Vincent Pflieger is a photographer from Paris, who has been discovering the city of New York through his lens for more than two years now. For most New Yorkers there are exactly two places of hell on earth: Penn Station and Times Square. However, as a photographer, Vincent discovered the beauty in the latter. In this surreal place, where millions of tourists are looking up to the shiny billboards every day and night, Vincent peeked behind the curtain of the everyday showtime. With this series, he took with his Diana F+, he was able to capture the strange, unique beauty of Time Square, a place somewhere between fascination and madness.
Hi Vincent, welcome to the Lomography Magazine. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am a 27 years old film photographer born and raised in Paris, where I lived for 25 years. I moved to New York two and a half years ago and am now working as a food photographer. Since I’m shooting in NYC, I have had the chance to show my work in a magazine like Vice, Fubiz or iGnant.
What brought you to the States?
I first came to finish my study of journalism and did a dual degree in journalism and media analysis at NYIT. In the end, I had the choice between staying one more year to work or go back to Paris. I decided to stay and work as an in-house photographer at my friend’s company, who founded a design agency between Paris and NYC. But NYC is a black hole, and it is hard to leave once you are here. Possibilities are infinite if you really want to open the field of opportunities that NYC can offer. It sounds a bit like a cliché but it’s actually true.
You shot a series in Times Square, a place that people usually either love it or hate! How do you feel about that spot and why did you choose to shoot a series in that particular place?
I understand these mixed feelings about this place. If you are a New Yorker it’s definitely not the area you’ll choose to hang out with friends or take someone on a date. Also, going through this mess when you are commuting between two neighborhoods is an absolute nightmare! But for a photographer, Time Square is very rich, full of moments and faces that feed your inspiration. It’s one of those rare places in NY, where you can meet so many different people reunited. 99% of people there are tourists from all over the world and it’s always funny to see how people react when they finally reach this famous spot. However, it is always a struggle to avoid getting swallowed by the crowd. The key is to remain patient. You are here to observe, after all, so take your time!
It’s probably one of the most photographed places in the world, but I prefer taking pictures of the tourists instead of all these shiny billboards. Moreover, it’s always showtime here. Mostly the same shows you can find in every touristic place on earth, like break dancers or stuff like that, but there are also people who are trying different things. There’s always some kind of interesting performance or crazy artists to see if you come at the right time.
I always wanted to shoot a series about Times Square, documenting the life and the regulars that come to perform there every day, the impersonators, the protestors, and the homeless. The naked cowboy is probably the most iconic figure of Time Square.
What thought came to your mind, the very first time you visited Times Square?
What the hell am I doing here? (laughs)
Because this place is really considered hell in NYC. But to be honest, I have to admit that I was kind of amazed. I was around 10 years old, the first time I came to NYC, and through my child's eyes, Time Square was a unique attraction like nothing else I ever witnessed before. Today I can notice that same look in the eyes of the kids around me. All these lights and the disproportion of the billboards mesmerize them. The Disney and M&M’s store help too, I guess. You might hate it or love it, but this place is pretty impressive!
What camera and film did you use?
I used a Diana F+ with some Lomo rolls and I must say that it was not easy to use such a camera for the first time. To be honest, I messed up with my first rolls and underexposed everything. But it’s still an interesting camera. Despite looking like a toy, I was very surprised about the pictures’ quality. I never really shoot in a square format either, so it was nice to try. It changes your way of composing your image.
Any crazy personal Time Square experience/stories?
I have many, there is always something happening here. I saw Spiderman getting arrested and Mickey Mouse chain-smoking on the sidewalk … But the most important moments are the times when you connect with the regulars there. Some people are always here, like John with his dog Lucy. I always make sure to bring some Cheeseburgers from MacDonald's to both of them, each time I come to Time Square. I have a picture of Lucy in this series, by the way, she is really cute and fancy with her glasses. But be careful, she will get angry if you touch her master! This is why I don’t even shake John’s hand when I say hello.
Which one is your favorite picture of this series and why?
I like the one of the Cookie Monster taking a break and having lunch. When they remove their big heads, you finally see the human behind it. The contrast is striking when you see the real person behind the mask and the role they play. It’s a tough job to entertain kids in Time Square. People don’t often give tips. Give tips to the entertainers, it’s written on signs!
From a photographer’s point of view: what are the main differences between Paris and NYC?
It’s hard to say exactly... it’s a feeling, a mood. NYC is very unique. There is no other place like this. It’s a test tube where everyone coexists together. It’s difficult to compare it to Paris, which is especially beautiful for its monuments and architecture. But New York is more open-minded and people are not afraid to show their style. They are proud of who they are. I like this attitude and it’s also very interesting to shoot such a diversity that cannot be found in Paris.
What do you like about street photography in particular?
I wanted to do something special with my films and documenting my daily routine seemed natural to me. I started shooting on the subway, which is an incredible place, even if it’s not streets, strictly speaking. I always loved to observe what people were doing when they get bored on public transportation, or how they behave in the streets. I like to look for interesting characters and faces. I guess, I just wanted to capture these moments the way I saw them. A photo makes them last longer.
How did you discover your passion for photography in the first place?
I discovered it by chance. My passion for photography started when my dad gave me his old camera, a Yashica FX-D, he used when I was a kid. It was actually the same camera that captured my first steps when I was a child. Then, one of my friends gave me a bunch of rolls that her parents weren’t using anymore, and I start shooting. I instantly loved it. I used to shoot a little digital but nothing serious. I have not discovered my passion for photography until I tried a film camera. Then, I knew I couldn’t mess up with my films because it’s a different budget than digital photography. With 35mm, you have 24 or 36 frames, so I took my time and forced myself to only take pictures when I was sure about the moment. It taught me to be very exigent about what I was shooting, and it’s also a good way to learn photography since most of the devices are fully manual. This is how I learned photography, and how I got to the streets. Thanks to the film.
Finally, any last words to the community or some advice for young photographers?
Never stop shooting is key. Always carry a camera with you, so preferably use a point and shoot camera, if you don’t want to be bothered by the size. Each time I went out without my camera, I deeply regret it and missed many opportunities. And of course, if you are shooting film I would say, take your time!