambra | Report as abusive

This article shows that if you actually pause for a minute amidst the “hyper efficient” daily grind and drop the attitude, you will find love in it’s most raw and organic form. Well done!

Posted by CStiriz | Report as abusive

Mumbai or Bombay is just like NYC, No city can survive if it its residents or emotion less. It becomes more important in busy cities like NY or Mumbai to have emotional support, someone to love or some to talk to. Else life becomes hell in hectic schedule of these cities, Mumbai is just like NYC in every respect only differences that Mumbai Suburban Trains or madly crowded.
Every one warns others not to come to these cities, and never wants to leave these cities, I guess big cities have been defamed by people about being ruthless and emotionless but reality is different.

Having spent 5 years in Mumbai, I am looking forward to spent some part of life in NYC, want to enjoy the place every other person warns me of.

Posted by Aasim | Report as abusive

congratulations! excellent job..

Posted by alcira | Report as abusive

where to see more photos? Really fantastic and moving.

Posted by fyain | Report as abusive

I can’t believe I’m just finding this now. I loved every single picture for the rawness of emotion.
thank you for making my week :)

Posted by shenntyara | Report as abusive