Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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My First Street Photography Project

Street photography is the art of observing glimpses of every day life, freezing them, and putting them on display. Why is this an art? Photography is an art because in a sense it is subjective, and there is a huge element of creativity that is part of it. A photographer must see past what the naked eye sees. He or she must differentiate between something that is striking versus something that is plain. He or she must see colors not just as a characteristic of an object, but as a part of the whole image. Nowadays, taking a picture with a camera can be as easy as a click of a button, but it takes someone with creativity and insight to capture a genuinely good image. When I took on my own street photography project, I realized just how difficult taking a picture really is.
Starting out this project, I had to think of a theme for my compilation of photographs. Seeing as this course puts a large emphasis on cultural encounters, this became my main objective. This led me to realize that there is no better cultural mix than right around the corner on Brighton Beach. I grew up mainly in Bensonhurst. However, a lot of my time was spent shopping around in Brighton or going to the beach itself during the summer. Being in this neighborhood makes me feel like I am not even in America anymore; rather I crossed an invisible border back to the motherland. This is probably why so many immigrant Russian- speaking people first come here, because they are not forced to assimilate into American culture so rapidly. Realizing that Brighton Beach is basically Little Russia in Brooklyn, I decided to take my street photography project there.
Although Brighton Beach might have seemed like the perfect place to find a cultural encounter and document it via photographs, the job was not so easy. After seeing an exhibit at the ICP of Susan Meiselis’s work, and looking at slides of Jeff Mermelstein’s photographs, two professional and distinguished artists, they raised the bar of expectations for myself. Their images were remarkable, whether there was an awkward vantage point, an interesting focus, or a stunning color contrast. I picked up my Canon EOS Rebel Xsi digital camera with manual zoom, and headed out to see what the streets of Brighton Beach had to offer.
I came to Brighton Beach on a brisk and sunny day. The sun was at its peak in the sky, which was only at about seventy-five degrees considering the time of the year. I immediately envisioned the opportunity that this setting proposed for me. I took many pictures of the street under the train. Fortunately, due to the sunny weather, I got good lighting on most of them. You can see all the signs hanging in front of the stores and vendors. This also allows all of the colors to be seen clearly, giving a very realistic point of view to the pictures. Seeing the details in the signs was important to me in some of the photos because I wanted viewers to see how thick the line is drawn between cultures in the area. Almost everything in the area is written in English and Russian. It is almost bizarre seeing such a cultural rift. Also, in some of these busy street scenes, I wanted viewers to see the actual people walking in the street: how they dress, what they carry, what they look like?
Besides documenting what I believe is one of the most ethnic neighborhoods in New York City, creativity played a tremendous role in this project as well. Throughout several years of schooling, I came to realize that the technical side of my brain is more developed, so creativity does not come so easy. Once I started taking pictures, I understood that I have to view the task at hand from a different perspective, to let the hidden creativity emerge. As the day went on, I began taking pictures from various vantage points, as opposed to just standing upright. I used focus as a tool as well, and tried to look for colors that stood out. For example, in one of my photographs of the beach, I focused on the railing, and everything else was very blurry. I think this created a wonderful effect and exposed the gray “coldness” of the rail in contrast to the seeming warmth of the beach. At some point, I also laid down on my back on the boardwalk to take the picture of a tall building. This vantage point created an interesting effect as the building looked as if it was never ending.
Professional street photographers can take thousands of pictures before they choose one that they really like. Although these numbers may seem staggering, I now understand why this is so. I had to go back to Brighton Beach several times before I finally chose the pictures I wanted to use. This experience was very challenging, as well as enriching. It opened my eyes to a world of perspective and detail that I never paid attention to before. I still believe that my efforts were slightly set aback due to a lack of professional technology in my hands. However, this street photography project was not about how far you can zoom in, or how clear your image is, but to what extent you can open your mind creatively, and it is this facet that I believe I developed greatly.


1 Katie Alarcon { 12.18.08 at 4:06 pm }

Yuriy, I felt that your street photography project was very proffessionally done and befitting of the theme cultural encounters. I myself am unfamiliar with Brighton Beach’s predominately russian image. You did a thorough insightful job in choosing what to photograph to convey the sense rich community and culture in Brighton Beach.

2 Vince { 12.29.08 at 6:50 am }

I think this project shows your true potential and creativity. I love how you used this project to show how proud you are of your Russian heritage. While you were explaining it in class, i couldn’t help but sit in wonder and amazement at this professionally done project. I also like how you took the picture of the building looking up as if it was 1,000 stories tall. Another excellently done project Yuriy Minchuk!