One night over beers at a bar called The Heidelberg, situated just across the street from the University of Missouri’s Journalism library, my friend and I hatched a plan. It was the summer and my friend, who was from Bulgaria, was set to return home for a bit at the end of summer, before restarting school in the Fall. The only problem? His flight was leaving from New York City and he had no car, no way to get himself across the country for his flight.
New York had occupied a sacred part of my imagination since at least high school, probably longer. This was especially the case after spending countless hours swallowed up in the city’s mythology through movies, music and literature. In my mind, New York was the place you had to be if you had any creative ambitions at all. I was in graduate school staring down a career in photojournalism, so I knew it was a place that I needed to be. I immediately offered to drive my friend across country to catch his flight.
Fast forward through several years of classes and various internships and somehow I ended up living in New York. I’ll spare you the details but let’s just say that I took to New York like a fly to, well, you know. I’ve written elsewhere that New York is a place that people either love or hate. I just ended up being one of the lovers. The city vibrates with so much possibility. Just living there feels like you’ve achieved some kind of life goal. Of course, living there has it’s bad side too. But those things are usually brushed away in favor of all the good things.
Living there often reminded me of a few lines from John Berryman’s ‘Dream Song 14,’ “Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so./ After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,/ we ourselves flash and yearn,/ and moreover my mother told me as a boy/ (repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored/ means you have no/ Inner Resources.’” The protagonist of the poem concludes he is “heavy bored.” But in my time living in the city and its boroughs, that was never the case for me.
I’ll go out on a limb and surmise that boredom is rarely a problem for the people who live in New York and love it. There’s so much to do and to see. And if you have any creative impulse at all, the raw materials to use in service of creativity are all around you. Even something as utilitarian as public transportation provides fertile ground for molding and telling stories. This is heavily evident in a new book from J&L Books by photographer Matthew Beck called “EVENT.”
Calling Beck’s book “A cultural history of the sublime first image of a black hole, in photographs and documents,” the publisher goes on to say this about it: “Peering into Light’s Graveyard: The First Image of the Black Hole,” read the New York Times' April 11 cover story. The headline, like many others that day, was accompanied by an image of a glowing celestial ring framed by infinite blackness: the first image of a black hole. In his first book, New York photographer Matthew Beck (born 1986) focuses on the unveiling of this previously unseeable image by following it into the depths of the New York City subway. The book suggests the notion that the cosmos is not something to simply be observed from our vantage point as humans, but more a system that we are intrinsically a part of; and the true nature of the black hole seems to be as elusive as the answer to humanity’s most pressing question of “why.”
Life in New York is a constant exercise in answering, for oneself, that eternal question, “why.” It’s the reason so many of the world’s most prominent creative minds have called it home for decades upon decades. The photographs in Beck’s book feel like they were made in a fictional world. I might even say that looking at the book, one is swallowed up into a kind of, well, black hole.
Beck’s photos are reminiscent of other great New York street photographers, particularly those of Jeff Mermelstein, who we have featured here and here. At any rate, the experience one is left with after paging through “Event” is not unlike going down the rabbit hole in “Alice in Wonderland” or taking one of those pills that sucks you into the “The Matrix.” Why, why, why? Is the reverberating chorus going through your head all the while. It is definitely not a stretch to say that “Event” is very much at home in the continuing mythology that is New York.
You can find more information about “Event,” including a link to purchase the book, here.
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