Everybody Street (2013) - full transcript

EVERYBODY STREET, directed by Cheryl Dunn, illuminates the lives and work of New York's iconic street photographers - including Bruce Davidson, Mary Ellen Mark, Elliott Erwitt, Ricky Powell and Jamel Shabazz - and the incomparable city that has inspired them for decades. Shot by renowned photographer Cheryl Dunn on both black and white 16mm film and color HD, the documentary pays tribute to the spirit of street photography through a cinematic exploration of New York City, and captures the visceral rush, singular perseverance and at times immediate danger customary to these artists.

I wonder why that is.

The paper boy
don't come no more.

Why do

some photographers
go to the street,

and other photographers
go to a studio?

Some people want to
pretend it's a movie,

and other photographers walk
into the world and they say,

show me.

Those select few, through time,
who are willing to go out

into chaos with some
high hopes of interacting

with a moment where life will
become clarified for them.

They can welcome
ambiguity and surreal

aspects of this kind of chaos.

Even though it's chaos,
they will

have a moment of clarification.

I was an art director

and Robert Frank
shot this job for me,

and it was so interesting,
I had never seen

a real photographer before.

He just was so physical
and he moved so agilely,

and he was balletic,
and and he kind of whispered to the girls

as he was photographing them.

And I left that
shoot two hours later

and I went out on the street
and suddenly everything

on the street was alive to me.

Someone waiting for a taxi,
two people hugging goodbye,

and I started saying,
click, click, click, in my mind.

And by the time I got back to my office
I knew I had to leave.

I walked into my office,
art director

said, how did the shoot go?

And I said, it was great,
I'm quitting.

And he said, why what
are you going to do?

I said, I want to
be a photographer.

And I remember he asked me
the crucial question, he said,

do you have a camera?

I said, no I don't have a camera.

He said, how are you
going to make pictures

if you don't have a camera?

And he opened his drawer,
and he handed me his camera, Pentax,

and he said, here, use this
until you get a camera.

So that for me was the beginning.

I wandered the streets not
knowing what I was shooting.

I just knew I had to be
out there watching life

because I was interested in
the way people did things.

It seemed to me that's
what you photographed,

the instantaneous gesture
when somebody

made some kind of a motion,
or did something physical.

I think that part of
what you love when you're

a street photographer is
this kind of sensibility that

develops where you think you
understand something about, not

only the person
you're photographing,

or the group you're

but the culture at large.

Responding to things,
and at the same time

you're learning what
they mean to you.

What does a gesture signify?

What does a certain kind of
person make you feel like?

You learn to deepen your
way of reading these signs.

It's the joy of the exchange.

Only I can identify
with them in this way.

So it's a way of learning to read

your culture, which is, I think,
a great fascination

for photographers.

I carry my camera
with me, at least one

camera with me, at all times.

You really never know when
something's going to happen.

It's like a Samurai.

But, you don't have time
to think, you just react.

I was born and raised
in Belgrade, Serbia.

It was amazing, you know,
because we grew

up in a perfectly safe society.

Then all of a sudden,
it just became terrible.

All of a sudden we had
war going on all around,

people were coming back from
the front lines half insane,

a lot of weapons,
crime was on the rise.

I think I started to take pictures

of in the midst of the insanity,
of the chaos and sanctions.

Basically I tried to
preserve my sanity, you know,

because when you're
behind the camera

you're not a participant,
you're just an observer.

In 2003 I started shooting these
junkies and gangsters

in Bushwick, Bed-stuy.

What can they do to me?

They can kill me, so what?


I remember a couple of times I was

in with some scary situations,
and my hands would shake

when I would change the roll.

My hands were shaking, literally.

But then when I would
start shooting, no,

still, like a wolf,
they can't sense any fear.

And you can't fake that.

It's like, OK, she's sitting
on a toilet, shooting up,

and I'm standing on a bathtub
taking pictures, and I'm fine.

It's like, cold, no feeling.

For me it's becoming
what you're shooting.

We have to get into their heads.

My accent, I think, helps.

You know I don't sound
like anyone they hate,

and then in a way we develop
some kind of relationship.

Of course I was offered
crack many times,

one guy was like, hey man,
hey you want some crack?

Hey man, no, I have an
addictive personality,

I don't want to do it.

But crack is not addictive.

I'm like, come on man,
shut up, look at you.

He's like, yeah,
you're right man.

Gang kids, they asked,
hey Boogie,

would you like to take some
pictures of us with guns?

And I just couldn't
believe it was happening.

I'm like, yeah.

And then we are in the
hallway of the projects,

loading guns, bang, bang.

And it wasn't just about
taking pictures at that point,

it was just about being there.

You know this thing, like,
there are lines

that shouldn't be crossed.

What are those lines?

The deeper you go, the
better pictures you'll take.

And it becomes like,
the most important thing in your life.

And it can ultimately
fuck you up, this trail.

I thought I would continue
the project in some way,

but it was just so depressing.

I would go there and I
couldn't recover for a week.

This chapter was closed,
it was over.

After the book was done
I gave it to some people over there.

They loved it.

I think they feel like they're
leaving something behind.

Same thing with photographers,

you feel better knowing that,
I don't know,

in many years you
won't to be around,

but your book will
still be in some bookstore.

And someone will look at it.

And you feel like
you become immortal.

People with cameras,

who want to photograph New York,
and do it kind of a justice

have a problem.

Here is a city where
everything happens almost,

it seems, at once.

Noise, movement, combustions,
energy, dissonance, danger.

New York photographers have
to take all those matters

into account to do
some kind of record that encompasses

a human setting,
and a cluster of variables

that defy imagination.

So it was no wonder that
a number of photographers

grew up taking advantage of this,

what I call, volatile proximity
of citizens to each other.

It seems one will never catch up
if one does this in New York.

And that's what
advances the motivations

of everyone who tries it.

When I first
moved to New York,

which was in 1975, I got a job
with the New York Post,

and of course we
were shooting film.

And I had two cameras,
and both cameras were loaded,

so I often had a lot
of film left over.

It just became my habit,
at the end of the day,

to cruise through alphabet city
on my way back to the post.

The Lower East Side
at the time was

a complete, like,
bombed out, war-zone.

Vast empty areas and vacant lots.

What I learned
when I was studying anthropology

was definitely the point of view I had
when I was taking

pictures in New York,
which is sort

of an ethnographic
point of view,

as opposed to trying
to be an artist.

I'm not trying to do
a kind of investigative reporting

where I'm showing
the evils of landlords, for example.

I'm more about public space,
and how people are using the space,

and how people are surviving,
and how they're

using the raw materials that
become available when all

these buildings are torn down
to maybe build a little go-cart,

or build a little clubhouse.

And that was the sort of
thing I was looking for.

Anything this ephemeral is like,
wonderful subject

matter for a still photograph.

You know it's not going
to be around for long,

and in just less than a second
you can take a picture

and preserve it.

One of the kids that
had been flying pigeons

showed me his little
book of drawings,

and that's how I got into graffiti.

There were a handful of people
taking pictures of graffiti.

And if we hadn't been,
well then, a lot of it

would have been lost.

It looks as if
every car was covered

with this beautiful graffiti,
but in fact

you could and stand for five hours
and never even get one.

It was not easy to catch those trains.

I mean I would wake up before dawn,
in the winter when it was

cold, and go up to the Bronx
and stand in a vacant lot for hours

just waiting for the
train to come by,

and sometimes nothing
would come by,

and I used to get calls,
Yo Martha,

we did a piece on the whatever.

On the six line,

bright colors, last lot
talking about,

Vice Boys, you know the crew.

For me,
it was always

a matter of getting
the right background

with the right train.

I don't want to see
10 pictures of trains

with the same background.

So if you look at subway art,

you won't see the same background,
because once I got a really

nice piece with a really nice background

I would go find another background,

stand in another vacant lot.

Bottom line is, you've captured
something that actually might

be of interest in the future.

And it's not until things are gone
that you realize that you

miss taking a picture of them.

Hi guys.

How you doing?


Hard-ons aren't they?

Bunch of hard-ons.

If you are a photographer

or you are videotaping
you have the right

to do so within a reasonable distance
of the police.

If the police ask
you to move back,

move back as little as possible.

You're interested
in photography?

I need to.

Well you know
I have an exhibition

of photographs on now.

Really, where is it?

Madison Avenue
between 65th and 66th.

Madison, 65th and 66th.

The show is called street cops.

It's from a book I
did that came out

in '81, nice precinct in Midtown South,
30 years ago

when there were real cops.

I have never seen a
book about good cops.

I have seen books about
the bums, the crooks, the creeps.

I've always seen all
the bad behavior.

I have never seen a book
about a good cop,

and certainly not photographs,
and certainly not

showing what is the job.

Simply, what does it mean to
be a cop in New York City?

Well in the beginning
I would do a couple double tours,

go on a four to 12,
do that or maybe I'd

go a little into midnight,
and still

manage to miss the one time
they had a delivery of a baby.

Fell into the woman's pantyhose,

that's why I had to be
in the first car,

if I got there a second later,
I didn't get the shot.

When I was doing the job
everybody didn't have a camera

and I worked on being invisible.

Although when I
first started,

they got some bad guy,
some malefactor,

and they were cuffing him
and putting him in a car,

and he said, get that
fucking bitch and a camera

away from me.

I thought, that's the
least of your problems, pal.

If they don't do the crime,
don't get your picture,

you know?

And shut the
fuck up furthermore.

Yeah they were afraid of me,
I'm a tough mother.

Fuckin' A they were afraid of me.

Those are the perpetrators
who were cuffed,

and there's blood on the floor,
a pack of Pall-Malls,

in the blood, and the
I suppose,

is supposed to be,
leaned over, came over

to the table, you know,
because he wanted to get in the picture.

And I was scared most of time,
you know, well, violence.

I want you to-- boom!

That's it, you're gone.

We ran to a thing,
the kid was shot

in the stomach with a shotgun.

The true color of violence,
not red like ketchup,

gray like dead.

And the book was
about that, this is

not a movie this is not the TV.

It's an honor to be able to make
a good photograph of anyone,

and it's a great privilege.

It's the only tool that
will stop time itself.

I majored in sociology
and cultural anthropology,

and I thought all I wanted to do
was get out into the world.

And I only realised
that that's what

I was doing with the camera.

So by the firemen again,
it was no question

that I'm going to run in like,
and do a journalism thing.

I wrote in the book,
they're like soldiers

and they will die
for someone else

or someone else's property.

They're not like soldiers,
they do not kill.

They bring life, not death.

And this is how I proceeded.

What I saw was men that
really love each other.

And usually it's a
pity that that only

happens in the front lines
and in combat.

And I got to see
the genuine affection and the love

and the working together
and the lack of the stupid crap.

Gentleness, the gentle giant
kind of thing, with the hand

on the head, how tender.

It is firstly a big
man being gentle,

oh, it just always gets me.

They saved this whole family,
that they thought the building

have been emptied,
and one of my guys

heard the grandmother
crying above the fire floor,

so I had to walk away on that one.

I was being touched all the time,

but I knew I'd die
before anyone saw me cry.

That's how many we lost — 343.

Oh, wow, wow, oh wow.

So I moved to New York in 1978,

and I guess I brought with me
a naivete, an unknowingness,

a freshness, of having grown up
on a typical suburban block.

So I bring with me
a different kind of a sponge.

I immediately fell in love
with the energy and all

that it's made up of.

The density of the people,
and who they are,

and what they're doing.

I like busy streets.

I like empty streets.

Sometimes I'll see
something on the ground

and it has no people in it.

I'm always looking
in storefronts

and bank windows and cafes,
and I

like going into the whirlwind.

I like it all.

I really like it all.

One of the most exciting things
in this kind of photography

is the ingredient of surprise,
not only

surprise at what your encounter
might be in the real world,

but what you get back on the film.

That's part of the reason why
we're excited to get our film.

I don't care how many rolls
I take of something.

To me that doesn't
matter at all.

It's not like a contest.

Sometimes a picture
will happen single,

but often it will
not happen that way.

And clearly I have
a memory of the burning shoe.

When I saw a burning shoe
I couldn't-- I mean,

I couldn't believe it.

I couldn't have
thought about it,

I couldn't have thought
of it happening.

And I was like, how
much film do I have?

So I had like
three rolls that day,

and I have at least maybe,
I don't know, seven frames.

You know they're going to vary,
this has

a particular pedestrian,
a particular amount of smoke,

and distance.

I really worked the shoe.

Some people think my
pictures are funny.

I didn't realize that.

And it makes me excited.

It's hard to be funny.

I do whatever I can
to help me take my next picture.

I just sniff something that way,
I'll go that way.

And it's totally instinctual,
and so like when I'm out there

I could just do whatever.

It's not really a
casual thing,

it's pushing my intuition
in such a way that might

relate to a jazz musician.

And I'm not musical at all,
but it must relate somehow

to that process of creativity.

I know how much film or
time it takes to make

a an interesting photograph.

There is a luck, but I believe
it was Helen Levitt that said

that you create your luck,
and there's a lot of work

involved in creating luck.

Helen Levitt was
a diminutive woman walking

with a small miniature camera,
able to conceal

her activities because
of her modest presence,

and agile movement.

The work she produced
is figurative

in our imaginative
memories of New York

because of both the warmth
and the pathos of the sightings

she made of children,
and immigrants, and poor people,

and communities,
all hugger-mugger together

in a kind of exquisite concord.

Lisette Model,
she had a Rolleiflex

where she'd have to
look down into the viewfinder.

The result was, many of her figures
seem to loom enormously

and prodigiously on the horizon,
above which,

there loomed these
enormous skyscrapers.

She made these figures incredibly

monumental, impending,
sinister sometimes,

morbid, and unforgettable.

The phenomenon of Diane Arbus,
so memorable

in her understanding of
photographic past in New York.

Very unique, unrepeatable,
idiosyncratic in the extreme

in her idea that the banality of
everyday existence was in fact

a possible source of
horror and perversion.

Arbus upturned,
pulled a rug from,

our notions that
everything was getting

going along as it should.

There was a kind of
subliminal freakishness

in many of the characters
she photographed.

After Arbus,
New York photography

would never remain the same.

Nobody really thought
about style in photography

for much of the 19th century,
and it's not

until the late 1880s really,
you get to Stieglitz and Emerson,

and various other
people in Britain

as well as United States.

And this trickles down to art photography,
all the magazines,

and soon you have dentists in

taking pictures of trees at sunset
that look Japanese.

And then meanwhile
all along there's

been this great
documentary photography that

passed unnoticed it the time.

And there were a lot of these,
sort of, citizen photographers.

Also I think of the photo league,
that great institution,

some of whom made interesting
pictures by accident,

and some of whom were,
like, real artists.

I saw an article in,
I think it was PM,

about the Photo League
and their workshop,

and there was a
little photo on there.

And I said, the philosophy they have,
this is what I'm doing

by myself, you know,
photographing the way

people lived, where they lived,
how they lived,

what they were doing,
how you see the way they lived.

It was having to
do with humanity.

I went to visit them
I ended up signing up

for one of these dance classes.

Dance must have help me,
we used to study choreography.

Space had a lot to do with dance.

The space you're making
and the space where

you're standing on the stage.

She just moved the space of the stage
onto the street.

The camera is supposed to make
a document of how things are,

how people looked maybe in 1950
with their Stetson hats,

kerchiefs, or how
their dresses looked,

or how the tenements looked.

I just kept, for years,
taking photographs

of the Lower East Side.

During the glory
of the Photo League

there's so many of the
famous photographers

used to come down and spend time
talking and meeting people.

I wonder if the Photo
League didn't get

busted out, how they would be.

It was labeled un-American,
and if the FBI was around

and they got a list, they
could really grab you.

People really stopped coming
because they were fearful.

It's just folded up.

You never talked about
communism or anything,

but they were always
kept an eye on us

because they felt we were
close to the philosophy

of the working people,
of the poor people.

Love it or leave it,
you fucking

communist piece of shit!


What's that telling them?

They're saying that we're garbage and thats--
we are citizens of the United States.

What are you going to do with
these films that you're making?

Oh I don't know.

Hopefully they'll be
important some day, right?

Yeah you never know, you know?

Hopefully you'll
be important someday, right?

It seemed like one

of the only places where I could fit in
was New York.

And I'm from
Western Canada,

which is very provincial,
very conservative, very sort of like,

backward in its own way.

I don't know whether
you want to call it ego, or ambition,

or whatever, but yeah,
I thought that this

was-- I wanted to swim
in the biggest pool,

you know what I'm saying?

So I wanted to jump
into the deep end,

so I ended up coming over here
to the Lower East Side,

and Lower East Side was
sort of like perfect.

I mean at that time it was like,
dangerous and drugs,

but it had a class of people
who I could easily identify with.

And so that made it really, sort of,
comfortable to be around,

and also there was this whole
kind of energy over here that

was really sort of wild and free
and outlaw-ish and all of that.

And I found that to
be very comfortable.

The one thing I did consistently
in all the time,

in terms of the street,
was photographing

people in front of my door.

By photographing
in front of my door

and then putting the
pictures in the window,

and making these people famous,
I eventually

photographed the whole neighborhood,
from 14th Street

to the Brooklyn Bridge, which is huge.

A lot of the people
that are in the pictures

are the people that
were on the streets,

a lot of the drug sellers, the gangs,

the bad guys, the good guys.

So a lot of times
I would just do

little tricks like, instead of saying,
cheese, I would say, pussy.

And of course most guys
will smile or laugh

when you say that,
and then so you've

sort of captured them smiling.

And when you see
them they just look

like good normal
kids or people, they

just look like regular people.

It's not about you
as an individual,

it's about you as a community.

So I think of my photography
in multiple ways.

I think of it as keeping things
for the future, and sort of

preserving this
moment now for them,

I think of it as
an activist tool,

I think of it as
something that can

give you access to places where
you could never be before.

The Tompkins Square Park
police ride,

that was August 6th or 7th, 1988,
where a number of people

were there and had
videos and photographs,

but they was sparse and few.

Whereas I ended up with a
three hour and 33 minute tape, which,

kind of, laid out the whole night.

It really created a major amount
of press and noise,

so pretty soon I was
on every TV station,

including Oprah, and CNN,
and New York Times, all of them.

Meet a man
who went to jail,

rather than give police
the videotape he made

of a demonstration turned riot.

It was a police riot.

That was the
first time that the

handheld video camera
like that

had ever been used as a protest tool,
and as an activist tool,

against government wrongdoing.

It was that
egalitarian factor that you

didn't have to, you know,
have gone to Harvard,

and learned art history,
it wasn't really like that.

And I think at a
certain level, too,

I think because of what
I've photographed,

a lot of what I've done,
some of it

appears to be anti-social
because it was like,

conflicts with the police,
stuff like that,

and I got cops in trouble
for doing it,

but in reality it's not
that it's anti-social,

it's interested
in a social factor

that most people
try to overlook.

I think if one is going to
spend their time doing something,

you ought to try to
make it to be important,

you ought to
make it significant.

And that's part of the
reason of coming to New York.

Why did I come to New York?

Because I wanted to have
what I did to become

relevant and significant.

I get the feeling that
there are too

many bad pictures in the world.

But there's always
room for a good ones,

because good ones illuminate,
entertain, amuse, make people

feel, instruct,
do all good things,

and give you some kind of an emotion,
positive or negative,

or something.

It just can't lie flat,
it has to speak to you in some way.

It has to make you laugh, or cry,
or something in between.

And if it doesn't do that,
then it's not very interesting.

A picture has to communicate,
otherwise there's no point.

I've taken quite a
few pictures already,

so sometimes you see the same thing
that you've seen before,

and then you just don't do it.

And as I shoot film
and not digital,

taking pictures is a process.

I mean, you take the picture,
you gotta develop it,

you gotta make a contact,
you gotta make prints, and so forth.

I do everything in house.

My darkroom is downstairs.

I've always had a darkroom
since I was 15 years old.

It's not like,
with a digital camera where

you have an instant result.
Digital manipulation

kills photography.

I think that's the
unfortunate thing about digital.

It's made it too easy,
and everybody can get an image,

it's just that not everybody
can get a good one.

There's not much optimism
with my colleagues.

Things are tough.

Film certainly will become obsolete,
the question is, when?

The internet has not helped.

People want to use
stuff for nothing.

Requirements are
really quite base.

You don't really need
photographers anymore,

for so many things
you can just get stock

and make your own picture.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that,
and you get a picture.

is a democratic medium,

anybody can use it.

But digital photography
and the web

have made it truly the democratic,

worldwide, universal medium.

Everybody's a photographer now.

And we are going to find geniuses.

Geniuses are going to be
awakened by this opportunity

to make pictures with
their cell phone,

or their camera, because they're
going to see the results of it

right away, and they're going to say,
this fascinates me,

I can say something.

But the work they
make is going to look

very much like what the digital world is,
where we are today.

It's going to be
very contemporary.

I mean sure, there's a lot
of crap everywhere, we know that,

but I think there's also genius
waiting to be discovered.

I used to
think every time I pressed

the shutter it was $0.50.

And that click, click, click,

that could add up really quickly with
the film and the developing.

But now it doesn't add up,
click, click,

click, so there's no reason
not to just shoot everything.

No, I don't own digital camera.

I shoot film only.

With film you keep
pushing yourself,

and I think the result,
because you don't know what you have,

you might get something better.

You might have some
better results.

I don't have Photoshop
and I don't really like computers.

I like email, I like Google, that's about it.

It's too precise.

I get very, very, very scared,
so scared.

I could never buy enough
external hard drives to back me up,

you see how I am.

I mean my whole house would
have to be an external.

And then I'd have to get another house
to back up the house.

It would never end.

I'm just crazy
about my work, you

know you couldn't back it up.

I'm sure you could,
but it's very hard for me.

A picture's a picture.

What does it matter
what tool you use?

I think it's a
ludicrous and ridiculous

people carrying on about that.

It doesn't matter how you get the picture,
it's the picture.

Change is so inevitable.

What all these cameras
out there photographing?

What don't they take?

Will there be
anybody who's going

to be using the old photography
the way it used to be,

as time goes on?

I just think about that.

I was 10 years old,
and a friend of mine

came by, Sammy, Sammy Nichols.

And he said you want to see
developing in my basement?

And I said, what's that?
He said, come along.

So I went with Sammy
in this dark, dank, basement

with a ruby light,
and he exposed something,

and an image appeared.

And that really affected me.

I ran home to my mother and said,
can I have a darkroom?

I lived like a monk.

I had a mattress on the floor,
a dying chiflera plant,

a darkroom-kitchen combination

I could eat frozen Hershey bars and chicken
while I printed.

All I wanted to do
was take pictures.

I didn't care about
anything else.

It's easy to penetrate someone's privacy.

And it's about privacy.

And I've tried in my work to make

contact, to offer pictures.

And even in a Brooklyn gang,
I would give them pictures.

And it was a way of seeing them
and a way of them seeing me.

And so I was able to
be invisible, almost,

to them, because they
were secure with me

being around with my camera.

But I would hand them a picture,
not only picture of themselves,

but a picture of something else
that I did, to let them

see there's an outside world.

And it was part of the bonding
because they

were very depressed,
and they were very angry.

They were very poor.

And there was nothing for them
in that community.

I was angry too.

I had a possibility,
I had a job, I had a life.

They didn't.

100th Street was considered
the worst block in the city.

I'd worked on 100th Street
in a large format 4x5 Linhof camera.

It was classic.

I was a real photographer
because I

went under a black cloth,
I fumbled around,

the pose is beautiful.

Dignity, it would bring a dignity

to the act of photography.

If I walked around in
there with my little

Nikon or Canon, or whatever,
boom, boom, boom, boom,

it's too thin.

It's too thin,
because with 4x5,

you have to know what the picture is,

so that you become
kind of collaborative

with your subject.

Time was suspended.

It wasn't a decisive moment,
it wasn't a moment intention,

fluid, like the gang pictures.

It was different for me.

It was a different experience.

The subway in the late 70s, early 80s,
was deplorable.

Everybody hated riding the subway,
it's unsafe,

it never ran right, it's full of graffiti,
all kinds of things,


I read a lot of young boys' books
on tiger hunts,

and I schedule the way I would
be in a subway the same way

a tiger hunter would
walk across a field.

It's always, attack from the rear.

So I was always aware that I might

be attacked from the rear on the subway,
and actually I was.

I became addicted to the subway.

When I heard the rumble of the train
below our bedroom window,

I jumped up like a werewolf.

Sometimes I'd go on the subway
at one or two in the morning,

and stay until dawn.

I was starting to get
a little crazy with it, you know?

Normally I had the camera out,
because you can't approach

people and say,
I'd like to take your picture,

and reach into your back pocket.

And if someone hesitated,
I had an album

with me, a 5x7,
a wedding album, gold trim,

with samples of my work in it.

It's a wedding between
me and my subject.

Also the subway was sexy.

I had little love affairs for 10 seconds

with women on the train,
and never see them again.

And it was Beauty and the Beast,
but sometimes the beast

was beautiful.

That happens a lot with
various bodies of work of mine,

where people are glad
you're there to see them,

because no one's
paying attention.

I don't expect everyone
to be like me, thank God.

If you have 42 Bruce Gildens
running around,

Jesus Christ, there'd probably be
a ban against photography.

No one would be allowed
to take street pictures

on the streets of New York.

I'm basically what's known as
a street photographer.

And when I was
growing up in Brooklyn,

in Williamsburg, I used to
look out my second story

window at the
vigorous street life down below,

and I was hooked.

And also television had a lot to do,
because I like film noir

and I like shadows.

At times someone will go out with me, you know,
like I'm just with somebody, and they'll say,

hey there's a person for you, and I'll say, no,
they're too-- I won't use the word "stylish",

but they're dressed
too neatly.

They look like they are a character
and they're not.

The hat is too neat,
everything is too much

like they're programmed.


It's not like they
are a character.

Just something catches me,
there's something striking in them,

and I don't mean
a vulgarity type of striking,

I mean just as a detail.

It's something that just works.

They're a little bit more extreme
or some of these people

I've made more extreme.

You know they're
just average people,

but there's something
I see in them

that attracts me, that makes
me want to photograph them.

I realized I had to really
jump in people's faces

to isolate them, to separate the
foreground from the background.

Flash helps me visualize
my feelings of the city

because it shows the stress,
the energy, the speed,

and the anxiety of the people.

You can't photograph everybody,
you can't photograph

every situation,
because otherwise I wouldn't

be sitting here talking to you.

I feel almost like I'm
a director out there.

I am the director,
and sometimes if I

see something and the person
turns the other way,

I say to myself, shit,
he doesn't take direction well.

You know this thing
about invisibility,

I mean, I think people overdo it.

When you have a little camera,
you become a sneak.

So it becomes a different--
the rules change, of the game.


You can be invisible and be very close,
because sometimes I

work so close that
people don't realize

I'm taking their picture.

They look behind them to see like,

who'd they take a picture of?

What happened with
this picture was,

I was taking the picture because I like--
she's wearing a bra and panties on the beach.

And then someone came over and said
what is he taking a picture of?

And she went, over there.

Here, this is quite interesting for me
because I saw that

and I wanted to take
a picture of his face,

because part of his jaw is,
like, missing.


So I went over and had
a conversation with him,

and I asked him, I said,
can I take a picture

up close of your face?

He said, yeah sure.

With his beautiful flowing hair,

I wish I had his hair,
not his chin,

but the thing is, with his hair,
I mean he's

like a beautiful bird for me.

So I don't-- people in my pictures
aren't these people.

People in my pictures are
symbols for what I see.

And it's how I express
what the world is.

I don't think the world
is an excellent place.

I'm comfortable doing what I do, because
I don't think I'm doing anything wrong.

You know I don't let people
bully me or intimidate me, OK?

So I'm not some
pushover out there.

And if you look in my eyes,
you'll see that I'm

not a normal guy sometimes.

I've done some pretty
wild things out there.

When you
speak of William Klein,

you speak of a bad boy,
a kind of renegade

in the history of
photographic practices.

When he came to New
York in the 1950s

it was as if he had
a score to settle.

So that there's a
strange dissonant mixture

of familiarity and distancing that

goes on in William Klein's view
of New York that epitomized

both the bitterness of his
recognitions in the city,

and at the same time
his affection for them.

Robert Frank produced
for us an album

of the city, the exact opposite
of the cheerful, gregarious multitudes,

for which the
city has been celebrated

in many other photo campaigns.

His New York, on the contrary,

was a patchwork of sub-cultures
and wary glances.

All of this comes
through works of great power

that add to the mythos of the city

as a place you have
to watch your step in.

People see me
aiming at a certain direction,

they might think I'm
taking their picture,

and if they're not liking that,
they're not going to like that.

And it can, and has been,
a problem more than once.

Certain range finders

are magnificent weapons.

There's no mirror to
get bounced around,

and if you wrap the strap tightly
and go like that,

sideways, they don't
mess with you too much.

I have to start exercising,
because I, I don't know,

I want to feel able
to defend myself.

I don't go out
with a lot of equipment,

but I don't hide the
equipment, either.

I go out with a
worn old camera bag,

and I just try to be
street savvy, that's all.

I got locked in the train once
with some graffiti kids.

There are very special keys,
and they locked me in,

so nobody could get at us,
and then they

scribbled all over the place.

So they were little kids
from Yonkers, white kids.

They kept on trying to
push me off the block

and I don't want
to hear about it,

so eventually it got
into a confrontation,

and then I got beaten
up by the cops.

And I was covered in blood,
my shirt was ripped,

I got a couple of
teeth knocked out.

There was a guy that's--
you know, I don't know, I was--

so this was 10 years ago--
and a tough guy,

you know shaved head,
deep scars in his head,

you know, a toughie.

So I said, oh fuck it, I'll take his
picture anyway. So I took his picture.

And he came over to me
and he said,

you do that again,
he said, I'll fucking--

And I didn't say a word
because he could have fucking taken me

and threw me through the window.

But this all seems quaint and archaic now,

because our definitions
of the public

and the private sphere
have been entirely

altered by new technologies
and new social attitudes.

We're all exhibitionists,
or people

who would like to
be noticed, however

briefly, by electronic means.

So the idea of someone objecting
to having a camera poked

in their face is obsolete.

Let me introduce myself,
my name is Ricky Powell.

Oh shit, well thank you man,
that's very nice of you,

because I'm usually
used to getting dissed,

like I'm the bike messenger
at home,

oh, who the fuck is this guy?

Ah, I listen to the blues hour
on Jazz 88 every day,

3 o'clock.

I gotta have soundtrack as
I walk through the streets.

My neighborhood has been
infested by new Jack Cornballs,

so this helps me freeze them out.

Yeah, well I've been living here
20 years on Charles street,

but I grew up in the village.

I met this weird, fucking weird,
arty, crazy, crazy dressed girl

at Danceteria, we hit it off.

So we go to like Roxy's, and Danceteria,
and all the clubs,

and she'd bring her little sure shot,
a Minolta auto-focus,


I took to it like,
easy, actually, nat,

but I never took it seriously,
it was

just something I did with her.

Spring of '85 she ditched me
for some fucking scrub

who wore tie-dye yoga pants.

I was fucking-- I'm going
to make this bitch sorry she

played me like a soggy cannoli.

I'm going to take this camera,
and I'm

gonna fucking become
something where

she fucking is gonna be
mad sorry she dissed me like this.

Spring of '85,
early like March,

I declared I'm going
to take pictures,

I'm going to take pictures.

Yeah I've been a messenger,
substitute schoolteacher,

frozen lemonade vendor,
tour photographer.

I had my share of bullshit jobs,
you know,

but I always bring a camera with me

to battle the
mundaneness of the job.

This I took in the summer of '86
from my frozen lemonade stand,

and I like this shot
because the dog

is running shit.

And I got a famous shot of Cindy Crawford
I took at the club MK.

I was a busboy, I went into the
woman's bathroom to clean up.

I turn around and I seen this chick,
I'm like, oh shit,

yo, you mind if I get a flat?

I guess my magnetism overtook her.

That's in the toilet stall
right there.

Debbie Nassar, loved her, man.

Laurence Fishburne,
love Laurence,

I don't know how I used to
end up hanging out with him, man.

I got some good shots,
he liked me.

Oh yeah, oh, oh yeah.

Oh snap.

Run from Run-DMC would

come pick me up in his car
and we'd drive around.

I'm just doing a photo shoot
with Run-DMC.

Come over here man,
I want to get the nice sundown.

It's nice, it's aesthetic.

Dondi White, the graffiti legend.

I don't know how I used to
hang out with these dudes,

except they knew I was down.

We're in the palace of the rap

svengali Mr. Russell Simmons.


How are you bud?

Cold, Ricky.

I love the way you've, you know,

dressed for today's interview.

My most well known photo,
probably Warhol-Basquiat.

Went to Shafrazi to see the
Warhol-Basquiat opening.

I meet up with
Zephyr and Revolt,

they were like a
dynamic duo of graffiti.

And I used to just be, like,
on their jock.

And then we noticed Warhol and Basquiat
coming from Houston street,

and I was just like,
hey, you

mind if I get a quick flick?
Or some shit, I don't know.

And they looked at me.

Basquiat had seen me around,
he was always nice to me.

They stopped for me, posed,
I took the shot,

I said, thanks man.

So I had just shot two great
dynamic duos in the same minute

at the onset in my career so-- career.

And hustling is like,
actually my main occupation.


That's what it is man,
waking up, making sure you wake up

in the daytime, putting your pants on,
making the calls,

getting out of the house, maneuvering,

you know I don't take
those for granted.

I have to be prepared,
because even dope shot might arise,

even when I just go to the deli,
and it happens.

You know street photography to me
is like my transistor radio,

the playlist is infinite.

There was no reason I shouldn't
have a camera because all I had

to do is uh-- and if you can't do this,
if this is too much,

then, you know, I was
in the wrong business.

I find it very difficult
to take a photograph

without a person knowing.

Occasionally I will,
but there's still

something magical about being
able to approach a stranger

and convince them
that you are sincere.

In 1977 I joined the military.

I said to myself,
when I return back to the states,

I will never be without images.

I returned during the summer of 1980,
and I came on a mission

to just shoot and recapture
different stages of my life,

so I was with a camera
every single day,

from that point
to this very day.

You know, when I was
downtown in Brooklyn photographing

the posses, the crews,
I realized the psychology

of photography for me.

You see the alpha and I would
study my subjects first,

because being a military man,
we learned

the science of recognizance,
and recognizing leadership.

So I would see that alpha
male or female I was studying

for a few, and I knew
that I had to approach

him first in order
to get the permission

to shoot everybody else.

And alphas are normally the male
who has the jury on, you know,

he's distinguishable.

And I would compliment him,
because was

the psychology also,
to compliment my subjects and say,

you know what?

I'm looking at you,
and I recognize power and strength,

and I can tell that you
are a very powerful person.

He'd say,
you know what?

Yeah I am.

I would photograph him,
and go get it blown up,

and bring him back to him,
and he would show all his people

and say, yo look at this.

So then they would
all want photographs.

They gave me the name picture man,
and I was just there.

I left at the age of 17
to go into the military,

I came home at 20,
so a lot of things

I wasn't exposed to during my youth,
but when I returned,

I saw prostitution
and homelessness

for the first time.

And for whatever reason
I wanted to capture it.

So I would go out
and I would just, not only

take photographs,
but I was really curious on why

these women became homeless,
and try to get them off the street

at age 20 years old.

So in a sense I became
a street teacher,

and I had a reason
behind what I was doing.

And it was dangerous
in the beginning.

And I saw a prostitute
performing a sex act

on a religious figure,
and I shot it without asking,

and she started screaming,
and the customer

ran off without paying her.

So her screams summons
her security, her pimp.

And I had said to them,
with all due respect, before you

attack me, let me at least
explain what I did,

and why I did it.

And in my explanation,
the person he says, you know what?

I respect you.

And he says, from this point on,
you have my permission to come

out here any time
and shoot.

He says, the only thing you just
have to do in the future, is ask.

So what that did
for me at that time,

it taught me the
importance of asking.

And I was criticized
for that as time

would go on because people would
say that my work is too posed.

But what it was with me,
I would ask.

With all due respect,
my name is Jamel Shabazz,

may I take a photograph of you?

The smile is a reflection
of what I gave them.

So when I look at the smiles
that I see in my photographs,

I created an atmosphere
which made them feel good.

And that makes me feel good to
know that I was able to do that.

I was born in
the suburbs of Philadelphia,

I can remember when I was
eight years old walking

home from, like,
third grade and saying,

I got to get out of here.

And I stayed with that,
and I really always thought

about my freedom, and I always thought
about moving to New York,

even when I was a child.

When I first came
to New York, I would

go to the parks,
the Central Park,

and I would also, which I still do,
try and find out when there

were events, shoot around them,
not necessarily the parade


I still love the street
and I still go out on the street.

It's a challenge to
work on the street.

The hardest photography
you do is

street photography, actually,
because you have

to really think on your feet.

You go down the street
and you turn right,

and something amazing happens.

You don't make that turn,
you left and nothing happens.

You have to make a picture
in that very moment,

and I'm old school
in the sense-- well

I'm an analog photographer but,

I'm old school in the sense that
I don't believe in cropping,

that I believe you have to
make the picture in the camera.

It's harder to be
a woman than a man,

I'll definitely admit that.

The disadvantages came
more with business,

with people not maybe
wanting to assign you

as much in the beginning,
but also

the disadvantage of strength,
just physical strength.

But I think there's also an
advantage to being a female,

if you're a street photographer,
because I can walk down

the street and I can
and knock on a door,

and someone will let me in.

I'm less threatening than a man.

I think often your
subject matter

can show you what the picture is,
makes it for you.

So I'm not a strong believer
in heavy duty concepts

when I do portraits of people.

I sort of like it
to come from people.

I try and make iconic images.

They're hard to make,
but that's my goal, is to make images

that stand on their own.

Not to tell a particular story,
I think film tells a story.

Still pictures should be
single, very powerful, images.

I don't know whether my
pictures cause social change,

I think that maybe
they make people aware,

and I think it's important
for people to be aware.

I think today the fine art world,
at this moment,

does not really appreciate reality,
or documentary work.

And I think it's too bad,
because for me that's

the work I collect,
and that's the work I love,

and that was my
choice of a career.

I love photographs about
humans, or animals,

I love animals too, but,
you know, humans and animals.

The art world, they're always
thinking in terms of decoration

and those kind of strong images
aren't as decorative.

There are so many great
documentary photographers,

and we're not having the
opportunity to see their work.

And I think that's very sad,
because my favorite

and I think historically

the pictures that I love,
are the photographs

that are about reality.

Street photography

is really not what
people are talking about,

it's a little retro.

So to maintain that
enthusiasm is difficult.

There's less of us that will take

35 millimeter street photographs,
you know,

their whole life.

As I become older I feel more
in touch with the importance

of what I, and others like I,
am doing,

and that is, rendering
the human condition,

showing the world
and life as it is.

Us picture makers are
responsible for doing

that in an honest, and way that
is unique to our own selves,

to make a contribution.

I'm recording life now my way.

I think this might be
the first roll I ever shot, right here.

And indeed it is.

Indeed it is, 1966.

Right out into the street.

Well there's pictures is everywhere,
my God, if you're in the mood.

But, you know, it's like
if you're in a your bad mood,

everybody on the bus looks like
a maniac, or a terrible freak,

or a moron.

And when you're in a good mood,
and you can't help it,

you smile at someone--
surprise, they smile back.

Like, every picture has
to say, only in New York.

Sometimes I leave my house,
and by the time

I reach Manhattan I
would shoot three rolls,

because there's always--
stuff is always changing,

there's always something new,
life is different,

people are different.

I'm just trying to show things
as they are, without bullshit,

without judging people.

I am more and more
excited about what I do.

I shoot more and more,
because I think I have less time

left on this planet, I guess.

A street can be like a nerve ending.
It's not the street,

it's the life on the street,
or where the street takes you,

that's important.

It's out there,
you know, I'll go

on just trying to get it right,
still trying to get it right.

Photography is about description.

It just describes things.

That's all the camera does — you point, you press
the button, it describes what's in front of it.

Something happens,
some personal thing happens.

Even though it's a machine,
and even though it uses a fraction

of a second of time,
we learn, as human beings,

how to understand those
minute little exchanges.

And I'm much happier being
out on the street, mixing it up,

with the chance quality of things

potentially appearing
out of ordinary reality.

A slice of a moment.

A thousandth of a second
of recognition.

And if you can accept that,
then you can operate that way.

There are plenty of people who
don't have that kind of belief.

That the world's going to
present itself in that way,

and so they don't see it,
because they're not looking for it.