Thursday, September 16, 2010

Getting Lost in the City

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.

Brooklyn, 1995

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.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview, with a like-minded soul. - BN

Andrew Gardner said...

Wonderful post, Jeremiah! Ted Barron is a wonderful photographer, Daily Pixel is a part of my daily routine. Thanks for posting this.

Plus, Ted has great taste in music! (His music blog here:

Melanie said...

Great interview.

Susan May Tell said...

One again - great post!

EV Grieve said...

---People used to move here to do something, now it's much more about getting something---


Excellent Q-and-A.

And I second Ted's music blog...

KSx said...

I agree, a excellent interview. And with the nostalgia ratings and Little Wisconsin, an excellent week of posts!

Marty Wombacher said...

Great interview. Ted was one of the first people I met when I moved here in 1993 and we worked together on a piece for Newsday back then. I'm off to go check out his websites.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Nice interview, Jeremiah. I like what he says about getting lost in the city...something I loved about my very first days here was the wonder of exploring new places and finding all those surprises.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Ted really sums it up nicely.

Anonymous said...

All you need is a car, and some curiosity, and you can get lost in nyc all of your life.

City Of Strangers said...

Jeremiah - Great interview. Very poetic.


Caleo said...

Same as everyone else...he sums it up very well.
And you truly can get lost here no matter how long you've been here. You just have to get a little creative about it.

Anonymous said...

well i just got lost in the city - and that was ok with me. since i live in flushing and i usually take the LIRR 'cuz it's faster, i tried to get my usual 6:42, and all trains were cancelled. then i got on the E to jackson heighs and the 7 was cancelled from there. all traffic was at a standstill. you couldn't catch a bus. hundreds of people were waiting. you couldn't catch a cab. if you even knew someone with a car by chance they couldn't come get you. the only way to get home was to walk from jackson heights to flushing, which in actuality isn't that far but when i doubled checked with a few passerbys (Ii don't have a cell phone and didn't have my trusty 5 borough map with me and couldn't find a store nearby who sold them), people kind of freaked out that i said i was walking to from the roosevelt stop to the flushing stop. i was trying to move quickly and find a map since i know from experience living in my 'hood since 04, even the truest locals get lost in queens. streets, roads, avenues, diagnals -- you can't think you are too smart to do it without checking your info. i hate doing this but i thought i would just try to ask a few really local people where northern boulevard was and a few other major streets, just to double check my bearings since i had started simply walking on broadway. nobody knew, though where they were or could tell me what direction flushing was. so i was lost for about 30 minutes but still walking, after this storm, but still generally sure i was headed in the right direction and then when i hit a certain street i knew i was in the right spot. i found the best coffee for a long time and remembered diners and other taco spots i never would've known about. by the time i got to junction boulevard the 7 was going. i got there just in time. so it took me about an hour and a half for some reason to walk from jackson heights to junction but it was worth it. i really truly was lost for awhile, but tried to rely on my senses like the green lites of lefrak city, all you queensers know what i'm talking about.

Unknown said...

Ted is more right than he may even know. I travel the country constantly in search of the norm, and the similarity of one suburb to the next, even in geographically diverse regions, is stunning.

It's like our regional accents. Everything is becoming more homogenized.

Anonymous said...

Only the dead know brooklyn.