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The Many Faces of New York: Street Scene Photos

by Silke Elzner

New York, New York – As a hobby photographer you cannot help but snap away until blisters appear on your fingers… So many things to see, so many impressions to capture. On the one hand, there are the famous sights, of course. The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center. But what fascinated me even more were the people of New York. The vendors and artists, the millionaires’ wives, and the army of public servants. After all, what would a city be without its people?

New York City: A World Made up of People

One day during our exploration of Manhattan I realised the importance of people for a city. We were walking down a narrow skyscraper gorge in Lower Manhattan, where the office towers were the tallest and were standing close together. I had to think of some of these end-of-the-world movies I had seen in the past. Even though surrounded by life and non-stop activity I was strangely reminded of scenarios where humankind had been erased from the face of the earth due to some catastrophy.

I imagined what it must be like to look up at the dozens, hundreds of windows in this big city, knowing that the rooms behind them would be empty. Black, gaping rectangulars, staring back at me from above, like soulless eyes, watching my every movement. An uncanny thought.

Candid Views of New York Street Life From Fifth Avenue to Hell’s Kitchen

Luckily, New York City is not depopulated but brimming with activity. My time in the city was enriched by observing New Yorkers and tourists going about their everyday business. It is through them that I got to discover the many faces of this fascinating city, its countless details and many different aspects.

Let me show you the New York people that I was fortunate to capture as they experienced the fascinating world of the Big Apple together with me.

Cooling Off Under an Opened Fire Hydrant

Neighbours cooling off in a side street in Hells Kitchen.

Neighbours cooling off in a side street in Hells Kitchen.

When we visited New York this summer, it was stinking hot. To cool down, some neighbours in Hell’s Kitchen had opened a fire hydrant. While kids were running through the water spray screaming with delight, the adults were chatting away and having a good time.

Eighth Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen

A bike rider heading down Eighth Avenue which is lined with tenements.

A bike rider heading down Eighth Avenue which is lined with tenements.

Our hotel was located in Hell’s Kitchen (Affiliate Link), a less glamorous part of Midtown Manhattan which nonetheless was feeling the pressure of gentrification. We loved this location as it was full of contrast and surprises. Gay couples, drug addicts, families, and students would populate busy Eighth Avenue, on of the main thoroughfares of this neighbourhood. The history of the area can be best read from the poor tenement houses that line the streets and which were once crammed with poor Irish immigrant families.

Workers Cleaning an Immigrant Statue

NYC Monuments staff cleaning The Immigrants statue by Luis Sanguine in Battery Park.

NYC Monuments staff cleaning The Immigrants statue by Luis Sanguino in Battery Park.

A fascinating statue full of life and movement, The Immigrants in Battery Park captures the strife and hope of thousands of immigrants who arrived in America in this very spot. It is an important part of New York too, as many families chose to set up their new lives here, in this most advanced city of the world. I love with how much diligence the Monuments team were cleaning the statue.

Views of the Statue of Liberty

Little girl looking across New York Harbor to the Statue of Liberty.

Little girl looking across New York Harbor to the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty as seen from Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. Just a small spot in the distance, surprisingly far off yet still endearing. While you will have to catch a boat or train to New Jersey to get a better view, the Statue of Liberty is still a prominent sight when in New York. Oftentimes, it is appearing somewhat unexpectedly on the horizon as you enjoy views from the Brooklyn Bridge or the Staten Island ferry.

Hot Dog Stall near Wall Street

The many faces of New York: Bankers waiting for their hot dog lunch near Wall Street.

The many faces of New York: Bankers waiting for their hot dog lunch near Wall Street.

Such a quintessential sight: “Real” New Yorkers ordering hot dogs from a street food stall. I would have loved to try one of the many food stalls that you will find on every corner of Manhattan (in particular at lunchtime). But the heat, traffic, crowds and – quite frankly, the dirt – put me off from trying out this very NYC experience. Mobile street food vendors such as this not only offer hot dogs, of course. Some specialise in gyros, Indian samosas, or bagels.

The Times Square Madness

Thousands of tourists swarming Times Square.

Thousands of tourists swarming Times Square.

Times Square is pure madness, in particular in summer. Don’t think about going there, unless you have important business to do. We tried to avoid the area at all costs but couldn’t help but pass through one afternoon on our way back to the hotel. This doesn’t mean that Times Square is not worth checking out. The atmosphere of Times Square with its over-dimensional illuminated signs and billboards is quite surreal. Just maybe try and see it first in the morning, without the masses.

Culture and Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the many fascinating culture objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

One of the many fascinating culture objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

One of my most favourite faces of New York must belong to this Papua New Guinea full body mask at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met is huge and full of treasures from around the world. So much beauty made by human hands – paintings, sculptures, masks, furniture, temples – it actually brought tears to my eyes to think of the beauty that the human spirit was able to emulate with bare hands.

A Park in the Middle of the Road

People coming together in a park in the middle of the road in the Lower East End.

People coming together in a park in the middle of the road in the Lower East End.

These New Yorkers actually sit in the middle of a road. The little park in the Lower East Side is surrounded by lanes of traffic. As ambulances and transport vans of the Correction Department where speeding past, these people remained their calm, relaxing on the chairs provided, completely unimpressed by the mayhem around them. The Lower East Side is home to the marvellous Tenement Museum which we adored.

Street Art in New York

A face looking down on us in the East End: A hot spot for street art in New York.

A face looking down on us in the East End: A hot spot for street art in New York.

Here is another face of New York, even though it’s a painted one: The Lower East Side is one of many hot spots for street art in New York. Read this article for some great tips on where to find it. Another great place to see urban art in Manhattan is from the High Line, in particular around the Chelsea end.

Baseball at Central Park

So American: Hobby baseball players enjoying a game in Central Park.

So American: Hobby baseball players enjoying a game in Central Park.

Central Park is a must-do when in New York. There is a lot to see if you manage to cover some ground during your visit. We spend a couple of minutes watching the baseball players on Heckscher Playground. There were three games on simultaneously with plenty more space to accommodate more games. A great way to really feel the American way of life.

Finding Peace at Central Park

A couple and their dog finding peace in the greens of Central Park.

A couple and their dog finding peace in the greens of Central Park.

Central Park on the one hand is nothing more than just a park. It’s not particularly beautiful or full of surprises. But it’s a great contrast to the labyrinth of streets beyond that make up the rest of Manhattan. Central Park is therefore the perfect place to escape the craziness of the big city, to find peace and solitude and to enjoy the views of the city from a respectful distance.

Bubble Games

Kids playing with giant bubbles on Bethesda Terrace, Central Park.

Kids playing with giant bubbles on Bethesda Terrace, Central Park.

Did I say that Central Park was not particularly beautiful? Don’t get me wrong, there are of course some enchanting corners, where skyscrapers reflect in the still water of lakes and horse carriage wait next to glorious water fountains. Our most favourite area in Central Park was definitely Bethesda Terrace, where we could watch a group of children playing happily with the soap bubble man. There were also fantastic views of the architecture, the lake and the fountain.

Welcome to Another World: Chinatown

Vendors and buyers in buzzing Chinatown.

Vendors and buyers in buzzing Chinatown.

If you think you’ve already seen a “Chinatown” somewhere in the world and nothing in that regard could ever surprise you, think again. Chinatown in New York had another fascinating dimension to it. So busy, so full of people, that it was hard to find a spot to step aside and just look at the scene. This street market photo captures the exotic and the activity in an intimate and candid way. Piles of peanuts, jackfruit and lychees, fresh crabs and fish – all sold and bought by locals on the narrow sidewalks along Canal Street.

Chilling on the High Line

Chilling above 10th Avenue on the raised High Line near Chelsea Market.

Chilling above 10th Avenue on the raised High Line near Chelsea Market.

The High Line stands for urban renewal and reinvention. A giving back to the people. A re-imagination for the benefit of all. We walked the High Line from north to south, catching intimate glimpses into the lives of the people, finding fascinating artwork along the way, and enjoying the green spaces that were adding colour and life to the urban streetscape. This place captured in the photo is a section of the High Line that crosses 10th Avenue – a rare spot to hang out above one of New York’s busiest streets.

Sweet Treats at Magnolia Bakery

Pastry chef adding finishing touches to cupcakes at famous Magnolia Bakery, Greenwich Village.

Pastry chef adding finishing touches to cupcakes at famous Magnolia Bakery, Greenwich Village.

Manhattan is like a patchwork of flavours and colours and contrasting atmospheres. Greenwich Village is one part of the city that most visitors will find charming and welcoming. The streets here are lined with elegant boutiques and exquisite shops. Leafy side streets reveal rows of typical brownstone buildings with wide front steps and little gardens in the front. It’s the New York as we got to know if from “Sex and the City”. A place where you can enjoy a relaxed atmosphere with a sophisticated urban touch. Local Magnolia Bakery is quite quintessential in that regard, a must-see when in the area.

East River State Park in Brooklyn

Visitors taking beach photos at East River State Park, New York.

Visitors taking beach photos at East River State Park, New York.

Some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline can undoubtedly be had from the other side of the East River. East River State Park offers a surprising stretch of sandy beach – swimming however is not recommended – which is the perfect foreground for some memorable skyline shots. In former times, the area used to be a busy port, with signs now explaining the significance of the area to the whole of Brooklyn.

Jet Skis on East River

Daredevils racing their jet skis under the bridges of the East River.

Daredevils racing their jet skis under the bridges of the East River.

You think you’ve seen it all… and then you see a bunch of crazy people racing across East River of all places with not a care in the world. It looks like a lot of fun, seeing the city from a whole new perspective. Would you give it a go?

The Upper Crust

An elegant lady walking down the streets of Upper Manhattan.

An elegant lady walking down the streets of Upper Manhattan.

As we were walking past Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, this lady suddenly appeared from nowhere. Walking down the street with an assumed shield of confidence. Expensive dress suit, high heels, arms and fingers hung with golden rings, the hair carefully coiffured. We shared the same way for a couple of metres, waiting at the same traffic light crossings. Then she took a different turn and disappeared from view. The minute we shared, gone.

Masterpieces at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa)

A visitor at the MoMa studying the beautiful Starry Night painting by Van Gogh.

A visitor at the MoMa studying the beautiful Starry Night painting by Van Gogh.

It is quite something to see a whole bunch of famous paintings and sculptures all in one place. It’s another thing to watch the people who have come to see these artworks. Those who collectively study the brushstrokes, colours and lines of the likes of Van Gogh, Picasso and C├ęzanne. Our admiration of the same things, of what we would all consider aesthetically beautiful, unites us in this very moment as we study the details.

Grand Central Station Romance

Man leaning against the historic train ticket counters at Grand Central Station.

Man leaning against the historic train ticket counters at Grand Central Station.

Grand Central Station is not just a New York train station. It is a masterpiece of civil engineering, built at a time when civilisation progress was celebrated in over-dimensional constructions of giant arches and vaulted halls. We spent some time here, just above the central floor, watching the people and their irregular patterns as they crisscrossed from the platforms to the exits. Above them, the starry zodiac sky shaped our mutual universe of time and travel.

The Many Faces of New York

A week in New York, a week of unexpected encounters and new experiences. I hope these photos gave you a good first impression of our time in this amazing city. Have you been to New York? What was your most memorable experience?

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