Prince Street at Broadway, New York City
34th Street at 7th Avenue, New York City
Both portraits were done within a few days of each other. I guess I’m not exactly predictable, even as I walk down the street I often find myself losing interest and following an intense whim. Both of these pictures were sudden occurrences, impulses followed before moving on to the next happenstance. It’s all right there in front of every one of us each day, time after time seeing something different, or seeing the same things differently.
Assault portraits? Why this title….the man, who’s name I don’t recall, is someone I stumbled on late one afternoon, catching him in a state of pure, bewildered anguish. Although he attracted a sympathetic eye, bystanders kept a wary distance and, except for a few generous donors, he was left alone.
What’s interesting here is him and me. Because, two days before, I had been seriously assaulted on the street, randomly beaten in the face for no reason as I walked down Avenue A. My camera was tucked away, invisible, and so there was no photography happening at the time–just a strange instance of one woman taking out her anger on a stranger. Although I never got the telltale black eye or bruised face, I experienced great swelling and now have a damaged right eye with permanently altered vision.
As I did his portraits, I asked him to go into the nearby subway station where he could warm up. This day was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving and it was becoming bitterly cold in New York City. He told me he couldn’t go into any of the nearby subway stations because he fights with people….and the attendants will call the police. I was initially interested in photographing his hands, and I thought that his propensity to start fights could explain why his hands looked so worn down and disturbingly strong….almost like a character from a comic book franchise. They really were unique and, unfortunately in this instance, I was not walking with my full frame A7riii, and didn’t really produce the amazing picture of his hands that I’d hoped to.
As we did these pictures, and he admitted that his violent impulses impacted his ability to find and maintain shelter for the past 14 years, his anguish and despair over his inability to find his way out of his life became overwhelming. I felt that it was ironic that our paths should cross, considering my recent experience. He said, moments after this picture, that he just wanted to crush someone’s skull. I moved away, and, on this frenetically busy corner just before Thanksgiving, he registered my sudden apprehension and quickly assured me that he didn’t mean me. I decided to tell him a bit about the unprovoked attack on my face suffered at the hands of a woman I’d never seen before two nights ago, and as I did I realized suddenly that he was responsible for dispensing his own random assaults on innocent bystanders. I thought it was almost comical, this particular portrait subject and photographer meeting on the corner of Prince Street and Broadway. He registered genuine disbelief after learning about what had happened to me, and was shocked and angry on my behalf. He couldn’t understand why the woman had hit me….. and counseled me to be very, very careful on my way home.