Professional baseball’s World Series is underway and the Philadelphia Phillies are playing the New York Yankees. Having lived in both Philadelphia and New York, I know just which team I am rooting for! My experience in each place, as a resident and as a photographer, strongly shapes my team loyalty.
I spend a great deal of time in New York City these days for fun, work and on the way to seeing my daughter in New Jersey. I feel comfortable there and like certain parts of the city a lot. From 1984 to 1986, I lived there, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. This was before all the art galleries moved there. Back then, Chelsea was grittier rather than glamorous.
I had moved to New York City “to become a famous photographer” and to follow the woman who became my first wife. Earlier in my career, before I had spent much time in New York City, a wise photo-editor told me to move to there in order to “Get known, get hard and get out.” Years later, when I retold that story, someone pointed out that the photo editor in question, Howard Chapnick of the Black Star photo agency, was actually paraphrasing Kurt Vonnegut, who once wrote about moving to New York City in order to “Get known, get cold and get out.”
During the three years I lived in New York City and the hundreds of times I have been there since, I saw how the city was a great place to live (if you had money) but a hard place to make a living as a photographer. When Chapnick gave me that advice he also tried to scare me by telling me how many tens of thousands of people in the New York City area had listed themselves as photographers on their tax forms.
With the advent of digital photography the number of people trying to be photographers in New York City and the challenges of making a living as a photographer there have only gone up. I know this from my friends and students living and struggling in the New York City photography market.
So overall, as a photographer, I loved New York City but it did not love me back. Yes, my time in New York City had been professionally productive because I did in fact “Get known.” I also “got hard.” On the other hand, during the time I lived in the Big Apple, I did almost no personal work because I was working so hard to just make a living. My portfolio has a vast gap from that time period.
As for Philly, now there was place that loved me as a photographer. Following both Chapnick’s advice and my first wife, I got out of New York and moved to the city of Brotherly Love. During that time that I lived there, 1986 to 1992, I produced some of my best early photo-essays, imagery that is still the foundation of my portfolio.
I initially made my living in Philadelphia doing magazine assignments for the same publications that I had first worked with when I was in New York City. They liked having a photographer with known skills available to them in a city just far enough away that it was not worth the expense of sending someone from New York City. As my time in Philadelphia went on, I started doing increasingly in-depth photo essays funded by a combination of grants and subsequent resale of those same photo essays after they were published. I was very fortunate that the best photo-essays I produced were published in the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday magazine (which sadly is no longer being published.)
My experience with the two big city Sunday magazines, the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday magazine vs the New York Time (Sunday) magazine, reflects the differences of the two cities. On an obvious level, the Times magazine is bigger and more prestigious, but the Inquirer magazine routinely produced more innovative photography and won many more awards than the Times magazine during the same time period. I once heard a theory that the Inquirer magazine found it could be more successful by having such a strong emphasis on photography because photographers work more cheaply then writers. That may have been true, but what it meant to me was that I was given a lot of creative license and editorial autonomy to photograph and report on issues as I encountered them. That was not my experience working with the Times magazine. I wrote about that at: http://thewellspoint.com/2009/03/13/adapting-to-new-technology-verses-adopting-a-new-philosophy/
Coming to Philadelphia from New York City, I was received openly and warmly. The photography community in Philadelphia is obviously much smaller than in New York City but it also is friendlier and generally more supportive. Yes, I was becoming a bigger fish in a smaller pond, but my life’s experience had already taught me that I do best with that approach. I have since moved to what seems to be an even smaller pond, Providence, Rhode Island. But it works for me. I am close enough to New York City to go there as often as need be, but I am not being eaten alive by the city in terms of the struggle to make a living in a difficult and expensive market.
Others clearly prefer to be a small fish swimming in a big pond and for those folks I say, move to New York City. For me, I prefer the smaller pond, where I can do my best work. In Providence and before that Philadelphia, I was able to balance work and play, paying work and personal work. That is a much tougher prospect in New York City. So, in terms of baseball (and photography,) go Philadelphia!