Courtesy and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Editorial NYC & Street Photography

© Courtesy and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

“New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous. But there is one thing about it: once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.” – John Steinbeck

─── by Rosie Torres, October 13, 2021
  • The Big Apple- the epicentre of the modern world. Hardly a better playground for a photographer than this bustling, noisy, energetic city. From high-rise to brownstone, a clash of cultures and classes; bankers, streetworkers, artists and celebrities all walk the same streets, attracted by the vitality of its sidewalks. 

    New York City, 1953 © Werner Bischof / Magnum Photos

    With something around every corner, New York City is the international hotspot of the world for street photography.
    The challenge and excitement of shooting life in this melting pot have drawn a huge wealth of photographers to the city, inspired by the sheer variety of sights; from graffiti-covered subways to glistening skyscrapers.

    Sometimes gritty, sometimes clinical, the city is almost alive itself, a protagonist in the work of some of the greatest photographers in history.

    Central Park, New York, 1967 © Mary Ellen Mark
    Sidewalk, New York, 1995 © Jeff Mermelstein
    Laurence Fishburne, New York, 1991 © Ricky Powell

    Street photography is an ever-changing study of human nature and culture, and a difficult challenge that determines a photographer’s ability to anticipate action.

    Made up of chance encounters emphasized by instinct and commitment, and influenced by a photographer’s physical presence, or ability to fade into the background- NYC offers an infinite pool of possibility for shooters working outside of the studio.

    Subway, New York, 1980 © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos

    “I came to 100th Street with a large-format camera on a tripod. I wanted depth and detail and I wanted to meet the people eye to eye. I wanted the photograph to happen without intruding. The children called me the “picture man.” They said take my picture. I took their picture. I took photographs of them, they took my photographs.

    Can I have another picture? I gave them another picture. Can you make a couple of more prints? I gave them a couple of more prints. They received their pictures and I received mine. I saw my pictures hanging all over the place. Sometimes when I photographed a family of a person again, I had to take down my own pictures.” – Bruce Davidson

    Pensive Girl, West Indian Carnival, New York, 1993 © Max Kozloff

    The legacy photographers have left us is as varied and unpredictable as the city itself, manifesting in a broad range of approaches and styles.

    While Joel Meyerowitz chooses to focus on moments of extraordinary color, Gordon Parks was creating moving social documentary in Harlem. Bruce Gilden uses his camera as a weapon, thrusting it uncomfortably into people’s faces, whilst Vivian Maier perfected the art of shooting incognito, fading into the shadows.


    Girl on a scooter, New York, 1965 © Joel Meyerowitz
    Manhattan, NYC, 1947 © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
    East 108th Street, NYC, 1959 © Viviane Maier

    The tradition of street photography in NYC has its origins in pop culture, social documentary and pure chance. From early hip-hop style chronicler Jamel Shabazz & Martha Cooper to former Photo League-member Rebecca Lepkoff, many photographers discovered the art of photography through the city itself, becoming flexible, instinctual and fast to adapt to the needs of their craft.

    New York, 1979 - 1984 © Martha Cooper
    Sisters, New York, 1970 © Jill Freedman
    Fifth Avenue, New York, 1975 © Bruce Gilden / Magnum Photos

    The photographic work produced in New York is a testament to the boundary-breaking visionaries it’s attracted and fostered. But the tradition now continues with the age of digital photography and camera phones. Passed down from the masters to young amateurs, street photography proves itself to be more democratic than ever.

    "Isn't he cute? she said" - New York City, 1972 © Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos

    “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” 
    – John Updike

    Yet, the challenge therein lies… when everyone is a photographer, how to make your photos stand out? – Only diligence, talent and an element of chance will tell.

    All images © their respective owners