I bought my first digital camera in October of 2001. And the photographs I have of New York before then are pretty scarce–film cost money, after all. So most of the day-to-day life that I remember of the city live only in my memory. With every trip back, I keep trying to find remnants of that past and photograph them, in perhaps an act of preservation, or even resurrection.
All I usually end up with, however, is evidence of how much the city has changed, and while this evidence of the ever-changing urban landscape would otherwise mean that I could never want for things to photograph, I leave the city feeling even more distant from the New York I remember.
The essence of life in the city has not changed, however, and even though the backdrop may change, with the landmarks I remember long disappeared and new exteriors in their place, I think I’ve managed to find examples of it and capture it.
I used to work summers in the financial district. A few of my classmates did, too, and every so often we’d get together during lunch breaks and find somewhere outside to sit, eat, and chat. We were surrounded by the thousands of other workers doing the same thing. Any place that can be sat on, will be sat on, turned into an ad hoc meal table. It’s something I think is quintessentially New York, made unique by the sheer density of humanity that’s found on a summer day anywhere in Manhattan. Sometimes, we sat in the plaza of the World Trade Center for our lunches. A perfectly common activity, unworthy of saving it on film.
It’s okay that I don’t have photographs specifically of those moments. The memories, the feelings they evoke, are the key. But I’ll continue trying to save proxies for those memories, for their potential to trigger those memories. I guess you could say that’s just my motivation in general, why I photograph what I do.
Fifteen years ago, I was studying in New York to be an engineer. Were I any other place, were the Towers not to come down, maybe today I’d be doing just that. But because I was so close to tragedy and could do nothing to help, could not help with communications despite having become a licensed amateur radio operator for just that reason, last night, on my last night float shift for the month, I was directing resuscitation for a young patient in shock and close to dying.
I do miss engineering. But this… this is a privilege. The sum total of my four years in New York helped steer me here, shaped who I am, and for that I don’t need a photograph to remind me.