A New York love story
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.