Upon receiving the brief for this project, the director, Jared Rosenthal, and I knew that this film would be our love letter to the city in which we lived.
As a Director of Photography, a core part of my job is to visually articulate a thesis. It is important to construct a visual grammar that reflects and builds upon the ideas and emotions of the narrative. With #MAKENYLAUGH, I had to think deeply about what defined New York to me and how that could be visualized. From the outset, I knew that if we wanted to create a meaningful impression of New York City, I would have to craft a visual language that was as striking as we thought our city to be. We decided to take a hatchet to convention and start from scratch.
Director: Jared Rosenthal
Director of Photography: Ahad Mahmood
New York is defined by its lack of space. The bodies of water that constrict the city turn it into a pressure cooker.
Traditional interview technique calls for consistency and space; never reframe during an interview and give your subject room to talk; I.e. don’t move the camera and create negative space in the direction the subject is looking.
But both space and stasis are rare commodities in this city. I religiously cut short the subject’s eye-line and was liberal with my reframing. I hoped to use the unusual composition and erratic handheld operating to mirror the claustrophobia and energy of New York. I think that my unconventional interview approach creates a sense of intimacy that translates to the screen.
My favorite aspect of the city is it’s overcrowded, chaotic, dirty subway system. It’s the perfect microcosm of the New York: The subway brings everyone in the city together in a tight space because it is simply the fastest way to get around.
To show the mind-boggling number of people that are moving around the city at a given moment, we decided to use time lapses to visualize the ‘flow’ of traffic. I shot these sequences with a wide lens to juxtapose the movement of people, trains and cars against the unchanging architecture. I used long exposures for each image so that movement turned into ‘rivers’; you would see rough shape of something, but it wouldn’t register clearly until it stayed still. I thought this would create a visual rhythm and emphasize the chaos of New York traffic.
There is a liberating indifference that permeates New York. Individuals recede into the crowd but constant collision gives them a hardened edge.
I wanted to create a visual motif that reflected a duality present in all New Yorkers; the ability to enjoy being anonymous whilst asserting their identity. Over the course of the shoot, I repeatedly shot feet in a crowd in slight slow-motion, trying to hint at how easy it can be to slink into anonymity. I contrasted this with candid portraits of individuals who had taken a moment to let down their guard. With the quick-cutting nature of the project, I knew that my images would have to be bold and clear.