Finding balance in imbalance, striving to get from point A to B amidst the chaos, but ultimately ending up at point Z (that’s to say, beyond one's grandest expectations) offers the philosophical foundation of New York Photograph(s). Rightly so, because New York represents a series of possibilities which at any time can turn into reality ---both nightmare and dream. Some pictures are candid, while in others there is direct interaction and communication with an eclectic group of quirky, carefree, bold and always interesting individuals who represent a microcosm of the city’s diverse human tapestry.
A central influence of this book is, at the same time, Lucasian in nature. It's a highly intuitive and evolved concept regarding the Poetics of Witnessing, in which visual inclusion becomes the norm. Here, New York becomes a laboratory not only for learning, and for doing, but –more importantly-- for being.
Conventional wisdom & homogeneity is shunned and each character is able to offer his/her own aesthetic. As the visual narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that despite being in the most individualistic city in the world, a collective does exist. It's improvisational in nature and constantly reinventing itself, not least because (at least in many of their minds) of an encroaching fear of becoming staid & hackneyed like the rest of the world. There are no constraints and everything gets eaten.
Given this reality, the great documentary filmmaker, William Greaves’ work offers both a type of intellectual platform and, upon closer scrutiny, solace during a period marked by dehumanization in which nearly everyone and anyone tuned into their smartphones so that they could essentially tune out. Their reasons were many, including the fact that the richest 10% controlled nearly 80% of our country’s wealth, a self-proclaimed populist & billionaire emerged victorious as president of the United States and Yes We Can suddenly became Make. America. Great… [but not for you]. Furthermore, established facts and history suddenly had an alternative which ruled anything as potentially legitimate, threats of nuclear war escalated unlike ever before, global warming hit the skids and, for some, the end times were already here.
Simultaneously, the characters presented here were in motion, literally. Maslow’s hierarchy ran amok as the hustlers, students, models, entrepreneurs, eccentrics, protesters, vainglorious, street vendors, religious & secular zealots, creatives, dandy's, drug dealers, con artists, denizens, intellectuals and others who live in New York took center stage, trying to make their way on their own terms, unabashedly, with conviction, even in their delusion.
The common thread between all of them was that they knew full well that they may and could fail, and that the city, ensconced in time and manner above, was often unforgiving, impatient and easily bored. This only made them try harder. Falling down, getting up, getting knocked out….up again, New Yorkers challenged themselves daily within the world’s social, cultural and political capital and its greatest metropolis. It’s a universal story of dignity and what it means to struggle, fail, survive and thrive (in no particular order). Oh yes, and doing it with style.
Look closely and a photograph within a photograph often emerges, hence the name, New York Photograph(s). Even though the act of photographing is ephemeral, the end result is tangible and enduring, as are the characters. Who knows, maybe one day you'll run into one of them.
New York, 2017
Alexander Castilla (PhD, Columbia University) was drawn to the study of human interaction & social behavior [otherwise known as sociology] at an early age. A distinguished international educator based in the United States and Spain, in addition to his work as a professor and writer, he has contributed to educational & community outreach projects in Barcelona (interfaith dialogue), Rabat (women's leadership), Buenos Aires (indigenous representation), Rio de Janeiro (favela-based human rights), and New York City (creative youth leadership). Castilla is author of the book, Re-imagining European Identity Politics in the 21st Century. The United Nations, UNESCO & diverse American and international NGO's have recognized and supported his work in higher education.
Dr. Castilla gratefully acknowledges institutional support from the Engage Media Lab, a joint initiative of the School of Media Studies and the Milano School of International Affairs at the New School in New York City.