New York State of Mind

It struck me, as I quickly made my way out of the rain and into the Broadway-Lafayette Station in New York how strange life can be and how quickly we can experience so much.

I remember dreaming once, maybe 10 or more years ago, of visiting New York city. At that time it was the “city”. The mecca of culture, community and all things interesting. Coming from a small-town there was always that lure from the neon lights, pulling my attention toward the looming buildings and fast moving traffic. I’m sure that those of you from the city, or any city roll your eyes at the naive wonderment of the desire to see the buildings and lights but we always want to see the grass on the other side of the fence.

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I’ve spent the last 2 weeks in the city, with The Wild Ones tour, and it’s opened my eyes to so much. Very quickly our family of 3 turned into an ever expanding collection of beautiful souls wandering the streets of Manhattan and navigating the subways. Our small temporary home in Queens was bursting at the seams with sleeping bags and laptops but it was felt like a home nonetheless.

Our first full day in the city, Sarah and I met with “our Brazilians” as we came to call them. Talented friends Mateus and Bernardo had traveled from Brasilia, Brazil to New York to attend our workshop and we wanted to spend as much time as we could with them. After some hurried greetings and first hugs, we trekked our way across the Brooklyn Bridge, the city looming behind, to have coffee in a café tucked between a warehouse and the carousel. It was the first of many days with these two, and it was clear they’d become an important fixture of our “New York Days”.

 

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After parting ways, I dragged Sarah to stand in a line circling a city block simply to see something that I never thought I’d see. For the 20th anniversary of Friends, a temporary Central Perk café had been set up in the city, complete with props and costumes from the show and the iconic couch from the show! It was closing the next day and I knew I had to do whatever I could to visit. It was strange walking in after the wait, to see these objects and items that I’d seen hundreds of times over. Friends was a show that got me through a lot of really tough times, at times it was like a check mark in my life. If I could just make it to Thursday evening, I could escape for those 30 minutes and feel better at the end. It was emotional to be there, to feel like I’ve come so far from that lost 16 year old me that couldn’t see the light.

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Later that night we picked up our Intern contest winner, Jayna and our family grew yet again. The next morning our growing troupe, now complete with Shane and Lulu began the trek to Central Park to teach our final workshop of the 2014 tour (a blog on that later!). The workshop was one of the most satisfying moments of my photography journey, and maybe even my entire life. To stand there in front of so many incredibly talented students and friends, watching them scurry through the park and try new styles of photography was inspiring and humbling. To see students who worked for months and traveled for days to attend our class made me feel like what we are doing was really a valuable and important thing. I hope I never forget that feeling of pride as I set up my camera for the final group shot.

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After an editing day in an office building tucked between the high-rises of Manhattan we were officially finished the 2014 tour. It was a strange feeling to wrap it up, but we did with an amazing class. The next few days that followed were ones that I hope stay with me for a long time. Our modern family of photographers explored and toured our way through the city. Taking in an Imax movie, drinking as much coffee as we could along the way. We watched sunset in Central Park and navigated our easily distracted group through Time Square. Our final day together was spent in reflection, visiting the 9/11 Memorial and honoring those lives that were lost.

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It was a bit strange to be in a city that so many come to looking for direction, for purpose or a new opportunity and feel that we had given our new friends just that. I looked out over our small group and saw not just photographers from other countries, but a family. New brothers and sisters that quickly found a place inside the fibres of my heart. Saying goodbye was hard, but it’s never goodbye just “until next time”.

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The next few days I spent with a friend and student of our workshop Vincent. We had planned a photo adventure and it was almost the perfect day for it if you ignored the rain, traffic delays, police tickets and running out of gas. We arrived at the abandoned hospital complex in Poughkeepsie under the dark clouds of rain and quickly began exploring the endless halls of the many buildings on campus. Places like that overwhelm me, there’s so many stories wanting to be told. So many emotions that hang so thick in the air that you can almost feel them. It’s hard to stand in the halls of a building like and not let your brain want to pick up every detail and form stories around it.

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We spent a few hours, taking photos and exploring floor after floor of the hospital grounds. I try, in these abandoned and often sad places, to take photos that show an image of rebirth, of growth or change. Hoping that in the destruction and decay that people can see the potential for beauty, that maybe beautiful stories exist there, just lost in the noise of the more negative emotions.

 

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I never thought I would get to see so much of the city. We ventured to the top of the Empire State Building, hailed a cab to catch a show just off Broadway with Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart and Hannah Hart (which was hilarious!), we visited the apartment block from Friends and stopped to photograph bridges, statues and graffiti that caught our eye. It was during these now every day treks in the city that I realized how quickly I had adapted. How quickly my dream of visiting this iconic city had become not a reality but an extremely positive and life-changing moment in my life.

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There’s a stigma that New York City has, for noise and grunge and rudeness. But all I found when I was there was passion, excitement and desire to achieve dreams. The friends that we met are ones I hope to call friends for a lifetime, the memories of teaching, exploring and laughing are ones I hope to hold with me for a very long time.

 

I hope that you get to visit your dream location, wherever that may be, to explore it and to make new friends and to fill your memory bank with as many moments as you can.

One Comment

  1. Beautiful Joel, so glad that I was able to be part of your and so many others stories. Just remember that you’ve become a large part of my own story as well! :)

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