Street Photography in New York City

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Almost to the day 12 months ago I blogged about how I was going freelance, changing my life and embarking on a new journey, one which would bring my photography to the fore and reorganise my priorities (if you haven’t read it read it here).

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Well a year is simultaneously a long time and also no time at all. A lot has happened over the past year and yet I’m still shooting, seeking out new subjects, exploring different projects and striving for essentially the same thing. What has changed is that I am no longer aiming for a Photography MA, although this possibly could happen in the future, it’s unlikely. I won some great freelance clients and survived the summer up in St Albans but money was tight, I started to take on contracts and did a couple of great stints at Pearson but the game changer was in November when I became homeless, put all my stuff in storage and flew to New York for two months.

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I had no idea what to expect, New York was nothing like San Francisco, which was the only other city in America I had visited. In some ways it was just how you see in the movies, in other ways it’s just different enough from the UK to make it odd. The tourist areas were incredibly touristy, and that was fantastic, Times Square was like shooting fish in a barrel and fantastic for every manner of citizen of the world, all wide eyed looking at the astonishing electronic billboards. The hipster areas like Williamsburg are so hipster it really puts Shoreditch to shame. The handlebar moustaches, wide brimmed hats and waistcoats were very plentiful.

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The result was a breath of fresh air for my photography. Not only was New York immensely enjoyable to shoot in, it was easier to find the kinds of people I look for. I love well dressed and interesting people, generally young but occasionally older, I seek out the dapper members of a crowd and New York has them in spades. Wandering down Broadway, 42nd Street, Grand Central Station all resulted in characters and situations that I could only dream of in London.

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For the first couple of weeks I was jumping at the chance at any shot I could grab because I was so scared of not finding what I wanted and this expanded my shot range and then when I realised the cool people were absolutely everywhere I relaxed and utilised this wider, more experimental approach with everyone I encountered.

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On the 5th of February, exactly a year after my original post, I’m flying back for another three months, this time efforts are going to be taken to a whole new level, galleries will be sought, photography clubs and meetups will be attended and new projects undertaken, this is New Me 2 ‘Coming to America’.

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My photography in 2015

2015 was a year of development, being published and taking pictures of people playing Pianos. It was also a year of taking what I had learned in an underground car park in Edinburgh and applying it to my street work. It’s also the year I move my work from Flickr to Instagram, a much more vibrant community of varied photographers.

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This was the first great picture of 2015 for me, on the Circle Line choosing the right moment to take the picture of this awesome scaffolder. I got on and saw him, hesitated and then someone came and stood in front of him, so I resolved that when they moved I’d shoot, and I did.

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St Pancras has these types of scenes all the time but this couple were really going for it, completely unaware of who was watching. The picture is made by the woman in the background.

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I rarely stand and wait for people but this guy in Kings Cross looked so good I had to capture him, it took a couple of minutes for him to look up from searching for his ticket to notice me.

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This year’s alternative project apart from my street work was St Pancras Piano. When I was commuting every day past the 3 pianos in the station it was clear I needed to take pictures of the wide range of people that played them. Most photographers shot from the back, I chose to shoot from the side. My hashtag #stpancraspiano got picked up by the regular piano players on Instagram and soon lots of photos began to appear by other people using it.

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2015 was also the year I started to shoot for Electronic Sound magazine, an iPad mag for the synth electronic music scene, spanning everything from classic Moog to new artists like Karin Park. I was sent down to the venue and told by Neil Mason, the Commissoning Editor, to just do what I do.

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My street work has become wider, as in I have stepped back and aim to get a little more context to the photo than just a head a shoulders.

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This is my picture of the year. A holiday in Helsingborg in Sweden, a fantastic Air BnB house with a pool, outside eating area and a pizza oven, the lights however were not so good, leading to iPhone lighting and a shot which looks like a Caravaggio painting (and quite possibly a Taylor Wessing entry for 2016).

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Shooting Gary Numan was a highlight of 2015, frantic, very stressful and the time flies by like a blur but the result is a really honest portrait, I daren’t ask him if he likes it though.

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New York! The last two months of 2015 have been spent in New York, I came here to shoot and I’ve been very happy with the results. I was so worried about not getting the shots I wanted that I shot outside of my normal comfort zone and went for subjects I never would have gone for in London.

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Times Square is my new favourite place to shoot. With such a varied group of people and lighting to die for it’s perfect for moments like this which look staged but are anything but.

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As I raised my camera to my eye I hesitated thinking that this shot was not going to work. However, with all the other people looking left at the traffic, the couple looking up at the astonishing electronic billboards and the only person actually looking at me is the photographer, I think it kinda worked out.

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The light in New York is amazing, the grid layout means the sun creates amazing shafts of light while leaving the background in almost complete darkness. This well dressed guy was waiting at the lights, holding his coat closed from the November wind, creating a perfectly lit moment of quiet.

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The lighting in and around Times Square creates amazing pools of reds and greens as the adverts wash everyone with colour.

So another year of firsts, new projects, new people, new locations. It feels like I am still working towards something and at the moment I’m enjoying the journey and not worrying too much about the destination.

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Gary Numan – Electronic Sound Magazine

I think the most important thing about shooting someone like Gary Numan is that I feel like I need to slow down. You are obviously nervous about taking a pioneer of electronic music’s picture, but I always feel like I’ve done it too quick. When it’s happening your mind is going 100 miles per hour and you are adapting to your surroundings and making it up as you go along. Next time I’ll try and stop and remember that you need to make the most of the time you have. Even  though I was prepared with my Nikon and Speedlight, Sony and reflector I never got the reflector out and the shots with the Speedlight were not up to scratch because I didn’t think through the situation before it was too late. I even knew what picture I wanted to take and although I got the shot in the end it was a close call.

However, each time you learn something new and take away another experience that feeds the up and coming projects…

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Get your copy at www.electronicsound.co.uk

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LoneLady – Electronic Sound Magazine

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The Barbican is a fantastic venue for pretty much anything they want to do, so a series of gigs in their arts space sound like a fabulous idea, in theory…

Electronic Sound asked me to go to the Barbican to take some pictures of LoneLady, who by her own admission is not really an electronic artist, she sounds to me like a mix of Joy Division and, well actually I don’t really know. She was resident in a small studio space near the gallery and in there she had been recording and practicing. The space was packed full of recording equipment, laptops and a big analogue synth. This belonged to another artist on the bill that night, Wrangler, who Electronic Sound asked me to shoot as well.

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When I arrived I met the PR and she told me Julie (LoneLady) was pretty tired and could I make it as quick as possible. When I was introduced to Julie she was quiet and clearly tired and probably nervous about the gig that evening. The lighting in the studio space was just how I like it, low and ambient and there was also a lovely red desk lamp which helped colour the mood too.

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We started by shooting Julie in front of the massive synth which Neil from Electronic Sound had specifically told me to make sure I get a good one of. It’s a beautiful wood panelled machine with loads of inputs and knobs and lights so fabulous to shoot someone in front of. I’d been taking pictures of it on it’s own and had pointed the red lamp over the top of it to alter the look and when Julie came in to be photographed I left it where it was so it was pointing over her shoulder at me.

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Once we had a few shots in the studio I took her out the the foyer area where there were loads of amazing concrete pillars and rough textures, we shot by the lifts and in front of big signs using the available light. I still need to work on my directing of subjects, I’m so used to getting one or maybe two opportunities to shoot on the street that I forget that with portraiture I can take my time!

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After that Julie went off to rest and Benge from Wrangler came in to be interviewed and I took the opportunity to take some shot of him playing with the synth and a couple of portraits too.

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Once the interview by Danny Turner had been done it was time for their sound check. The space was truly a gallery space with white walls which had projected movies on and in the centre a square plinth which the artists were going to play from. All the equipment was set up and while they were doing their sound check I got some great shots, these turned out to be much better than the actual gig.

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When the evening came around the people started milling into the gallery space something became abundantly clear, this is a gallery and not a music venue, which means there were hardly any lights. Also the PR told me that Wrangler has specifically asked for the lighting to be low. The result was that despite my best efforts I didn’t get a single live shot of Wrangler I was happy with. When Lonelady came on the lighting was slightly better meaning I got one or two usable shots but I really wasn’t happy with them. In retrospect I should have taken my tripod and in future I will because if I had I might have got something I was a little more happy with.

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The result was that I was very happy with the portraits but not at all happy with the live shots. I should have been more prepared, I am so used to thinking that both my Sony and my Nikon can handle anything that when they can’t I am taken by surprise; not next time!

Get your copy of Electronic Sound here!

Karin Park – Electronic Sound Magazine

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Neil Mason is the commissioning editor at Electronic Sound Magazine (electronicsound.co.uk) and approached me about shooting an electronic musician they were featuring called Karin Park. He’s been watching my street work on my Flickr and blog for a while and encouraged me that he wanted me to do a similar style of thing for the feature.

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I went to Olso in Hackney with the writer Danny Turner in the afternoon for the soundcheck and met the band which consisted on Karin Park, her brother David on the drums and bass and Juno on the keyboards. I started off by shooting Karin in her dressing room applying some makeup and chatted briefly to her about her music, I find this kind of interaction hard as it’s quite intimidating and the whole patter of a portrait photographer something I’m not used to but as a former model she was an excellent subject, knowing just what to do to give some great close up shots of her in a mirror.

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The sound check was a great place to get all sorts of shots, with the band being completely happy to have me move around them on stage and shoot completely unhindered from all sorts of different angles, they also had a YouTube music channel there shooting some film for a feature which meant that they did full run throughs of a couple of tracks with full lighting. It gave me one of my best shots where Karin was sat on a stool and the lighting guys bathing her in wonderful blue and purple light.

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After the soundcheck was finished we shot quite a few backstage shots in their dressing room and in a small bar area. I found a spot behind the bar which had great lighting and took portraits of David and Juno, testing out a few different settings and getting ready to shoot Karin for what I felt would be a great intimate portrait of an artist just before she went on stage.

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When Karin was ready I asked her if I could get a few shots of her and while she was quite busy and clearly nervous she agreed. She said she didn’t have much time but because I had already shot David and Juno there I was all set up and after only ten shots I said ok; which surprised her. ‘That’s the fastest photo shoot I’ve ever had!’ but she was pleased with the shots I had got of her and so was I.

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The show itself was full of a really enthusiastic audience and I took quite a few shots from in front of the stage. This was the most challenging aspect of the day as getting a great shot of her live with people all around you proves hard. It really goes to show that getting a really fantastic live shot is a lot harder than you would imagine. The lights are moving and changing, Karin was very energetic in her performance and this made it hard for my Nikon and Sony to freeze her in the action. I never use flash and obviously this is not desirable to the artist while they are in full flow so shooting at f1.8 on quite a slow shutter speed makes this challenging and tricky.

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I moved to the sound and lighting booth for some wider shots which encompassed the whole stage and audience and while this made of a couple of interesting shots I can see now why most photographers don’t do this, the intimacy is lost and the shots look a lot less exciting from this far back.

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The performance was fantastic and the new album ‘Apocalypse Pop’ sounded superb live, if you ever get a chance to see her live I would highly recommend it. Make sure you check out the article in Electronic Sound Magazine and I look forward to my next assignment!

You can see even more pictures from this shoot on my flickr page

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