street photography

Trump's Morning

A week before the election, I scheduled a day off for November 9th, in anticipation of shooting the "Point and Laugh at the Trump Tower" event on Facebook. With over 10,000 RSVPs,  I figured it would be a good event to photograph, given this bizarre, 18-month-long, trash can fire of an election season. Instead, as we all know, everything flipped on Election Night. My day off turned into documenting the immediate aftermath of Trump's victory. I boarded the R at 77th Street and immediately witnessed the psychological distress that would define the day. People openly wept on the train, holding their faces in their hands, hinting at what I was in for.

"I'm Outta Here"

My first stop was the New Yorker hotel on 34th street and 8th Avenue, where Clinton was giving her concession speech that morning. At 8th Avenue, I encountered a mess: police, fire trucks, Secret Service, metal barriers, protesters, supporters, cameramen, anchors, spectators. The mood was tense and somber. People yelled protest slogans as a row of anchors and their cameramen chattered away in different languages, the events going on inside the hotel.  Scaffolding surrounding the building made it difficult to shoot. Everyone was squeezed together on the sidewalk, passersby, PA's holding camera equipment, and myself.

Roll 445, shot 37

I briefly met a friend, press photographer Albin Lohr-Jones. We talked about the election, fielding theories on how the Cheese Doodle won, with most sentences trailing off into, "I can't believe it..." After Clinton's speech concluded, she was swiftly escorted into one of 10 SUVs waiting in front of the hotel and driven away. The crowd exploded upon her exit. Chants of "I'M WITH HER" enveloped the street. By this time, the rain let up, and I began making my way towards the Trump Tower.

I dislike shooting protests. I find them boring, repetitive, and "easy." Every photographer aims for the loudest protesters, resulting in little variation among the photos. I did what I could to frame my shots intelligently and interestingly. I won't know if that counted for anything until I develop and scan my negatives (maybe by Thanksgiving?).

I proceeded to the Trump Tower. Chaos. Take the same scene outside the New Yorker hotel and add more people, anger, hate, clueless tourists, and the NYPD. They closed the east side of 5th Avenue, where the Trump Tower sits. Garbage trucks and several SUVs were packed on the sidewalk and in front of the building. Instead, the crowds gathered on the across 5th Avenue. The sidewalk was divided into three sections: a cage for protestors, supporters, and a larger one for the media.

Roll 445, shot 34

Supporters hurled their praise for Trump at everyone the sidewalk, inciting pro-Clinton shouting, which quickly turned into 10-strong shouting matches along multiple spots on the sidewalk. Protestors were verbally attacked by supporters. "You're un-American! Why don't you leave if you don't like it? You should be arrested, beaten, and tortured."

Meanwhile, European tourists pushed their way through the masses, stopping in the middle of the block for their selfie opportunity with the gold TRUMP TOWER sign in the background, before laughing and continuing their vacation. It reached the point where the NYPD repeatedly instructed us to, "take your photo and keep walking." People were more concerned with their selfie than with what was going on.

Again, I tried to photograph the mess, avoiding obvious shots, illustrating the insanity contained on one city block.

On 56th or 55th street, a young girl in torn jeans and a bra was patiently trying (and failing) to rip an American flag and light it, drawing more jeers, insults and calls for her arrest from the crowd. The police placed her in a 8' x 8' box near the sidewalk. Everyone watched.

Two hours later, I couldn't take it. The sun was beginning to set and I was more than disgusted with the day's events.

A Continuing Struggle

Every day, I am thrown into a continuing struggle between recognizing what makes a photograph outstanding and inserting that quality into my work. Great work has a quality that can't be defined, yet is universally recognizable. With that being the case, as an artist, reaching this level is infuriating. With each photograph, I hope that the magical combination of timing and placement has benefited me, that the Gods have thrown me a bone. Shooting is exciting, developing rolls is exciting, reviewing the scans is not. Consciously capturing an undefinable quality, I'm realizing, is an exercise in futility.

I can compose a photo. I can pick out what to add or subtract from my frame. Regarding that missing 1%, I am stumped. In my free time, I look through my little collection of photo books and my jaw drops when observing what those before me captured while using the same equipment as myself.

Sometimes, these moments are unplanned: a little girl's smile, a man peeking out from his umbrella for a second, two posh dogs seemingly walking their rich owners. Happy accidents.

In my last batch of scans, one of the best photos was one I took when advancing to the first frame on my M2. I wasn't even looking through the viewfinder! If that can work but my inspired attempts at composition do not, what have I learned? Anything? After five years of shooting, I am marginally closer to understanding what I'm doing and why.

I think about quitting every day. I won't, but it crosses my mind. Photography represents a unique problem: timing. Illustrators can return to their drawing pad, painters, to their easel. With photography, your canvas and subjects are moving. You must recognize the moment and freeze it perfectly while under immense time constraints. Milliseconds matter.

Photography is a mercurial art. I am nowhere near cracking its inner workings. Despite the frustrations and the expense, I am still searching.

André Kertész -  East Walk of Conservatory Pond, Central Park, 1944

André Kertész - East Walk of Conservatory Pond, Central Park, 1944

Ken Schles -  Melanie at Veselka, 1986

Ken Schles - Melanie at Veselka, 1986

David Godlis -  Patti Smith, Bowery, 1976

David Godlis - Patti Smith, Bowery, 1976

To Paris

Last week, I booked a six day trip to Paris. It's time I left NYC for a little. The city gets on my nerves more these days. Despite my strong dislike of planes and everything associated with them, I could never forgive myself for turning this opportunity down. I can spare the time and the money. Six days of street photography in Paris. Aside from shooting, I'm going as a personal tribute to André Kertész, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. Those three are instrumental to who I am as a photographer. They've shaped my vision and showed me what was possible with a camera. I'm excited to roam the same streets as them. I have no idea what I'll find there. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps the magic they captured only proves their talent, timing and skill. After all, the setting doesn't make the photograph, the photographer does. Without a vision, any location, no matter how beautiful, will help you. Regardless, maybe the city and its people have something in store for me.

Robert Doisneau -  The Washing of Petty, 1961

Robert Doisneau - The Washing of Petty, 1961

Henri Cartier-Bresson -  Rue Mouffetard (1954)

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Rue Mouffetard (1954)