What comes into your mind’s eye when you imagine New York City?
The Empire State Building?
Maybe, the Statue of Liberty?
So much of the city is iconic after decades on TV, movies and in advertising, like most people, you probably have a pretty good idea about what it looks like, probably more than one.
And whatever springs into view, it’s 100% accurate.
This city has so many faces,
But I want to show you some scenes that might be less familiar, although very much New York.
Those of us who live in the five boroughs know all those popular places too. We walk by them every day. Sometimes, we go inside. But for us, there is another New York City you begin to see only after you’ve been here for a while and the veneer has worn off, at least a little.
Sad to say, fascination with the Big Apple does thin after a while, and the reality of working and paying rents here, of going to restaurants and budgeting for Broadway shows, sets in. Don’t get me wrong. New York City is never like anywhere else.
It just becomes different in an equally fascinating, everyday way.
The following pictures are from the street photography of Deborah Julian. For additional information, click any image.
1. New York City Angst Splashed With Humor
I decided to start out with a picture from the Lower East Side that illustrates the condition from which you may feel yourself suffering after you’ve lived here for a while.
Among the many things it is, New York is a place that comes at you without pausing. The intensity fades sometimes but never goes completely away.
Some days, you might want to escape or just not face it.
I Can’t Grow Up pictures the anxiety, but it does so with so much brashness, you can’t ignore the humor.
2. New York City Disconnected
You wouldn’t think in a city as vibrant and full of things to do and see as New York that you’d have to have to dodge people with their eyes glued to cell phone screens or chattering away into headphones, but you do. Heads up, all the time.
When I was a kid, one of the manners I was taught was to walk on the curb side of any woman or girl with whom I was lucky enough to be walking.
A guy was expected to take the splashes of rain and slush from buses and errant taxis.
But now, it’s reversed. I protect my wife by walking in the middle of the sidewalk, taking the blows of inattentive screen addicts against my much larger frame.
Some New Yorkers, especially the generation they call “millennials,” strike me (excuse the pun) as being disconnected through all their digital connections, distracted from the immediate world around them.
The New Normal illustrates that. Two women on cell phones lean against the railing in Carl Schurz Park, above the scenic Hell Gate waters, oblivious to each other and their surroundings.
3. Peace and Humor Among the Falling Leaves
It’s changed some in recent years as New York has become more of a year round destination, but there are a few times each year when Central Park is dominated by New Yorkers.
Families are out with their children. Everyone seems to feel at home. Tourists are fewer. Not that we don’t like tourists. We do. They pay a lot of bills in our city. But a break is nice too.
One of those times is the autumn, just before the crowds return for the holiday season and locals have returned from their own vacations.
In Everyone’s a Critic, you get a good look at the seasonal parade of New Yorkers in Central Park.
A number of Dads are out with their daughters as the leaves begin to change. Maybe it’s visitation day for divorced fathers. Anyway, this is where the humor comes in.
A living statue has perched along the walking trail, portraying a butterfly (I think). Now, look at the scrunched up faces of the young girls. They are decidedly unimpressed.
4. Walking the Midtown Maze
There’s a reason why Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration severely limited car traffic in Times Square. With 7th Avenue, Broadway and the cross streets from 37th to 42nd all delivering
buses, trucks, vans and cars into a mass of pedestrians, it was chaotic and dangerous.
Especially when you consider how many in that mass were being thrilled by the vivid digital advertising running 24/7 on so many billboards.
While adding more bicycled kiosks, Mayor Bill DiBlasio brought the city speed limit down to 25 miles per hour in an initiative to reduce pedestrian deaths to zero.
The congestion is one thing, but as you can see in Midtown Manhattan Transit, the intersections of crosswalks, turning buses, bicycles going wherever and in whatever direction they like is a continuous daily hazard we learn to expect and manage.
5. New Year in Times Square, the Other One – In February
As much a melting pot for cultures as it ever was, New York City is a place where you can ride an elevator and listen to casual conversations in several languages, none of them yours. I sometimes pass a long ride trying to identify the languages weaving around me.
The increasing Chinese presence in the city has meant, among other things, the shrinking of Little Italy as dim sum shops flourish on all sides and sidewalks busy with students transfixed by cellphone screens.
If you love Chinese food, heaven may be waiting for you in Manhattan.
Traditionally, one of the most visible ethnic festivals is Chinese New Year, celebrated on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, usually starting in February and lasting for about 23 wonderful days.
Our Chinese neighborhoods are rich with parades and fireworks. Chinese New Year-Times Square shows the celebration migrating west down 42nd Street with Chinese and American flags and a brass band on a rented bus in the snow.
6. The City Meets Its Match
Be honest now – have you ever imagined New York City being swallowed up in a thunderstorm?
In an exciting match of wills, Racing the Storm shows blackening clouds as menacing as anything in the Wizard of Oz building over the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Because we live along the Atlantic Ocean, lasting floods are impossible except for hurricane storm surges, but when thunderstorms hit hard, they fill the streets with water racing toward overwhelmed drains.
Umbrellas are made useless by the steady winds caused by tall buildings and exaggerated by the storm.
An advantage of so many hard surfaces is that storms are forgotten quickly. And as long as you’re not on the water, as these boats racing for safety show, you’re not in much danger, no matter how wet you get.
7. Walls of Sexy Hair
Fifty years after her death, Marilyn Monroe‘s image seems undiminished.
In an ad for Sexy Hair, a company selling products it claims make your hair sexy, a doctored photo of her tosses a sultry glare down a side street in Midtown Manhattan.
“Every woman wants to feel sexy so I put it in a bottle,” says Michael O’Rourke, the company’s founder, setting a new standard in clunky marketing phrases.
And it does seem odd in a city blessed with an abundance of sexy woman still working and living that they’d pick Marilyn Monroe as an icon. She’s a legendary beauty who, as a comic actress, played sexy for fun. But her own beauty eventually undermined her when she found it hard to get serious parts. Her career floundered.
Marilyn Monroe died a suicide after numerous unsuccessful attempts. Smart men adored her, but she couldn’t stay married. Her unhappy life ended in tragedy, making it all the more odd to find her image still in use, a half-century later, to sell the beauty that never did her enough good.
8. New York City In Ice
New York is known for finance, entertainment, glamour and more. One often overlooked segment is its industry.
The business of being a big city continues all year. Unseen by most visitors, tugboats make their way along the tidal straits separating Manhattan from the other boroughs. In Tugboat Winter, one tug pushes a tanker north through mid-winter ice along the East River while a second follows as a backup.
The tanker itself symbolizes how invisible much of the city’s support systems and industries are. More than twenty feet of hit are hidden beneath the surface of the water. It’s held low by its cargo.
Knowing this, the powerful little tug is even smaller, a tiny concentration of power. Later, this tanker will make a return trip, empty, its hull towering high above its tugboat escort.
9. Fresh Air In an Unfresh City
When you visit, you may think of it as a tourist attraction, but for us Central Park is a people’s park, a relaxed zone that gets us away from the streets.
I’ll make a bet that, if you didn’t know this article is about New York City, you’d never guess that these girls are at ease on an autumn afternoon about one-hundred feet from Fifth Avenue.
Behind them, if they want to turn around, the girls can see the Sherry Netherland Hotel, the General Motors Building, with a packed Apple Store in front, and the Plaza Hotel.
But sheltered under Central Park’s old growth trees, they seem to find all they want in the calm reflections of The Pond, part of Olmstead and Vaux‘s original design for a retreat from city life.
Placed so central the city, Central Park offers the pleasures the girls enjoy all year. I’ve spent more hours than I can count wandering the trails. In times good or bad, like every other New Yorker, I can always go there to get refreshed.
10. Up, Up But Not Quite Away in New York City
I decided to close like I started with something a little whimsical with an urban dose of grit.
Balloon Girl is a photograph from a summer day in Tribeca on Manhattans lower West Side.
That summer, an advertising promotion had balloon girls stationed all around the city, handing our
leaflets. For most, it was probably a freer than usual way to earn some extra money from a summer job.
I don’t think every one of them had legs as long and pretty as the balloon girl in Tribeca. Yet, oddly, no one seems to notice she’s there. It’s a phenomena in New York City that even the most striking of sights, in a bright pink dress and high heels, might as well be invisible.
You have to try hard to get noticed here, the background noise is turned up so high. By the look on this balloon girl’s face, she no longer has much taste for the effort.
I hope she was well paid.
I hope your image of New York City has been nudged just a little by Deborah Julian’s street photography. The city of eight million sometimes seems like it would take that many images to get the complete picture.
What image, seen here or anywhere else, do you think best represents New York City?
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