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Viewfinder | Eight Million Stories, One at a Time

Man on 6th St

I have lived in and photographed the East Village since 1983. There really are eight million stories in the Naked City and you will find whatever one you want out there. Over eight million people live here, and I am going to photograph one or two of them at a time, alone with a situation. I want the viewer to feel the intimacy of this one person by that one building, to know there is a history here, to feel the narrative, without even knowing the story. And sometimes the building will tell me the story of the person who isn’t in the photo anymore.

This man is in front of a closed up space on East Sixth Street that used to be the Gladiators Gym. I was a member there in 1985. One of only two women that belonged. Kind of a hardcore lifting joint. Sad to see it closed up. I love the flat black paint, like a blackboard.
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Viewfinder | Time and Space On the Lower East Side

Brian Rose’s new book, “Time and Space on the Lower East Side,” juxtaposes street scenes from 1980 with images from 2010. The Local asked him to share some of his favorites from the book – as well as some more recent photos – along with his thoughts about the world of change he has documented.

e4_1980East 4th Street – 1980

In 1980, shortly after graduating from Cooper Union I began photographing the Lower East Side, which includes the East Village, in collaboration with Ed Fausty. Walking in the footsteps of photographers Jacob Riis and Berenice Abbot, and inspired by new developments in color photography, we documented the neighborhood over the course of a year with a 4×5 view camera. It was, perhaps, the neighborhood’s darkest, but most creative moment. While buildings crumbled and burned, artists and musicians came to explore and express the edgy quality of the place.

After moving on to other projects and living in Amsterdam for 12 years, I decided to return to where I first made my stand in New York – the Lower East Side, where so many Americans trace their roots: the old neighborhood tucked beneath the bridges, lying at the feet of the pinnacles of power, would serve as a barometer of change and continuity. Read more…

Viewfinder | Portraits in the Park

Union Square

Union Square has a knack for drawing the talented, the bored, and the show-offs to its broad open spaces. For that reason I gravitate to this part of the city on a daily basis in order to capture some of its magic and to add some of my own. Now Occupy Wall Street protesters have bitten off quite a chunk of the south side of Union Square, and in response, police officers hover around the perimeter of the park, poised to stop anything unruly or obstructive. Despite surveillance, artists, street performers and park-goers don’t seem to shy away from self expression. Rush hour is a great time to take photos not only because the park is flooded with characters, but also because it’s then that the sun is likely to create interesting highlights and shadows on faces.
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Viewfinder | A Burning Passion


Ralph Feldman, 76, was a fireman in the Bronx with Engine 45 for two decades, and then in Harlem with Engine 37 for several years. Before retiring about 26 years ago, he served as a fire marshal intermittently. In 1969, he bought a building at 315 East Eighth Street and in the 1970s and ’80s he photographed fires near there, sometimes giving a hand to his fellow firefighters.

On his block of mostly vacant buildings, there were as many as five fires a week, said Mr. Feldman. “At the same time when the Bronx was burning, the East Village was burning,” he said. “All of Brooklyn was burning. In the ’70s and ’80s, big portions of the city burnt down.” Mr. Feldman spoke with The Local about his photos.
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Viewfinder | Everyday Abstractions

“I find the East Village to be a difficult place to take photos. Difficult because our visual world is saturated with images of these blocks. Thus, you can feel trapped in a cliché — a cliché based in an idealized past, or a gentrified, dystopian vision of what is to come. Nevertheless, I love to photograph the East Village to participate in this negotiation. The negotiation is, for me, encapsulated in this idea of ‘Everyday Abstractions.'”
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Viewfinder | Harvey’s “East Village and Beyond”

Scan 24

I was born in the East Village in the 1940s and lived here for most of my life. I was active in the East Village cultural scene, and tried my hand at acting and stand-up comedy for a time. When I started using photography as a medium of expression, it became second nature for me to document local history through my lens. Today, I host a public access TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (M.N.N.) called “Harvey’s Earth and Beyond,” and many of my ideas for my show come from my performance days in the East Village.

I shot this photo of William Kunstler rallying at Cooper Union. He was one of the most celebrated civil rights attorneys, having headed up the A.C.L.U., defending the Chicago Seven, the Black Panthers, etc. He was a master at public relations, especially with the press. I believe this was one of his last appearances before he passed away.
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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.” Read more…

Viewfinder | 1,150 Days


For “1,150 Days,” I’ve photographed elements of day-to-day life in New York City to create a daily record of the environment I call home. It’s interesting how many different versions of New York have surfaced: a city centered around parked bicycles, a city of colorful lights and abstract shapes, and a city where pigeons try to fit in, too. Each of these seemingly mundane perspectives reveals a sense of levity and wonder; a reminder that the background of our daily lives is comprised of many unexpected and often missed details. What draws me to shoot in the East Village is the area’s culture, its fascinating people, and the living history of each block. Like JR’s TED-prize-winning Inside Out Project in Cooper Square, featuring portraits of local citizens. Read more…

Viewfinder | Multiple Exposures

“As someone whose history with photography consists of shooting street, photojournalism, and fashion, I’ve always looked at photography as a way to see reality. Some people think that all photography is art. I feel that art is only one aspect of photography. A sub-genre if you will.” Read more…

Viewfinder | On The Move

East Village, September 2011

I’ve never crossed an empty Cooper Square — there are always people coming up out of the entrance for the 6, in line at the Mud Truck, messing around with the cube. Homeless guys, fruit cart guys, drunk college students. It’s not where I would have thought to look for a clean, minimalist image, but a few weekends ago when I was standing at the corner of Eighth Street, across from the Starbucks, I pointed my camera down and found an abstract geometry in the lines formed by crosswalk paint and the edge of the curb. Then the light changed and there were people walking through my photograph.
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Viewfinder | Rough Around the Edges

Tompkins Square Park, September 1994

From 1994 to 1995 I lived in a converted storefront on the Lower East Side, at 112 Suffolk Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets. Back then the neighborhood was not yet gentrified and was somewhat rough around the edges. I was a new father and even though I was pushing my baby daughter around in a stroller it took the drug dealers a couple of weeks before they realized I lived there and wasn’t there to buy heroin. I worked part-time waiting tables and working as a photographer’s assistant whenever I could; I was rarely without a camera.

I always found the temperance fountain in Tompkins Square Park to be quite out of place — not many of the park’s residents practiced temperance.

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Viewfinder | The Art of Surprise


One of my favorite parts of street photography is that I never have any idea what I’m going to shoot when I go out walking around. For the most part, it’s about turning a corner and getting hit with something goofy, or beautiful, or one-in-a-million. You can go just about anywhere in New York City and expect the unexpected, of course, but somehow the East Village just seems to generate more of those moments. Here are a few recent shots that took me by surprise.
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Viewfinder | Model Citizens

In a city where the streets double as runways, Michelle Rick shares her experience capturing local fashionistas.

bitter lemon

“Like any girl with a TV set in New York during the 1970s and 80s, I formed my first impression of “high” fashion watching the Ritz Thrift Shop commercial. It evoked everything glamorous about that time: mother dabbing Givenchy perfume on her wrist, and Bloomingdale’s, which was the height of chic. I return to my comfort zones almost every day to take pictures; a red wall where I know how the light hits at 5 p.m., for example.”
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Viewfinder | Portraits From the Past

Ross Bennett Lewis on capturing neighborhood creatives.

“Tompkins Square Park with the surrounding avenues and streets offer an endless milieu of unexpected finds. Photographing people is most challenging yet very rewarding. I admire people with creative energy and their endeavors. After losing so many people to AIDS in the 1980s, I was disappointed in not having taken wonderful black and white images of them, so by the early 1990s I resumed shooting in black and white, using analog cameras and film. Years later these photographs become historical, as they have a different texture than digital. New York City has an abundance of material to shoot, whether it be people, architecture or just recording the quality of light and city life.”
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Viewfinder | Imperfect Contrast

Phoenix Eisenberg on capturing the complexity of limitations.

15. Union Square-Waiting 3 2009

“I want to give people a reason to be interested in the things they would normally dismiss– by making the unattractive look beautiful, the crazed look understandable, or the pristine seem imperfect. I want people to understand that it is the imperfections in our lives that make us so interesting.”
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Viewfinder | Urban Composition

Adrian Fussell on the beauty of taking photographs in an urban setting.

Canal Street, NYC

“People on the street give me endless fleeting moments of beauty. In capturing them, I try to make the viewer feel the irony of a scene, feel empathy for the subject, or show a unique juxtaposition. I’m training myself to be ready for those decisive moments in the random chaos of people going about their daily lives.”
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Viewfinder | Elements of Scale

Michael Pearce on photographing scale and motion.


“The multitude of neighborhoods that make up NYC and the surrounding boroughs allow for an endless number of photographic opportunities. If the scene calls for it, I try to include the human form to add a sense of scale or motion. As NYC is a giant melting pot, there is never a shortage of interesting characters to capture in the frame.”
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Viewfinder | Public Display of Affection

Scott Lynch on capturing his love affair with New York.

Hey DJ

“I’ve been in New York City for more than 30 years now, since the late 1970’s, and have always had such a huge crush on this town. Street photography, the (sometimes a bit obsessive) shooting of anything and everyone that catches my eye, or makes me smile, or suddenly seems fresh and new even if I’ve walked by it a thousand times before, has been an amazing discovery for me, the most immediate and satisfying way I’ve ever found to express my affection for this beautiful city and its never-ending parade of people, and to share it all with my daughters, my friends (especially New Yorkers in-exile… LOVE making them homesick!), and, thank you Internet, tons of strangers.”
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Viewfinder | Everyday Icons

Roey Ahram on finding picture-taking opportunities in unlikely places.

Car and Mural

“From a photographic perspective, New York City is like a few other places I’ve been. The photographic icons have already been established — the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge. But what I love about taking pictures in New York, particularly in the East Village and Lower East Side is the richness and beauty in the parking lots, storefronts, sidewalks, and people — each are icons in their own right.”
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Viewfinder | The Stage Is Set

Leonardo Mendez on using photography to find stories with a life of their own.


“My father used to tell my brother and I bedtime stories. Though often lighthearted and warm, we also endured our share of mythology and Tolstoy. What does a child know of Tolstoy! Nonetheless, he was an actor, and he told them so well, that I lived them very vividly in my mind. I photograph, therefore, because I am in a constant search for more stories to live — either through the curvature of the lens, or the lips of an actor.”
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