By Marcus D. Niski
Keith Goldstein is a New York based street photographer who photographs his subjects in various locations in and around Manhattan. His images are candid portrayals of New Yorkers as he encounters them throughout the various boroughs of a city famous for its intensity and diversity. In the interview below I asked Keith how he got started, his style of working, his favorite locations and the equipment that he uses in his work. More information about Keith can be found at: www.keithgoldstein.me
How did you get started in doing street photography in New York City?
I got involved with photography in high school. I was always interested in art and was given a collection of photo magazines to draw from. Instead, I began reading them and became quite interested in this medium. After graduating high school, I spent two years at a small upstate college. I felt the need for more experiences and diversity in my education, my life, than what I was being exposed to there. I left the college I was attending and moved into New York City. I finished my undergraduate education at the School of Visual Arts. It was there, through instructors, friends, books, galleries, that I began to become exposed to many genres of photography.
Photographing the city just became a natural progression as I was living there and immersed in its culture. Back then what I was doing was not called “street photography”. The term, to my knowledge, wasn’t very much used then or not at all. I believe it was referred to as “urban photography”. It was sort of patterned after the term “concerned photography” as used to describe this genre outside of everything else – nature, landscape, portraiture, etc. It was also the term used to describe the work that the International Center of Photography was founded on.
What are your favorite locations for capturing street based action?
Any location that is readily accessible is my favorite! My main locations for photographing are generally around where I work, Herald Square. I work as a content reviewer for a large stock photography company, reviewing still imagery and video clips from the contributors. When given the time, I love exploring other neighborhoods, especially those of the other boroughs of Manhattan. Having a full time job, I do a lot of photographing on my lunchtime, and when going to pick up my son from school. During the weekday, I walk up through Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, or midtown. I try to mix up my walk everyday. You never know what you will discover. If I have to say a favorite location, it would be Chinatown and the surrounding area. Of any neighborhood in New York City, it still has the look and feel of what the city was like when I was a small boy growing up in the 1960s.
Are their particular principles of composition that you use in framing your photographs or do you rely more on spontaneously capturing the action or feel of what you are photographing at street level?
I do not adhere to any principles of composition or framing. My vision, my instincts, and my work guide me. I do not like to feel locked into visual principles, though I learned many as an art student. Rules and such are meant to be broken if one is to let their own vision, one’s visual style develop and shine through. I do notice in the work of others that they might stake out a stationary compositional element or area and photograph people as they enter those spaces. I just cannot do that. To be out on the street for me is to feel its energy, the spontaneity and the need to keep moving. Being out on the street is a physical experience for me, as well as a visual and intellectual one. Life doesn’t stand still. If a situation presents itself grab it because in an instance it will be gone.
Who would you cite as your major influences in terms of the practical and/or theoretical development of your style?
My influences are many. The books I read, artists and photographers whose work I enjoy looking at, or music – jazz, blues and world music. I am a big fan now of Robert Frank, but as a young photographer, I couldn’t really get into much of his work. William Klein profoundly influenced me when I discovered his work. I love the physical in your face attitude of his imagery, whereas Frank is somewhat more cerebral. I love the work of many Japanese photographers, especially Daido Moriyama. There are so many others, Atget, Max Pam, Koudelka, Winogrand, Freidlander … I could go on and on. As for reading and theoretical style, as well as his imagery, Nathan Lyons would be at the top of my list. The writings of Robert Smithson were an early influence when I was a graduate student as were the readings of Roland Barthes and other semiologists.
Music plays a big influence on my work. Jazz and blues mostly. It is what runs through my head when I am working. People become like notes and scales as on a sheet of music. Though when out on the street, I adhere to a kind of Zen philosophy of emptying myself of most thoughts and being open to my surroundings. It is easier to connect to people and situations on the street if I try to stay out of their way and just let things happen.
What are your preferences in terms of equipment?
I always prefer small cameras and try to be as unobtrusive as possible. Currently, my prime camera is the Ricoh GR. Small enough to carry no matter what other camera I might have with me. I also use a Fuji X100T, Leica M, or the Olympus Pen-F. Digitally these are superb cameras and give me less to think about on the technical side of things. I find them reliable, the optics superb, and allow me to customize their settings for easy control of any situations that I might encounter.
How do your subjects react to the notion of having their image captured on the streets in NYC – have you had any strange or memorable reactions?
I usually move so quickly and unobtrusively that subjects do not know they were photographed. I do not hide what I am doing, but I also do not want to intrude. There are occasions where I do ask, but as a rule, I adhere to not interfering. If someone does notice, I usually reply with a smile and say something flattering to diffuse any thoughts of unwarranted impending hostility.
Do you have a preference for working during the day or at night or do you enjoy both equally as much?
I enjoy working during the day mostly, though there are times I would like to explore subject matter at night. Having a family prevents me from this at this time. I hope in the foreseeable future that is something I can do.
What words or advice would you give to people who are interested in starting out in the discipline of street photography and do you feel it is necessary to have some formal or academic training to enter this genre at a serious level?
The only advice I could give to someone starting out in this discipline is to follow your heart. Do what you need to do and not follow trends. Your heart, head, and imagery will tell you if you are on the right path and whether that path is your own. I would recommend academic training to learn about history and what your place in the world might be. This is something I see that is lacking in a lot of contemporary work I look at. There is no connection to the past or furthering historical context to a new step towards the future.
We do not live in a vacuum. Everything we do, eat, read, affects us in some way that might not be readily apparent. When one thinks nothing has come before, even as some political leaders would have us believe, you are doomed to fall backwards. Society must advance forward for one to live fruitfully. Technology forever advances. What we do with it is important. Learn what has come before. Digest it and distill it into your own vision, your own future.
Keith Goldstein, New York City, New York, May 2018
Across the Aisle
Veteran’s Day, Sailors
All images © Keith Goldstein 2018
Interview: Marcus D. Niski, Naked Cities Journal, May 2018