“Some people don’t like the term (street photography) but I’m fine with it. To me, it means photographing on impulse wherever you are…” – Richard Sandler
Judge of our 2023 Street Photography Award (now open for entries) Richard Sandler is renowned for his deeply absorbing black-and-white portrayals of everyday life in New York, which articulately convey the quintessence of his home city.
Born in the Forest Hills neighbourhood of Queens, NYC, Sandler’s early career was somewhat eclectic. He moved to Boston in 1968 and worked as an acupuncturist while studying macrobiotics, wherein he learned to cook ‘extremely healthy, vital, seasonal, traditional Japanese style restaurant food.’
Sandler had harboured an interest in art since 1955, when, during a visit to the Museum of Modern Art with his mother, he saw Claude Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’, which he says ‘jack-knife opened his eyes, wide’. He began exploring his newfound passion and became interested in surrealism, which was further accentuated by an unlikely encounter with the great Salvador Dali at a French restaurant in 1960.
However, it wasn’t until he was gifted a camera in 1977 by his friend Mary Mcclelland, in whose home (which she shared with her husband, renowned psychologist, David) he was living at the time, that his photographic journey began. Mary also taught Sandler how to print photographs in her basement darkroom, a process with which he became immediately enamoured: ‘seeing an image come up in the developer hooked me then and still has the same effect now, 45 years later.”
Filled with a burning desire to capture the “social pulse,” on the street, he took a 4-day workshop with renowned street photographer Garry Winogrand, (in which Sandler says, he learned everything he needed to know about making pictures) and took to the sidewalks of Boston and began photographing passionately and prolifically. He found work as a photojournalist, before relocating back to his home city three years later to pursue his photographic career in earnest.
Over the ensuing decades, Sandler traversed the streets of New York, his Leica in hand, and captured his fellow denizens with perceptivity, skill, and humanism that mirrored that of some of his most renowned predecessors. Simultaneously poetic and forthright, his deeply absorbing monochrome images construct a nuanced portrait of the city’s ever-changing face: the urban decay of the 1980s; the gentrification and widening class inequality of the decades after that.
By 1992, Sandler knew that he had, in his own words, ‘made his best still photographs’, and thanks to the influence of a friend, he began experimenting with 8mm video. In 1999, he wrote and directed his first film, The Gods of Times Square, and would go on to make numerous others over the ensuing decade.
Though during this period, he continued to photograph, he did so with less passion and prolificacy than before, and after 9/11, he decided to ‘put still photography very much on the back burner’, asserting that, ‘sound and motion was the only way to grok (1) that horrible time’.
He no longer lives in the city, having relocated to the Hudson Valley, a rural region of New York State, several years ago. Today he predominantly captures landscapes on black & white still film, and on super-8,16mm and 35 motion film cameras (in both color and black & white). However, the deep passion that set him on his photographic journey all those years ago still endures. On those rare occasions when he returns to the city, he still ‘shoots wildly on the street’, capturing the city’s soul with the same artistry as all those decades ago.
All images © Richard Sandler
1. Grok -understand (something) intuitively or by empathy.