Street Photography: Hell’s Kitchen

This photograph completely took me by surprise. I actually gasped “wow” out loud when it popped up on my studio monitor.

It looks like it was posed. And the theatricality of her Dickensian hat, robe, and spectacles also make it look staged. As much as I was happy with the shot, I was also disappointed. I did not realize she was looking straight at me and begging for money.

It was taken during the week when I decided to walk along Eighth Avenue through the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, which was an area I frequented back when I was in the music industry.

In addition to varying my route from my usual passage through Times Square, I also decided to make my camera technique more difficult as a creative challenge.

I simply held the camera between the right side of my chest and my shoulder. Rather than composing the shot by looking through the viewfinder, I would just angle the camera in the direction of the scene. Having done this before, I had a sense on how to get decently composed images without cutting off too many heads, having too much blur, or having an excessive tilt.

The sidewalks of Eighth Avenue, however, are narrow and very crowded. Everyone is in such close proximity that they can see what I’m doing. So for extra stealth, I often keep my sunglasses on to diminish eye contact. I also assume the guise of a tourist. I am looking down at my smartphone’s GPS as I walk. All the while I am simultaneously observing the scene from the corner of my eye and clicking the shutter.

As a result, although I was aware of this woman’s presence, I did not clearly see her. Moreover, she was just one of several anonymous figures I sensed at that brief moment. At most, I thought she would be one part of an overall street scene.

To see her on my studio monitor looking directly at me with her pleading outstretched hand was jolting considering the conditions under which the photograph was made. It was a wide shot, so I cropped the image into a square to make her the center of attention.

There’s a pocket in my camera bag that I have set aside for carrying a bit of cash. I don’t make it a practice to photograph the homeless or the plight of the downtrodden, but they make noteworthy subjects in my images on occasion. When they do, I make sure to give them some of that pocket cash.

I have since returned to that area in Hell’s Kitchen, but have had no success in finding this woman again. If I meet her, I have something to give her in exchange for what she has given me.

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Published by Xiomáro

Nationally exhibited artist, photographer, speaker, teacher, and curator. Author of "Weir Farm National Historic Site" (Arcadia Publishing).

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