Much of my commissioned works for the National Park Service are artistic photographic collections of historical homes and workplaces.
Some of the sites include General George Washington’s headquarters in New Jersey, President Theodore Roosevelt’s summer White House on Long Island, and the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home in Massachusetts. Recently, Arcadia Publishing released a book I authored featuring my photographs of the Connecticut home and studio of Julian Alden Weir, a leading innovator of American Impressionist painting.
These are contemporary photographs showing what life was like for these important figures. Rooms are restored and preserved as close to the original as possible, personal effects and other artifacts are staged to create a scene, and where original items are unavailable, authentic pieces from the same time period are substituted. These tableaux present ordinary life within their context whether it’s a military command center, a wealthy political leader’s home, or an artist’s splattered studio. It’s static and it’s a look back.
Street photography is also contemporary, but the tableaux are not static or staged. Everything is authentic and real people are present. The scenes usually depict ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary settings. In many cases, a photograph may seem unremarkable precisely because the content is commonplace and all too familiar. It may lack the “wow” factor of other photographs – like a well dressed plate of gourmet food, a celebrity, an over saturated landscape from an exotic location, or an over-HDR’d architectural marvel.
But fine street photography can be like a fine wine. The more time passes, the more we can appreciate its nuanced bouquet and notes. This is because things are always changing, especially in a place like New York. In a way, it’s creating future history.
In 25 years, perhaps even less, my ordinary photo of a young woman walking through Greely Square may spark a level of fascination. Her clothes may seem as odd as those we see in our own snapshots from the 1980s or 1970s. And her gaze out into the street as her steps are guided by her smartphone’s GPS may seem quaint in a future where perhaps such information gets directly transmitted to our minds.
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