Tour du Monde
Gangs of New York01.06.2010 / 14:20
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Text by Alex Marashian Photos by Oliver Helbig
Gangs of New York
Yesterday, while down at ‘The Cage’, the basketball courts on West 4th Street at 6th Avenue, we came across some classic New York characters — brash, colorful, charismatic. Visiting the little flea market on the corner of Spring and Wooster, our luck continued. There’s probably not another place in the world where you’ll find such a diversity of types and styles as on the streets of New York. Certainly, no other city puts such a premium on character: standing out and showing style have a value here all their own.
Encouraged by the photos we made yesterday, we decided to take our character study a little further this morning. Bringing along a set of PLAY with DEDON chairs by Philippe Starck, we planned to interview our subjects about what play meant to them and how they played in New York. There was only one problem — the rain. It was pouring down in sheets, driving even the most steadfast New York characters off the streets and making our mission much more challenging than it would ordinarily have been.
As we set out, our friend and location manager, E.J., suggested we head straight to his neck of the woods, the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where the rain, he claimed, tends to fall less heavily than in Manhattan. There seemed to be some truth to this, but still, the sidewalks, parks and dog runs we passed were all deserted. A little disheartened, we took E.J. up on his offer to go back to his place and photograph his housemate, Chuck.
A graphic designer and avid gamer, Chuck was chilling in front of the TV, playing football on his Xbox. He happily kicked back in a PLAY chair to continue his game, hardly taking notice of us as Oliver, our photographer, snapped away. Then, when the game was up, Chuck gave us a great PLAY interview. Feeling a little better now that we’d managed to capture our first subject, we headed out again, cruising like cops up and down the streets of Williamsburg, looking for anyone crazy enough to be out and about. No luck.
Eventually, we decided to give Manhattan another try. On EJ’s suggestion, we headed straight downtown to a sneaker shop called Flight Club that sells shrink-wrapped vintage sneakers. The shop’s side wall, a sneakerscape of rare models from the last 15 or 20 years, mainly Nike, made an excellent backdrop, and we managed to take a number of good portraits here. But the shop wasn’t as busy as we’d hoped it would be , so we hit the rain-soaked pavement once again.
Sometimes, you find characters where you’re least expecting them. It was completely by chance that we glanced down a narrow, nondescript side street at the top of the financial district and noticed a man in a business suit, dancing with himself — ecstatically — under a scaffolding that sheltered him from the pounding rain. Meet Hillary, as pure a specimen of New York character as you’re likely to find.
Equipped with a portable CD player, one of his few concessions to technology, Hillary was dancing non-stop to his favorite reggae beats. Even seated in a PLAY chair, he kept up the moves, the blissed-out look on his face never clearing. And as we interviewed him, Hillary proved to be no less inhibited with his opinions than he was with his dance moves. But just as we were getting into his story, he glanced at his watch and realized he had to get back to work. Work? Hillary? Apparently so. Like a flash, he was gone, sprinting through the afternoon rain, waving goodbye without looking back.
Our search continued down by the east side piers, where we found old men from nearby Chinatown fishing and encountered a runner named Bobby who took a break from his training to sit in the PLAY chair and answer some questions. “How do you play?” we asked him. “Tough,” he replied. “I play to win.”
So do we. Cruising back into Brooklyn, no let-up in the rain, we took made some portraits at Barcade, a laid-back drinks bar with vintage arcade games lining its walls, then made our way over to a biker shop on Berry street, where the guy behind the counter had a rockabilly look and photographed well. Finally, we traipsed up the steps of an old warehouse building, its dilapidated loft spaces of converted into artist studios.
On the top floor was the photo studio was our friend Christian Anwander, an Austrian in New York and a character in his own right. Bearded, his bright blue eyes beaming, Christian has turned New York into his playground. Talented, open and always up for some fun, he made our improvised photo shoot on the rooftop of his building a pleasure, despite the pounding rain. Sure, today was a washout — but it wasn’t a waste. Even when it rains, go out and play!