Viewfinder | The Paradox of Identity

1st Avenue near 12th St.1st Avenue near 12th Street

These photographs are excerpted from a series called “The Paradox of Identity.” It is a work in progress and it has been for a while (since 1985). It is first referred to in my journal as “The Pigeon Project” and later on became “If You Can Name It…”

I am naturally suspicious of grand names for things, so I need to explain: We don’t have a big sky in New York City, so the intersection of sky and city is a big part of looking up around here. I have for some reason been drawn again and again to the sight of a patch of sky etched out by the buildings enclosing it, and the fleeting glimpse of a pigeon entering or leaving. I always feel a brief pang of want when I see it: “If I could only fly like a bird; if I could only be free…of myself.”


Astor PlaceAstor Place

Near 3rd Avenue in the 50'sNear 3rd Avenue, Upper East Side

But I can’t be free like a bird, and the city can’t either. It is constantly being redefined and reinvented by the structures and the signage that we erect. Old things and new things are forced into a relationship with each other, and together they redefine the space and the sky around them. But the pigeon – the bird in the sky, the brief moment of yearning – doesn’t change.

3rd Avenue in the 50's3rd Avenue

It seems to me that it is similar to how we build ourselves – with memory and dreams, and intentions. We are constrained and yet in some way infinite as beings, and because we get to talk to ourselves (and there is the paradox, because who am I talking to?) the debate rages on.



Avenue A and 2nd StreetAvenue A and Second Street

Sometimes there is absolute clarity, and moments later we are “of two minds” about something. The new things don’t always get along with the older ones, as in the city and as in our brains. And looking at something differently can upend expectations. Sometimes that is enlightening and sometimes it is just confusing.



9th Street and Avenue ANinth Street and Avenue A

Over time a lot of memories and experiences have accrued and they are embedded in my landscape. These are some of the things that play out in my mind as I take these photographs.


53rd St. between 5th Ave. and 6th Ave.53rd Street near Sixth Avenue



Avenue A near 6th StreetAvenue A near Sixth Street

Place is a big part of who we are, and how we see the world. For me the place is New York City, and mostly the East Village.

Michael Sean Edwards is community contributor to The Local East Village. His photography can be seen here.