What better way to explore street art than with a professional photographer?
I knew the Lower East Side in New York as a trendy part of town packed with bars, clubs and vegan joints. The last time I’d been there during the day was more than a decade ago, just as rapid gentrification was starting in the early 2000s.
So I was thrilled when photographer Susie Lang asked me to join her on a walk around the Lower East Side in search of street art.
We didn’t map out our route in advance. We had no specific murals in mind. We just wanted to get lost and explore the neighborhood.
There is something about the hunt—whether it’s for eggs or a significant other—that makes the encounter that much more exciting. It’s part of what I love about street art. The experience is not curated for you the way it is in a gallery or a museum. Going to see an exhibit is a bit like going on a blind date. You’ve seen images. You have expectations. The chances of being let down are huge.
Instead, Susie and I wandered the streets taking in the sights, sounds, and crowds on this sunny, early spring day. Restaurants had opened their windows and sidewalk cafés. People milled about or clustered in front of landmarks and historic sites like the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street.
Susie and I often walked in circles, pulled in by pieces we’d spotted behind the corner, across the street or in the back of fenced-in courtyards. We would see something and walk toward it, without concerning ourselves with direction. The excitement of discovery kept building up until I was shrieking with delight like a kid.
One of the highlights of our ramble was stumbling on First Street Garden. It was entirely unexpected and such a unique setting for graffiti. We took in the art with the sun at our backs, the birds singing in the bushes and the smell of marijuana wafting from the back alley. You don’t get that in a museum.
We also got to do our own curating. Someone had thrown out their old shelves on the sidewalk right in front of one of the murals. So, Susie and I rolled up our sleeves and moved it.
We had started our walk with a delicious brunch at Dudley’s on Orchard Street but by the time we’d made it to Houston Street, I needed a sugar boost. I had my first ginger lemonade (very refreshing), which I enjoyed in the mouth of a monster being stalked by a tiger.This was my view.
It’s great to have a partner in crime; having a professional photographer with me was priceless. Susie has an amazing eye for composition and light. We would be walking and she would stop and point her camera and I would go: “Oh that’s a great shot” and snap a photo with my cell phone.
Without her, I would have missed so many shots. I still missed plenty but that’s because my phone battery died at the end. That’s another thing about professionals—they carry chargers!