While the streets of New York are full of different characters, there’s one section of the city that is well known for its fashion, style and great photography moments: 57th Street and Fifth Avenue.
This exact corner of Midtown is where you’ll find British-born photographer Daniel Featherstone snapping New Yorkers in the most candid of moments, whether it’s rushing to an appointment, talking on the phone or casually strolling in and out of stores.
Tell us how you got into photography and, more specifically, street portraits.
“I was a graffiti writer in the 80s and used a cheap film camera for documenting my work. I later became a graphic designer and art director where having a camera just became an essential tool. I started a collection of abstractions and other simplifications which created the foundation of my style.
“My environmental street and street portraits began about a year ago. I made a book called ’10 blocks’ which is the walk from Grand Central Station to my job. I used my iPhone 5S to capture the characters along the way. The images were traditional in sensibility, high contrast and candid. Although at the time my iPhone seemed perfect for candid, personal moments I wanted to explore more lighting variations and flexibility with making big prints so I made the change to an SLR.”
Why New York? Where in NYC do you take most of your portraits?
“New York is a transient hub of such diversity, it’s an essential place for street photographers of all backgrounds. The characters that I interact with range from the plastic surgery aristocracy to naïve tourists to the underprivileged homeless; they are all present. I find for the most part, the people I shoot are usually oblivious to me which makes for a much more serendipitous moment. You can usually find me at a famous spot, upper midtown on 57th street and 5th Avenue.”
Can you remember the first person you photographed on the streets of NYC?
“The first person I remember shooting actually made it to the front cover of my book, an orthodox Jewish man walking toward me emerging from the dark. I thought he might have shouted at me but he didn’t and my confidence has grown exponentially since that day.”
Who are some memorable characters you’ve met?
“Of course I see Bill Cunningham all the time around the same area. Last year I shot a lady with a flare for fashion who was in her 90s visiting New York with her daughter. She was truly fantastic.
“I remember one gentleman reacted very adversely after I took a shot of his wife 20 years his junior. He started screaming ‘Poliiiice’ at the top of his lungs. It shook me up for a while. I guess that is part of being a street photographer and you just have to accept that sometimes you have to be prepared for anything.”
Are there other places around the world you’d love to photograph people?
“I’m originally from England so I’d like to return to London and seek out the contrast in personalities. I feel that most cosmopolitan areas provide that unexpected demographic that I crave. I’ve also fantasied about shooting the Appalachian mountain people in West Virginia. So many unusual characters in the world, so little time.”
Currently, Daniel Featherstone is a professor at Parsons New School in New York City and teaches a course called ‘Available Light Photography’ and ‘Graphic Design Portfolio.’ See more of his work on his website and Instagram.
All images © Daniel Featherstone