Marc Janks is a very special type of photographer. He’s the man behind Who Are You New York–which is a Tumblr site about his daily encounters through photography. The format and layout is simple: a photo of a person with a little bit of background about them and some info about what type of film the portrait was shot with. It isn’t the massive undertaking that Humans of New York is, but it’s significantly more personal. Marc created the blog and started shooting film photos as a way to get over shyness–which is something that he’s had since he was a young boy. He works as a freelance photographer here in New York City and followed his girlfriend here from California.
In between his busy schedule of meeting folks and his full-time gig, Marc had some time to answer a couple of inquiries that piqued our curiosity.
Phoblographer: Who Are You New York is not only an endeavor into self-exploration as a photographer, but also is being used by you as a means of conquering your shyness. What made you shy to begin with and what went through your head to make you shy?
Marc: People are generally inclined to look at their faults more than their strengths. I was no different as a kid but I took it to the extreme. I would go over things that went wrong in my head over and over again and beat myself up about them. Instead of going out into the world and meeting people and making mistakes, which would just fuel the fires of my insecurity, I resorted to be introverted. I had some friends but I never really went out of my comfort zone. Nothing can hurt you if you keep to yourself.
Phoblographer: How has photography started to help you conquer that shyness?
Marc: I had to confront my fears and insecurities, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t do it on my own terms. I’m comfortable behind the camera and am connected to my cameras like a cowboy is connected to his horse. From that comfort zone, I could slowly chip away at those fears and insecurities.
Phoblographer: Why did you choose film over digital?
Marc: People are analog. I shoot people.
I have nothing against digital and shoot digital all the time, but film gives me some distinct advantages. First, it forces me to slow down and plan my photos. I can’t see my shots on the LCD immediately so I have to make sure everything is right before I hit the shutter. Second, people see me using a TLR and it’s almost a novelty to them. They are intrigued and I’m happy to use that intrigue to start a conversation and if all goes well take their picture.
Phoblographer: Do you ever follow up with the people you photograph? Has it brought you more long time fans? I do follow up with a lot of them.
Marc: I try and print out the photos of people I think I might encounter again as a thank you gift. A few people I see around the neighborhood from time to time. I have become friendly with one and we’ve grabbed a couple beers. To be honest though, even after I have talked to a person, I find it hard to keep that relationship going. My anxiety kicks in and I would rather avoid the situation.
Phoblographer: How have you learned to approach touchy situations like with Pirate who didn’t want to use his real name?
Marc: If you come into a situation with honesty and respect you usually get the same back. I make a judgment call when I make I eye contact and I go with it. The fact that I have a heavy tripod that could be used to defend myself also puts me at ease. Do you remember that youtube kid who pretended he was a jedi. You act like that and even the craziest person would leave you alone.
Phoblographer: What the heck made you think to yourself, “Oh man, I’m really shy. But how am I going to conquer it? Oh, I know! I’m going to take pictures!”
Marc: I went to a speaker series by myself where I heard a photographer speak about the humbling experience of asking people for their photos. I figured if it helped him, it could help me. I picked up my camera the next day and went for it. Don’t give yourself time to come up with a reason not to do something.
Phoblographer: What has this project taught you about portraiture so far and working with available light?
Marc: A person being comfortable with you and the camera is one of the most important aspects of a good portrait. I don’t care how good the light is or how interesting the person is–if you don’t have that connection, the person is going to look uncomfortable in the picture. I rarely take a photo before having a conversation with them first for that very reason.
As far as light goes, you constantly have to be on the lookout for good light. New York has a lot of shade, which is great, but you need to look for something that can reflect or detract light to give you some contrast. Always look at your surroundings and see if there is a white or dark wall that you could use as a pseudo light modifier.
Shooting later in the day helps a lot. There is nothing worse than seeing a person you want to shoot and they are in direct sun at noon. The weeks before and after Manhattenhenge have been great for shooting later in the day because the buildings don’t block that great light completely.
Phoblographer: New York is filled with characters, such as William who dresses in suits and brings his pet pigeon to the park. Who was the most memorable one so far and why?
Marc: The most memorable for me is a guy named Paul. He isn’t on the blog yet (but I will put him on soon). He was so insecure about me taking a photo so I told him to forget about the camera and we just talked about our insecurities. After that he said I could take his picture so I brought it back out. The final shot shows something we both share, an inner shyness.
Another person I loved shooting was Rusty Peters. He was the best kind of sloppy drunk, super happy. He took a few shots of me, which he said were willfully out of focus. He loved being in front and the camera and definitely ran the show.
Phoblographer: What are your future plans with this site?
Marc: I want to start doing a series of similar people. Shooting the Central Park Squad was great and I liked getting to know them as a whole. Next I want to shoot bike deliverers. They are such a vital part of New York life, but are so overlooked.
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