Forget Manhattan: One Artist Pictures the ‘Real’ New York

Williamsburg, Brooklyn: July 12, 2005, William Meyers, (Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library)

It all started when photographer William Meyers walked into a Fifth Avenue bookstore nearly two decades ago. “When I got over to [the New York photography] section and glanced through the titles of the books that they had, I realized that they didn’t really mean New York,” he told the Observer. “What they meant was Manhattan.”

William Meyers, DUMBO, Brooklyn: June 28, 2002 (Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library)

DUMBO, Brooklyn: June 28, 2002 (Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library)

So “Outer Boroughs: New York Beyond Manhattan,” an exhibition of his work that opened last weekend at the New York Public Library, was born.

The compelling photographs in the series were acquired by the library in 2008 and scheduled for an exhibition in 2010 but, due to the financial crisis, the show was scrapped. However, Mr. Meyers said he is content with how it all worked out as his new book release, Outer Boroughs: New York Beyond Manhattan, now coincides with his exhibition, which is on display through June 30.

William Meyers, Astoria, Queens: May, 1990 (Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library)

Astoria, Queens: May, 1990 (Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library)

It was important to the photographer to  stay away from standard shots focusing on the grandiose views of New York, but he said he also wanted to uphold traditions set by great New York photographers such as Gary Winogrand and Alfred Stieglitz. So his are “all black and white and they were all taken with a 36 mm camera and were very much in the tradition of New York City photography.”

The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty didn’t interest Mr. Meyers. “I was looking at everything so that in the project there are streetscapes, cityscapes, portraits of people, pictures of people working, pictures that involve the arts in the outer boroughs, museums, musicians, nightclub performers, people entertaining in private homes, street fairs, it was a much more global approach than anybody else has taken of the outer boroughs and that’s what makes it so unique,” the artist said.

William Meyers, Long Island City, Queens: May 16, 2004 (Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library)

Long Island City, Queens: May 16, 2004 (Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library)

Mr. Meyers describes himself as an art photographer rather than a documentarian. “[For] an art photographer, the only importance of the photograph is an experience in itself,” Mr. Meyers told the Observer. “It doesn’t matter whether you know what it is or what it isn’t.”

Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn: May 12, 1998 (Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library)

Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn: May 12, 1998 (Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library)

“It’s an interesting picture that people will feel compelled to look at,” he added. “That is what I was trying to create in the Outer Boroughs.”

William Meyers: Outer Boroughs runs from March 27 to June 30 in the New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd street.

Forget Manhattan: One Artist Pictures the ‘Real’ New York