Legendary street photog: ‘Never a dull moment’ in the Big Apple
The streets of New York are a constant source of inspiration for photographer Jamel Shabazz.
Born and raised in East Flatbush, Shabazz has been documenting city life for more than three decades, using everything from a cheap Instamatic camera to a high-end Canon DSLR.
“There’s never a dull moment. I can walk to the corner store, and I can capture so many photographs,” says Shabazz, 56, who still lives in Flatbush. “The energy is always there.”
The son of a Naval photographer, Shabazz first started taking pictures at age 15. In the decades since, he’s captured iconic moments and juxtaposition on city streets — from a guy swinging his pit bull around on the Lower East Side to a man in a Jesus T-shirt standing next to a flier for therapy on a Tribeca corner.
“Every photograph represents a second of my life and has a unique story,” says Shabazz.
Here are the stories behind some of the images from the new book.
“A Dog Owner Showing the Strength of His Pit Bull Terrier,” Lower East Side, 1980: This “photograph represents me . . . really getting into the science of photography,” says Shabazz, a dog lover who owns a pit bull himself. “My father was my instructor. He would provide me with a lot of instructions in terms of light and shutter speed. When that photograph was made, that’s when I really followed his instructions, despite the fact that it was raining on that day on the Lower East Side. I had my camera out and [on the right settings], so when I saw that gentleman preparing to swing his dog, I was instantly ready.”
“Youth and Age,” Brownsville, 2010: When it comes to shooting the annual West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn, Shabazz looks for unique vantage points. “I try to shoot it differently,” he says. “Rather than getting caught up in the crowd of Eastern Parkway, I try to go around the side streets and photograph people.” That’s how he found this group of young women getting ready while an older man looked on. He was inspired by documentary photographer Leonard Freed, whose work he admired growing up. “He always had a lot of things going on in his photographs. [He had his] main subject, but [he] always had other things going on, objects or people that helped to bring great light to his images.”