The Making of the NYC Book, Part 2

 

Ten Ren tea shop, Manhattan

Ten Ren tea shop, Manhattan

With the contract signed, it was time to face the sobering reality that, “Hey, I’ve actually got to produce a book now.” 

For a project like this, the first task of course was to identify the 50 greatest photo ops. No small feat in a city with as rich a history as New York. I had already decided to organize the book into five categories: Architecture, City Life, Events, Urban Oasis and Secret New York. This would ensure a broad range of images, appealing to photographers of many interests.  

Now, though I like to think I have my fair share of ego, two aspects of this project had me more than just a little nervous. First, New York is possibly the most photographed city in the world. There was  little chance of me shooting something that no one has ever seen before. Could I offer a fresh perspective or just be doomed to repeat clichés? Second, this city is home to some of the most talented and famous photographers around, many of whom have spent their careers documenting the city. Would my work be up to the task?

After a sleepless night or two I was able to see this challenge for what it was, an opportunity; a chance to see anew, the city in which I’ve spent more than half of my life. I couldn’t be Arbus or Maisel anymore than they could be me (I did say I have an ego). What I could do is approach the project as a love letter to the city that has given me so much, both personally and professionally. I decided to create a book that reflects my experience of life in this city and hope that will be of interest to others.

With the existential angst out of the way, it was time to decide what the heck I was going to shoot. Although I was given complete freedom to choose the locations, there were certain photo ops that I knew had to be covered. Times Square, Central Park, Statue of Liberty, Empire State building? You bet. As for choosing the other locations, I had two main criteria. Photo access must be available to the public. After all, a major selling point of the book is that you can take these same pictures on your visit. And each photo op should reflect an intrinsic part of New York history, culture, or lifestyle. The aim is to inspire people to visit New York, so the images should largely be identifiable with the city.

With these goals in mind I was able to whittle down my preliminary wish list to 50, plus a couple of backups in case some didn’t pan out. I wanted to give some brief background information on each photo op, telling a bit about why it is significant. I have to say the research for this was one of the most enjoyable parts of writing the book. I learned so many facts, anecdotes and tidbits of local history that I’m like a tour guide whenever my wife and I head out the door. Which is cool, because she’s the type who revels in the small hidden corners of the city. In fact, on one of our early dates we walked the length of Manhattan, just for kicks. Are we nerds, or extremely hip? Your call.

Researching a book like this really makes you wonder how you got along before the Internet. Of course I didn’t just look stuff up on Wikipedia. As would any writer or journalist of integrity, I verified information from multiple sources. But it’s really amazing how the Internet has democratized the flow of information. It”s also made cheating on term papers easier, but that’s the price of change I suppose.

With my list completed, it was time to start another, equally important kind of research; finding the ideal times and vantage points for capturing successful images at each location. Having done this, I can now say that these bits of information are probably the most valuable things in the book. The countless hours I spent figuring out how to get the best shot is time you can spend pressing the shutter.

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