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The Story Behind That Picture: "A Harlem Experience"

By: Thorsten Overgaard. March 21, 2016

 

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I've had never been to Harlem before. I've always heard it used to be really dangerous but had gotten much better. On September 11, 2015 I was about to learn first-hand what "better" means.

 


Riding the Subway up to Harlem at 125th Street. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

Coincidentally I wanted to do both some atmosphere photos from Harlem, and a Harlem portrait of Doug E Fresh some days later. So I went up to 125th Street in Harlem with the Suway to have a look at it, do some atmpshere and some location scouting for the portrait.

How much better I didn't really know (and how bad it was I wouldn’t know either as it was my first time), but as I do in most places, I am ready to experience everything and have confidence I can deal with it.

 

Instant love. Harlem is the place. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.
Instant love. Harlem is the place. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

Harlem is colorful, spicy, exiting, direct and ... unknown territory. It was instant love. Now I just had to survive to tell about it.

I spent four hours photographing atmosphere and people in the street and nothing of the sort your mother would warn you about happened.  The closest I got to be in trouble was a woman on 128th Street who warned me "you might get into trouble photographing people here around".

 


Harlem with Leica Q.


It never happened. On the contrary, when I was photographing on 126th Street, a guy wanted me to photograph him. It turned out his name was Curtis and he told me he was sentenced to 30 years in prison but was released after half of them.

 


Curtis Tilo with 12 gunshots in his body and 15 years in prison. Alive and kicking!
Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

I never asked for what, I think I would rather not know. He had 12 gunshots in his body and had gotten them all the same day - he lifted the t-shirt and showed me his stomach that looked like he had been standing in front of a German machine gun in World War II. We did the photo and I got his phone number to send him the photo.

Friendliest guy ever.

 


CD's and DVS's for $1 on the street of Harlem. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

 

         
 

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Harlem. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


Harlem. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


Harlem. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

Another friendly person I met was Clerence who sold water on 125th Street. This was his two last bottles, so Joy gave him $2 for the water and $3 as his first ever model fee. Off he went, sold out and proud of working and making it work.

 

Clerence: Proud of making it work. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. . © 2015 Thorsten Overgaard
Clerence: Proud of making it work. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. . © 2015 Thorsten Overgaard




I find this interesting because it's a measurement for people that I use. Are they proud of their work? It doesn’t matter if they are a doctor or takes orders for burgers in "brgr", or if they sell water bottles. Who doesn't want to connect with people who are proud of what they are doing and who are doing it well, rather than people who hate what they are doing and everything associated with it?

Whoever his parents are, they are doing a great job.

 

Lightroom Survival Kit 6

 


126th Street seen from Harlem River Drive. I was waiting around on the bridge for 20 minutes for someone to pass below. This was actually one of the first ones I did. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


Being September 11 I found this banner over the fire station interesting. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this Story Behind the Picture. As always, feel free to mail be at thorsten@overgaard.dk for ideas, questions and suggestions.

 


Harlem 125th Street. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

 
 

 


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Above: Considering Harlem is not Brooklyn I noticed a lot of people weaing Brooklyn caps and shirts. This guy lives in Harlem and weats a Brooklyn cap and a Bob Marley t-shirt with the Jamaica colors. I guess only tourists would wear I Love Harlem shirt. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2015-2016 Thorsten Overgaard.

 






 


 

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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish-American multiple award-winning photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras. He travels to more than 25 countries a year, photographing and teaching workshops to photographers. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via email.

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