How long has it been since you were in Times Square on a summer weekend night? If it's been years or never, I wouldn't be surprised, because most of us who live within commuting distance of the city, plan to stay away from Times Square because we know it will be mobbed with tourists from all over the globe. Who would go there, right?
Well, I did recently, and on a Friday night in August, during the peak of the summer show season. I haven't walked through Times Square at night in years, and this time it happened almost by accident, when, after attending a Broadway show, a friend and I sort of wandered right into the square from the nearby theater and were too entranced to leave. If you have a camera -- and who doesn't have a camera/cell phone camera these days -- there is no better place to grab intensely colorful, socially revealing shots. The giant screens girding all the buildings, flashing gigantic ads, turning night into day -- no flash needed! And no photo holds barred -- everyone photographs everyone else! I had a great time, as you'll see by my photos.
The first shot I took that night actually set the theme and tone for the rest, and oddly enough, the picture wasn't of a real person but of a statue of "Father Duffy," which stands in the heart of the Square, just behind the Times Square discount ticket booth. Father Duffy's stern face caught my eye in the midst of the teeming, happy crowds, and was in such contrast to the scene about him, that I pulled out my camera and raised it to try to capture that feeling. Instead, another set of faces, that were on the side of a building at least half way down the block behind him, came into focus. Refocusing on Father Duffy, as the flashing screens threw his shadow onto the marble slab behind him, I was able to include those marvelous faces on the building in my picture. In the most unexpected way, I had the interaction and contrast of expressions that I was looking for, and that prompted me to consciously look for other unexpected interactions and contrasting expressions in my pictures.
Of course, everywhere you turn in Times Square, there are possible people pictures, but the trick is to try to get pictures that tell some sort of little story that you see unfolding, rather than taking what is expected or posed. Turning immediately to Father Duffy's right, there is a strip of street that is crowded with stores and sidewalk cafes. Lady Liberty seems to rule in that area, where she totters around with her torch, hoping to pose with tourists who will tip "her." She did a lot of miming while I was looking over the crowd, and I got her in one picture with "the world's tiniest dog," whose owner parades it around to collect tips -- the dog looks about 8" long and 8 " tall -- but in that black and white photo, the tiny black dog got lost against the background. Then along came a policeman, who stopped to survey the area, and as I turned my camera in his general direction, I happened to catch Lady Liberty's body language that you see in the picture here, as she looks warily at him, the torch held in a protective position. Uh, oh! A second later, she melted into the crowd behind her.
Then I began to see more flesh than I am accustomed to seeing, even in these overexposed days; there were several quite naked ladies strolling in the crowd, posing with tourists. One should expect to see more in Times Square, but this was even more than that! I was not the only one to be a bit shocked -- take a look at the picture with Elmo's eyes bugging out of his head. There's a good reason for his expression of surprise -- see if you can find it in the picture!
Close by was another young lady who seemed to be very busy posing in her painted body suit and bright pink feathered headdress. Now there are those who would argue that body painting is an art form, and I'm not going to argue with them. I've seen some amazing body painting, mostly at photo trade shows, but this young lady's paint job, while not as artistic or complex as I've seen, seemed to do the job reasonably well. Body painting can truly fool the camera's eye -- it photographs as clothing -- but not the up close observer's eye, as one could tell from the eye rolling and ogling going on in the passing crowd.
There were several Spidermen about in the crowd. I couldn't resist taking a picture of the one wearing the Kenneth Cole accessory backpack. How stylish Spiderman has become! Unfortunately, this image just doesn't have the same impact in black and white that it does in color, where you can immediately identify Spiderman by his bright red and blue body suit. I do have to say that Times Square pictures are best seen in full color!
Which brings me to my personal favorite photo, which also is much more fun in color. I was crossing the street further down the square, and there was the "Naked Cowboy," a very well known Times Square character, on the center crossing strip. He was pretending to serenade a couple of young women crossing the street, when a fire truck came roaring along. It was very loud, and right behind it was the fire chief's car blasting its siren. I got the Naked Cowboy holding his ears as he turned away from the chief's car whizzing past him. Just imagine the chief's car as brilliant red with a flashing yellow light, and you'll know how happy I was with this picture!
Have these pictures encouraged you to consider taking some Times Square photos yourself? All of these characters are probably there on a daily basis, plus many more which I haven't mentioned. It's fun to pose with the characters, and I even got one picture of myself with Spiderman (of course, the trendy one) for laughs. Why not? These folks are trying to make a living, and I think it's nice to help them out a bit. Most of all, have fun! I'd forgotten what a good time you can have in Times Square!