I began photography late in life. One day with little forethought, I wandered into the International Center of Photography in New York City and registered for the most basic photography course for beginners. I would turn 70 years old in a month and had been at a loss about how to spend my time after I stopped working as a psychologist and professor, coupled with my daughter now having her own apartment and no longer living with me. I had always owned a camera but, except for a few brief spurts of interest, rarely pursued photography. It never occurred to me that I would continue after this first course, but I never missed a semester of taking anywhere from one to three courses for the next ten years. The reason why I was so drawn to photography is multifaceted. When I first viewed a photo I took on a computer, I was amazed and excited about how the camera saw so much that was out of my awareness. It was a reflection, and I had never viewed a photo of a reflection before. My daughter was pursuing a career in photography, and that was another reason that spurred me on. Additionally, I suppose that there was always a latent interest.
After a few years focusing on portraits, I discovered street photography, and I almost immediately realized that it was a perfect fit for me. As a child and all the way up to my early 20’s, I was very shy. I spent a lot of time wandering the streets alone observing people. In a sense, I had begun street photography early in life, but without a camera. Once I began street photography about twelve years ago, I was totally hooked and have a constant urge to go out as much as possible to pursue it. A truly good street photograph is rare, and the constant pursuit to achieve one is addictive. Street photography is mostly about failure, and the possibility of a worthwhile photograph in the context of primarily failure is a recipe for addiction. Now at almost age 86, I have slowed down but there is never a time when I go out without a camera.
I have lived in New York City most of my life and almost all of my photographs were made there. During the CoVid-19 pandemic, a period of staying home was followed by a temporary move out of the city to a rural area. I like to tell myself that pictures emerge everywhere, and that location is not that important. However, without a busy city, my desire dissipates. I seem to need people to photograph. I consider that a shortcoming, but I accept that it is my need. Theoretically, I profess to believe that one can photograph anywhere at any time. Some street photographers are more conceptual and can make a photograph out of practically nothing. Others, like myself, require something outside of their head, to react to and take a picture. It is always a mixture of concepts and more intuitive immediate reactions with different photographers working more with one or the other.
In New York City, I photograph in the usual haunts of street photographers. Until the pandemic, I photographed in Frankfurt, Germany and Copenhagen, Denmark almost every year as well as Miami and San Francisco when I attended street photography festivals.
The short answer to “when” is “all the time”. I spend most of my waking hours (as well as frequent dreams) with street photography. Parenthetically, almost all my photography dreams are a variation of seeing unbelievably good scenes to shoot but the shutter will not engage. Please don’t bother interpreting this.
I will repeat what I said in a previous interview. In Ernest Hemingway’s short novel, “The Old Man and The Sea”, the old man says: “My big fish must be somewhere” and “It is silly not to hope”. I feel like the old man and the street. I am pulled along by the hope of finding my big picture. On a subway in 2019, I caught my “big fish”. The photo, “Q Train” has won many awards, much praise and criticism as well. It won events that I never dreamed of participating in, let alone, win. I suppose that I am sort of a “one-shot wonder”. I do have more photos and series that are good and others have liked, but none are in the same league.
When I began street photography, I initially did street portraits with consent. I moved on to candid portraits and then candid street scenes. My goal now is a layered street scene with multiple elements and activities going on. I almost never achieve it but again, the quest keeps me going. I seem to be after complex busy photos that fill the frame. It occurs to me that there is some history to this. I have had no art education at all and have almost never been exposed to art (family dynamics explain this). However, I arranged to have two posters of paintings hanging in my room as a child. One by Bosch and the other by Dali. Both were complex and full of stuff throughout the frame. I have a hunch that this informs my photographic preferences.
It seems that for me, whenever I pursue something, I become totally involved and I am satisfied to do only that one thing. That is so with making candid photographs in public places. I do it because I have reached the point in life where that is what I do. The alluring goal of finding or making better pictures is all consuming. It is a sport that I play all the time. I long for those rare times that I get “in the zone” where I easily see potential pictures and get them, undistracted by worry and other matters. I am aware that this activity is one of an almost perpetual “slump” because achieving an exceptional picture is so rare. On a day that I do achieve what for me, is a good picture, I love the feeling.
External factors pull me along also. Being accepted into a meaningful exhibition and being accepted by competent photographers, as a viable player are significant motivating factors. It is only recently that I have become aware of the most important reason I photograph. Since I began in 2008, I have accumulated friends and relationships that mean much more than any photograph or success in a contest. Although perhaps I have gone as far as I can go with photography, the friendships continue.