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 saw a half nude woman, her figure partially lit by the dappled sunlight as she stood, partially hidden between two old storefronts on the Lower East Side. New York City has changed…and it isn’t often that I run across anything highly unusual on the streets of a Lower East Side that has undergone a radical, transformative rebirth. In modern New York City, many old neighborhoods have lost the old guard that gave the run down city blocks so much life and character. As a street photographer, I felt the loss acutely.

Brian Rose
Peter Bennett
Meryl Meisler

For me, there’s always the question of asking permission vs. candid photography. Sometimes asking creates self awareness, ruining the initial visual experience, and turning what was once a natural moment into a stilted reenactment. I needed to take the risk involved with photographing the woman candidly….not to exploit, but to record the beauty and eccentricity , a kind of ghostly remnant of a Lower East Side that was long dead. 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, albeit images 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 become people whose lives I’m privileged to follow for years.

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.

Author: suzannesteinphoto


2 thoughts on “Clinton Street, New York City….Mariska”

  1. An amazing story and awesome photography. I really like the light and how you’ve captured your subject. Keep making your fabulous images, there’s no one like you Suzanne. Just remember to be as safe as possible, in every sense.
    Very best wishes from Wales.
    Paul h


  2. The photo of her in her enviorment is most strikng, important for me. It grabs me, shakes me. The close ups, portraits do not have the same profound impact on me.


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