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New York Moments - Bernd Obermann

New York Moments

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

New York Moments by Bernd Obermann is a book with virtually no text. Moreover, it doesn’t have a single picture caption. What it does have, however, is an extraordinary collection of photographs – all taken in New York – that in themselves, speak volumes.

In fact, so different is it from any other publication on the subject, I’d go so far as to say it’s unique.

For a start, images are arranged haphazardly with, for the most part, iconic landmarks of secondary consideration – indeed, some are noticeable only by their absence.

Take for example, one particularly evocative double-page spread. The eye is immediately drawn to the tree, as indeed it’s meant to be, for why else would it occupy the entire upper half of the image? But look beneath the skeletal branches and you see that wonderful Manhattan skyline.

There are also images of birds strung out like music notes on wires, shadows on a glistening lamp-lit sidewalk, a mound of trash transformed by snow.

But it’s the people more than anything else that make New York Moments so distinctive. And they’re all here – friends and lovers, men and women both at work and play, protesters and revellers, and even the ethnic minorities that make New York the great cosmopolitan city that it is.

But one image in particular and another double-page spread as it happens, perfectly sums up the paradox that is New York – the image of a small girl holding a man’s hand (presumably her father’s although we can’t be sure) walking past a bank where an armed police officer stands guard. The subtle mix of innocence and underlying violence is beautifully captured in this simple shot.

Yet according to Elliott Erwitt whose Forward appears in several languages (including German, Spanish, French and Italian) such images are possible only because Obermann is a so-called “street man….as opposed to an indoor man”. Which means, of course, the streets are his proverbial oyster.

So, if you prefer postcard images of New York, leave New York Moments on the shelf. If, however, it’s “unvarnished” images you’re after, Obermann’s unique take on a unique city should be right up your street.