I am Chanda Hall, and I live in Montclair, New Jersey, just outside of New York City. Growing up in a family of artists and studying filmmaking in college, making things has always been a part of my life. After moving to Brooklyn and working in the film and television business, I decided to stay at home to raise my kids but found myself struggling to make any kind of art. Digital photography gave me an easy, quick, no-pressure way to do something creative every day. After years of photographing my kids, friends, performances, and school and community events, I gradually found myself sneaking photos of people on the street when I was out and about with my family. It is only in the last few years that I have been going out with the purpose of taking photos on the street, and it’s become something I do every chance I get.
Above all else, I am drawn to people. Everybody has a story—or several! I’m genuinely interested in what makes people do what they do, dress how they dress, think what they think, and street photography is an effective way to shine a light on what I find interesting and worth looking at more closely. I love elements of specificity that help create a story—setting, clothing, gestures, the relationship of figures to each other or their surroundings. To me these details give us clues as to who this person is or what is taking place, but it’s up to the viewer to fill in the rest. I like the ambiguity of that proposition, and I like offering you that invitation to think about what you’re seeing. That said, I don’t think too much about what I’m shooting, it’s much more intuitive than that. Because most moments on the street are so fleeting, it’s up to me to be present enough to recognize them and capture them. I enjoy the feeling of being ready-for-anything and not knowing what’s around the next corner—the spontaneity of it. The filmmaker in me enjoys the challenge of telling a story in a single frame, and I love coming across scenes that look cinematic and art-directed or are full of emotion or something I’ve never seen before. So often real life is better than fiction. I am naturally drawn to unconventional and underrepresented subjects, and I have a soft spot for loners, oddballs, and senior citizens.
I go in to the city whenever I can, but it’s not nearly as often as I’d like, maybe a few times a month. I have some sort of a mental/creative block when it comes to shooting in my own town, partly because I know so many people here, and partly because there’s something that happens when I take the bus into the city that helps me get into a different headspace for taking photos. It’s sort of a trance-like state, almost meditative, and I’m addicted to that feeling. When I’m paying such close attention to the world around me, my personal tendency to overthink goes away, and I am left to react to the characters that present themselves and the scenes that unfold in front of me. I tend to shoot a lot in a short amount of time, making the most of it and giving myself a backlog of photos to edit until my next opportunity.
I shoot mostly on the streets of New York City, but sometimes in nearby towns like,Jersey City, Newark, and Asbury Park down near the shore. New York has always been The City for me, and there is so much to take in—the people, the settings, the lights, the colors—and my brain and my soul crave that stimulation. In the city, the odds are just better to see more people, more moments, and possibly something out-of-the-ordinary. There’s an undeniable energy there that I’m drawn to, and I like the unpredictability. I’m also a huge lover of NYC archival photos, and sense of place is important to me, helping create a more vivid scene and helping us remember the world as it was. For that reason I tend to include a lot of the background in my photos.
The short answer is that it’s fun! I get a lot of joy from the unexpected scenarios I come across, the colorful characters, the beautiful light, the quiet moments. Street photography helps me appreciate the world.
A desire for connection is ultimately at the heart of what I do and why I do it. I take the photo because I find it evocative or beautiful or poignant or funny—sometimes all of the above!—and I want to share it with others. I like this idea of a circle of connection: me taking the photo of a subject and sharing that with you, you getting something out of the photo, connecting to both the subject and to me. It also helps me to connect to my artistic self, and I feel like it’s reawakened my creative spirit. Street photography helps me to feel engaged with the world and with myself, and I like to think that it helps make the world a better, more empathetic place.