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Delivering a slice of daily (Big Apple) life
'I Shot New York'
Photographs by Ralph Ginzburg
Captions by Shoshana Ginzburg
Harry N. Abrams, $24.95
Review by Bruce Kennedy
Web posted on:
Tuesday, March 09, 1999 5:30:56 PM
(CNN) -- I should begin with the following disclosure: I am an escapee from New York, a Manhattan native who left years ago and has tried not to look back. But every now and then something fills me with a yearning to pound some old, familiar pavement. While a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic sometimes triggers that wistfulness, my first look through "I Shot New York" left me up to my nose in waves of nostalgia for a city I thought I would never leave.
"How could a lone individual, working without any assistance, produce a publishable news photo each day for a whole year?" That is the challenge Ralph Ginzburg posed to himself when he began this project. The result is 510 images, documenting a year in the life of New York -- which show the city in the full range of its seasons, documenting much of its glory and despair.
Working freelance, Ginzburg says he averaged 18-hour days for the project. Some of the images appeared in Life magazine, several New York newspapers and some European magazines.
Shot for the most part in high contrast black-and-white, the photos will inevitably draw comparisons with the work of Wee Gee -- the legendary Big Apple photographer of the 1940s and '50s, whose mostly night-time shots of apartment fires, murder suspects and the like are now seen as high art.
Not that everything in "I Shot New York" is artful. As a working photographer under deadline pressure, Ginzburg covered his share of standard news assignments during 1995: animal pictures, sporting events, parades and such. But even these images have a New York twist to them -- especially when the animals pictured are incongruous camels being exercised outside Radio City Music Hall, athletes the likes of Steffi Graf at the U.S. Open, and a massive Spiderman balloon crawling down Broadway.
Like Wee Gee, Ginzburg delivers on the slice of daily life New Yorkers expect in their tabloid papers -- a grizzly subway wreck, several handcuffed suspects being taken to their arraignments (known in local journalistic parlance as a "perp walk"), the only-in-New York Fetish Wear Designers Ball, or the aftermath of a suicide jump from a luxury apartment building on Central Park West.
Ginzburg can be artistic without pushing it down your throat -- as seen in his wonderfully composed nature shots. His work can also be heart-rending. It's hard to forget images like the open casket funeral of a three-year-old beaten to death by her baby sitter (caption: "Broken Doll"), a street cat that didn't make it through a springtime cold snap, or a blind girl using her hands to study a statue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Don't get me wrong, this book is far from pessimistic. It takes talent to have New York's sparkle show through its grit. And thanks to the pungent captions supplied by Shoshana Ginzburg, Ralph's wife, there's a sense of the cautious romantic that exists under the cynical, street-hardened skins of many New Yorkers.
Ginzburg, who made a name for himself in the 1960s and '70s as a maverick publisher, switched to photography in the late '80s. Personally speaking, I am grateful for his new career. "I Shot New York" will appeal to even those who wouldn't dare set foot in that Babylon-on-the-Hudson. Who knows, this compelling collection may convince them otherwise.
Bruce Kennedy is part of CNN Interactive's Special Projects unit. He has worked in international news for more than 15 years.