Sunday, November 4, 2007

Bill Sullivan

from "More Turns"
copyright Bill Sullivan

One of the aspects of teaching at the ICP that I have enjoyed the most is recruiting photographers to present their work to my classes. My guest photographers have included Barry Stone, Marc McAndrews, Jason Falchook, Mickey Kerr, and Heather Musto.

This past Friday, another guest photographer, Bill Sullivan, spoke about his work to students in my current class, "Photographing the Everyday." I met Bill last fall during lunch at a bbq restaurant in Manhattan with photographers, Brian Ulrich and Christian Patterson. I had been living in New York for just over a year and was feeling the stress and depression of trying to simultaneously get my feet on the ground in a new city and figure out how to escape it's clutches to take photos back there in "America". Christian said these kind of feelings were normal, and Brian said there was nothing "normal" about the practice of photography - that trying to capture reality through a lense was essentially not a normal way to relate to the world. Those two should know something about photography, and it was helpful to hear their insights.

When I later looked at Bill's website,, I was struck by a number of things about Bill's work. First of all, Bill has one of the most engaging websites I have ever seen - simple, but brilliantly designed and appropriate to experiencing the repetition and symmetry in the framing of his images. Bill has embraced New York and New Yorkers as his subjects, and made something altogether contemporary and unique out of the tradition of street photography by developing strategies for shooting people in Times Square, people exiting elevators and people passing through subway turn-styles. It was interesting to hear Bill describe the massive number of images he shot to achieve his final edits, as well the methods he used to hide his camera and position himself in a effort to make a connection with faces without directly confronting his subjects. Ultimately, Bill arrived at an extensive series of portraits depicting the gamut of New Yorkers in the midst of everyday existence - and what is more quintessential to the urban experience than these public spaces that bring us into contact daily with all walks of life?

I thought students who are also shooting on the streets of New York might be inspired by Bill's conceptual processes, and we certainly liked picturing him as a spy with his cool gadgets and special bags and outfits to disguise his identity as a photographer.

1 comment:

Evilyn Garnett said...

These works are truly beautiful. Living in a city with 12 million people can lead to a dangerous tendency to categorize; you turn into a snarky urban anthropologist and slap socio-cultural labels on individuals, maybe just to help deal with the fact that there are so many of them: Muslim, Chasid, Jewish intellectual, theatre-type, music-type, hipster, wanna-be hipster, working class Puerto Rican, Dominican, Italian, Irish, Russian immigrant, yuppie, yuppie scum,etc...These pics. give each individual what they deserve: their own portrait. We are so lovely and homely both, humans are.