Fifth Avenue is an addiction. Once you get the drift of it, feel the energy of it, it makes you want to go back again and again, because it’s where life seems to be. How do you become courageous enough, and take the picture out of it, and learn how to confront the oncoming flow of people and insert yourself into it? Joel Meyerowitz.
I was showing a class the BBC4 documentary Genius of Photography. In one episode, Joel Meyerowitz is shooting on the street in mid-town Manhattan. He is darting around with his Leica, photographing pedestrians from only a few feet away. This is a particular kind of street photography that he specialised in, a sport somewhere between boxing and big-game hunting.
By coincidence, I was in mid-town Manhattan only a fortnight later (it’s ten thousand miles from where I live) and thought of that scene shot on Fifth Avenue. I’m way too much of a coward to point a camera in people’s faces but I struck on a technique to get around it: I just held the camera discretely at waist level and pointed it in the direction of passers-by. You miss as many as you get and shoot for averages rather than for the masterpiece, but with a digital camera you can just edit them later.
It’s disconcerting not being able to aim through a viewfinder, but it’s also liberating. Chance throws you a lot of surprises you can later claim were intentional.