New York Photographs 1968–1978

Paul McDonough in The Paris Review:

What turned me away from painting was a realization that the streets and parks of Boston provided me with subject matter that I could not conjure up in my studio. At that point, a blank canvas drew nothing but a blank stare. So, with a newly purchased 35mm Leica loaded with tri-x film, I began my forays into downtown Boston to photograph. The kind of photographs I took then related to my art school days, when I would amble around the city making quick pencil sketches of people on park benches and subways. After roaming around Vermont in the summer of 1964, I decided to move to Cambridge, MA where I took a full-time job in a commercial art studio. I was by this time married to my first wife and our plan was to save up enough to live for a year in Europe. Instead we wound up in New York, arriving by U-Haul in the summer of 1967. Rents were cheap, and we could now get by on my part-time work in advertising studios. I had abundant free time, and I took full advantage of it.

Paulmcdonough2 It was the sheer quantity of people on the street that made the spectacle unique. There were so many opportunities; you had to be perpetually alert and believe something was going to happen. You were not looking for photographs, but for the raw material that would make you want to photograph; the gesture or expression that demanded to be recorded. You were in the moment and you didn’t judge or qualify. For example, in the 1973 photograph taken at a parade, two business men are perched like statues on standpipes, trying to see over the heads of the crowd that had momentarily parted. They were serious; they had a sense of purpose. About what, the photograph doesn’t give a clue. That information is outside the frame’s viewpoint and beyond the camera’s scope.

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