“My life as a photographer began in the streets of the city. For me, New York, with its diverse cultures and varied topography, presented a new challenge every day.” -Arthur Leipzig (Growing Up in New York)
Arthur Leipzig’s overall style does somewhat resemble that of the New York Photo League. His style is similar in that he strove to document the people of New York. However, Leipzig’s photographs are not “honest;” they do not just leave the situation and image alone. Instead, Leipzig’s images are more often deliberately composed. He pays attention to light and angles, and plays off of these elements almost as a modernist would. Moreover, not all of Leipzig’s photographs are non-posed.
While looking at Leipzig’s photobook Growing Up in New York, many of the photographs do appear to be very natural and taken from an unintrusive, observer’s point of view. For example, this is very visible in Leipzig’s photographs of children playing. The subjects do not seem to notice the camera at all or if they are more focused on their play and thus do not react to the camera.
This element of Leipzig’s images is also heavily evident in his Watching Santa project. Leipzig was sent by PM “to photograph a mechanical Santa Claus surrounded by toys and dolls in the window of Namm’s department store in Brooklyn.” In his explanation of the project Leipzig describes his process of capturing these images. He says, “At first, I tried to take my pictures hiding behind the Santa, but I soon realized that it wasn’t necessary: he was far more interesting than I was….crowds of holiday shoppers stood transfixed with their faces pressed against the glass-while I, standing in full view, took all the photos I needed” (Growing Up in New York). Leipzig is extremely close to the subjects of these images, yet they seem to barely care or even rarely notice.
To mimic this aspect of Leipzig’s photography I took many pictures of subjects going about their regular days. I especially looked for adults going about some aspect of business, such as going to work or buying something to eat, or children playing outside.
Despite the many unstaged photographs in Leipzig’s book there are some images that in which the subjects seem less oblivious. In these images, the subjects seem much more aware that they are being photographed or at least they seem to care more. Due to this greater attention of the subjects to the camera there is a bit of interaction between the photographer and subjects. An example of a photograph in which this is visible is Opening Night at the Opera; the man in the image is looking directly at the camera and even a few subjects in the background. To capture images with a similar feel to them I walked around Ann Arbor photographing people going about their daily lives. However, I was not always shy about hiding the presence and I did not eliminate all photographs in which a subject is looking at my camera.
Another variation of Leipzig’s photography is when he seems to be very involved with the subjects by either staging those pictured or encouraging them to pose for the camera. This seems to occur fairly seldom in Leipzig’s photographs. However, a commonality is that these images in which the subject is very engaged with the photographer tend to contain one subject and this individual is very clearly supposed to be the focus of the image. Leipzig does this with his picture of a sanitation worker, an immigrant, and a man in Harlem. Leipzig must have seen these three men as important to photograph. By engaging the subjects and drawing the viewer’s eyes to them Leipzig effectively emphasizes the men as important people of New York and characterizes them based on their social class or occupation.
This piece of Leipzig’s work inspired me to try to spot and take some pictures in Ann Arbor of adults that are somehow dressed or in a setting that makes their job or social position very obvious. I even sometimes actually engaged the subject and asked to photograph them. This created similar images to Leipzig’s in which the subjects are poised for the camera and almost posed since they knew they are being photographed.
An additional division of Leipzig’s photography involves his images taken secretly; the subjects of these images had no way of knowing they were being captured. Leipzig does this in his “Subway” series because he wanted to capture how natural people acted while riding. Leipzig explains, “Once the train doors closed, people seemed to sink into their own private worlds, and it was easy to see their concerns played out on their faces. I was eager to take photographs, but worried that my camera would be an intrusion” (Growing Up in New York). To secretly capture these riders of the subway, Leipzig cleverly created a sort of dog cage in which he hid his camera. I also took pictures of people in transit, however, on the Ann Arbor city buses rather than a subway. To conceal I was taking photographs of the riders I often used my cell phone camera, rather than a real digital camera, for these images. This made my act of taking pictures much less obvious because it could appear that I am just reading something on my phone.
The last aspect of Leipzig’s photography that really inspires me is his images of the Brooklyn Bridge. The angles at which Leipzig took these photographs are extremely creative and they create a very aesthetically pleasing, modern image. While I never planned to be as brave as Leipzig was and actually climb up one of these bridges I still hoped to attempt to imitate this photos by venturing to bridges in Ann Arbor and even Toledo. My focus was going to be on trying to invent unique angles that gave a slightly disorienting view of the bridges. Unfortunately, my plans to photograph a large Toledo bridge were stifled twice, once by a tornado warning and a second time by the main bridge I aimed to photograph being closed. I did attempt photographing smaller bridges but the results were not worth including.
Overall, I never planned to fully engage in each type of methodology used by Leipzig. Instead, I planned to be watching around me for opportunities of all of them. Then, when opportunities were seen of images that could be taken to imitate Leipzig’s photography I engaged in that particularly methodology. I hope to more overall have touched a little on each style but only focus in depth on a few.
My photographs, as mentioned, were taken throughout Ann Arbor. This included along busy streets, at social events around town, on buses, and more. Also, most of Leipzig’s images are taken during the daytime so I copied this methodology as well, unless of course I was attempting to imitate a specific photo that happens to be an exception and was taken at night.
My plan and execution for taking on Leipzig’s point of view relate to my general theme because my general goal was to capture the spirit of Ann Arbor in my images. This spirit and life, through the subjects and architecture, is not the same as those presented in Leipzig’s photographs of New York. However, I was still imitating the eye of Leipzig by trying to present to viewers a representation of what life in Ann Arbor looks and feels like, a representation of the spirit of my hometowns.