Union Square is perhaps the most diverse community space in New York City. While Times Square no doubt boasts the heaviest diversity in terms of the number of nationalities you’ll find in one place at one time, it’s mostly tourists, and the police presence there ensures a certain socio-economic homogeny. It’s still guarded, individualistic … everyone looks up but nobody shakes hands. At Union Square, there is no social barrier. Upper-class parents will allow their children to play chess with homeless savants; college students and businessmen will sit down with an Indian Krishna band to beat on drums and chant. The chic go on inches away from the creeps.
This girl was sitting on a ledge with punks to the near side one side and what clearly appeared to be vagrants on the other. In fact, it was unclear if they were sharing this space or simply one large group. (On first glance I didn’t think was homeless; she was much too sprite, but as the minutes passed after I took this photo I became increasingly unsure). As a street photographer I’m keen to shoot whatever interests me, but for portraits like this my interest is greatly narrowed into a (not quite specific, but at least consistent) aesthetic. Let me be clear: I don’t know if this girl was homeless or not—I didn’t ask—but when I walked past the group of kids she was clearly a diamond in the rough. I ended up walking for another hour or so after this moment and I took several other photos of people, but she kept coming back to my mind. I’ve long said that In terms of my street photography I’m not after fashion so much as a certain type of energy, a kind of energy that forces me to pay attention. When I took this frame of the girl, a friend sitting to her left initially joked, “Now you have to give her a dollar!” Everybody laughed. Thing is, I probably would’ve given her the dollar, not because of my uncertainty but because they asked. I didn’t have one.