Melissa O’Shaughnessy paperwork the streets of New York in her first guide
The street photography by New York based photographer Melissa O & # 39; Shaughnessy has been featured in numerous exhibitions and books, including the new release by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz & # 39; Bystander: A History of Street Photography (2017), but Perfect Strangers: New York City Street Photographs is the first monograph of her work.
"The book is the culmination of seven years of work on the streets of New York City," O’Shaughnessy told CR. "There are few good street photos, that's why it took me so long to build a work that I was proud of and that I thought was worth a book."
Above: Fifth Avenue, 2017. Above: Fifth Avenue, 2018. All images from Perfect Strangers: New York City Street photos by Melissa O’Shaughnessy, published by Aperture
The photographer says she got into photography late after starting in her early 40s after working for a small finance firm and raising her three children. "I spent my early days learning the craft of black and white film photography and gradually shifting to color and then to life on the streets of New York City and beyond," explains O’Shaughnessy. "At some point along the way, I started thinking of myself as a street photographer, although I by no means limit myself to genre or nickname."
Although she finds it difficult to define her style, O’Shaughnessy says that she works instinctively and tries to convey a sense of reality and honesty with her photographs. "I hope that my photos convey the joy I find in what I see and in the energy and sometimes bizarre behavior of the people I meet on the way," she says.
Fifth Avenue, 2019
As expected, people are the focus of the photographer's work and a cast of fascinating characters is presented to us in Perfect Strangers. "Denise Wolff (my wonderful editor at Aperture) and I started with a batch of over 300 photos and gradually edited them down to the 91 that appear in the book," says O’Shaughnessy of the editing process. “During a series of weekly meetings, we sequenced the photos – and there were several iterations of the sequence along the way – to reveal the mood and tenor of the story we are telling about life in New York City at that particular time wanted and of my particular vision of it. "
O’Shaughnessy believes that the rich streets of New York City will always inspire photographers, and she believes it is important to note the historical significance of the city in relation to the genre of street photography. "Its streets and avenues have been used by many greats in photography, from Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand to Joel Meyerowitz and Helen Levitt," she says. “The city has diverse crowds and an irresistible energy, and at certain times of the year the light can be sensational. Add in the background of all the jar and architecture and it turns into a delicious stew. "
Sixth Avenue, 201642nd Street, 2019
Although O & # 39; Shaughnessy has established herself as a street photographer, as in the art world, the photography industry still has a habit of defining artists by their gender first, and as such, she is in a handful of exhibitions titled "Women Street Photographers" or "Women Street Photographers" to see something like that. It's still something that O’Shaughnessy struggles with, although it is clear that female street photographers are not so much of a minority right now, and she feels it is important that she and her colleagues be at least universally recognized.
“I think the problem is complex and nuanced. On the whole, I can safely say that in the past women – in many, if not most, aspects of the arts, culture and commerce – had fewer opportunities than men, ”she says. "I also think it's a matter of awareness and exposure, and I think female street photographers happily begin to receive both in greater numbers."
42nd Street, 2018Sixth Avenue, 2016
O’Shaughnessy reflects on the development of street photography and says that her subjects have changed rather than changes in her technique. “When I started, cell phones were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are today. It's difficult these days to take a picture with not many – or most – of the people locked in the frame on their small screens, ”notes the photographer. “And of course the Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed street life in New York and in every other big city. The crowd is gone, everyone is masked, aloof and careful. I think the book feels like it's from a completely different era, even though the work is still very young. "
Looking through O’Shaughnessy's pictures creates a longing for a time before Covid. However, it is also a reminder of what will hopefully return, a time when we can revel in the hustle and bustle and being close to people again. Although that may be a long way off for now, O’Shaughnessy hopes the book can at least offer this warmth and intrigue. "I want people to enjoy our fellow wives and men wherever they are," she says. "People are so beautiful, in all their infinite variety."
Vesey Street, 2015
Seventh Avenue, 2017
Fifth Avenue, 2019
Perfect Strangers: New York street photos of Melissa O’Shaughnessy published by Aperture are available now. melissaoshaughnessy.com