Wednesday, 29 July 2020

POV: NYC's Chinatown As The Antidote

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | Click for larger view | GFX50R 16:9 aspect ratio
I've been asked a few times as to why I seem to favor Manhattan's Chinatown for street photography...and the answer is simple but is also multi-layered.

When Covid-19 spread in New York City, many assumed it arrived from China but that was subsequently disproven. It was not Chinese travelers who brought it but travelers from Europe, and most probably those flying in from Italy. I had been told in late February by restauranteurs in Chinatown that business was slow due to the drop in tourists, but it was thought that it would pick up after a few weeks. It didn't, and it was quite the opposite. Seeing a Chinatown that was initially deserted, but very slowly coming back to a fraction of its activity over the following months inspired me to produce a number of galleries with photographs made on its streets; some of which can be found on this blog and also grouped in a YouTube video.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | Click for larger view | GFX50R 16:9 aspect ratio
Chinatown -as other areas in New York City- is a magnet for street photography, as it offers constantly changing and evolving streetscapes, colorful signage, pungent smells and most importantly interesting physiognomies. Pedestrians, shoppers and shopkeepers are so engrossed in their daily lives that they mostly ignore -or tolerate (not all of them)- photographers.

However for me, it goes beyond all of these attributes. Covid-19 has removed any international travel plans off my calendar. In January 2020, I had been set to travel for two weeks to Japan, then after news trickled in about the virus in Tokyo, I switched over to Taipei where I had arranged for a number of photo sessions. Naturally, this didn't happen and I had to cancel my flights in early March.

Especially during these unusual times, Chinatown in Manhattan has been a godsend to me; a travel junkie whose photography comes alive in Asian environments. I am fortunate to live just a 20 minutes walk from Chinatown and its streets. My frequent walks on its streets provide me with an Asian-fix, a rush similar to caffeine to a coffee-lover...and goes some way in papering over the emotional fissures arising from being unable to travel to Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong and my other favorite destinations.

I've become so comfortable photographing in Chinatown that I'm planning a photo session with a New York-based model to produce fashion-storytelling photo films. This will happen once New York City gets even safer than what it currently is...fingers crossed.