New Year’s Day: talking it over, #3

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New Year’s Day: talking it over, #3
best picture of new york city
Image by Ed Yourdon
Normally, I let my photos sit quietly for a month before I look at them critically and decide whether they’re worth uploading to Flickr … and this set of three photos demonstrates exactly why I do that: if I upload them too quickly, as I’m doing now, I’m likely to get far too emotional about them. Indeed, this one and its two companions may well get deleted from my Flickr archives in the next couple of weeks … but I couldn’t help uploading them tonight.

The photos were taken earlier this afternoon, during what was otherwise a very long, boring, unproductive photo-walk in the cold weather of New Year’s Day — a walk that began on 7th Avenue and 14th Street, proceeded uptown to Times Square at 42nd Street, and then back down the west side of 7th Avenue until I got to 14th Street again.

About halfway between 28th and 29th Street, I happened to notice this scene out of the corner of my eye — across the street, and back toward the southeast corner of 28th Street, where there’s an IRT subway stop (the entrance to which you can see on the right side of the photo).

I don’t know what was going on here, but I got the impression that the guy may have been on his way home — after all, the Penn Station railway depot is only a few blocks further up Seventh Avenue — and perhaps he was saying goodbye to the girl in the blue coat. It was, after all, New Year’s Day; and for all I know, perhaps they just met the day before. But it may have been much more mundane than that; I’ll never know, because after a couple moments, they separated and went on their separate ways alone.

As for the other people in the photo: they had nothing to do with the couple I was concentrating on, but I thought they added something to the overall scene.

I stood for a few moments to watch the scene … and when it was over, I continued trudging along northward, past Penn Station and on to times Square. This is a city of a million stories, and for the most part, you never really get to know the details of any of them …

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I had intended for this photo to be one of many contained in the "everyblock" set that I’m working on, the details of which are described below. But for reasons that should become clear by the time you finish reading those details, this particular photo ultimately failed the test — i.e., when you look at it, you don’t immediately associated it with New York City. Nor does it have anything to do with 2014 — or, for that matter, any particular year. It could have been photographed at any point in the past century. (If you want to quibble, you could argue that we didn’t have rolling suitcases before the early 1990s, but that’s a pretty tiny irrelevant detail). So … I eventually decided to move the photo out of the "everyblock" set an into a "Misc 2014" set.

(You probably would not have guessed that there is so much agonizing over where to put these stupid photos on Flickr, but it’s something that I actually do think about a lot …

Anyway, here’s the story of the "everyblock" set ….

My "everyblock" set of photos is based on a very simple concept: walk every block of Manhattan with a camera, and see what happens. To avoid missing anything, walk both sides of the street.

That’s all there is to it …

Of course, if you wanted to be more ambitious, you could also walk the streets of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. But that’s more than I’m willing to commit to at this point, and I’ll leave the remaining boroughs of New York City to other, more adventurous photographers.

Oh, actually, there’s one more small detail: leave the photos alone for a month — unedited, untouched, and unviewed. By the time I actually focus on the first of these "every-block" photos, I will have taken more than 8,000 images on the nearby streets of the Upper West Side — plus another several thousand in Rome, Coney Island, and the various spots in NYC where I traditionally take photos. So I don’t expect to be emotionally attached to any of the "every-block" photos, and hope that I’ll be able to make an objective selection of the ones worth looking at.

As for the criteria that I’ve used to select the small subset of every-block photos that get uploaded to Flickr: there are three. First, I’ll upload any photo that I think is "great," and where I hope the reaction of my Flickr-friends will be, "I have no idea when or where that photo was taken, but it’s really a terrific picture!"

A second criterion has to do with place, and the third involves time. I’m hoping that I’ll take some photos that clearly say, "This is New York!" to anyone who looks at it. Obviously, certain landscape icons like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty would satisfy that criterion; but I’m hoping that I’ll find other, more unexpected examples. I hope that I’ll be able to take some shots that will make a "local" viewer say, "Well, even if that’s not recognizable to someone from another part of the country, or another part of the world, I know that that’s New York!" And there might be some photos where a "non-local" viewer might say, "I had no idea that there was anyplace in New York City that was so interesting/beautiful/ugly/spectacular."

As for the sense of time: I remember wandering around my neighborhood in 2005, photographing various shops, stores, restaurants, and business establishments — and then casually looking at the photos about five years later, and being stunned by how much had changed. Little by little, store by store, day by day, things change … and when you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s even more amazing to go back and look at the photos you took thirty or forty years ago, and ask yourself, "Was it really like that back then? Seriously, did people really wear bell-bottom jeans?"

So, with the expectation that I’ll be looking at these every-block photos five or ten years from now (and maybe you will be, too), I’m going to be doing my best to capture scenes that convey the sense that they were taken in the year 2013 … or at least sometime in the decade of the 2010’s (I have no idea what we’re calling this decade yet). Or maybe they’ll just say to us, "This is what it was like a dozen years after 9-11".

Movie posters are a trivial example of such a time-specific image; I’ve already taken a bunch, and I don’t know if I’ll ultimately decide that they’re worth uploading. Women’s fashion/styles are another obvious example of a time-specific phenomenon; and even though I’m definitely not a fashion expert, I suspected that I’ll be able to look at some images ten years from now and mutter to myself, "Did we really wear shirts like that? Did women really wear those weird skirts that are short in the front, and long in the back? Did everyone in New York have a tattoo?"

Another example: I’m fascinated by the interactions that people have with their cellphones out on the street. It seems that everyone has one, which certainly wasn’t true a decade ago; and it seems that everyone walks down the street with their eyes and their entire conscious attention riveted on this little box-like gadget, utterly oblivious about anything else that might be going on (among other things, that makes it very easy for me to photograph them without their even noticing, particularly if they’ve also got earphones so they can listen to music or carry on a phone conversation). But I can’t help wondering whether this kind of social behavior will seem bizarre a decade from now … especially if our cellphones have become so miniaturized that they’re incorporated into the glasses we wear, or implanted directly into our eyeballs.

Oh, one last thing: I’ve created a customized Google Map to show the precise details of each day’s photo-walk. I’ll be updating it each day, and the most recent part of my every-block journey will be marked in red, to differentiate it from all of the older segments of the journey, which will be shown in blue. You can see the map, and peek at it each day to see where I’ve been, by clicking on this link

URL link to Ed’s every-block progress through Manhattan

If you have any suggestions about places that I should definitely visit to get some good photos, or if you’d like me to photograph you in your little corner of New York City, please let me know. You can send me a Flickr-mail message, or you can email me directly at ed-at-yourdon-dot-com

Stay tuned as the photo-walk continues, block by block …

Gotta make my hair look as sexy as my boots…
best picture of new york city
Image by Ed Yourdon
Note: this photo was published as an illustration in an undated (Nov 2009) Squidoo blog titled "Funky Welly Boots." It was also published as an illustration in an undated (Nov 2009) Mahalo blog titled "How To Draw In Flash," at www-dot-mahalo-dot-com-slash-how-to-draw-in-flash

Skipping a year and moving on to 2011, the photo was published in a Jan 22, 2011 blog titled "Question by erika lynn: How to find someone looking for non professional models?"

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The streets were wet when I got up a few days ago, and the weather forecast called for rain throughout the day. Consequently, I decided to spend my half-hour of daily "photography time," during my lunch-break, down in the subway station, where I knew I could stay dry. Since I had a mid-afternoon appointment on 72nd Street, I decided that instead of photographing at my own local subway stop, I would take the train downtown and hunker down in a quiet corner to see what came my way. I found a quiet bench on the downtown side of the 72nd Street IRT line, and sat patiently to see what would happen across the tracks, on the uptown side… Later in the afternoon, when it was time to head back home, I spent half an hour sitting on the uptown side of the tracks, waiting to see how people were behaving across the way…

As is often the case, I got a consistent sense of solitude, isolation, wistfulness and even loneliness on the part of the subway riders I was observing; maybe the gloomy weather up above made them all pensive, or maybe that’s the way they always are, when alone in the subway. Whatever the reason, there were only one or two cases where I saw people laughing, smiling, or chatting cheerfully with one another.

As with the last subway group that I shot at ISO 6400, there’s a little bit of noise/graininess in these images — but I decided to leave them that way. I did adjust the "hot spots" (areas over-exposed from the fluorescent lighting in the subway station) and "cold spots" (shadows and dark areas), and punched up the color a little bit. But aside from that, this is yet another view of the typical daytime scene on a typical NYC subway line…

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Over the years, I’ve seen various photos of the NYC subway "scene," usually in black-and-white format. But during a recent class on street photography at the NYC International Center of Photography (ICP), I saw lots and lots of terrific subway shots taken by my fellow classmates … so I was inspired to start taking a few myself.

So far, I’m taking photos in color; I don’t feel any need to make the scene look darker and grimier than it already is. To avoid disruption, and to avoid drawing attention to myself, I’m not using flash shots; but because of the relatively low level of lighting, I’m generally using an ISO setting of 800 or 1600 — except for my most recent photos with my new Nikon D700, which are all shot at ISO 6400.

I may eventually use a small "pocket" digital camera, but the initial photos have been taken with my somewhat large, bulky Nikon D700 DSLR. If I’m photographing people on the other side of the tracks in a subway station, there’s no problem holding up the camera, composing the shot, and taking it in full view of everyone — indeed, hardly anyone pays attention to what’s going on across the tracks, and most people are lost in their own little world, reading a book or listening to music. But if I’m taking photos inside a subway car, I normally set the camera lens to a wide angle (18mm) setting, point it in the general direction of the subject(s), and shoot without framing or composing.

So far it seems to be working … we’ll see how it goes…

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