Everybody Street

A Lesson in Street Photography, from the Man in the Blue Hat

Last Monday, this small town girl from Chicago walked all over Lower Manhattan trying her hand at some NYC street photography. It was already mid-afternoon and I was standing on the corner of Prince & Broadway waiting for something to happen. (And, of course, secretly hoping I'd bump into Dave Gahan.) The sun had been hiding all morning but was finally starting to light up the west side of Broadway. I spent about 30 minutes darting from one corner to the other in this intersection, trying not to get run over by the massive rush of people, bicycles and pure-breds. I decided I was going to hang out and watch a certain patch of sunlight when I spotted a man in a blue hat and scarf crossing the street. I thought I had seen him a few minutes before but wasn't sure. I snapped a quick photo and moved on westward down Prince.


I stopped to talk to a man selling t-shirts who loved film photography, and took his portrait. He was set up next to a lady selling hats and I took her photo as well, not knowing I was being watched. She asked me not to take her picture, so I kept walking, feeling a bit discouraged. I stopped at the next corner, turned around, and again saw the man in the blue hat and scarf. He was leaning there just smoking his cigarette and watching. I took his photo. He saw me, shook his head and started to walk away. I took it that he didn't want to be photographed either and moved on to the next corner.


I was snapping away when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, and it was the man in the blue hat and scarf. He asked me, "Can I ask you a question?" For a split second I thought that he was angry with me for taking his picture and that he was going to ask me to delete it. But instead his face cracked into a smile and he said, "Can I take a picture of you…taking pictures?" “Yes”, I said, “Of course! But here? There's not a lot of people.." He said not to worry, he'd photoshop some people walking by me. I got a kick out of what looked like a seasoned, local photographer squatting down taking photos of ME, a total newb.


Then we chatted for a bit. His name was Hirotsugu, and he told me he liked to hang out on street corners and take photos of people walking, especially in front of nice backgrounds. He showed me with pride the giant viewfinder that he had somehow attached to the back of his digital camera. I asked if I could take his portrait too, and to my delight he said yes. He asked if he could post his photo of me on Facebook, to which I said yes, of course. We exchanged emails and he later sent me my photo and a screenshot of his Facebook post.

In street photography there seems to be two types of shooters: ones who ask their subjects to pose and ones who do not. I'm still figuring out my approach, but I'm learning that people tend to appreciate conversation and getting to know one another first. We put on an exterior for others, whether we do it consciously or not. When we are photographed candidly we open ourselves up to vulnerability and some folks don't like that. They want to know how they are being portrayed or how their image is being used. Some cultures believe that a photo will steal a part of your soul. That is another conversation to be had. But this interaction showed me that most people are approachable. We are never alone. There is always someone willing to open themselves up to you. You just have to ask.


2016: An Introspection

Every December, I turn inside and reflect. I spend a lot of time thinking of all the change that occurred in the past year and the people who made an impact in my life. I reevaluate my relationships and make new commitments to myself and others.

At the beginning of 2016 I was a miserable paralegal who would sit at my desk from 9-5 and daydream of bigger things for myself. The ideas in Karl Marx’s essay “Estranged Labour” haunted my thoughts: I was alienated from my work, which did not enrich my soul. I was alienated from my mind and body, forced into a sitting position 8 hours a day causing back and stomach pain, estranged from my creative energy in an unawakened state. I felt alienated in that I dreaded meeting new people for fear of being asked what I did for a living.

This April I finally worked up the courage to quit that job and take a three-month trip overseas. Armed with new knowledge from classes I had been taking, my goal was to work on a portfolio during that time and transition into a career of photography when I returned. During my travels I must have passed through a thousand crossroads, which was fitting as I found myself at the biggest crossroad of my life so far.

While I was in Tokyo, I spent a lot of time alone. It was the last leg of my trip, I was very broke and it rained non-stop for the first few days, making it difficult to get around and make photos. I was feeling quite lonely and in a bit of a funk one rainy night when I discovered the Japanese word “Ikigai”. “Iki” means life, alive; “kai” means an effect, result, fruit, or worth. Together it means “a reason for being.” The Japanese believe everyone has an Ikigai, though it may take a while for one to ‘find’ it. I was emotionally floored by the timing and meaning of this discovery. The next day it was sunny and stayed that way for the rest of my time there. I found my inspiration where I had lost it and my camera never left my hand after that.

Coming home was easy, as I was eager to see family and friends, but I quickly realized that I had so much more to learn. I had spent my entire post-college life working in office environments where tasks were simply handed to me. Completing these tasks was automatic and required no thought or imagination. Transitioning from a desk job to a freelance position has been a learning process for me like no other. For once in my life I have to create my own work, find my own clients, market myself, put myself out there like I’ve never done before. I haven’t had a steady paycheck for 8 months and I couldn’t be happier. Every day is different, I've met a ton of amazing people, I’m constantly learning and being challenged in ways I didn’t know existed.

And who was it that helped me get to this point? WOMEN. It was a woman who believed in my vision and got me my first gig doing BTS photography for her production company. It was a woman and her sister who believed in my ability and booked me for my first wedding in 2017. It was women who noticed and praised my photos from a recent art performance that led to being offered a paid photographer gig this upcoming New Year’s Eve. It is because of a single, strong, incredible woman that I exist and I thrive in the face of challenges. Here’s something about me that I hate to admit: as a teen I used to be one of those girls who thought I “wasn’t like other girls”. I had more guy friends, I was “one of the guys”, I was a “cool girl”. The older I get the more I realize that I was so terribly, utterly wrong in my thinking and attitude toward my own gender.

This month I was given a final assignment in my photography program. We were asked to choose a theme and submit 6-12 images, and that’s it. As soon as I left the classroom I knew exactly what I wanted to do. This was no longer just an assignment but instead became a very meaningful, on-going project - my first project!! In the past few weeks I’ve met so many brilliant, talented, inspiring, strong, feminist, badass women who all believe in my dream and vision and who have given me mountains of support and encouragement in the making of this project. These women have been sources of strength and light and love and art, during a year that has caused so many people hurt and fear. I hope to continue to surround myself with people who lift each other up and make a better commitment to lifting up others.

While the project is not yet ready to be unveiled, I hope you enjoy a few more photos from my time in Tokyo, where I received a divine confirmation of my Ikigai. 2016 has been a great year. I can’t wait for the next.