Artist Profile: Joe Raskin
I love to wander around New York City. It has always been a source of inspiration to my photography.
The places I like to go around aren’t necessarily tourist spots. You’ve seen those locations in dozens of books and hundreds, if not thousands of photographs. Even if you’ve never been to New York, you have a pretty good idea of what 5th Avenue, Times Square or Greenwich Village look like. Sometimes it seems as if most of the people who are walking over the Brooklyn Bridge are doing it to walk halfway across, take pictures and go back to Manhattan. Not as many people seem to be walking across the bridge to get someplace. It’s the exact opposite on the Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro Bridge (and, truth be told, the view is better).
When I wander, my plan is usually to start from Point A and get to point B. How I get there is strictly a matter of improvisation – sometimes a better destination will come to mind. I’m always curious to see what’s a block or two over and I don’t want to plan that much. If I have to think about an image too much beforehand, it won’t be worth the effort. The best shots are the result of a “Gee. Would you look at that?” type of reaction.
I’ve always looked at the paintings of Edward Hopper and the photographs of Berenice Abbott as a reference point for my photographs. They seemed to be more intent on showing the environment of an area. When a person was in Abbott’s photographs or many of Hopper’s paintings, they were part of the overall scene, rather than the subject. If someone shows up in one of my photographs, it’s more of an incidental matter more than anything else. They’re part of the background, a component of the overall scene.
In a sense, I see these photographs as being abstract, almost cubist in nature. When I was in high school, mathematics, particularly geometry, was a matter of horror to me. With these photographs, geometry almost takes over. I look for angles and shape more than anything else.
The rule that I’ve set for myself in taking these pictures is not to do anything illegal. I won’t trespass on private property. I won’t violate anyone’s privacy (an especially good idea when taking pictures of buildings and windows). The pictures that you see can be seen on a street or from the subway or in the subway or from some other public vantage point. I want to show the environment of normal everyday life in the only place in the world that I can see myself living in.