May 312012


When the temperature reaches

eighty degrees, most New Yorkers

flock to the beach.  Left behind, are

the hot and dedicated few who will

endure a New York Summer.

Brazil. © Elliot Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS


Many cities are famous for their weather.  London has its rain and fog, Chicago has its wind and New York has its Extremes.  The winter is bone chilling cold and the summer is painfully hot.  We emerged from a very mild winter and got a taste of the summer over the last two days.  Air conditioners were stacked in front of appliance stores and the streets were filled with complaints of the sun.  Contrary to the beliefs of many New Yorkers, one day of sun will not kill them.

The hot summer is a mix of pleasure and pain.  On the positive side, we can leave our heavy coats in the closet.  No longer worried about the frigid winter, we pop out of the house in only a shirt with a camera in hand.  New York is a dark place in the winter.  Everyone wears black and the weather can be cold and gray.  In many ways its like London only colder.  For those of us who enjoy street photography, the subjects are few and far between.  Most of the population looks like an overcoat advertisement, which makes for very boring photographs.

Little man showing off his muscles. Harlem 1963. © Leonard Freed/MAGNUM PHOTOS

But come June, the weather changes and the clothes come off.  Free from the layers of cashmere, down, leather, and gore-tex, the streets explode with flesh for the first time in six long months.  As photographers, we rejoice in the sweat because we finally have out subjects back.  There are few things I really enjoy about NYC in the summer.

Scianna's muse Marpessa in Mauritius. © Ferdinando Scianna/MAGNUM PHOTOS


As a photographer of people, I love to see skin.  The less clothes the better.  Weather its a hipster cruising on her bike or a construction worker tearing the sleeves off their shirt, I enjoy seeing the combination of physical exertion and sweat.  Visually, it is a powerful combination that gives you a sense of the weather.

In a letter Ernest Hemingway wrote to John Dos Passos (1932), he said:

“Remember to get

the weather in your

god damned book

—weather is very important.”

—Ernest Hemingway


NIcaragua 1979. © Susan Meiselas/MAGNUM PHOTOS


The sun tires people out.  For those of you who are new to street work, the advantage of a tired subject is they hardly move.  It makes life easier if your subject is not bouncing around with the passion of Spring, rather they are heavy with the heat of summer.

Children playing in an open fire hydrant in NYC. © Thomas Hoepker/MAGNUM PHOTOS


There is no color like the sun of a late summer afternoon.  New York evenings hold a strong warmth that does not happen in the other seasons.  The blazing sun usually makes the hours of 11-4pm impossible for good photography, unless you creep in the shadows.  But around 5:00pm when it starts to head for the hills of New Jersey, it lets off a gorgous orange that makes even the calmest scene burn with fire.

Harlem 1963. © Leonard Freed/MAGNUM PHOTOS


Fountains in New York are making a comeback.  After the restoration of Washington Square last year, the central fountain became more than a pretty spritz of water.  It is a flow pool of activity.  Kids, college students, dogs and anyone else who wants to take a dip can run through the water in the middle of Washington Square park.  The picture opportunities will be endless.  Surely this is a far cry from Washington Squares previous lives.  The park used to serve as a major drug dealing den from the 1970-1990’s and prior to that it was used for public executions in the 1700’s.  I would say, the park is moving in a positive direction.

NYC 1953. © Elliot Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS

So whether you are an NYC local or coming to the city from out of town, remember to explore the smaller neighborhoods in the summer.  Skip the streets between 30th-60th around midtown.  Go down to the Lower East Side pools, Chinatown and the East Village.  If you are feeling very adventurous head out to Brooklyn to see what the hipsters are up to this Summer.  Leave the tourist to be tourists, and go enjoy being a photographer.  You never know what half dressed opportunity awaits you.

If you want to catch the tail end of the summer season join me on “Last Days of Summer” Photography Workshop over Labor Day.  Details coming soon.


Best-Adam Marelli 




  One Response to “NYC Summer Streets”

  1. Hi Adam,

    Nice post and an awesome set of picures. I hope to visit New York next year the with my daughter, for the first time that is. I’d guess it will be a very ‘tourist-like’ visit (only the main must sees), but I hope to shoot some nice pictures nevertheless :-) .



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