I’ve taken photos for most of my life now. My favorites are the photos with people in them. A beautiful place, with beautiful light, captured at the perfect moment with the perfect exposure is alright. But put a person there reacting to it and you feel the moment. It feels large. You can put yourself in their shoes.
Lately I’ve been practicing sketching people with watercolors. Sitting in Washington Square Park and trying to capture the shapes of people walking by. I draw them small, in loose gestures, usually just the silhouettes.
It is amazing how easy it is to draw a few lines and convince our brains to see the silhouette of a person. It is probably one of the things our brains are best able to do. Our successful ancestors were able to pick out the shape of an enemy or a predator out of the corner of their eye around dusk. That’s how they stayed alive so we could get here.
It’s fun to hack that wiring and make a little splash of watercolor and add legs and a head and suddenly you can see a person.
People are pretty amazing, but by and large, I don’t like them. I am fascinated by them. I love humans and humanity as a whole, but if you want to start going one by one we’re going to run into problems. I spend my free time, when the light is good, walking around New York and photographing strangers. When the light is bad, I sketch them. The whole time I am pumping podcasts into my ears. The majority of which are telling me the stories of even more strangers. I can’t get enough.
I follow in a long line of people, artists, documentarians, who fell in love with New York City because it is a buffet of human life. You just need to walk out on to the street. I grew up looking at books of photographs of New York. It’s essence is sampled by artists of all varieties like an old soul record. It’s tone shaped the work of the artists before me- and maybe coming to New York for the same things is a crutch. Maybe it’s the same instinct that makes you want to buy whatever camera your hero uses. But in my heart I think it’s more than that.
I’m attracted to the way Magnum Photographer Wayne Miller beautifully described his mission.
“To document the things that make this human race of ours a family. We may differ in race, colour, language, wealth, and politics. But look at what we all have in common – dreams, laughter, tears, pride, the comfort of home, the hunger for love. If I could photograph these universal truths, I thought that might better help us understand the strangers on the other side of the world – and on the other side of town.”
I found these videos particularly helpful: