The City and Solitude
Project info

The City and Solitude

New York has seemed like a mecca and a refuge to me from the time I encountered the city as a child. My parents, both professors at Duke, would take our family to New York on the way to their sabbaticals in Italy. Later, I returned to the city as a graduate student at Pratt Institute and began photographing the city at dawn and twilight. I focused on iconic sites such as Rockefeller Center, where a skyscraper loomed like a giant iceberg. But I was also drawn to out-of-the way places, like industrial zones in Brooklyn, where the city seemed to inhabit itself, free for the moment of its population and dreaming its own dreams.

It was in such places that I found a refuge for meditation, a core of silence at the heart of the bustling metropolis. There, recording timeless moments, I felt as if I had peeled away the layers of the city's busy-ness, as well as those of my own social persona. Through the outward-looking lens of the camera, I was also gazing deep into myself.

Gradually, however, I began to appreciate how scenes that were timeless in one sense also reflected a rhythm of transition that was part of an urban ecological cycle. This process of renewal had its own iconography; a vacant store, for instance, might have a ladder and a broom that signaled preparations for a new business.

Although my photographs have frequently captured unpopulated scenes at twilight and dawn, sometimes a single ghosted passerby has appeared in the picture. I used to think that such interlopers threatened my communion with a place. Then I realized that ephemeral pedestrians, serving as surrogates for me and the viewer, only emphasized the solitude of a place by their impermanent presence. The connection with the city's core of dreams and silence was secure.

For my new project, I would like to explore the possibility of introducing such passersby on a regular basis. My artistic inspiration for this project includes the work of Edward Hopper, whose isolated individuals tend to deepen the sense of solitude. I have also been influenced by the work of the 19th century French photographer Charles Marville. For example, he placed a single person in a vast panorama of Paris unsettled by extensive renovation, thereby suggesting both the swirl of city life and the communion with the silence that lies intact beneath it. A Guggenheim fellowship would help me continue to explore the metropolis as an unexpected site for solitude and moments of meditation.