There is a line in an older Bright Eyes song I like in which the band’s front man, Connor Oberst, sings, “How time can move both fast and slow amazes me.” These 10 little words haunt me daily and when I stepped into the Peekskill Field Library’s Art Gallery to view In A New York Moment, an exhibition by photographer Don Greenfield, the sentence immediately popped into my mind once again.
In the gallery, Greenfield, a 76-year-young Bronx native, presents a collection of black and white photos in which the fleeting, everyday actions of his anonymous New York City subjects are captured for an eternity within about a dozen picture frames.
Through his photos Greenfield takes the fast-paced existence of those he shoots and slows their lives down to a digitally derived pause. While accomplishing this, the artist also highlights the beauty of normal situations that can be so easily overlooked in a world of distractions, and reminds us, much like Oberst’s words, that concepts such as art and time are all about one’s own perception of the subject.
“I never go out with any intentions of photographing any particular thing,” Greenfield said. “Anything that comes within my sight, or in my path, that excites me to photograph, I'll photograph. I don't care what it is. But I never go out there and say, 'Well, I’m going to look for certain type of pictures today.' I just photograph, period.”
My favorite shot in Greenfield’s collection is a close-up of two legs, both completely different in character, existing in contrast as their owners ride alongside each other on the subway. In a scene that normally wouldn’t cause anyone in the actual moment to take a second glance, the artist was able to morph the common image into one of beauty through the simple click of a shutter.
"A good photograph will prove to the viewer how little our eyes permit us to see," Greenfield said.
Once a daily subway rider myself, I find my imagination provoked by Greenfield’s familiar image of lower limbs, and the story of the picture continues in my head. I envision each foot stepping onto the platform upon arrival at its destined station, and the pace at which each would join the hurried steps of those surrounding them, as each mystery passenger moves farther from the train, where Greenfield remains sitting quietly behind, camera in hand.
“The subways are one of my favorite venues and, after parking near Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, I hop the #1 [train] and just go,” said the artist. “Maybe I sound like a character out Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, but with this attitude I'm never disappointed.”
It is the casualness of Greenfield’s photos that makes them so relatable. When spectators see a gentleman caught in mid-stride, or a woman peeking out a window one must only reflect for a moment to realize that, after the click of the camera, life went on as usual for these people. Many were probably none the wiser to the fact that they had even been photographed, like the man on the subway with his nose buried in a folded newspaper.
After viewing In A New York Moment I left the library gallery with a renewed perspective on both art and time. Everything within my view suddenly qualified as photo worthy, and I noticed my attention to detail had increased. As I rushed off to get to my next destination, life seemed to be happening in slow motion, and I thought to myself, “… amazing.”
In A New York Moment will be on display at the Field Library Art Gallery through Aug. 27 and can be viewed during normal library hours. For purchasing information contact Greenfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.