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9 Sep 2010

I work in the heart of midtown Manhattan, just north of Rockefeller Center.  No matter what time of year, the streets are always filled with camera-toting tourists, craning their necks to gawk at the skyscrapers and stopping, mid-stride, to oooh and aaaah at the Radio City Music Hall signage.  I try not to begrudge their obsession with photographing everything in sight — I mean, I’m probably just as bad whenever I’m vacationing in another city.   But in the end, I just find myself sighing a lot at how conventional and alike the photographs tend to be, how the need to capture New York in a postcard-perfect way seems to flatten the city. 

I don’t begrudge the tourists (though it would help if you didn’t walk down the street, four abreast).  But I do begrudge boring cityscape photography.    It’s not the tourists’ fault — it’s hard not to take a completely generic photograph of, say, the Brooklyn Bridge with a standard digital (or film) camera.   So I try, as much as I can, to avoid taking those sorts of photographs.  One thing that helps is walking around with a camera that produces less predictable results, like a Holga or a Lomo; the blurriness and vignetting produced with those cameras tends to give photos — and the city itself — a certain textural quality.  Or perhaps invest in a cheapie pinhole camera — I got this one a few years back as a gift, and made my tiny pinprick light opening a bit larger than suggested, to produce an even blurrier effect.   I love that I’m not even sure where some of these photos were taken — it’s like getting lost, via my photographs, in my own city.

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