Photos & Analysis
In attempting to capture scenes the way Leipzig did, I made several discoveries. It became apparent throughout the process that Leipzig was not simply documenting the experiences of others, but rather engaging with his subjects and becoming a part of the experience, using the lens to bridge the gap between himself and those he was photographing. I say this because when taking photographs of people doing the things Leipzig wanted to shoot, it is impossible to be inconspicuous. When people are at a concert or a parade or a nightclub, they are more than willing to interact with someone who is photographing them, and in fact refuse to ignore a photographer. Because of this, the interaction becomes part of the scene, and the subjects begin to perform for the photo to create what they perceive the photographer to be looking for.
This type of exchange was initially difficult for me to overcome. I am a very introverted person, and interacting with people I have nevermet, especially in the context of photographing them, is incredibly uncomfortable for me. At the beginning of my experience, it was a huge hurdle to overcome, and I found myself taking very few photos as to avoid this interaction altogether. However, as it became clear that Leipzig could not be done justice without participating in the scene, I slowly began to engage my subjects. While I never felt truly comfortable, I did manage to capture a set of photos that I believe emulate Leipzig’s photographic conversation.
Although I overcame my shyness, a challenge I cannot definitively say I tackled is Leipzig’s use of light. I had originally wanted to shoot in color in order to represent the daily lives of Ann Arborites in their truest forms. However, after my first batch of photos, it became clear that I was not shooting photographs that could ever be mistaken for Leipzig’s. His use of light and shadows to create dynamic photos not only document the world around him but are also stunning works of art in terms of composition. This is largely because of his decision to photograph in black and white. Color photography becomes to complex to capture light in the same way because the different colors distract from the way the light lands on the scene. A shadow in a color photograph is far less noticeable than that of a black and white photo, because instead of looking at black as the shadow and white as the light, you’re looking at blue and red and yellow and everything in between as the light, and shadows are easily overlooked. In light of this realization, I made the switch to black and white, and I believe that made a world of difference in my ability to channel Leipzig.
However, while I may have failed in capturing Leipzig in color, I feel as though one aspect of his photographs that I succeeded in replicating was his Jewish eye. Some could argue that Leipzig did not have a Jewish sensibility to his photos as they are of non-Jews and have no religious context, I believe that as a Jew, it was impossible for him to walk into a room full of non-Jews and not feel out of place, based on the time period in which Growing Up in New York was taken. Jews at the time were not yet accepted as normal, and it would have been very clear to everyone around him that he was Jewish and therefore did not fit in. In taking my own photographs, I too felt that same isolation, although in a different sense. Being in Ann Arbor in 2013, my Judaism is neither obvious nor ostracizing. However, my perspective was inherently Jewish, especially based on my subject matter. Many of my subjects and venues were Jewish, and it was in these settings that I felt the most comfortable. The relative ease with which I photographed other Jews without fear of judgment was noticeable compared to the hesitation I felt when photographing non-Jews. In this sense, I too had the same feeling of isolation I imagine Leipzig felt when photographing those who I did not know to be Jews. However, it is worth noting that Leipzig never made a point to photograph anyone because they were Jewish, nor did he ever identify any of his subjects as Jewish. I strayed from that mentality by shooting at two separate Jewish gatherings: an Alpha Epsilon Phi (an all Jewish sorority) Semi-Formal dance and a youth group event for the synagogue where I work.
When assessing my portfolio as a whole, two images stick out to me as exemplary in emulating Leipzig. First is AEPhi Semi Formal,which was taken at the Cavern Club in Ann Arbor, MI in November 2013. It shows my date for the night sipping on her drink and smiling in front of a huge wall of lights. It stands out to me because of the way the light outlines her figure and creates shadows on her face, much in the way that Leipzig does. It also does justice to the emotion of the moment, showing the carefree and happy moment that we were having together. What makes Leipzig’s photos so compelling apart from his composition is his ability to capture the raw emotion of his subjects, much of which is joyful. I think this photo does that better than most of my other shots.
The other photo I believe is set apart from the rest is Colonial Lanes, which was taken at a middle school youth group bowling event for the synagogue I work for. It too exudes joy, this time in the excitement of the two boys. What I love
most about this photo is how both boys give off the same feeling of glee in two different ways – the smile on the boy on the left and the motion of the boy on theright. Together they create a sense of pure happiness, a theme that is prevalent throughout much of Growing Up in New York.
What has surprised me most is that I have found this project to be a source of personal growth. I started out thinking that I would just take photos of different people in the style of Leipzig. Never did I think that I would be faced with overcoming my own personality traits in order to do so. It has given me a newfound respect for Leipzig’s ability to take photos of groups so foreign to him with seemingly nothing holding him back. I hope to someday be able to throw myself into any environment without fear of judgment, which Leipzig seems to have been able to do. That kind of trait is enviable, and is what makes Leipzig such a fantastic photographer.