Souls of New York: The Story of Old New York

All images by Steven R. Hazlett. Used with permission.

“I like to keep my work as open and free-formed as possible, but if there is a theme it is capturing the New York of my childhood, the city I was born into 30 years ago.” says photographer Steven Hazlett.

Steven is a photographer, teacher, and artist in resident based in New York City. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree at SUNY Purchase College in 2013, teaches the art of photography at several non-profit organizations. A lifelong New York native, Steven and I both remember what it was like before our city got cleaned up.

As an ode to this memory, Steven started the Souls of New York photo project.

His style of photography is heavily influenced by his photojournalistic background, and has been part of the Eddie Adams Workshop alumni since 2012, when he began is photographic career. Steven has worked with such clients as Alicia Keys, Jungle City Studios, Madison Square Garden, and many more.

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Steven: I bought my first camera after signing up for a photography class at Purchase College in 2010. I purchased a Canon T1i and instantly fell in love. I had always been a huge fan of photography and had trapped visions of all the things I needed to capture in my life. Taking this course gave me the push I needed; I got hooked and never looked back.

Phoblographer: You’ve done a number of genres like weddings, portraits; but you also do lots of street. What makes you like street?

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Steven: NYC is the mecca of street photography, if you’ve got a camera it’s inevitable and a right of passage if you want to call yourself a photographer here. As soon as I bought mine, I became a slave to the streets, spending 6-8 hours each day all over the city. It was the first time in years that I’ve felt alive, and I craved that feeling. In New York we pass by thousands of complete strangers each and every day; people with stories to tell, and wisdom to share… Being able to capture a brief moment in time while crossing paths with such a vibrant side of life seems magical to me, it’s something that never gets old.

Phoblographer: So talk to us about Souls of New York; it’s a black and white project that showcases portraits; but tell us about these people. What’s the theme?

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Steven: I like to keep my work as open and free-formed as possible, but if there is a theme it is capturing the New York of my childhood, the city I was born into 30 years ago. The pieces to that puzzle are harder to find with rent hikes and gentrification washing away our culture. But I always walk the extra mile to capture the quiet waters that run deep in the veins of New York City – the good, the bad, and the unapologetic; that’s the undefined beauty – the backbone of New York we see less and less of these days, the lives that our city takes for granted.

Phoblographer: What inspired the project?

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Steven: Despite the struggle and hardship many of us face to survive here, we all have this innate desire to express our love and appreciation for this city – and Souls of New York is most definitely my forum for that. But it’s also been a personal project for me, a bridge to the world I lost touch with after my fight with cancer, which left me partially blind at 17. I shunned the world I loved and lost touch in more ways than one. I struggled with my flaws and setbacks for many years before I got my camera and learned to embrace them, and the world around me. From the moment I started shooting life just seemed to click, and I saw everything in a new light. Street photography was all I cared about – capturing life, something I no longer took for granted, gave me a reason to wake up each morning. I got lost in this trance for quite a few years, and was left with countless images of people I’ve crossed paths with, moments I’ve shared. It certainly brought me back to life along the way, and keeps me going today.

Phoblographer: A lot of your work is of the upper portions of people with very little full body stuff. It’s almost like you’re trying to focus on what we’d normally see in most situations. How do you feel this influences the way the images feel when viewing them?

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Steven: I’ve never really thought about it before, but I think it certainly has to do with the lower spectrum of my peripheral vision, which is pretty much gone. So the majority of what I focus on are people’s eyes, which in practice brings me closer to my subjects. It works for me, because everything else is secondary when it comes to truly connecting with a person through the lens.

Phoblographer: How do you go about asking these people for their portraits and how did you go about building the project?

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Steven: My approach always varies, and depends on the subject. Sometimes it starts off with a conversation, or comment, and sometimes simply candid. Regardless of the approach, it’s all about love – I never want to leave a person I engage with on a bad note, I always believe in leaving a place better than I found it. So as long as I can make a positive impact on the people I encounter, I’m content sharing that moment with them, before it fades away.

Phoblographer: What gear do you use?

Steven: Currently I shoot with:
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II
Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro
Canon 35mm f/1.4

The majority of this project was shot on my first couple cameras: Canon Rebel T1i & Canon 60D with a Sigma 35mm f/1.4

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Lower East Side

Lower East Side