"The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities." - Benjamin E. Mays -
Having taken the leap and ventured out so much this year, there's no way I wanted to lose that momentum. I wanted to keep growing and developing my eye for my trade and understand the world we live in. New York City seemed like the logical next step to my photographic journey. Having started as a street photographer, New York's history, diversity, and relentless flow sounded like a dream. It would be good to have my passion rekindled, to rediscover why I love photography and accept the challenge of capturing life as it is.
I'm extremely passionate about photojournalism, the lifelong endeavor of dedicated historians and documentarians bringing distant world issues to light and making them feel real and relatable. I've developed an even greater amount of respect for those who take on the challenges of capturing the world's happenings and face dangers of those doing so. Though it is difficult, it is (to me) one of the greatest kinds of work a man or woman can do in light of all that is happening in our world.
I feel as if street photography is like photojournalism for the layman. It's the unofficial chronicling of history as seen from the eyes of the common man, and his interpretation of his surroundings. I want to call what I do "independent photojournalism," if it can be called that. I might not be able to get close to the bigger things happening in our world, but there are things happening in my back yard. And I feel compelled to tell that story.
Arriving in New York was like a like being a thrown into a fast moving stream. Because I was an outsider, I would have to get a feel for its flow. Because it's a place I had never been able to explore in depth until then, I knew that the first jump would be into the shallow water. It'd be learning how to navigate the subway, learning to budget my time and money from day to day, and taking in the sights that one must see before he dies. Once those things were out of the way, I could really get to know the more intimate side of the city in later visits.
New York City has grown to have a population of over 8.4 million people from almost every possible people group you can imagine, along with an increasing influx of new residents...not to mention tourists. It has been a hub of culture and controversy for almost 400 years has seen some of the worst of tragedies and resilient of triumphs. It's truly like a condensed version of humanity crammed onto a few tiny islands.
I'm a follower of Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York. If anyone knows how to learn the story of another human being, it's him. His simple, yet profound, idea of portraits with a story encapsulates the uniqueness of each individual person's soul, history, and struggle.
I've taken a similar route to his in approaching and engaging subjects. But since I respect him too much to try to continually copy and claim his style, I'll stick to traditional street photography.
I spent two weeks in New York. I was able to eat amazing food, meet and get photos of interesting people, but, over time, I developed a feeling of lostness. I was one face in a sea of a unrelenting crowd. My voice and creed just one of many fighting for its own place. Photographers and artistic talent seemed to be everywhere. There seemed to be no way to stick out. I was (literally) 1-in-a million. After a while, I was strangely ok with that. It reminded me that on this planet, though I am one individual person, I am part of a whole.
Though the city is teeming with people, everyone has some place to go, and people aren't always openly social, there's a common respect people had for one another. Everyone faced common struggles and understood what it meant to simply live and get by in New York. To not consider the person inches away from them with even the most common of courtesy and kindness wouldn't cut it. As my travel partner put it, New York City is "like a ship with eight-million people, and the only way to make it is to help one another."
Being a great photographer usually means being part and being in the midst of it all. We can't resort to only being outsiders looking in. There are times when I feel like I'm an intruder or a voyeur...which makes me want to retreat, or even run. I've drawn into myself a lot this year, but I'm realizing how detrimental that can be to my calling. I'm relearning how important it is to be open, real, and vulnerable.
I say this is visit number one because I'm confident I'll return. New York cannot warrant only one visit, but a lifetime of exploration or a season spent living there. It's hard because I want to go everywhere and see everything. I know I'm probably called to touch only a fraction and witness only a handful of this planet's places and happenings, which only increases my motivation to keep moving. I don't want to fall into ruts of complacency, apathy, and ignorance. After all, we've only got one life. We've got to live it well.
Copyright © Aerial Jay Photography 2015