In doing this project, my finished product has come out far different than I anticipated. While I believe this is for the best, it is important to note where I deviated from my original methodology. The most notable change I made was the decision to shoot in black and white instead of color. I had originally planned to shoot in color because I believed it would do justice to Leipzig’s desire to photograph growing up in New York in a way that was true to the times. Additionally, I did not want to add unintentional meaning by using black and white. However, in shooting in color, I realized that I could not properly emulate Leipzig’s use of shadows and light, and made the switch to black and white. In then end, I think my photos turned out far better than if I had shot in color, as the color photographs I took could never be confused for one of Leipzig’s.
Another change I made was to not use any of the photos I took on Main St. or on the Old West Side. I had planned to photograph Ann Arbor native in areas that were distinctly separated from the university, but I had trouble taking any that did justice to Leipzig. This is mostly because of the times I was able to go there during the day, when they were mostly deserted. I especially wanted to capture children playing, but I was only able to go to parks and other family attractions in the middle of the day when kids are in school. However, in spite of my change in subjects, I think that the photos I did take are a good cross-section of student life at Michigan, which I think tells an equally interesting story as growing up as a young child in Ann Arbor. Leipzig said “My assignments and my independent projects took me all over and under the city, always searching for the human face of New York.”1 If this was the ultimate goal of Growing Up in New York, I believe my work has lived up to that creed, at least in capturing life as a student.
The final change I made was my camera. Originally, I had planned to shoot with both my DSLR and my iPhone on Instagram. However, as I progressed, I realized that to capture the photographs I really wanted, I had to ditch the camera altogether and shoot solely through my iPhone. By using a large camera, I became too much of a spectacle and could not capture candidly the events happening around me. However, by using my iPhone, people interacted with me, but not so much as to stop what they were doing. I ended up not using Instagram, however, because of the switch to black and white.
The city was my home. As I look back at the work that I did during that period I realize that I was witness to a time that no longer exists, a more innocent time. While I know that the city has changed, that the streets are dirtier and meaner, the energy that I love is still there. No matter where I go, I keep coming back to photograph New York.1
As I progressed through the process of taking photos, I learned a lot about Leipzig. When I originally read the above quote, I believed he was referring to his familiarity with New York. By referring to it as his home, he conveyed the feeling of belonging. However, as I continued to take photographs, I began to understand that the beauty of his work is that he found ways to be totally out of place in his own city. Leipzig went places where he was the only one of his kind (white, Jewish, upper class, etc.) and instantly became the outsider. However, he used the common ground of New York to connect with his subjects through his lens. It is in this way that he was “at home”.
I’ve also come to understand the passion that is necessary to truly succeed in photography. Taking photos is not a task that can be done begrudgingly. In order to take great photos, one has to commit both time and energy, and be happy disregarding ninety percent of the work they produce in the hope that the remaining ten is worth the effort. I took over a hundred photographs in six different locations over the course of the two weeks of this project, and my resulting body of work consists of nineteen photos. I can only imagine what Leipzig decided to cut from his book to end up with more than ninety images spanning the whole city of New York. It takes real passion to create something like this, and it is this passion, more than anything, that I have learned from walking in the shoes of Arthur Leipzig.