portraits of new yorkers crossing the williamsburg bridge
Photographer Hans Neumann captures skaters and construction workers suspended between Manhattan and Brooklyn in a new zine of film portraits.
The Williamsburg Bridge has New York humor built into it. A sign on the westbound approach reads, "Leaving Brooklyn: Oy Vey!" Over the years, it has also become an unlikely cultural hotspot. From 1959 to 1961, legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins would rehearse on the central platform to avoid his mom's noise complaints, its frame is visible in scenes from The French Connection (1971), and Depeche Mode used the bridge as a backdrop for its 1990 video "Policy of Truth." For many New Yorkers, it's also where they get stuck on the J train every morning on the way to work, or where they jog, skate, cycle or practice their graffiti tags.
Around the time of Trump's inauguration, photographer Hans Neumann — who lives in Williamsburg and runs the bridge every morning — was thinking about our new president's rhetoric of division. "I was thinking about this crazy asshole who wants to build a wall and playing with the dichotomy between a wall and a bridge," he says, "and how a bridge unites two places, and how much diversity of people cross the bridge every day."
Not only does the Williamsburg Bridge literally connect the city's two most populous boroughs, it's also an all-inclusive throughway for every kind of New Yorker. Walking across it on any one day, you'll see tourists, crust punks, Hasidic families, construction workers, suited commuters, cyclists snacking at the central division, and art students and store kids going to and from school or work.
On two early-spring mornings, Hans set up a simple backdrop near the bridge's center point and asked passersby if he could take their portrait. "When I moved to New York, 15 years ago [from Peru], I did some event photography, so I'm good at easing people into it," he says. (He later assisted fellow Peruvian Mario Testino.) Still, some people were feeling it more than others. Skaters and young kids: yes. Older people: perhaps. Cyclists: sometimes. Joggers: almost always a sweaty head shake.
"I see all these characters every day," Hans says. "The first day I shot, it was still almost winter, and I thought it was interesting to see how people layered." The photos show head-enveloping scarves, neon safety jackets, nylon tracksuits, hippie-ish coats, and every kind of hat. "But I didn't want to create a fashion story," he adds. "A lot of people had backpacks and iPods, and I let them leave in their headphones. I didn't want to alter anything too much."
"Most of the time, I just took one or two pictures," he explains. "I let them be themselves and didn't direct them too much. I just wanted the portrait to read like their most original self." He also never had the luxury of time. "One Hasidic man agreed to let me take his picture, but only if he could keep walking, so I had to run backwards in front of him with my camera."
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Hans Neumann