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Mitch Epstein

The City

A series of photographs about the meeting of public and private life in New York.
A populace flows
Through the city.
This is a language, therefore, of New York
- George Oppen,
"Of Being Numerous"

Issues of surveillance, and the blurred line between private and public space were central to the formation of the city. In the early 70's—when I first photographed New York—the street and public spaces were fair game for a photographer, and people not only tolerated but enjoyed having their picture taken. But in the 90s, I found myself questioning how a photographer functions in public space: what is acceptable and what is not, because people were, by then, sensitive to the intrusiveness of cameras (of all kinds) in our culture.

New York is a chaotic and layered universe. Everyone sustains his own solar system of family, friends, and associates within this complex universe—sanctuaries amid the chaos. The city reconstructs the intimate core and the anonymous skin of New York. At the heart of this work is the meeting of two disparate worlds: what it means to separate them and what it means to put them together.

At its heart, as well, is my enduring interest in banality, and finding ways to draw from it whatever wit and irony I can. I'm especially intrigued by the meaning of myth and how everyday life can adopt a quality of myth when photographed. In this manner, myth can become a language of its own, and the mythic can illuminate that which is poignantly and simply human in a picture.

The myth of New York cannot be separated from the reality of it. These photographs are of a New York as imagined as it is real.

—Mitch Epstein