Brooklyn-based photographer Colin Ridgway passes his time on the streets of Manhattan, photographing the faces of New Yorkers. Passionate about his craft, Ridgway taught himself the ins and outs of photography and post-production by soaking in lessons found online. Now, he continues to hone his skills in order to capture the essence of his beloved city.
Being a modern street photographer in New York isn’t easy. Not only does one have to contend with legendary street photographers of years past, but there are also a wealth of photographers now shooting and sharing their work about New York online. Over the past several years, Ridgway has gone through an artistic self-discovery, figuring out how to distinguish his work from the countless New York-centric images that flood the Internet.
By focusing on the individuals who inhabit the city, Ridgway gives the public small slices of life that are unmistakably New York. Each solitary figure is expertly framed within scenery that roots the photo in New York City. The subway is often a supporting character in Ridgway’s narratives, providing a home to the pensive reflections of commuters.
We had a chance to chat with the up and coming photographer about his work, who inspired him, and what pushes him to keep documenting the streets of New York City. Read on for our exclusive interview.
How did you get your start in photography?
During my junior year in college, I had started a small clothing brand. Understanding that it was important to have a strong, clean product presence on my website, I picked up a camera, a white sheet of paper and two lights and started to take product photos. After importing the photos onto my laptop, I was so frustrated to find that every background was grey, and not white like I saw on other websites; this is how new I was to any sort of photography or editing skills.
I hit the internet and started watching tutorials on product photography and I came across the Photoshop process and how you can cut a product out, make a white background, and keep the original shadows intact – it sounds silly, but it blew my mind. I immediately downloaded Photoshop and Lightroom, shot products, explored lifestyle photos and shot our lookbook. I stayed up late each night watching any sort of editing tutorial on YouTube that I could find – it didn’t matter what style of photography it was. I was immersed.
What makes photography in New York so special?
Being born and raised in Long Island and currently living in Brooklyn, I’ve always had an obsession with everything New York. Whether it’s the city, beaches, or upstate, I think there’s something that sets the state apart from others. Working up on 55th street right out of college, Manhattan had become my current obsession; the sounds, the people, the vast cityscape all had such a powerful nature to it that I couldn’t feel anywhere else.
I turned to Instagram to see how people were seeing the city through their eyes. I looked up to photographers such as Steven John Irby, Dave Krugman, and Humza Deas. I was blown away with how they captured NYC and I felt like I had to use photography as a way to express myself and show people how to see New York through my eyes. My thought process was that if I could figure out product photography, why can’t I figure out cityscape/urban photography?
What do you look for when deciding who to photograph?
When I go out to shoot it’s about finding four things—light, a unique subject, a setting (preferably with something New York related in it), and a nice composition/frame. Finding all four pieces together is difficult, but if you catch a photo with all, you’ll know why it’s worth it.
I try and be as “New York” as possible in my photos. I look for subjects that have something unique about them that reminds me of a classic or true New Yorker. Are they dressed a certain way? Do they walk a certain way? Are they holding a certain look on their face? Does their look go with the scene they’re walking through? Whatever the case may be, certain actions tend to catch my eye and I just know when a subject is right. My style has drifted towards capturing people during their daily routines; some might notice me, some might not, but either way a story is able to be told.
What attracted you to street photography?
I always wanted to be like other big city photographers. I was so envious of how these people were a voice for their city’s attitude though platforms like Instagram. Starting in 2015, I would get up early before work and would hit a spot for the sunrise, bring my camera to work, then go to a spot for sunset. At the time, I was only focused on landscapes and I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew that I loved getting out and trying to be creative.
I would continue to hit these different landscape spots around the city and it was fun, but then it got super saturated with other photographers doing the same thing and applying the same edits. I thought I was the only one who was inspired by other big names, but apparently this trend caught on and I got bummed out because I wasn’t really the voice I wanted to be—there were a lot of us doing it and no photo was unique since we all shot the same thing and told the same story.
From here, I took a step back from photography to start another clothing brand. I knew I wanted to make something, but tangible items wasn’t the answer. I watched a video on YouTube on photographer Tim McGurr and something struck a chord with me; instead of taking photos of New York landmarks, I could take photos of people of the city living out their daily lives—that’s what makes New York, New York.
From then on, I was obsessed with expressing myself through my photos and letting friends and family see how I viewed the city that I was living in, and it all snowballed from there. I bring my camera with me on my commute, around on the weekend, and when I’m on random walks throughout the city. There’s a story to tell on every single block of the city no matter the time of day or day of the year.
What do you hope people take away from your work?
I try to make New Yorkers proud, and out-of-towners curious about what it’s like to live here. I try and make other photographers inspired to go out and take photos. It’s how I started becoming passionate about this, and if one person picks up a camera because they’re inspired by my work then I did my job. I’ve been lucky enough to make my closest of friends taking street photos – it’s truly a beautiful, positive community. I’ve even had someone message me saying they booked a ticket to come to New York because of my work!