The arrival of spring in New York has me thinking about bicycles, obviously, and I was reminded of the photographs on Downtown From Behind, a photographic project that captures cyclists in portraits taken from behind on streets throughout downtown Manhattan. The .com version of the project lets you browse by neighborhood. The concept, they say on the blog, is ”an environmental portrait for each street and its subject.” Giving precedent to the streetscape and the city, the photographer (photographers?) transform their subjects into just another part of the city they say they are shaping; many of the portraits are of artists, designers, entrepreneurs, academics, etc., all people making some kind of creative impact on downtown.
The sort of pseudo-anonymity (in the images themselves, at least–the captions give it all away) achieved in the photos is an interesting choice, and captures quite a bit of what I think many people find appealing about zipping through the city on a bike. One minute you’re here, the next you’re gone; you could be hollering the lyrics to R&B classics as you ride by New York’s teeming throngs and not have to give it a second thought, like Times Opinionator writer Melissa Febos, in a piece this week called, “Look at Me, I’m Crying”:
Although I see plenty of stony-faced striders on the sidewalks of New York, the faster people are moving, the more they tend to reveal. When riding my bike through the city, I frequently sing aloud — mostly old soul tunes, but everything from country to rap music — and I hear other bikers doing it as well. Because who cares? If anyone stares, they’re staring at your back and you’re not around long enough to notice. I don’t do it for attention; it just feels good to belt out “Tenderness” with impunity.
A moment of privacy in the middle of the street.