Wall Street

I've been wandering around Wall Street with my camera recently for a new commissioned project. I spent some time here last year, too, shooting for a neighborhood guide. Already the winding cobblestones, dark alleys, and busy plazas feel different to me. Instead of towering skyscrapers, slick suits and glossy buildings, this time I saw shadows, staid textures, pigeons splashing in grime, blurred silhouettes disappearing behind corners.

A familiar refrain among New York City photographers is how difficult it is to shoot street scenes here: the sights are all familiar; everything's already been done. But we often forget that our landscapes feel different as we change and revisit them. No matter how we much we know about a place, how many times we've wandered its avenues and alleys, we're never seeing that place truly objectively; it's just our impressions, our memories and feelings filling it all in; the place is a blank canvas painted from the information we've consumed, reflections we've had. It's the same with returning to old books, old movies—they are never as we remember them, they change with us.

The city can sometimes feel oppressive in its power and weight, amid all the well-established stories that make up its mythology. The trick is to remember that it is mostly drawn from ourselves, that we're in control of its meaning, too, through our imagination. There will always be new stories, big and small, to be found in even the most familiar of territories, so long as we look.

Brooklyn Bridge

Silhouette of pigeon and buildings

Dig Inn, Financial District

Businessmen on Wall Street

Wall Street

Buildings in Financial District

Pizza pie

Taxi cab reflection

Busy commuters

Crossing guard

Financial District building

Lady Liberty

Bodega

Pigeons, New York City

Chinese restaurant

Front Street reflection

Dogwalking

Skateboarders in downtown Manhattan

Waiting for subway train

Crowded subway platform

Neighborhood Profile: Chinatown

Is the idea of an "authentic neighborhood" in Manhattan outdated? Chinatown is one of the few places in Manhattan that actually feels like one to me. Although Canal Street is always packed with tourists, its bustling parks, winding blocks, and sidewalk shops and restaurants are all full of locals living and working. Its historic walkups are still intact (for better or worse) and rent-controlled, resisting displacement by the dull luxury condos and affected boutiques that have transformed so many other once-"authentic" neighborhoods. Sure, it's changing and evolving, but unlike schlocky Little Italy, with a demographic of zero Italians and theme park vibe, Chinatown appears to have retained at least some of the original identity that earned it charm in the first place, at least for the time being.

I never tire of shooting here. Here are some stills across the seasons.

Chinatown neighborhood

Canal Street in Chinatown

"Ladies

Chinatown

Fish market

Fish market

Chinatown, New York

Basketball in Chinatown

Park in Chinatown

Under the Manhattan Bridge

Walkup apartments

Crowded street

Shopping

Restaurants in Chinatown

Little girl

Chinatown, New York

Street vendor

Street vendor

Winding street

baby

Model on Canal

Bubble tea

Bowery

Old building

Chinatown restaurant

Birds

Eating in Chinatown

More photos from my Chinatown shoots live in the Chinatown neighborhood guide.

Neighborhood Profile: Times Square (Theater District)

I've spent much of the past year rediscovering the city of New York. Popular neighborhoods, iconic shops and tourist spots, parks and public spaces—on most days of the week, I'm out there, strapped with lenses, limning the landscape through my camera. One of my ongoing assignments has been to photograph every neighborhood in the city, conveying its sense of community, commerce, and general vibe, and then packaging it all in a photo-rich guide showing what it's like to live there. I work closely with a writer and researcher but a lot of my work is done in real time, walking a neighborhood's boundaries, watching people, following the daylight.

new york photographer

I've lived in the city for about 10 years. During this time, I've always been an active explorer but, like most people, my interests typically led the search. When I first moved here in my twenties, it was the grit and nightlife that attracted me. I spent most weekends in the East Village, Lower East Side, and Brooklyn, hunting for intimate venues, dives and holes-in-the-wall, seedy parts of town where anything might happen. As I got older, I moved into Queens and became absorbed in exploring the diversity within my own borough—Jackson Heights, Flushing, Astoria, and Long Island City—otherwise trekking out to neighborhoods based on the cuisine or specific events.

As such, many neighborhoods remained a mystery to me. And there were definitely neighborhoods that I avoided like the plague—Times Square, located in the Theater District, was my least favorite area of all. Thousands of tourists walking at a glacial pace, skyscrapers covered with spasmodic blinking ads, street vendors selling New York City paraphernalia marked up a thousandfold, and traffic, always so much traffic. It seemed to condense all of the worst aspects of New York City in one small square radius.

cabs in new york city

My knee-jerk perspectives began to change, though, after spending lots of time in each neighborhood. I began to see things in a more balanced light. I became charmed by the guileless wonder of people looking up at Times Square, calmed by the peaceful haven that is Battery Park City on a weekday morning, inspired by the rich craft community in Brooklyn's Boerum Hill. I suddenly knew more of Harlem's verdant parks and block parties, the evolution of far west Chelsea, and of all those rooftop bars and third-floor restaurants tucked away in Murray Hill and the Garment District. It was hard to have the same singular emotional verdict for any neighborhood anymore; what resulted was a mix of new perceptions, both positive and negative, objective and subjective.

I've started to corral some of my favorite images together and will be sharing these little slices of life from each NYC neighborhood here. As the city's mascot neighborhood, Times Square (part of the Theater District) seems like a good place to start. Aglow with light and always packed with people, it is both the antithesis and embodiment of the city. I'd always sneered at its fraudulence, its rows of big corporate stores appropriating the city to imbue their generic stuff with a sense of excitement. Also for its infamous traffic, its chaotic slowness. The slow walking of tourists stopped bothering me, though, once I stopped to walk with them. If you look beyond the retail, there really is a lot to see: monks and businessmen waiting together at stoplights; the street performers, indefatigable despite performing very physical routines over and over again in August heat for hours; those moments of synchronicity when the movement of the masses seems coordinated and perfectly balanced. There are quiet moments: a woman cycling down a street, wind in her hair, lost in thought despite the throng of cars and people rushing all around her; rows of yellow cabs, patiently parked in natural sunlight, musical in their perfect yellow gleam; a couple taking pictures together in silence, smiling while they flip through their reels.

And, despite the fact that most everyone there is trying to sell you something, the place is actually rife with authenticity and interesting stories. Those Disney characters beckoning you for photographs? They are all self-employed, out there on their own accord. Many are immigrants who have purchased the costumes on their own and have created these professions for themselves. The woman trying to capture your attention to sell you Broadway show tickets may be a struggling dancer, living in a hallway in south Brooklyn, and that slick corporate guy in a dark suit may be from a small town in the Midwest, visiting for interviews, searching for a new life.

It's no wonder that people walk so slowly—there's a lot going on in this neighborhood, some things surprising, some sad, and a lot hilarious. The good, the bad, the weird below.

lady liberty

activity in times square

elmo in times square

tkts booth

naked cowgirl

monk in new york city

dancer in new york city

naked woman in new york city

midtown commute

halal food cart

nyc drummer

betty boop in nyc

yellow cabs

pigeon

food cart

elmo

theater tickets

Times Square

subway performer

skateboarder

street performer

street performers in times square

Minnie Mouse

tourist in times square

tourist in times square

disney character

visiting times square

radio city

commuting in times square

biking in nyc

businessman

broadway show

working in times square

theater district

Times Square

visiting times square

visiting times square

lady liberty

Seoul

So much time has passed since our time in Seoul. We had but a few days there before heading back to New York and, for me, one of those was spent entirely in our hotel room, running between the bed and bathroom with food poisoning. I was relieved that we'd decided to skip the love motels and had opted instead to stay in 126 Mansion, a family-owned bed-and-breakfast that was a little more expensive than we'd hoped but cozy and quiet. There comes a time at two or three weeks of travel when I get restless and start to crave both the comfort and shock of returning home, when I need to get some space between the things I've seen in order to actually see and think about them. That feeling, coupled with being sick, made me really appreciate the B&B—from the hearty breakfast served by a woman still in her pajamas to the messy flowing bookshelves to the melee of eclectic artwork and personal keepsakes lining every shelf and surface, it felt unpretentious and easygoing, very much like home.

Once I recovered, we were able to venture out and explore our neighborhood, Insadong. Beyond Insadong's boutique shops, modern cafes, old teahouses, and restaurants, we found Bukchon, a maze of cobblestone alleyways jaunting up and down the mountain filled with traditional hanoks (traditional Korean homes). This is where Paul's father had lived for a little while when he was a baby. Soon after he was born, around the Korean War, his family had to sell all of their belongings and move to the country; Bukchon became a large marketplace for trading antiques. Decades later, the merchants migrated down to the main streets of Insadong and the village became empty and serene again. Now only homes and a few old teahouses remain. The neighborhood felt like an elegant ode to nature, the homes constructed entirely of clay, wood and stone, and pathways prettily cluttered with potted plants and brick stilts. When the streets began to fill with tourists, we had to move on, spending the rest of our time strolling along the Han river and rushing around the city to shop for gifts.

Our nights were most memorable. Paul's cousins toured us around their favorite places in Cheongdam, Gangnam, and Itaewon, and we visited the Gwangjang night market, packed with drunk businessmen and 20-somethings, where we sampled soondae (blood sausage), Mayak kimbap (rolls) and bindaeduk (pancakes). On our final night, we got to see a friend perform with his band, Genius, in an intimate bar in Hongdae, which felt more like someone's cool basement than a venue, and listened to live music late into the night. Early the next morning we left Korea, delirious from lack of sleep and physically exhausted, but full and happy from the perfect send-off. Some small details and savored moments during our brief time in Seoul, the last leg of our trip, below.

Seoul

126 Mansion

126 Mansion cafe

126 Mansion stairs

126 Mansion

Insadong cafes

Insadong cafe

Insadong, sign

Egg truck

Black and white, Insadong

Houses

Insadong, bricks, plants

Adornments

Restaurant

Night market

Night market in Seoul, business men

Night market

Night market, Seoul, B&W

Night market

Pig in night market, Seoul

Night market in Seoul

Night market in Seoul

Seoul Ping Pong Pub

Kim Il-du, Genius

Steve C

Genius playing in Seoul

Girl in band listening to Genius

Steve C

Girls listening to Genius

Paul watching

Girl in band, Cure

Disco ball

Genius, Jay

Kim Il-du

Kim Il-du, Jay

Musician in Seoul

Folk musician in Seoul

Genius Busan

Namhae & Yeosu

From Gyeongju we drove back down South, past Busan, to explore Namhae island, a striking juxtaposition of mountains and sea, and Yeosu, a sleepy, colorful harbor city. We took the coastal road to Namhae first, snaking alongside the glistening water and expansive rice fields dotted with brightly dressed, hunched over figures pulling at the ground under the sun. We went first to our pension which sat along the Eastern coast, a bit removed from the beaches and villages we planned to visit, but with an idyllic view of farms, mountains and ocean. We spent early mornings and evenings on our balcony, savoring the view and, as the light fell, trying to forget the infinity of golden orb spiders that cover the island with soju and makgeolli. At night there was a wind that you felt rather than heard and almost no sounds—it was as if we were the only ones up on the whole island—and so we talked sparingly, aware of each word puncturing the silence, pitching our voices into a void.

Our days were quiet, too, and long and full. Much of the island was empty except for the very old, many of whom were women, both strong and delicate from the elements, like dried up leaves, working alone with their hands. Up in the mountains, ours was the only car on the road although, once in awhile, we'd see an empty tractor or someone in a wide-brimmed hat climbing up the road in an electric wheelchair. The beaches, full of tourists in the summer, were dead except for stray dogs and abandoned except for doorless homes through which you could see tools hanging from the walls. Driving along the coastal road, we did finally see some families and fellow travelers far out in the shallows of the sea, clad in waterproof boots, searching for crabs and creatures in the water. But other than that, Namhae was an unspoiled landscape, self-sustaining but for a few tireless workers. It felt like we had stumbled into a paradise, completely agricultural and old world, that faded when we looked away. How long can a place stay this pastoral and pure, seemingly untouched by development and the speed of change of the rest of Korea? What happens when this generation of farmers dies? When tourism catches up to the fall and winter? For a few days, we got to go back in time to a place expired everywhere but for an older generation's memories, doomed anyway. The beauty of the place and its inescapable fleetingness made for a visceral awe and put us in an alert, nostalgic mood.

After Namhae, we spent a day in Yeosu, a nearby marine city that grew a lot in 2012 when it hosted the World Expo. Despite newer sprawling buildings, peopled parks and some busy roads, the city still felt slow-paced and idle. We walked along the shorelines of the island for awhile, then crossed the Dolsan bridge and ate delicious, fresh hoe in the raw fish town under the bridge, eating the best food of our entire trip as we watched the sea lap at empty tethered boats right outside our window. At night, we drove up to Dolsan Park and watched the night blink out the city with hundreds of couples and other sightseers who were kissing in shadows and whipping out their DSLRs and tripods for shots of the brightly lit bridge.

It was hard to pick the images that best express our time on the islands, particularly in Namhae. There was so much to see and experience and such a sense of wonder that pervaded our trip. If you're ever in South Korea, try to go, especially before Namhae evolves and adapts to the rest of Korea, as it must. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite memories of the place, the ones that remind me of how it felt to be there.

Namhae farmers

Tractor

Paul by the road

Lemon trees

Goats

Mountains

Namhae

Golden orb weaver

Hiking in Namhae

Namhae farmer

Town in Namhae

House in Namhae

House in Namhae

Empty beach in Namhae

Farmer walking home

Tractor down the road

Paul by the road

Crabbing in Namhae

Looking for sea things

Namhae pension

Window view

Soju on the patio

Wedding bands

Morning light

Cooking ramen

Namhae in the morning

Mate on the patio

Driving to Yeosu

Yeosu

Yeosu Harbor

Fishermen

Boats in Yeosu

Raw fish town

Sunset in Dolsan-eup

Dolsan-eup

Sashimi in Yeosu

Yeosu sashimi

Banchan

Octopus

Sashimi

Dolsan Bridge at night

Yeosu at night

Gyeongju

We drove north from Busan to Gyeongju, a coastal city described to us as a "museum without walls." Rife with royal tombs, burial mounds, dense mountains, and ancient ruins, Gyeongju is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular tourist spot for both Koreans and foreigners. When we told a new Busan friend that we were headed there, he winced at us. Boring. We didn't really know what to expect.

I was looking forward to the quiet, though, to seeing all trees and mountains and blank roads instead of crowded alleys and fluorescent lights. I love the chaos of urban life, the sense of infinite possibility that arises when thousands of strangers are constantly thrown together, but it's easy to get overstimulated. And lately I am impatient with the unavoidable consumption of crap that comes with living in a big city, the constant barrage of marketing, fashion and misguided ambition; there's so much minutia to navigate—the subway commute, the quickest paths crosstown, infinite tiny interactions and the resultant small talk, hours wasted on electronics and shopping. I wanted to whittle my time down to the real stuff, to purposeful activity. We got a little taste of it in Busan but in Gyeongju we'd be more isolated. Walking around pagodas and then sitting quietly under the night sky, contending only with my thoughts, sounded perfect to me.

Lulled by a repetitive stream of mountains and hills flitting by our windows, we drove fifty miles on major highways and then finally turned down a small path leading up into the mountain. We were headed to Gyeongju JY Pension, a remote guesthouse located on the slopes of Mount Toham. As we traveled deeper into the mountain, our path narrowed to a sliver of dirt running precipitously alongside cliffs. We drove slowly, first passing a few food tents and other pensions, and then it was nothing but hermetic mountain life. Beautifully combed rice fields, hot pepper patches, orange trees,  farmhouses burrowed in brush, mountain dogs howling into the autumn air. Hardly a person in sight.

The road ended in a valley and abruptly became a walking trail leading into the mountain. Our pension was below, a trio of wooden buildings resembling alpine cottages, all lit up in a tawny sunlight. We stayed alone in the pension for four days but could have stayed much longer. Early in the morning, heat streamed up through the floor boards and we looked out into the mountains right from our bed. We cooked dumplings and noodles in our modest kitchen, had mate and Kyoho berries out on the balcony. Huddled in our coats in the cool damp morning air, we watched smoke dance above the rice fields and listened to birds ring out like little bright bells. Later, we hiked through the mountain to a grotto and temple. Went into town and walked along a river.  Visited the crowded temples and floated above the city in a hot air balloon. Drove around, trying to match music to the landscape (some of the music we were listening to). We cooked barbecue with the grounds manager, ate roasted chestnuts fresh from the oven, still wrapped in tin foil, and drank Soju into the night, watching our wild landscape disintegrate into a deep black mass. It was a beautiful, romantic and quiet place. The more I try to describe it, the more I reduce it. Here's the landscape to speak for itself.

House in the mountains

Farm

Gyeongju

Brush

Gyeongju YJ Pension

Gyeongju YJ Pension

Gyeongju YJ Pension

Temple

Around the lake

Hello, World!

Busan

When Paul and I set off for our honeymoon, I didn't expect to photograph much. One of my favorite directors, Michael Haneke, said "the photograph specifically and visual images in general are important parts of the commodification of vacationing." The vacation alone doesn't do it for most people; it's typically the photographs afterward, the packaging of experience, that "makes it real." I didn't want to depreciate such an important and fleeting time in our lives. I wanted our trip—two weeks in the cities and countryside of South Korea—to be pure, just for us and more about experiencing than remembering. No anticipatory nostalgia, no ignoring the scenery just to shoot it.

So, I set some constraints for myself. I would look first, shoot second. I wouldn't take multiple shots of the same scene, wouldn't review images on camera after I shot them. I brought one camera, my D800, one lens, my favorite 50 prime, and just a few memory cards.

I kept up with the constraints but still shot incessantly throughout the trip. I'm lucky to have a partner who doesn't mind sitting on a rock in the light rain while I run up and down the streets of Insadong, chasing after the architecture I couldn't stop thinking about five blocks ago. Who doesn't mind being told to pause during dinner as a particularly desperate live octopus struggles to get out of his mouth. Who races the sunset home so I can capture the little golden valley behind our pension before we leave at dark the next morning. What can I say? I was actually present in those moments, trying to prolong something that was probably gone as soon as I noticed it.

Recently a study came out exploring the connection between photography and memory. When you click to capture a moment and move on, your memory of the moment is possibly impaired. But if you zoom in, find a small detail, the small moment, then memory of everything—what's in or out of frame—is stronger, more visceral. Here's to hoping that these photographs from Busan, our first stop on our trip together, capture something that resonates. Here are some things I remember there: a fireworks show caught from a restaurant balcony; rowdy nights in Soju tents and bars with friends new and old; hiking around a fortress, stopping every few moments to express some noise of awe; finding Elizabeth Browning's famous poem written on the wall of our love motel, a poem often joyfully recited to us by Paul's uncle; the plastic surgery ads everywhere, the heavy white face masks; visiting the world's largest department store in the morning and then, in the afternoon, the tiny street markets where women sat on the street peeling vegetables and hooking fish; legions of hikers in Northface jackets; drinking makgeolli in the morning on Haeundae Beach, Hong Sang-soo style; eating hotteok for the first time; and brushing up against the city borders to visit an idyllic countryside, marveling at the simplistic beauty of clothes drying on a line. I hope the photographs do not become all that's left.

Firework festival in Busan

Night food market

Night food market

Night food market

Night food market

Night food market

Men eating at restaurant

Main street

Market

Bar scene

Bar

Walking

Love motel in the morning

Paul in the street

Smoking outside restaurant

Advertising

Cat

Street market

Young girl and old lady

Subway in Korea

Old lady at market

Fish eye

Market

Woman at market

Hotteuk

Old lady in the corner

Man looking over subway tracks

Businessman

Morning

Morning at beach

Paul

Paul's ring

Me on beach