New York City is the ultimate place for street photography; each neighborhood with unique architecture and vibe, streets full of people from all over, incredible fashion sense, bold, crazy, and colorful. What better way to experience and take part in The New Yorker Life!
I know someday I’m going to be desperately sentimental about the long hours I spend every day walking the streets of New York City. I often wonder if I will live long enough to become an elderly woman, occasionally looking over my images, and miss these often tedious days with an intensity I cannot yet imagine. Occasionally I feel a sense of dread when I consider the perfect certainty, the virtual guarantee that someone I’ve met on the street and photographed extensively passes away. I don’t know if I will be able to glide through a loss so substantial. I consider the odds of avoiding assault or other violence directed at me as a lone female constantly outdoors with expensive camera equipment and try to calculate how many lives I have left as an active and productive street photographer, having been very lucky most days. I have not always been fortunate, though, and my physically damaged right eye and two concussions from assaults on the streets have removed some of my naïve perceptions that nothing bad could ever happen to me… My perception of that sense of personal specialness we all have has evolved, and I understand that the inviolate belief that we all possess for a time in our lives that says no true harm will ever befall us is a falsehood.
Street photography is the perfect medium to record the rapidly changing nature of our lives. It’s illuminating, educative and it triggers curiosity in the viewer about its subject. Suzanne Stein‘s photos of Williamsburg’s Satmar Hasidic Jewish community are the perfect example. Combined with her powerful writing, these photos open a window into the lives of our fellow New Yorkers from Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Throughout the decades, many photographers produced excellent works documenting New Yorkers and the New Yorker life. Ernst Haas, Melissa O’Shaughnessy , Vivian Maier and Robert Herman are the first ones that come to mind. In recent years an Instagram account grew in popularity so much that it eventually turned into a book titled Humans of New York, and sold millions of copies. (All highly recommended)
The attraction makes sense, though. New York is one of the most diverse places on earth, a photographer’s dream, and New Yorkers are equally as colorful. Anthropologically speaking, an exciting case study in diversity at the very least.
Race, religion, and cultural differences make the city multi-layered and richer. Millions of New Yorkers embrace diversity for the most part and manage to co-exist on a tiny piece of land. This unique situation allows us to meet people from many other countries and learn about the world without traveling away from NYC.
Who is a New Yorker anyway?
We are happy to announce that we are hopping on the “documenting the New Yorker” train as well. Through photography, we’ll further investigate the question “Who is a New Yorker?” This series will get richer by the day, and we’ll see where it goes in the future. Take this post as a starter, part 1, if you will.
The beautiful photographs in this post come from Ohad Kab, our contributing photographer. He connects New Yorkers to the city and gives clues about who they are in a single frame. Ohad being an immigrant adds another layer to his great work. His previous post on NYL, “Dogs of New York” was wildly popular! You can follow Ohad Kab on Instagram.
If you would like to hear other stories from the city’s residents, we highly suggest picking up Humans of NY’s latest book, Humans of New York: Stories. If that’s not quite your vibe, there’s a great film with an all-star cast that exhibits similar, although fictionalized, stories from New York City residents called New York, I Love You, which you can also stream on Prime.
New Yorker life is waking up to a snow-covered winter wonderland sometimes, and I love it more than anything!
I’ve found these photos after almost 10 years and decided to post them here. They are from January 2012. It was the day Leonard Cohen released “Old Ideas.” I went out for a walk in my neighborhood, Upper East Side, at 8:30 am. After walking around in the UES, I ended up in Central Park. I met many people that day; dog walkers, parents taking their kids to the park for sledding, other people taking photographs.
NYC offers so many photo opportunities in such a short time. All of these photos are taken in about 2 hours, max. Not too many other cities are full of fantastic architecture, friendly and interesting people and of course, streets full of life. Maybe, Istanbul. I always thought that I could sit in a corner all day, watch the world go by, and end up satisfied and accomplished at the end of the day in NYC. This city is very, very special!
The child in me will never stop getting excited, running out the door when it snows, I know that for sure.
“The sight of snow made her think how beautiful and short life is and how, in spite of all their enmities, people have so very much in common; measured against eternity and the greatness of creation, the world in which they lived was narrow. That’s why snow drew people together. It was as if snow cast a veil over hatreds, greed, and wrath and made everyone feel close to one another.” ― Orhan Pamuk, Snow
Street Unicorns by Robbie Quinn is now available on Abrams & Amazon.
Street Unicorns: Bold Expressionists of Style is a new photo book by Robbie Quinn, a New York City-based commercial photographer and a favorite amongst the followers of The New Yorker Life. His work allowed him to travel to more than a dozen countries and is associated with current social issues like race, immigration, gender identity, and sexual orientation, encouraging diversity and inclusion.
In Street Unicorns, Quinn shares viewpoints, aspirations, and masterfully done portraits of more than 250 style rebels, revealing his genuine curiosity in people who choose to express themselves through their style; “The conscious choices we make by uniquely presenting ourselves say we matter. It says this is me, and perhaps because we are not all quite the same, we can learn and grow from each other.”
Enjoy our brief Q&A with Robbie Quinn below. Follow him on Instagram. Order Street Unicorns on Abramsor Amazon.
Q&A with Robbie Quinn on Street Unicorns: Bold Expressionists of Style
NYL: How did Street Unicorns start?
I started Street Unicorns unconsciously. It just happened. In my book, I do my best to retrace my life’s experiences to understand what drew me to the work. I think in a large part, it’s my response to the many injustices that humans needlessly inflict on each other. It’s my hope that the book will inspire people to take more risks in expressing their most authentic selves and have others gain more acceptance and appreciation for those that are different from themselves.
NYL: How did you meet the Unicorns?
I’ve met some of the Street Unicorns on social media, some have found me, but mostly they are chance encounters. Whenever I see one on the street, I compliment their style and it often leads to an impromptu photo session. Things are very rarely planned. I’m photographing individuals wearing what they put on that day in the place where we met with natural light. That’s what makes it authentic and special.
NYL: Photographs are stunning! Aspiring photographers will want to know about your equipment.
When I’m not photographing commercially, I always have a camera with me, usually a Sony a7R IV with either a 35mm f/1.4 or an 85mm f/1.4 lens. I started using the 85 more when we wanted to keep more distance from each other for Covid reasons, but now I really like the look of the 85.
However lately, I’ve been using more film too. I learned photography using a Minolta x-700, but I recently started using a Mamiya rz67 pro ii with a 110 2.8 lens. It’s a medium format camera and made for the studio. It usually requires a tripod; it’s a bit heavy, but I like using it handheld on the street. Definitely a bit more conspicuous, but that has some advantages.
NYL: What did you learn in the making of Street Unicorns?
Meeting all these different Street Unicorns from here in New York and the rest of the world has expanded my understanding of self-expression. It has brought into greater focus the idea that we all deserve the freedom to be our unique selves. Rather than building walls, connecting with someone quite different from yourself is an opportunity for growth and learning more, not only about them but also yourself.
NYL: Do you have future plans?
For the future, my only plans are to have no plans. I like to stay open to what life brings. I do know I’d like to travel more and not simply to tourist stops. I want to meet more people and keep exploring. There’s something to be said for staying in one place and putting down roots, but for me, I enjoy the stimulation of constant change.
Deep Park is an ongoing series of chance portraits by Bruce Polin, a native of Brooklyn, New York. Bruce meets and photographs people in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, which he calls his outdoor studio, with his large-format 8×10 film camera. The results are pure, honest, and timeless portraits of a diverse group of New Yorkers who are the protagonists in what we call The New Yorker Life.
Photography is perfectly suited to depict, and enable, the transformative nature of people.
While, on the surface, the work may not appear all that political, this series of portraits — of random and seemingly disparate people — has been a very organic and physical reaction to the polarization that has enveloped this country since before the presidential election. It’s no coincidence that my need to leave the insularity of my studio and go out to connect with “strangers” began in earnest during the campaign that let up to November 2016.
Prospect Park is the optimal microcosm of New York’s profound diversity. My use of its natural assets as the backdrop somehow imparts additional political resonance, given that our public lands and environmental protections seem to be eroding by the minute, and climate change denial is now, incredibly, a governing principle. The park, designed in 1867 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert B. Vaux, is a vast organism, fertile, with secret winding paths and infinite textures and sounds. There are many unique ‘neighborhoods’ within it. The park has become my studio in a way — one in which I don’t have much control, an aspect that can be frustrating but often liberating.
My use of these large outdated cameras for this project is very intentional. I wouldn’t be able to achieve the same thing with a small modern camera. With these big cameras, a lot of patience is required on both myself and the sitter. At some point, though, my subject becomes invested in the process, and it becomes more of a collaboration. They see that I’m building something, and I need their help. The process can effectively isolate us as if an invisible room takes form. And it all happens in a public space. I’m fascinated by how we construct very private spaces within public spaces. I look for people who might already be in that space, so I approach with care, trying hard not to break what they built. I try to be aware of the transition.
Photography is perfectly suited to depict, and enable, the transformative nature of people. –Bruce Polin on “Deep Park”