Leica M3 – New York Street Photography

Everyone who travels to New York City becomes a professional photographer. Cameras are ubiquitous, and talent is…if you can make it there…it never sleeps. I hate New York. Let’s face it, the city is hard, cold and mean. It is where money, careers, and the big decisions for the rest of America get made. N.Y.C. is a place where you either rise to the top or die tryin’; maybe it kills you quickly or maybe you die slowly. Either way, you are ground down to zero.

I spent a week there in July for an educational conference, but I spent my free time wandering around the streets trying to learn to love the land that money built. It was my third visit, and while I appreciate it more each time, I also realize that I prefer New Orleans, Philadelphia and even Chicago to Gotham. One cannot deny the coolness factor of walking around New York. The nooks and crannies each hold weight, and as an artist it is a weight to ponder in each hand to gauge the heaviness of what has come before you.

When I travel I am always seeking one beautiful photograph. I will travel to a city and shoot for three days, but I seldom get more than one beautiful thing and that is fair ball. The first image featured is my one beautiful photograph. I came across an ill man out on the street with his collection of rag tag ephemera. He is a product of the hard city, and this city can drag you down the darkest paths. I am not a fan of homeless photography, I will only ever photograph men who are obviously unaware of their reality because they are mentally unstable. The shame of homelessness is both public and private, and we are all but a moment away but for the grace of god. I never, ever forget that or take it for granted.

What is beautiful about this then? The posters on the left side feature a Native American and the slogan We Are Still Here. Heartbreaking given the central figure reading his fashion/gossip magazine. He is still here, too. The American flags drive home the major theme of my Amnesia America project – that America has forgotten who it is and who it is to protect the liberty of. There is no justice or patriotism in this poor man being left to fend alone and ill. Finally, the brooms, the garbage bag trees, the lone pigeon and the empty chair above him to the left each hold significance. The chair asserts the question of where is this man’s angel or guardian? Lunch break? This photograph makes my summer’s travel worth the effort, illness and expense. I am satisfied with it.

I had not been to Central Park before, so on the insistence of V. I went in. Funnily enough, the first photo I took of a man lying on a boulder was supposed to be my beautiful photograph, but it was flat and uninspiring. The carousel was fun to shoot though, as I wanted the keep the background in focus but have the horses blur in motion. I shot six frames to capture this one, and when I scanned it I decided to use Kodak Gold 100 processing versus Ektar 100 on the SilverFast software. I like the colours and the fun, but creepy, vibe.

Mario Batali’s Babbo is one of my favourite restaurants. I can never get a reservation, but since I am alone I can get a place at the bar. The staff are fun to talk to and I just enjoy people watching. In the span of my two hour tasting menu I had an anorexic model/photographer who ate a tiny salad appetizer, an Asian tourist couple who just wanted a drink at the famous restaurant in their guide, a fashion “person” who was a regular, and another male traveller who spoke to me a little as I was about to leave. Tough crowd. I included the barkeep photo because it translates the feeling of money and comfort well.

The other photographs are weaker, but give a decent sense of my day’s walking. I will end up back in New York many times, but I doubt that it will ever make me feel safe in its company.

How was shooting with the Leica M3? Hmmm, I think that taking a look at these particular images makes it clear that the Leica 35mm camera still holds its own in a digital world. It is small, solid, fast and does not stress people out when you go to take a photo. However, it is all over the place in terms of what you might end up with at the end of the day. In the five or six photographs I am keeping from a roll of 36, there is no particular look or style, unlike the Hasselblad SWC or 501 CM. Nor is the look at all digital. Frankly, it feels closest to V.’s Diana camera, and that is not a bad thing. It is a camera that I am keeping for the long run, and if I had some extra cash then I would get a CLA done before my next trip to the USA. The Leica just felt at home in NYC, which a lot more than I can say for myself.


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