Manhattan often seems like a stage where performers and exhibitionists of all varieties put on a non-stop show. I started documenting these “performers” in 2008, as the U.S. slid into a recession.
I needed something to distract myself from the increasingly grim economic news, so I began to seek out small-venue circus acts, magicians and clowns to photograph. After a few months of photographing organized performances, I started to see theater everywhere: in the streets, in public spaces, in the subway, at festivals where people showed off costumes, in Times Square, at political demonstrations…the spectacle was endless.
I worked with my quiet, discreet Leica camera, photographing in a fluid, fast-moving style that suited the mercurial nature of my subjects. All of these photographs were taken between 2008 and 2014.
As an observer who tries to be as inconspicuous as possible, I’m drawn to those brave individuals who display themselves and are able to escape from the constraints of the mundane world, at least for a little while.
At first, I worked with both digital and film cameras, but finally I settled on using only film.
There was something very old-fashioned about street performers, acts on seedy stages, or wildly-costumed individuals in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade that called out for a photographic medium from the pre-electronic age.
My projects have included documenting the small Jewish communities of Cuba and Ireland, as well as Jewish poverty in New York City. In the wake of September 11, 2001, I recorded the effects of the destruction of the World Trade Center on New York.
I also did the photography for a historical guidebook to the Lower East Side of Manhattan that was published by Columbia University Press in 2009.
Currently, I’m documenting individuals who re-enact the wars of the 20th century.
All of the photographs were made on black and white film that I processed and printed myself, both for the timeless, classic appearance of that medium and its permanence as a historical record. Each image is a unique, hand-made object that can never be duplicated exactly, which is a large part of the beauty of traditional black and white photography.
Photo Note: All of the photographs were made with a Leica M4P and 35mm Summicron lens and you can see more of my work at: www.paulmargolis.com
~ Paul Margolis
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