Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Street Photography: Forced Advertising

As I prepared to undertake my street photography project, I found myself wondering about what topic I should choose. After much thought and conversation with others I decided to try and document the vast amount of forced advertising in New York City. I chose to focus on the posters that are plastered on walls and construction sites throughout Manhattan. I really wanted to show that the posters assault those who walk the streets of New York City with their size and their repetitious nature. I chose to take many of my photographs bright and early on a Sunday morning. I did this for a number of reasons; chief among them being the fact that the crowds would be at a minimum. I really was not interested in the people; I was more interested in clear photographs of the ads. As a result of this I did not experience any significant interactions with fellow citizens because it was almost like I had the city to myself. The few people that I did encounter were very unconcerned with anything that I was doing and barely even noticed me. The only place that it did get interesting was downtown near Chinatown and Little Italy where my actions drew some very curious stares but fortunately no comments. I took the rest of my photos on a late weekday afternoon. I chose to do this to provide another perspective. Once again it worked out for me that I had no real interactions with anyone. There were certainly more people around and therefore more of them in my shots but I was still invisible. I was still not interested in the people but the fact that there was more of them around did not mean that I couldn’t stick to my goals.

            I knew, even before I started, that for my project to have any effect at all, I had to show a multitude of areas. I knew that I would have success on major avenues with construction activity because many of these ads are found on the temporary walls of construction sites. The ones that instantly came to mind were 6th (Avenue of the Americas), 5th, and Broadway. To show a little diversity I knew that I should also go over to the West side around 10th and 11th. I also knew that it would be wise to really vary my pattern by going downtown by the Bowery. I also knew that I should vary how I took the pictures. I would take some shots in which the whole length of the ad wall would be capture and then I would take others that were close ups of individual sections. I did not want to have the same shot every time. I had to make sure to vary how I took them because more often than not the ads would be the same and I ran the risk of being repetitious.

            As I began to walk around Manhattan snapping pictures of entire walls of ads I found myself realizing how often I actually see these without actually registering that they are there. I found walls with the same ads repeated multiple times in blocks. The walls were completely saturated with advertisements for one thing or another, whether it was a new movie or an upcoming concert. I also discovered that these same advertisements were repeated throughout the city. It was staggering to fully comprehend just how many of these ad walls there are. I also made sure to find a few shots of those construction sites that did not want ads posted along their walls. They would have signs imprinted that would say “Post No Bills”. I wanted to document clearly that not every company or organization wanted to be conduits for mass advertising.

             Throughout my quest to locate these obtrusive displays of advertising, I saw that many people simply ignore them and I am among these people. At the same time I understood that the goal is not necessarily to hope that people will notice one specific ad, but to blanket the city in them so that by sheer force of numbers people would have to pay attention sooner or later. The reason that I chose this topic was because I realized that it is an every day part of life, but one that goes largely unrecognized. More often than not, I will not even notice that they are there but eventually through repeated encounters it registers in my head and that is the whole point of this tactic. I wanted to show that, for good or bad, these advertisement walls are a part of our everyday lives.

             As I traipsed around Manhattan, I discovered that I enjoyed snapping shots of city life. I liked the idea that I was documenting something that is tangible and real. I believe that this project has given me a better appreciation for photography as an art. I now understand the thrill that a photographer gets from snapping a shot and realizing that it is his or her ideas that made that unique view of real life possible. Photography is something that I have discovered that I have an interest in and I hope to pursue it later in life. One thing is for certain; I will never look at another advertisement wall the same way again.

1 comment

1 Jack { 12.27.08 at 7:34 pm }

Just recently, after your represented your collage, I began to notice the “forced advertising” around me. While walking to school, I saw “waltz with bashir” poster next to a parking lot, I though to myself that without IDC I would always ignore it.