During Esteban’s and my recent trip to New York, I noticed a curious development: Although I was surrounded by world-famous landmarks and monuments, I was interested mostly in the people.
I don’t know whether this fascination was a side-effect of my flirtation with street photography, or my love affair with Humans of New York. (If you’ve never heard about the latter, forget my silly blog and go check it out.)
But in spite of my new-found obsession, for the first couple of days I was overcome with shyness and I resorted to my old shoot-from-behind tricks.
Then, a brassy woman in a laundromat changed everything. She blew in like a hurricane as Esteban and I were drying our clothes. “Do you know who’s using this dryer?” she asked the attendant. No response. “DO YOU KNOW WHO’S USING THIS DRYER?” Again, no response.
“If people are going to come live in America they should learn to speak English,” she said to no one in particular. Then she sidled up to me and told me her life story. There was quite a character underneath all that bluster. “May I take your photograph?” I asked. “Sure,” she replied in a rich Bronx-ish accent.
It took me a while to get her to settle down.
But finally, after a minute or two, there was a moment of connection. The result is one of my favorite images from the entire trip.
It was just the shot of confidence that I needed to talk to the cops the next day. I was standing on an overlook in Battery Park when I saw them coming down the path. They looked like two friends out for a stroll, utterly relaxed.
“Hey, officers!” I hollered from my perch. “May I please take your photograph?” They looked puzzled for an instant. “Sure,” said the cop on the right. “Where do you want us?”
“Just as you are,” I replied.
I told them I thought New York cops were the nicest in the world. “They wouldn’t say that in Brooklyn,” quipped the guy on the left. A jogger who overheard the exchange started laughing so hard that she broke her stride.
Then came the kindly tailor who repaired Esteban’s belt for free …
… and the security guy at Katz’s Deli. He had quite a presence.
So did the homeless man I saw in the Financial District. I spotted him from a distance, squatting on the sidewalk among the passing suits (see red arrow).
I was annoyed at the suits’ self-importance as they streamed past the man on the sidewalk without so much as a glance. I don’t remember what I expected to find when I finally reached the homeless man, but it wasn’t this:
His beatific gesture and beautiful smile really moved me. In the minute or two that we chatted, I was struck by his dignity, the strength of his presence, and his gentle humor. If he feels any bitterness toward whatever landed him on the street — or the people who walk past him — it didn’t register on his face.
Not all of my encounters were so poignant, or course. There was this charming lady outside the Guggenheim …
… and this dog in Hillside Park.
When the guy holding the dog heard my shutter, he offered to pose — but I think I like the first frame better.
I also dabbled in some “traditional” street photography, of course. The subway tunnels were especially full of inspiration, even if the metering was a bit challenging.
And because I was out of my natural element, everyone seemed interesting. Even people in the library …
… or waiting for the bus.
New Yorkers may have a global reputation for being feisty and cantankerous, but that wasn’t my experience at all. Almost to a person, I found the humans of New York to be open, engaging, and quick to laugh.
I think Bill Murray sums it up best:
My favorite thing about New York is the people, because I think they’re misunderstood. I don’t think people realize how kind New York people are.