Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rochester, New York

I'm a photographer and Rochester is my hometown. I have lived here longer then in my home country of Ukraine. Rochester is a beautiful city and it's a really special place in the context of the continental United States both past and present. There is no other place like it.

Recently, well, over the last year and a half or so, I have been exploring and learning about my hometown, not from the evening news, but from first hand experience.
As I was becoming a photographer I thought I would be traveling to the most remote corners of the world covering all kind of important social, economical and political events. I look back those seven years and I am still in Rochester, and not at some most remote corner of the world covering those important social, economical or political event. And in a way I'm glad to be doing that here without having to travel much.
As one can imagine, looking at a picture and actually standing in time as the picture is being taken at are two different experiences. When you take pictures, this first hand experience is quite personal and depends a lot on your upbringing and on your interpretation of it. I often wish I could share the magic of that experience with my viewers, but I can't. One must literally walk or bike through those same neighborhoods smell the air, cross those busy streets, meet the people and feel how the neighborhood reacts to your presence. It doesn't take long before one starts to pick up on the subtleties, culture and values of the neighborhoods as well as how each neighborhood differs from one another.
Many of these neighborhoods captured my imagination and I would even find myself daydreaming how the neighborhood may have looked those 10, 20 or even 50 years ago, or even before the land was developed in relationship to what it looks like now and what it may look like in the future. Looking at something from those points of view and with so many layers gave me an appreciation for where I was standing, where I have been, and where else I may end up going and doing.
As I was creating these images I would frequently pause, look around both low and high, near and far, and sometimes return to the same spot at a later time. Sometimes I ran into people who were really friendly and educated me about the neighborhoods and the city. Other times I'd have people dodging me or yelling from across the street not to get them in the picture and others were just dying to be in the picture. I even had kids asked me if I was a cop and had residents follow me down the street to find where I was from and what I was doing in their neighborhood.
Although I have lived here more than half my life I thought I knew Rochester. However, most of my views were based on other people's negative stereotypes of the city. Those views were not really my own but I was starting to accept them as my own. For me, it was such a pleasant experience to see a different side of Rochester that was vibrant, changing and growing. It made me proud that this is my city and that it has contributed so much to the fabric of America. It is also a host to so many beautiful hidden nooks and crannies that hardly ever get publicized. If they do it's in a negative light due to a shooting, stabbing, robbery, arson and so on.
As I was starting out as a photographer I was hoping that by looking through the camera's viewfinder I would be a witness to all kinds of joys and sadness and all kinds of beauty and ugliness. I wanted photography to change me through that first hand experience. I wanted photography to take me out of my comfort zone and literally teach me something that I would voluntarily not want to learn. My expectations were big! As I'm growing and maturing both as an individual and as a photographer much of my local and world view is a byproduct of looking through that little viewfinder sometimes literally with one eye closed.
This was photography taking me out of my comfort zone and opening my eyes to my own back yard, which might have been that remote part of the world that I knew nothing about. Some of the neighborhoods that I went into I did not want to step out of the car, while other neighborhoods I did not want to leave. As a result, this experience has changed me and my view of the city, which has allowed me to capture these images of it self being vibrant and full of life.

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