Photographer Joseph O’Neill knows New York. With a his skilled eye for the often overlooked, he captures not the touristy, typical scenes –but the sometimes hidden moments. This is New York—always beautiful in its unique way–at times dark, but with many intimate moments that typically only a Native New Yorker can know. Live and breathe New York- as revealed through the photographs of Joseph O’Neill!
“My photographs give voice to the silent stories I find all around New York City ‒ most of them in plain sight. When the sun, the Hudson River, and the corner of a building all join in a dance of reflection, light, and shadow; when the last of the leaves blow ominously across an abandoned piece of playground equipment late at night ‒ these are the stories my photographs tell. There is a solitude that is known to most city-dwellers; a hollowness against the artificial light and the din of the city’s razzle-dazzle. It is that isolation that my camera seeks.
This is a city full of diamonds.
New Yorkers train themselves to tune out the everyday sensory overload; barely seeing what’s right in front of them. Looking at a collection of my work, I’ve seen people experience something extraordinary, beautiful, and even life-changing. It’s amazing how often they start discussing memories ‒ as they move from photo to photo, it’s as if they move through their own life as well. I prefer black and white to color, buildings and landscapes to portraits, large-scale to small. And I have exceptions to each of those preferences. I welcome you to enjoy this series of photographs, and to experience what I see through my lens ‒ the real, raw magic that is my city. ” Photographer Joseph O’Neill
“Culturally, New York has it all, great food, world class art museums, music from classical to hip hop, broadway, sports, a huge artist community. People from everywhere come to New York which makes the city very diverse. The saying that ” If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” is true. The beauty is in its people.” Photographer Joseph O’Neill
“I was born in Brooklyn. I believe my natural dad died in prison, but I don’t know for certain. My natural mom was a heroin addict; she abused my siblings and me. My sister Dawn and I went into the system – I was three years old – and one sibling went to live with my natural grandparents. First we went into a foundling hospital for children, and then various foster homes on Long Island. Somewhere in there mom went to prison. I was ten when she got out. The state separated Dawn and me when I was eleven because we were not adoptable together – Dawn was incorrigible. I was thirteen when my parents adopted me. Dawn went to another family, and my other sibling went back to my natural mom. My mother signed the papers giving me up for adoption – I wanted to go to college and she never would have been able to afford to send me.
My family didn’t make me artistic; they simply didn’t accept the limited view of the first look.
I went on to grow up in a family of artists. There was always music in the house – both my parents play piano – and my grandmother was a painter who worked in oils and watercolors. I would stay with her when my parents were away. She always encouraged me to be creative and express myself through art. I have vivid memories of her hands, and the smells of the materials.
“With all that in the background, I was pretty much a regular 80’s kid; all that music, getting into just the right amount of trouble. Always attracted to, and surrounded by, creative and artistic people.
I focused on the culinary arts; I attended Johnson and Wales University for Culinary Arts and, as a trained chef, I spent fifteen years in the food service industry. I think the care and attention I learned to pay to food helped shape my appreciation of the beauty within the mundane.
It wasn’t until 2005, after purchasing a digital camera for my girlfriend, (yes, she’s a singer and actress, and yes, I got her another present after I co-opted that camera), that I first became interested in photography. I started just exploring the city through the lens and I found that I loved it, and I loved the results. It’s only the last few years I had to admit there was really something to this, and it was time to pursue it further.
So, no formal training; just a whole lot of instinct. It has been a journey of trial and exploration. I experiment with different lenses or lighting until I come across something that appeals to me. And then the editing process consumes me – so many photos get discarded, but more beautiful discoveries take place well after the photo is shot. It’s this process that makes me want to share more; the exposure, lighting, the innocence of subject that gives the pictures their edge and makes them unique.”
1. What attracted you to photography?
I’ve always had a fascination with photography. When I was growing up you didn’t have a television in every room, you had to entertain yourself by reading. My parents always had a copy of Life Magazine, National Geographic or some coffee table book that I would read. When I was younger my creative energies went towards my pursuit as a chef. I became re-interested in photography about ten years ago when I gave my girlfriend a digital camera for her birthday and realized I had an eye for it. I love the spontaneity.
2. How would you describe your photography style?
Some people say I have a very film noir style, I used describe it as urban realism until i found out that that term was already used for a painting style. I shoot mainly in black and white which gives my photograph a timeless quality. It creates a depth and moodiness.
3. What inspires you?
My photographs revolve around New York City. So I would have to say that New York is my inspiration. I was born and raised in this city, it is my home. Everywhere I look in New York, I found something worthwhile to photograph. Whether it be a building, person, ornamentation, statue, or bridge. At different times of day or night, times of year, the city has a different look and feel.
4. How do you think you have evolved in your art since starting?
When started out I was more of a documentary photographer. Now I combine documentary with fine art photography. I found my eye.
5. A) What do you think the job of a good photograph is?
It depends on the style of photography you are speaking about.
In documentary style, it is to tell the story of everyday life- in fine art form, it is make the ordinary interesting and beautiful.
B) What should it do?
It should capture a moment in time and provoke a response from the viewer
6. Which photographers do you admire the most?
My mother took a sabbatical from teaching and took a class on Dadaism and the anti-art movement. That’s when I discovered Man Ray. He showed me the fine art of photography. The way he would manipulate the images, it intrigued me. When a friend said that my photographs reminded him of Eugene Adget’s photography, I became a fan of his work. The way he captured Paris at different times of day and year. Much like myself, he would take his camera around Paris and photograph the city. I try to get a silver plate appearance with a digital camera
7. What would you say to someone considering photography?
Find your muse. Explore and experiment with the camera. Try different settings, different lighting, different times of day and different subject matter. Believe in yourself.
We hope that you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the world of Photographer Joseph O’Neill
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