Clinton Street, New York City….Mariska

Mariska, late afternoon on Clinton Street near Delancey, August 2022

I tried to grab a few pictures one afternoon when I observed a half nude woman, partially in the dappled sunlight tucked in between two old storefronts on the Lower East Side. I figured that she’d react extremely negatively if she caught me, but the sight of her was arresting and I had to try. I stepped into the street but just as I did, a crazy white delivery truck, oversized and too large for the spot, pulled in front of me, almost hitting me. This was infuriating because my ability to take a beautiful candid image was completely blocked. So I tried as best I could, weaving around traffic, trying not to get run over or verbally assaulted by passerby for photographing a nearly nude woman on the street. Because people are so unstable and every substance imaginable is readily available causing further instability, I was very concerned about the woman becoming agitated if she saw me. Safety issues are a fact of life while out shooting and cannot be overstated.

As it turned out, she observed me. And it was ok….I got the photographs that were necessary, that I didn’t immediately visualize. Initially I thought that candid was the way to go, a partial nude, lit with shadowy sunlight, quiet and beautiful. But that would have failed to record her confidence and disregard for what other people on the street thought of her, and her rejection of social folkways and all the other assorted trivialities of daily life.

Mariska had recently had a baby, but because she struggles with mental illness and homelessness, she does not have access to the infant.

She was beautiful in the light, and wanted to be photographed, noticed. I have found this many times in situations where most would assume there’d be a fair amount of danger photographing someone on in an urban setting. I find that people want very much to be seen sometimes, and these super fast, pop-up portrait sessions with enchanting strangers that I meet are the most satisfying work that I do. And no longer strangers, they can be people that I follow for years. And I am grateful to be able to do so. Trust is beautiful.

Before I left Mariska, I asked her to put something on. I don’t know how long she’d been undressed before I saw her, but I wanted to leave her with more clothes on her body. I hope to photograph her again.