NEW YORK STREET PORTRAITS


My New York street portraits fall within the tradition of American documentary and fine-art street photography.  I spent lots of time as a teenager looking at the black-and-white New York street portraits at the Museum of Modern Art, including those of Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, and Lisette Model.  Most of my New York street portraits are of people most of us rarely notice–the poor, the homeless, the insane, the alcoholic, the drug addict.  The pictures below fall into two geographic groups.  I shoot a little in Binghamton, the region where I live. The region is small, there are a lot of drugs in the rundown areas, and my appearance with my big camera and lens draws undesired attention to me. Most of the street portraits I shot in Manhattan, a big, anonymous place.

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NANCY BASMANN PHOTOGRAPHY

4816 Country Club Rd
Vestal, NY 13850
Phone: (607) 731-1626
Email: nancy@nancybasmann.com

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I hear that shooting New York street portraits is dangerous, at least for a sole woman.  Frequently in the Binghamton area people on the street have warned me to get out of the neighborhood.  The big city outside the rougher streets of Harlem and on streets that are busy makes me feel safe.  This summer I have seen a lot of people who are sitting on the ground near the bus station itching.  I thought the problem was bed-bugs, but apparently it may be a parasite such as scabies.  The occasionally long handshakes that I receive from my street-subjects perhaps is not a good idea health-wise.

The trend these days with New York street portraits is to ask subjects on the street their story:  Humans of New York.  I am skeptical that the story I hear will be anything but historical fiction, or fantasy. Make believe that you are telling a stranger in so many minutes how you got where you are today.  I find that I myself when asked to explain how I got to be where I am do not tell the truth, either because it is hard to know myself, or remember, or because the real history is too complex.  I am prone to embellish, exaggerate or exclude this or that part of my history. To my streets-subjects I am a stranger with a camera who is likely to give them a few bucks for their picture. The street-subjects to me either lie or are incomprehensible.  “How did you get to be on the ground begging?,” I asked. “My mother’s store burned down, then her house burned down and my sisters died, ….  Or “I have Aids.  I was HIV-positive but the medicines did not work.  Then I got stomach cancer.  No, [in response to my inquiry] I cannot go [to the church-kitchen] because my stomach is delicate. Hey, the $6 you gave me won’t buy a meal …”.  Or, the words of a man who looks old to me, “My mother died. …” The rest of his story was inaudible. Or “I am the famous rapper Reese Carter. The New York Times writes about me everyday.”  No, he is not Reese Carter, the rhythm-and-blues singer.   Lots of the people wandering the street are not rational actors: the sick, the crazy, the alcoholic, the drugged,  or the just plain miserable. In the tradition of candid and documentary photography, I do not always ask my subject for a shot.  (I asked a cop who was carrying an assault rifle if I could take his picture. He replied, “Hey, lady, are you kidding?  This is New York City!   I did not take the shot because he preferred that I not, he would not want his image  posted on Facebook, not because I needed a release from him.) When I shoot without contact with the subject, there cannot be a story.   A New York street portrait is worth a thousand words.  Good enough.

I shoot usually the worst subjects that I find for my New York street portraits, because few if anyone else does.  The subjects are people no one notices.  One guy almost always sits near the southwest corner of 40th and 8th, by the lower end of Port Authority. On line in the late afternoon for the Binghamton bus, I ask people who daily travel to and fro Monticello, a stop on the way to Binghamton, whether they know the fixture on the corner the southwest corner of the bus station.  No one recalls.

The skills required to represent the characters of subjects in New York street portraits counts for client pictures too.  For clients who prefer natural light, the images below give you some idea of my skill.  The difference is that with clients we may want to pick a time to shoot, such as in the evening just before the sun sets, a time that gives lovely light.

Prints of the Street Portraits on fine-art paper that I order from a professional lab at the size that you want, given the aspect ratio, are available to you.

Please click on an image to begin the slide-show of New York street portraits.

 

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