Empire State of Mind

Posted by on Aug 10, 2016 in Projects | 34 Comments
Empire State of Mind

Last September Rebecca and I flew to New York City to host our first edition of NYCWLK, an informal photo walk and social gathering based on the concept of LNDNWLK. It was our first time in New York and we had a couple of days around the event to meet with friends and adjust to the time zone.

I had heard that NYC is relatively busy and fast-paced, but I didn’t expect anything majorly different to the European cities like Paris or London that we had visited many times before. When we arrived my senses got hit by what felt like a tidal wave. The sheer size of the city was mind blowing and so many things seemed to happen all at once. I had a hard time keeping up with everything around me for the first few days.

New York City is home to a million different people from a million different ethnicities and everyone seems to find their place and co-exist. I loved being in the middle of all kinds of different people, from orthodox Jews to Caribbean street vendors. The energy of the city is incredible. If I would have to pick my favorite city in the world, it would definitely be New York.

Initially I had planned to shoot medium format color film, but what I experienced was completely different to what I had expected. I decided to shoot B&W film exclusively for the entire time of our stay.

Looking back, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. The city didn’t let me relax for one minute, it pushed me out of my comfort zone continuously and asked for something different. And I am very happy that I listened. These images still make me feel exactly what I felt when I visited this incredible place almost a year ago. I can’t wait to go back.

A selection of prints from this series is available for purchase at Aspen Gallery. All images below were taken with either the Leica M2 or the Leica M-A and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Tri-X 400. All images scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California:












































  1. Rebecca
    10. August 2016

    Johnny, these are definitely, by far, my favorite images of yours. They are so different from anything you’ve done before, but they have your distinguishable handwriting – the gentleness and compassion with which you approach every subject, whether it’s a person or a place. You can feel how much you embraced New York City. Not just the pretty parts, but the messy parts too.

    I have so many images from this post that stand out to me, but one of my favorites is the “Tailors Cleaners” picture. Don’t ask me why. I love the balance and the feel, a moment where time pauses for only one person. It’s like a scene from a movie.

    Thank you for sharing these photographs, you’ve presented them so beautifully and they are a wonderful, authentic depiction of what makes NYC one of the greatest cities on earth.

  2. Johnny
    10. August 2016

    Thank you so much, Rebecca. You don’t know how much it means to me that you feel that way. I enjoyed the time in NYC with you so much and all of these images bring back the wonderful memories we made together. What an adventure! :)

    You are right, I shot New York differently. I tried to incorporate different aspects in my pictures to express my feelings about this city adequately. I enjoy seeing imperfection – motion, blur, grain. NYC isn’t romantic, but it’s so beautiful to me.

  3. Cody Priebe
    10. August 2016

    B&W was a great choice for you. Great set. Love the subway ones, though they all appeal to me.

    I’ll be shooting/chimping over your shoulder when I get to NYCWLK. :P


  4. Johnny
    10. August 2016

    Thank you for your feedback, Cody. I appreciate it.

    I loved your pictures from New York City and I enjoyed everybody’s company so much. I can’t wait to go back and spend time together! :)

  5. Jakob
    10. August 2016

    It was worth the wait Johnny! Thank you for sharing. Love the way these images make me feel. I’ll see you next month. ;)

  6. Johnny
    10. August 2016

    Thanks so much for stopping by, Jakob! Makes me so happy to hear that. :)

    I can’t wait for September to come!

  7. Jordi
    10. August 2016

    Would be great to join a NYCWLK, though timing is quite hard from the other side of the pond!

    I found a low season cheap fare from Sweden, where I was studying, and instead of booking my ticket home December, I took a return to NYC for a workweek holiday. Short but very intense 5 days.

    Ever since I saw NYC I know no other European city has the same overwhelmingness. As you say, senses are bombarded. Light, noise, height. It is quite an experience.
    Barcelona is a town by comparison, and the Swedish towns felt like villages.

    B&W does summarize quite well the general mood in the city and I especially enjoyed shooting at night in Manhattan (digital though).

  8. Johnny
    11. August 2016

    Thanks for your comment, Jordi. We’d love to have you for the next walk! :)

    You’re right, it’s really difficult to imagine New York City from a European perspective if you have never visited. We simply don’t have anything even close to that. There truly is no comparison – London feels small afterwards and Paris serene.

  9. Michael
    11. August 2016

    So excited to finally see this post, read about your thoughts on NY and see the images the you captured last year. I went back to it just now to look at the photos again on the big screen. Love how they capture the energy and madness of the city. Spot on.

    My favorite line is “When we arrived my senses got hit by what felt like a tidal wave”. It’s exactly how I felt when I first visited in August 1997. London and Paris are slow compared to NY; in NYC there’s always something going on, at a fast pace, and no moment is the same.

    I think you did really well capturing your stay and experience!

  10. Johnny
    11. August 2016

    Michael, thank you so much for your kind feedback.

    I had admired your beautiful work from New York for quite a while before I first visited. It’s just an overwhelming experience. There is so much happening at the same time that you can’t even take a fraction of the pictures you see simultaneously. But it’s a great energy and I’m really looking forward to spending time in NYC again.

    Looking forward to seeing you soon! :)

  11. Todd Dominey
    11. August 2016

    Great photos Johnny!

    Especially love the energy and feel of the blurrier ones, for they especially capture the kinetic energy of NYC.

  12. Johnny
    11. August 2016

    Thanks so much, Todd! I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed them. :)

  13. Robert-Paul Jansen
    11. August 2016

    Lovely images Johnny, black and white was an excellent choice. Your B&W have such beautiful tones in them, love going through them. I agree with Rebecca, these are different than your other work, but so great.

    Thanks for sharing, even we had to wait a little. ;)

  14. Johnny
    11. August 2016

    Robert-Paul, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures!

    You are right, they have a different feel to them – and so does New York compared to anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m happy I went for Tri-X, how I saw it wouldn’t have worked any other way.

    We’d love to have you for NYCWLK some day, I’m sure you would love shooting there!

  15. Oriol
    12. August 2016

    A great set of photos Johnny, they were worth the wait!

    I agree with Rebecca that they look different to previous photos you have taken in the past. My favourites are the portrait of the cop and the girl in the subway (it might be difficult to take a portrait of a cop in these times in the US!). I visited NYC a couple of times in 2006 and was also impressed by the energy of the city. For me NYC and Tokyo are by far the best destinations for street photography.

  16. Johnny
    12. August 2016

    Thanks so much, Oriol. I appreciate your kind feedback.

    I have yet to visit Tokyo, but it’s definitely on my list of places I’d like to see.

    Taking pictures in the US feels different than in Europe for me generally. People respond a little more self conscious and you’re not always invited. I understand the culture better the more time I spend in the US and that makes it easier, but it’s definitely an adjustment.

    Contrary to their reputation, I found the police in the States very comfortable to be around. They let me in very close for these pictures and were really relaxed about it.

  17. Bill McCarroll
    13. August 2016

    Fantastic set of images Johnny.

    I just want to spend some time looking deeper into each one of them to try to figure out what sets you uniquely apart from the rest of us. I think part of it is your willingness to see since all of NY was so new for you. But I think it goes beyond that too which is why I love your overall work.

    I wish I could be in NY with you again this year, have fun and don’t take so long to post your photographs. ;-)

  18. Johnny
    13. August 2016

    Bill, thank you so much for your words. That means a lot to me, but you’re really being way too kind. :)

    I loved seeing everybody’s take on this amazing city so much and I thought the photographs you brought back home were stunning. I think that’s what I enjoy so much shooting with a group of people, there are so many takes on the same subject and the mood in each picture can be so different.

    I wish you would be able to make it this year, but maybe we’ll see you again next year. Or when we’re in California next! :)

  19. Matt
    14. August 2016

    Hi Johnny,

    You were given a gem when you made the portrait of the NYPD officer. His eyes: They’ve seen too much for a man his age; they will see even more over a career’s time.

    You captured it oh so honestly.

    Las Vegas

  20. Johnny
    14. August 2016

    Thank you so much, Matt.

    I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the post! The portrait of the police officer is definitely one of my favorite pictures too. He was great.

  21. Fabian Schmid
    14. August 2016

    Better late than never – congratulations on this beautiful compilation of pictures!
    Makes me look forward to NYCWLK and the city even more.

  22. Johnny
    15. August 2016

    That’s wonderful to hear, Fabian! Thank you very much for your comment. I’m looking forward to seeing you in September! :)

  23. Walker
    16. August 2016

    JP, these shots deserve a bow. Impressive beauty.

  24. Johnny
    17. August 2016

    Walker, thank you for your kind feedback. :)

  25. Gitta
    19. August 2016

    Exceptional street photography!!! Love your work. :)

    x Gitta

  26. Johnny
    20. August 2016

    Thank you, Gitta! That’s wonderful to hear.

  27. Marc
    21. August 2016

    I’ve never been in NY… and after I had look at your beautiful photos I want to go there. Your photos give me exactly the feeling of a busy city like I’ve never seen before. Nice people, seems very peaceful.

    I’m not sure you could do that in Paris… for example take a portrait of a cop… I never try to do that. I’m gonna try now, I guess.

    Thanks again for this poetic journey.

  28. Johnny
    22. August 2016

    Thanks so much for your kind words, Marc. I’m happy to hear that you feel that way.

    If you can, please visit NYC – I’m sure you would like the culture and the experience a lot. I have been to Paris many times and I love it there. I think Paris is very hard to photograph, probably because of the heritage. But it’s definitely my favorite city in Europe.

    I don’t read up on the local laws before I shoot when I travel and sometimes I find out later that I shouldn’t have taken a particular shot. That’s not always wise, but for me it comes down to how my subject responds in the situation. The NYPD officers were all very kind. :)

  29. Marc
    22. August 2016

    Thank you, Johnny.

    I have found my old Leica M6 and bought Portra 400. You know I have worked as photographer all my life and, because of you, I have started another experience with film.

    A few years ago, film was a subject of stress for me. On the plane people I worked with asked me “Do you have the good photos?” and I said “Yes…” but they were only in my mind, until I left my rolls at the lab. It was magic… thanks again, Johnny.

  30. Johnny
    23. August 2016

    Marc, thanks again for your feedback.

    I’m very excited to hear that you are getting back into film and that you haven’t sold your Leica M6 yet. And you are right, film is magical. Enjoy the journey! :)

  31. Johnny
    24. August 2016


    As always, these are fantastic! I’m so thrilled to be joining NYCWLK 2.0 next month. Your blog and dedication to the photography community has no doubt helped me grow a tremendous amount over the past year. I only wish I had found it a few years ago!

    Keep up the great work and I’ll see you in NYC.

  32. Johnny
    25. August 2016

    Thank you, Johnny! I appreciate your kind feedback. Makes my very happy to hear that.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing you too! Can’t wait for September. :)

  33. Mikey Kay
    2. September 2016

    It’s a photography cliché, but there really is no better way to see NYC than thru a B&W photo. You got some amazing results here, Johnny.

    How did you go about metering for this trip? Hand held or in camera? There is so much depth and punch in these photos. Wow!

  34. Johnny
    3. September 2016

    Mikey, thanks for your kind words. It’s great to hear that you enjoyed the pictures!

    I have seen amazing work from NYC in color too. But the city is so fast-paced and hectic, I liked using a little bit of an abstract layer to counterbalance all of what’s flooding your senses at the same time. And you’re right, NYC in B&W is a classic.

    I didn’t meter for any of my pictures, I guessed my exposure. But I always recommend using a handheld meter over anything in-camera. Have a look here.

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