Photographer Ted Barron is featured in the latest issue of Sensitive Skin magazine. There and on his blog, Daily Pixel, you can see his photos of the city dating back to the 1980s. I asked him some questions about street photography in New York.
Wiffle Ball, St. Mark's Place, 1985
Q: In what ways do you see New York as changed through your lens over the years?
A: It's changed so much. In my first years here, I lived on the Lower East Side and photographed almost exclusively below 14th Street in Manhattan. It was pretty lawless in places. It was still a fairly open city, and there were remnants of decades past amidst the very contemporary ruins. I found that so compelling. It's all been pretty much wiped clean and homogenized into a nice version of New York. So much is lost, and much less is interesting to me when making photographs.
I moved to Williamsburg in 1988. Now it's expensive and overpopulated with overly entitled kids in brand new buildings, whose parents would never have let them live in New York 25 years ago. People used to move here to do something, now it's much more about getting something. That's always been the case to a certain extent, but the balance has shifted. It's much less interesting to me and subsequently much harder to photograph.
Girl with Dog, Delancey St., 1987
Q: What is less interesting, visually, about this new city?
A: A lot of the physical character of the city is disappearing. If you walk down streets in Nolita, Elizabeth or Mott Street, the storefronts have been completely stripped and replaced with plate glass windows and doors. Renovations at street level from the early 2000s already look dated and tacky. We didn't used to have that here, and visually, I find it unappealing. I do look for a timelessness when I'm photographing. I don't want things to look purposely old, but I do try to keep ugly cars, fast food joints, and SUVs out of my photographs. It's not easy.
Delancey Street, 1984
Q: Yet you continue to photograph street life in the city—what inspires you today?
A: The humanity of the city still inspires me. People are what always made New York what it is. The landscape has changed and it's visually more elusive. My relationship to the city has changed. I've changed. I'm in my forties and I'm a father. Still, there's always a surprise, and sometimes in the least expected places. New York is big place. I've photographed into much further reaches of Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx in recent years. Something that never would have occurred to me when I was younger.
Q: What do you find in the far reaches of the outer boroughs that you don’t find in Manhattan and its edges?
The neighborhoods are still ethnically diverse and and are still actual neighborhoods that have evolved organically over time. It's not just New York that suffers this problem, it's our country and our culture. Anywhere you go, there are basically a handful of chain stores, gas stations, and fast food restaurants. The same in every town. I guess people want familiarity. I find it depressing. New York didn't used to have it the same as other places. It's not all of Manhattan--I love Chinatown. It's still full of surprises for me. Brighton Beach--I tried to convince my ex-wife that we should move there when we were being kicked out of our building in Williamsburg after it was sold. She wouldn't hear of it. It is a hipster-free zone. The Bronx is wide open and full of possibility. I like getting lost in the city--the longer you live here, the harder it is to do.