I was sitting on the High Line after getting out of work early on this preciously beautiful spring day. It was windy, I sat myself down on the ledge of a carefully curated, man-made lawn and watched the road below. It was a lovely sight, but not gorgeous. Sitting there, I observed passers by, one-by-one, stop and take pictures of the very “NYC” scene with their phones. I imagined that thousands of people had taken that same shot off of the same ledge looking down the same street, with only the weather and traffic changing, yet everyone seemed to take their task so seriously, whether bending at the knees and making their bodies rigid like tripods, using cellphones or ipads or expensive DSLR camers. I began taking pictures of the picture-takers.
The pictures objectify the subjects more intensely than I had imagined or intended, offering up their bodies, outfits, and postures for judgement. Stopping to focus their attention onto their devices and shutting out the outside world put them made them vulnerable to attention and attack– so many people are involved in car accidents while distracted by their phones. In the past, I have been accused of using photography and video “as a weapon,” and I have always considered these forms of documentation as forms of aggression.
Additionally, it’s interesting to think that so many people hate having their pictures taken, even though every New Yorker is daily recorded by hundreds of surveillance cameras.
The selfies were most interesting. At first, I hesitated to photograph people who were facing toward me, but then I realized that during selfies, subjects were so focused on their task that they wouldn’t notice anything else.
It appeared that the world of the selfie was a private one, and watching people take selfies felt like looking into someone’s bedroom or living room space.
When one takes a photo of a thing, there is a relationship and communication that forms between the two entities, whether it be the photographer vs. landscape, photographer vs. person, or any other subject. This space is totally collapses during a selfie and the image that is produced stands on the boarder between photograph and mirror.
Unlike many New Yorkers, I have always enjoyed visiting Times Square and observing the tourists there, taking pictures of the popping, glowing advertisements, walking around getting harassed by people wearing silly costumes, and moving very slowly. Perhaps I will take photos there next.