jay giampietro takes the street photography where no one else does. he seeks out a special breed of new yorker, one more outcasted than glamorous, surreptitiously shoots with his iphone, and captures them in all their weird and wonderful glory. the results can be poignant, sad, comical and always very real photos.
what do you look for when shooting these photos?
i'm drawn to people whose energy and appearance seem to suggest a narrative. i think there's a sense of "aloneness" that is a pretty consistent theme in the pictures - once i got into doing this, i started noticing the differences between people's energy when they are alone and how it changes when they are around other people.
the default-ness of the iphone camera is a big part of the style. i think this has created a language and feeling for these pictures that wouldn't exist if i used more formally expressive tools of photography to capture them. that's where the intimacy of the pics comes from, and i'm willing to trade off the advantages a higher level DSLR type of camera would give for the rawness and presence of the iphone shots.
ultimately i see it as a pursuit in appreciation of urban life in all of its shapes and forms - the strangeness, the humor and warmth, the sadness, beauty in the ugly and the ugliness in attempts at certain types of beauty. empathy is a huge part too - capturing their presence while maintaining a sense of empathy.
where do you like to go?
one of the biggest influences on the pictures is the fact that i'm on my bicycle, so i cover a lot of ground. i usually circulate around manhattan, not often with a plan although hitting the major parks is a consistent thing. union square has been a hot spot for me this summer.
but i am also fascinated (and often frustrated too) by the inherent randomness of street photography in general. every casual turn up and down a street can lead to something great, and if i'm not seeing anything inspiring, i lament the missed opportunities in my imagination. i try to be open to the energies of the street and let some kind of sixth sense guide me sometimes, or just feel. i have been amazed at the little quick moments i have been gifted to have captured. but it does sometimes feel weird, as opposed to other creative pursuits, that such a huge part of the process is out of my control and dictated by being in the right place at the right time.
i had this one lucky break once when I hadn't gone out in a day or two to shoot and just took a quick ride around williamsburg with the vague hope of getting a shot while i was getting a smoothie. this kind old man was walking down the street on a ninety degree day and i saw him stretching by pulling on the pole. i pulled my phone out to get the shot, hoping to at least get him stretching, and he surprised me by going into this parkour style show of strength while i was shooting. after he got back on the ground he raised a triumphant fist to the two younger guys watching him outside of the parking garage.
do you think of them as street style?
definitely! i'm so often compelled by choices of personal expression and style when it comes to taking a pic, although it's usually just like a "whoa" thing less than how what someone is wearing fits into a trend. “paper jacket” is kinda like the most extreme street style shot I think I have ever gotten, as his outfit is obviously handmade and required a ton of ingenuity to put together.
all the people of new york together, living and surviving and expressing themselves, who they are and who they wish to be, it's a pretty fantastic runway in plain sight!
how do you think these photos represent new york city specifically?
sometimes the aloneness, the darkness, the pathos that might pop up for some people while looking at the pictures, i think it relates in a lot of ways to the struggle of being in new york. i love the city but it's an unnatural environment, concrete and steam, LOUD, and millions of people occupying a slim strip of land. all of that inevitable rubbing together leads to an expression, a new york thing that has been romanticized forever, and as someone who's never lived more than a 20 minute drive away from the city, it's all i know. but that energy that is specific to the city is something i try to capture when i see it being expressed around me.
another thing i've been thinking about a lot is how the whole gentrification process has proceeded. it feels real to me, and i can see how things are disappearing, especially in the way the east village has been transformed. so i am trying to capture these poetic characters wandering the streets in their unique personal splendor, surviving, while they're still here. but i have an optimistic heart that this spirit of new york can never really be sold into oblivion. i think about times square - when i was first old enough to hang out in the city unsupervised it was literally all porn shops up and down 42nd street - and when giuliani took office he had a vision of turning it into a disneyland type of place, and he succeeded. but this disneyland vision is filtered through the new york sensibility so the costume characters and superheroes are hustlers who will get into brawls with each other over a few bucks and people get naked with patriotic bodypaint to sell themselves as props in pictures for tourists. so it's still gritty and off-kilter and unexpected and unmanageable like new york will always be.
i'm a huge andy warhol fan and he's been on my mind throughout this process of taking street photos - i think he'd love instagram if he was alive - and aside from imagining that he'd be using his iphone to take pictures all the time, he's also an artist who really seemed to be forever fascinated by the energies around new york city. i think the instagram development of offering "filters" is like the most warholian thing you can imagine. it's like a default for a style that then starts to reveal something unique by its commonality and limitations.
you can view this parade of personas on his instagram account @jaygiampietro.
in addition to being a street photographer, jay also makes short films. you can catch his latest short, hernia at the upcoming new york film festival on september 27th and 28th.