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  • Writer's pictureChristopher S. Kelly

New York: Then & Now​, Virtual Exhibit

Originally shown with John McCabe's photos from 1970s-1990s in Bergen County, New Jersey (USA) in fall 2022

Exhibit with John McCabe

Swartley Gallery Series

Images shown here in this special virtual gallery only by me, Chris Kelly:

Christopher S. Kelly


I got my start practicing photography through watching wildlife in my early ‘20s. Both in southern Africa and then New England, I took many identification photos – especially of birds—and began to care more about the artistic quality much later. Moving to New York, it was hard not to dabble in street photography; connecting with local photo walks and the NYC street photo community morphed into what is today my primary ‘genre’ of work. But most of the pieces I present here I shot during the pandemic. Its different phases, and their intersections with my own health, pushed my photography to take on emotional valence.

These scenes comprise a bit of a ‘greatest hits’ of my first five years in New York—but especially the projection, and retroflection, of emotions on the street during the first respiratory pandemic in 100 years.

Seeking Solace, 2020

The Little Red Lighthouse, under the George Washington Bridge

In December 2020, kids and teachers (and parents) alike were hanging on by a thread. We were still staring down the whole winter ahead at a time that didn’t feel entirely safe to socialize in large group settings (it’s fitting that John McCabe includes Hart Island in his selection). And yet, many of us had not a spare moment to process: hybrid lesson planning, checking in on family, and keeping the wheels on the train. This moment shown here at Little Red after a gloriously peaceful sunset was an oasis of solace during these times. The gentleman depicted sat still in reflection for the 30 second exposure I captured at dusk near the winter solstice.

Snow Cinema, 2021

179th and Broadway, Washington Heights

Part of a series of snowy, desperate images I made in December 2020, and the first couple of months in 2021, these times felt like the scenes of a movie: personal grief amidst the burning pandemic, with hopeful vaccines on the horizon, shook up in a snowglobe and splayed out onto the streetscape of Washington Heights. This particular image came late in that winter in February 2021

Winter Song/Going Home, 2020

179th Street and Fort Washington Ave, Washington Heights

I quote from an excerpt I wrote our former principal Joe Algrant about this image: “I was walking in the snow with a 55 mm lens, and took this picture of a lone person ostensibly making their way home in the blizzard-like conditions in front of the bridge (barely visible, but for the repeating lights). I like looking back on this image now, because I think it is sort of emotionally ambiguous. You can project your own thoughts, feelings, and narrative onto the person and their journey. At the time…I felt sort of profoundly despondent looking at it. In fact, it heralded the onramp of the winter storm, as much as to the bridge (listen to the Leslie Odom Jr. cover of ‘Winter Song’). But now, having trudged through the metaphorical snow of the 2020-2021 teaching year ourselves, I’d like to think different themes and emotions emerge: resilience, fortitude, survival, overcoming the immediate obstacle ahead to go home to a warm home or, in our case, a rebuilt community. I’d like to see the person as being strong enough that they set out to brave the snow, as much as their boots sunk in every step of the way. And I hope if you do so choose to hang the image in the office, that the kids connect to some of that in the image as wellor better yet, as they so often do, to write their own story”

The Hot Duck, 2018

Central Park

In 2018, a pop sensation swept through Central Park: the Hot Duck!! A Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) native to East Asia appeared in the Central Park Pond (at the most southerly end of CP), and captivated the city (go ahead—give the Hot Duck of NYC a Google). Where did it come from? No one knows, but it probably was a pet escaped from a domestic farm, who then found its way to the city. Controversial in bird circles for being glorified despite being non-native, I still found the duck just totally exquisite.

This image, though it does not quite fit the theme, is a nod to the role that wildlife played in my development as a photographer. Shooting birds is when/where I learned composition, perspective, and so many other first principles.

Jerry Weldon on Saxophone, 2021

Lower East Side

Early summer 2021 was a time of great optimism. It was the lull before the Delta variant, and the performing arts were returning to New York. I shot this particular image of Jerry Weldon playing saxophone with the Richard Cortez Band (RCB) on Juneteenth in the Lower East Side. I should mention I was a guest photographer in the shadow of the resident RCB photographer: the talented Melissa Hill ( RCB centers LGBTQ+ stories and history, while paying homage to the greatest jazz musicians in history.

Soul, 2021

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Nearing the end of a photo walk, I came upon the insanely talented Greg Banks, who graced us with his music on the street. Quoting from his website: “Born in the Black culture epicenter of New Orleans, Louisiana and currently residing in the Bohemian root down turf of Brooklyn, New York, staunchly independent Greg Banks is a prolific troubadour of Funk, Rock and Soul with four EPs and a string of singles in circulation via High Velocity Management. Greg’s artistry encompasses singing lead and harmonized vocals, playing guitar, writing, arranging and producing his music then performing fronting his 6-piece band before spellbound audiences.”

We passed on by/layers, 2021

Downtown, East River Greenway after walking in Chinatown

It’s an unusual choice to shoot street with a 105 mm lens (on a full frame camera), but that was my selection on this particular afternoon strolling with two other uptown photographers. I actually love the compression and intimacy that portrait-length lenses provide in candid images. In this case, it allowed me to compose multiple layers to the picture, and provide commentary on the everyday in July 2021.

Baptisms / Cleansing, 2021

Corona Park, Queens

In September 2021, I paid a visit to sites that held pandemic memories for me of NYC, to make photographic sense of them a year later. One such place was Corona Park/Flushing Meadows. The mist I encountered seemed a metaphor for rejuvenation of the neighborhood, of the self, of the soul. I projected this ethereal hope and renewal onto the subject in the image, with the planetary sculpture (the Unisphere, from the 1964 World’s Fair) serving as a most fitting background. Queens indeed connects the local to the global; it has the highest linguistic diversity on the planet, with over 300 languages spoken on Roosevelt Avenue alone.

New York or Nowhere, Part II, 2022

A-Train, en route uptown, from Times Square

Although I sadly lost my phone note where I recorded this gentleman’s name, I thought the picture captured the energy and elegance of NYC street performances. I took this image in the moving subway, with his happy permission to document his dance routine.

The Dance, 2021

Bethesda Terrace, Central Park

I wrote this description in the spring of 2021: “These frames encapsulate New York's return for me: oscillating between celebration a la reckless abandon at our relative safety, and yet at other times, overcome with grief, purging it through creative and social outlets.

Though the movement of the dancers can feel joyful here, there are also aspects that feel ceremonially mourning: e.g. the silhouettes and strong shadows of twilight, the rhythmic dancing blur— a ritual to expunge (commemorate? memorialize?) our past, and high contrast black-and-white”

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