My first camera was an inexpensive, but very solid Pentax K1000. I got it secondhand, super cheap because the back was all scratched up. It came with a 35mm lens. I was sixteen. It was 1992.
It was right about the time I used to sneak out of the house at night. I had moved down to the basement of our house and I had a side door all to myself. My mother worked nights and the rest of my family mostly ignored me, so usually around eleven, I would spray some WD40 on the hinges of the door and slink out into the night.
I got into all kinds of trouble, usually with older kids who wrote graffiti and stole cars, but sometimes I went off on my own, caught a bus to the subway, and took a train into the city. With a hoodie on and my plain jeans and work boots, I doubt anyone could even tell how old I was at night. I’d take the train to the last stop, Times Square, and lose myself in the crowds.
I liked to just walk around and listen in on bits of conversation. Times Square was a very different place back then, dangerous and rough. There were fights, guys selling drugs, all sorts of edgy adventures to watch.
Sometimes I’d find a shadowy alley or doorway to hide in and I’d take out my camera. I’d snap pictures of the nervous tourists and the junkies and the particular brand of people who haunted Times Square.
I was always surprised at how little anyone ever interacted with me. I’m sure, in my oversized and stained hooded sweatshirt, ill-fitting jeans, and off-brand work boots, I didn’t look like I had any money to give or steal.
It felt sort of exciting to be invisible. To hide in the dark and watch people, snap pictures, eavesdrop. One night I saw a marriage proposal, a drug deal, a fistfight, and a drunk girl flash her tits at a crowd, all between midnight and one.
More than the nights in Times Square, I remember taking the train and then the bus back home at two or three in the morning. Thinking about everything I had seen. Feeling like I was part of the city. I was one of the wild cast of characters. The weird kid with the camera and the notebook in his pocket.
I suppose I still feel like one of the characters, though the particulars and the motivations have changed. On a good night, going out can still feel as electric as sneaking out.