New York City has its fair share of the wild, the wacky and the wickedly wonderful (see ‘Peacocks’). As a typically reserved Englishman, I am constantly surprised by the bizarre characters who prowl the streets here without fear of ridicule or confrontation. Manhattan glows like a neon magnet for the strange and the disconnected. I have always secretly admired the people who just go about their lives without a care for what others may think of them or their lifestyle choice. I guess there are not many of us who do not, at some point, harbor a desire to be free of the restraints of acceptability that a polite and narrow minded society imposes on us, but there is a glorious strength in being able to step away from the sepia of normality to dance in the light of a different sun. Obviously, there is a very narrow line between fearless self expression and marginal insanity, many spend their lives standing precariously along it. What makes this nonconformist approach so compelling? The complete lack of need to ‘fit in’ is alien to most of us, and let’s be honest, we all tend to fear what we don’t understand.
So here we are, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce the magnificent ‘Prince of Manhattan’ and his faithful and beautifully pedicured companion. Along with a few other edge dwellers who merit a mention.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office has announced that housing support payments to the New York City families left homeless by Superstorm Sandy are to be stopped. It seems compassion and decency has its limits within the halls of absolute power and these victims are a disposable commodity. Like most political cowards, city officials waited until the nation’s gaze has moved on to other things and then lash out from the shadows. Superstorm Sandy’s victims’ desperate situation will now miraculously disappear from the ‘things to do’ list at City Hall and will make Bloomberg’s record look a little neater when he is finally dragged from his office kicking, grimacing and posturing at the end of this year. The removal of financial aid for temporary accommodation will leave thousands of New Yorkers with nowhere to go, hundreds of families will be cast onto the streets and left to fend for themselves through no fault of their own. Disgraceful? Callous? Shameful? Yet another example of the rungs at the bottom of the ladder being sawn through? Yes, yes, yes and yes. But hey, on the brighter side, the NY job figures in the private sector have reached an all time high. Well done Mike!
With over 50.000 people already living in shelters or on the streets here you tend to think that there isn’t room for even more of the desolate and the broken. But this is New York, the greatest city in the world, there is always room, come on in, make yourselves at home and repeat after me: “can you spare any change?”
The New York Subway is one of the most extensive rapid transport system in the world. A vast network of well over 460 stations and 650 miles of passenger track that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A twisting, turning, underground maze of connectivity that also offers warmth and light and serves as refuge to thousands of New York’s homeless. I doubt there are many subway stations in Manhattan without a ‘permanent resident’. Some spend the whole of the winter in or around its tunnels and platforms. Below are just a few photographs taken on a single journey across Manhattan.
There is a stunning documentary called ‘Dark Days’ by Marc Singer, it is a real eye opener and not for the faint of heart. For those who have not seen it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2DFb7ifihg
The more I look at this photograph the more I see. The more I see the more disturbing I find it. I am so used to flitting around the streets of New York thinking I am invisible, sealed in a camera shaped bubble that disconnects me from what I see through it. Not so here. On the platform of the 6 train at 51st and Lexington I spotted this woman, unkempt and disheveled and importantly, from my point of view, she spotted me. Rarely does something like this phase me, but the look in her eyes, staring straight into the lens and bursting the comfort of my bubble made me freeze. There is so much behind those eyes. Eyes that I am guessing have seen things that would defeat most of us. An arrogant and indignant look carved out of circumstance and fed on continual despair. Needless to say, the train arrived and as I expected, she stayed on the platform. I journeyed on with the rest of New York going about their daily business. It was a haunting and humbling experience for me. I doubt that she will ever give my intrusion a second thought, but those eyes will stay with me for a long time.
While the eyes of America are diverted by the need for media flavored chewing gum, faux celebrity and egocentric politicians who dance and posture like drunken lemmings on the edge of a fiscal cliff, the lost and the broken take root on the sidewalks of New York like unwanted urban weeds that force themselves through the cracks in the concrete.
Tonight in New York City, more than 50,000 people will sleep on the streets or in emergency shelters. Below are five of them.
New York City has always been a place of contrast and struggle. The gap between the privileged rich and the dirt poor has never been wider. Emphasized this week by the rolling, opulent bandwagon that is NY Fashion Week. A heady, shimmering display of extravagance and indulgence. As a photographer at the event, I guess I am part of it. Helping to feed and perpetuate this glittering circus and earn a living along the way. All of the images below are mine but I think the last one puts the whole thing into perspective.
I promised myself that I would not bang any big drums here with this blog. I have broken it. My aim was to just post what I see, and let anyone who is interested enough to look at my images to understand what I am doing and make their own decisions as to what they get from them. To feel what I feel and to think what they may about the end product.
I got an email this morning from Mary Brosnahan, President and CEO at Coalition for the Homeless. Not that I am saying that I am that important that she should email me directly. I am on the list so it was sent to any interested people who sign up for it.
It shocked me deeply. 20,000 children are now homeless on the streets of New York. Staggering statistics. I can understand the people who are addicted to substance by choice and now lost to society and the ones who are there by consequence, even the angry and the stupid. but children? It defies belief in what is laughingly called the free world. The land of milk and honey? Only for some perhaps.
I would never, obviously, publish pictures of homeless children. There is only so much people can take. Here are some unfortunate people who have fallen below social consideration.
Vulgar of manner, overfed, Overdressed and underbred, Heartless, Godless, hell's delight, Rude by day and lewd by night; Bedwarfed the man, o'ergrown the brute, Ruled by boss and prostitute: Purple-robed and pauper-clad, Raving, rotting, money-mad; A squirming herd in Mammon's mesh, A wilderness of human flesh; Crazed by avarice, lust and rum, New York, thy name's "Delirium."
Byron Rufus Newton (1861-1938)