Since growing up between two of the largest cities on the east coast, one being Philadelphia and the other New York, you would think I would be familiar or at the very least comfortable with them. Actually that is the furthest from the truth as I grew up in the pines of south jersey, so visiting anything with more than 2 stories was both illuminating and many times quite confusing. When traveling to the city of choice for this post, “NYC”, I relied on the calm but monotonous one and a half hour ride on a train which would deposit me at Penn Station in Manhattan. This put me right in the center of where my quest to document 4 visits to this urban oasis would be fulfilled.
My first trip took me to lower Manhattan’s financial district. The structures and how the light reflected on them truly fascinated me. Peering up and down the streets and trying to make a connection with my camera was a task that was made easier by one of my guides, meet-up planer/photographer Martin Joffe. He had made special arrangements to shoot inside the “Woolworth” building. When I stepped inside this place, I was immediately sent back in time, where money translated to some of the most opulent decor one could imagine. The juxtaposition of the old to more modern architecture, was eye-opening to say the least.
The next visit to NYC was to shoot in Chinatown and my guide would be street/portrait photographer DC Fahsbender. Imagine the street noise and traffic of a big city combined with the unknown elements of a different country. The signs, language and most of the people being of a different culture, brought my lens to a place, both old and new. While I walked up and down the narrow streets of the many shops, I felt swept along by a current of people. By inviting the culture of this place in, I was able to slow down and click away.
A little further over would take me to the East Village, with its mix of old and new, which was evident from its late 19th century architecture to the present. The hispanic flavor of this part of the city was apparent just by viewing the restaurants and hearing the rhythmic music that echoed down many of the small cross streets. My lens once again gravitated to the people, whether they were engaged in a pickup basketball game or played dominos on the sidewalk.
Last, but not least, would be my trip to the Williamsburg Bridge and its namesake on the other side. Walking across, while overlooking the traffic and parts of the city, was not a sight to be missed. The pace of the people riding bikes and driving over this bridge was perilous at times, unless you stayed on the right side of the yellow line. From the view up high, to the street art down below, this section of town had me using pan blurs and structural composition to express my take on a walk across a busy city bridge.
Upon looking back at my little adventures to the Big Apple, I would not have changed a thing. I met some wonderful people and had great knowledgeable guides to help point which way was uptown or downtown and… which way was home. Although I would not trade where I live, the experience of urban life certainly made my camera happy.
I get excited when I hear of an event in my area that I have never photographed before. My thought process is even more stimulated when the event is of a culture that I am not very well versed in. The celebration of the Chinese New Year in Philadelphia was one such event. It was to be the “Year of the Dragon” and the SJ meet up group was organizing this venue. It helped me get into the thought process by taking a train into the city and then walking up to Chinatown. As I approached my destination, I could see an arch that stretched from one side of the street to the other. I felt like it was welcoming me into a world and culture very different from mine.
As I meandered through Chinatown, the many signs and unique smells almost made me forget I was still in the city. The “Suns”, a local group of dancers and musicians, were preparing for the parade. They planned to stop at various businesses in the area and offer a blessing for the coming year. There was a brightly colored dragon which was serpentine in its shape and length. To create movement, there were dancers under the dragon that bobbed and weaved from sidewalk to sidewalk. The other elaborately decorated dragons were manipulated by groups of 2 that made their way to designated store fronts throughout the morning. This signaled a whirlwind of choreographed movements that symbolized bestowing a blessing onto the stores. The deafening sound of firecrackers mixed with drums, moved me in a crisscrossing pattern. Crowds were led by the smoke and the undulating progress of the dragon dancers while I attempted to capture the essence of what was happening. Looking around at the people watching this spectacle, I could see wonder and awe in the children’s faces, contrasted by a sense of pride from the older hierarchy.
Whatever way the new year is celebrated around the world, in Chinatown, the “Year of the Dragon” was set to a drum beat and punctuated with a bang. Whether a participant or spectator — just being there and sharing the moment was a blessing in itself.