STREET LIFE

New York photographer JOHN BENTON-HARRIS lives in London, but

he can’t resist returning to his home city to watch the fascinating

street life. His words and pictures tell us why…

* As seen in - Amateur Photography, w e July 5th 1980 * 

For most people, even if they haven’t been within 3,000 miles of the place, New York is the epitome of the modern metropolis 20th Century achievement just as much as aeroplane or television. More then any other place New York represents CITY, man’s tremendous accomplishment, his ingenuity, his energy, his will to conquer nature. 

So not suprisingly, New York has always attracted those seeking to capture the pulse of modern life with another pre-eminent product of scientific age - the camera, that little black box that magically mirrors both the world and its user’s view of the world. Many of last century’s leading photographers have lived and worked in New York, and made their most famous images there. Talents like Alvin Langdon Coburn, Jacob Riss, Lewis Hine, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Weegee, Andre Kertesz, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and Dian Arbus - and as this sample selection shows, they were not all born and raised in the Big Apple. 

Many believe as I do, that New York is the centre of the photographic world, and is probably the world’s most photographed city. And most of those who photographed this city are drawn inevitably to its built fabric, a fabric that seems to overwhelm our understanding of this city. But others, the best of photographic humanists, have turned their eyes on the inhabitants of these glass, steel and Concrete Mountains, and the everyday human interactions that occur at the base of these man made canyons

So New York is the best place in the world for habitual people watchers, like myself. Certainly it all human life is there, it spills out, onto this city’s streets, in all its diversity, affording me the opportunity to sometimes catch, what I feel are revealing moments, from the on-going stories of many many lives. 

The considerable accomplishment of this undoubtedly great city has cost much. And that cost is sometimes clearly visible in the faces of its people. This is a city then that moulds its inhabitants, and it can be said that the Big Apple mould, like everything about this place, is larger than life- huge and impersonal, hard, and yet still invigorating. 

And the effect of being reared in this town lasts a lifetime. It’s truly is, as they say, “You can take a New Yorker out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of a New Yorker”. Even after all these years in isolation here. I am still irresistibly drawn back to my hometown, like a junky needs a fix. And I keep coming home for a fresh dose of optimism, professionalism, and all those other good-isms, that are associated with this city & culture. So I need to walk those crowed, pulsating streets, to record the faces of a people that reflect the modern circumstance and the human condition, as in no other place. For every street corner gathers its cast of players together for a marvellous and always surprising theatre of mankind, a tragi-comedy that is an endless fascination for the photographer who approaches it with respect and empathy, and not simply an air of voyeuristic frivolity. 

 

© John Benton-Harris 1980

 

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