But I still love you.
Oh, boy. New York City is exactly like how I'd imagined it. I first visited it a few years ago and I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end as I emerged from the dark and humid subway only to be enveloped again by the cacophonous concrete jungle. With it's towering trees of concrete and swarms of chattering people, it really does feel like a jungle sometimes. Especially when all you want is a ham sandwich and the local tribal elder is screaming at you, in what I can only imagine is fake Italian, to choose what you want from a selection that is essentially a smorgasbord of new words. I panicked, got a packet of chewing gum, and then hated myself for half an hour while my stomach pleaded with me to wake my balls up and go try again. But I'm different now. More jacked in to the system, if you will. That's why I was more prepared for my second trip to The Big Apple. This time I had the rents, and they needed me, so I stepped up to the plate. Until that is, I ran into a little trouble in Brooklyn. But before I get into that, I'd like to show you some photos.
Street photography is mainly focused on people. But trying to create a story from the positions of mostly disparate subjects is very difficult. One has to take full advantage of available light and use smart composition to frame ones subjects. Most of the time this is without anybody's express consent (that would ruin the "moment", after all), and it's all done within a split second. This takes years of practice. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the O.G. of street photography, called it "The Decisive Moment". This is why, in my personal opinion, street is the purest form of photography there is. It's what sets photography apart from all the other visual arts. And it terrifies me.
I used to be very uncomfortable taking photos in front of people, never mind trying to sneak a photo of a stranger with a momentary expression on their face. I'm bolder these days though, but I still can't quite bring myself to snap a stranger on the street. I had no problem taking shots of wider scenes, though. And besides, it being New York City, nobody gave two hoots what I was up to, because invariably there would be a local nearby warning everyone of impending doom in the form of a giant asteroid or an Illuminati mind control plot. Either way, I felt safe.
I think what I enjoyed most was experimenting with how the light played against the various buildings. Much of my time was spent wandering around with my head angled upwards.
I would recommend that everyone visit Ellis Island. They've done an amazing job at telling the stories of the people who passed through, hoping for a better life. Take a whole day, if possible. There's a ton of walking and reading but it's so worth it.
The 911 Memorial and Museum is really something else. Because of preconceived notions I had of American Nationalism (probably from TV), I think I expected it to be a very sad but kind of cheesy experience. I was totally caught off guard by how the memories of that day and of the people who died, are preserved. Not only are the infinity pools a wonderful place to reflect on the lives lost on that day, but the museum is an unbelievable experience. From the moment you step on the escalator that slowly drifts down into the ground you can feel the gravity of September 11th 2001 as you are engulfed by the blackness of the surrounding walls and somber atmosphere of the tragedy they hold within. Bring tissues.
I'm lucky enough to have one of my best friends living in Brooklyn. It's great to have someone who really knows a place to show you some of the less well known spots. Conor (who is a very talented video editor and documentary maker. Check out his portfolio here.) was kind enough to take my parents and I to a few of his favorite haunts in Manhattan, and advise us on what we could go see during our time in NYC, all done with his unbelievable enthusiasm for people and the infectious zeal he has for his adoptive city. He of course invited me for dinner at his place in Brooklyn, where I got to meet his super cool NY friends and watch a movie. It was a nice relaxing night with great company. The night came to an end and Conor gave me a lift to the subway in his old yellow taxi cab. Yes! His car is a former New York City yellow cab! Very cool. I felt honored. We chatted as we drove and I mentioned to Conor something that he had said to me before and it's something that I had noticed myself this time around in NYC; that the city felt so safe. "Why is the city is so safe, Conor?" I asked, ominously, as we drove down the street at 1:30am. I can't remember exactly what he said, but I nodded in appreciation of his wisdom and my safety.... ominously. He dropped me off not a thirty second walk to the entrance to the subway. With a belly full of delicious pasta, head full of warm memories and the saunter of a contented man, I went straight for the underground. But wait, should I go down this stairs or the one across the road? I stopped at the entrance to the subway and took out my phone to have a quick look on Google maps. I didn't take much notice, but I had stopped in front of a parked car that had it's engine running.....ominously. As I waited for Google, no doubt with a soft and artless smile on my face, I heard two voices on either side of me. In those few moments I went from; who are those guys talking to? , to; Oh, it's me. And why are they so close? Oh, I see. Shit.
One of them put their had on my chest and gently forced me to reverse to the wall behind me. Both were whispering to be quite and don't look up. I knew that all I could do was stay calm and just do as they said. They asked for my wallet and money, then my phone and then "What's in the bag?", shiiiiit. My camera, of course. They then asked me to get down on the ground. For a few seconds I honestly thought that they were going to beat the crap out of me, but thankfully they just told me to lay there face down until they said otherwise. As I lay there, heart a flutter, I thought of Conor and his yellow cab. I had to laugh. Literally two minutes ago I was having a conversation about how..., "Hey man, are you alright?". I didn't know what to do. I could hear the two muggers get into their car but they were still there, idling, but this lanky good Samaritan was trying to help me. I half motioned for him to keep walking and muttered something like "they're still here". I thought that if they saw him helping me then they would jump him, too! Luckily I could hear them drive off a few seconds later and the kind stranger called the cops for me. Two officers showed up five minutes later and I got to ride around in a cop car for while as we looked for the car that the two "perps" drove off in. No luck, but it was fun. I don't even remember what time I got back to the hotel.
The next day I was still a little shook, but really pissed off that my camera was taken. Thankfully, I had been transferring my images to an external hard drive every evening, so I saved the vast majority of my photos from the trip. We went to B&H and I purchased a new camera. I needed one ASAP as I had a lot of work to do when I returned home. If you're a photography or video enthusiast, and in the US, try and find a B&H. The place is like a candy store for camera nerds.
At the end of the day, no one was hurt and I came away with a cool story. So despite this one tiny incident I will still go back to New York. There's so much more that I want to see and experience. I'm not going to let the exploits of two little rapscallions prevent me from enjoying such a vibrant, culturally diverse and relatively safe city again.
And so the curtain closes on my trip the the US with my folks. Who knows what I'll write about in my next post. You'll just have to sign up to my mailing list or wait by your computer, staring at the wall until you hear a *bing*, to find out. It's up to you. Until then, let me leave you with my interpretation of The Empire State Building.