Manhattan in Photographs,
One Block at a Time

Some photos that didn't make it >

Walking all the streets of Manhattan was my personal Mt. Everest challenge.

Although I had lived and worked in the city or suburbs for over 50 years, I never really paid attention to what was between point A and point B.

That all changed when, one day in 2005, I noticed plaques embedded in the sidewalk on East 41st street near the New York Public Library. They had quotes from Shakespeare, Mark Twain, E.B. White and others on them. I had never noticed them before. At that moment, I had an epiphany of sorts and decided then and there to walk every street in Manhattan. I was retired and thought it would be an interesting adventure and it was, and so much more. There was no preconceived idea of what I wanted to photograph but I knew from the pictures I took on my first walk that I was focusing on the unusual, offbeat, and ordinary things that are part of the essence of New York but seldom photographed. I was definitely not going to photograph the tourist attractions that had been had been seen a zillion times before.

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As the weeks went by, I felt a real high when the weekend came as that's when I usually did most of my walking by myself. In fact, what kept me going was that my adventure turned into an odyssey. I decided not to walk Manhattan in an orderly manner but, rather, to walk wherever I happened to be in the city on a particular day or what appealed to me according my mood. If I felt like open spaces, I would walk the upper part of Manhattan; if I wanted streams of people milling around, it would be midtown or lower Manhattan.

I didn't skip any streets because I learned from my first few walks that you never knew what was around the corner. Some of my best shots were in very non-descript neighborhoods. Furthermore, I didn't read up on any of the areas I was going to walk because I wanted to be surprised by what I'd see…that was one of the allures of this odyssey. In this regard, I mapped out ahead of time the area I wanted to cover for that day and usually walked about four hours and five to six miles depending on what there was to see and how fast I moved. Once I started my walking project, I was determined to finish it not only for the sheer adventure of it all but also to demonstrate that you can undertake a huge, physically challenging effort like this even in your 70s. I walked 6,718 blocks* or 504.3 miles**, the equivalent of walking from Manhattan to Philadelphia five times!

Midtown was good for window displays; the Village and lower Manhattan for character and history; Washington Heights, Inwood, and Spanish Harlem for cultural variations; and Harlem for all the interesting renaissance going on.

woman carrying cello down West Side Manhattan street

I didn't photograph a lot of people because I didn't want to intrude on their privacy. However, when I did ask if I could take a picture, most people agreed to my request.

There was always a show to see in Manhattan whether it was the sidewalk stores in Washington Heights, the quaintness of Greenwich Village, the "busyness" of Chinatown and the lower East Side, or the multitude of activities going on at Columbus Circle, Union Square, or Madison Square Park. I purposely omitted the big parks in the city as I wanted to concentrate on the streets of Manhattan. I walked throughout the year in all kinds of weather. People often ask whether I felt safe and I can honestly say I did…everywhere.

Walking Harlem on Sundays was very uplifting as you could hear singing in the air from all the churches. There are dozens of them in Harlem, some large, some as small as a one-door garage. One time when I had gotten off the train at 125th street, I stopped outside the station to stretch my legs before beginning a long walk downtown. A man in a wheelchair rolled over to me and asked if I was o.k. When I told him I was just stretching my legs, he said, "O.K, as long as you're alright," and rolled away! On another occasion, I was taking a picture of a clapboard house on West 122nd street. A young African-American was sitting in front of a brownstone next to it and as I passed him he asked me if I was going to buy the house. I told him I wasn't but that if I were his age, I would seriously consider it. He said, "That's too bad because you seem like a nice lady."

People want to know what area I liked the best and I always have to dodge that question because I had no favorite.

Manhattan is like twelve different countries…you appreciate each one for what you learn from it whether it's the Latino influence in the north or the Chinese in the south. In many ways, I feel sad that I will probably never return to so many of the neighborhoods I walked. But, as Dr. Seuss said, "Don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened." One thing that was constant on most of my walks, and, which I would see very often was the Empire State Building. I could see a part of it from almost every area I walked whether it was just the tip of it from Harlem, or its upper floors from Bleecker Street. It became my guiding light.

In looking back, I realize that the walking was mentally stimulating as it motivated me to get out of my comfort zone each week. Walking in Manhattan was like living in the moment… very spiritual on many levels as you were alone with the world without being alone. Also, determining what to photograph and how was creatively very stimulating. After walking all of Manhattan I can say with conviction that it is a cleaner, safer, prettier city than the one I came to in the fifties. Its people are incredibly friendly, helpful, kind, fun, and extraordinary on many different levels. After 2 years, 9 months, and 2 days I finally finished walking every street, block, nook and cranny of Manhattan on January 26, 2008. I kept it at a leisurely pace as I was had no timetable for finishing. As a result of my walks, I got to know what was most unique to me in the city…the shiniest door, (West 92nd Street), the biggest numbers on a brownstone, (West 94th Street), biggest crane (West 28th street).

a storefront window in downtown Manhattan

It was not my intention to do a book about my walking...

but as I went along, the 2,200 photographs I took were so reflective of the everyday, yet offbeat side Manhattan , that I wanted to share them . So, the book is a snapshot and chronicle of Manhattan over a particular period of time. I kept a notebook of what I covered on each walk and know exactly where every picture was taken. The photos in the book are organized so that they start below 14th street on up to Manhattan's most northern tip at 221st street. At first I was going to do a little story about each photo and why it resonated with me; but, then, I decided to let each person react to them in his or her own way as you would a painting.

I feel so fortunate to have walked the greatest city in the world...

and to know it on a level few have or ever will. A quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson best describes how I feel about having done it: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

  *Source: Fund for the City of New York
**Source: Green Book of the City of New York, 2009