Spotlight and Ray Metsker / by Ed Walker

One of the highlights of last year’s trip to New York was this picture.

Shot against the background of a street in shadow it captured this gent in perfect isolation. Every hair, wrinkle and fold in his coat caught with what must be the ultimate spotlight, the Sun.

It was very different from the rest of the pictures I was taking, usually straight on and often I wouldn’t be satisfied unless the subject and I had eye contact. This was quiet, solitary.

When I took the New Colour Projects course at International Center of Photography in February it was a picture I showed at the start of the course. However my usual type of shot quickly became the focus of the project I completed throughout the 5 weeks only coming back when I created my final piece.

In week 4 I shot this picture, the sun behind me and walking up 7th Avenue. Because of the angle of the light and the dark background it achieved a somewhat similar result and again it peeked my interest, it felt different.

Then in the last week on my way to the class I grabbed this shot but I never showed it or published it as it was simply too different to everything else, but again, on this new theme.

After the course I went to Seattle and didn’t get much chance to shoot but grabbed a couple of shots one of which again felt like a relation to those previous shots and it was becoming clear that there was something in this that I needed to explore explicitly.

When I had organised to meet up with Christine Callahan for some private mentoring sessions I only had a few shots to show. So on a visit to Governors Island, where I had switched my lens from my usual 35mm to my 50mm I grabbed some pictures in Wall St. It was late afternoon and the sun was really strong. The bottom of Manhattan is not on a grid like the rest of the island, it’s a crisscross of streets and perfect for isolating the Sun with backgrounds in shadow.

So this was now a thing, when I showed the shots to Christine she recommended I look at Ray Metzker. Studying in the 1950’s at the Institute of Design in Chicago. His early work comprised of darkroom composites, multiple exposures and collage, often compiling them in camera with bits of paper he introduced to the scenes he was photographing. However during that time he also took high contrast shots of cityscapes with people bathed in light while the rest of the shot was in almost complete darkness.

You can see the rest of the images here:

These works really speak to me, there is a loneliness of a city and quite possibly nowhere like New York. With so many people usually split between residents at work and tourists it’s loud and brash but many people seem alone, trying to get to where they are going and Metsker’s work takes those people and singles them out, gives them a spotlight.

When I think about my work I’ve been attempting to do something similar all along. My original shots of women on the London Tube were so close there was very rarely anyone else in shot, then subsequently the shots I’ve been taking use shallow depth of field to pull individuals out from the crowd. They say photography is a mirror so make of that what you will.

With all that in mind I shot these picture this week.  My work before was difficult enough - finding the people, being in the right spot and grabbing a fleeting moment - now I have to find all of that but with the perfect lighting.  It’s a hard life ;)