The Urban Lens: Kalliope Amorphous captures the faces of the Upper West Side

Posted On Fri, June 9, 2017 By

Posted On Fri, June 9, 2017 By In Features, People, The urban lens, Upper West Side 

6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, creative and conceptual photographer Kalliope Amorphous shares her series “Upper West Side Story.” Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

“I’m always chasing after something nostalgic and timeless,” says Kalliope Amorphous, which is why her long-time home on the Upper West Side was the perfect setting for a portrait study. “There’s a strong sense of community here and it feels more like a neighborhood in the classic and old-fashioned sense,” the self-taught photographer explains. In this black-and-white series, Kalliope captures the many faces of one of the city’s most historic areas, exploring its long-standing energy and evolving residents, as well as her favorite themes of identity, mortality, time, and consciousness.

Tell us a bit about your photographic style and process?

I’m probably best known for my creative and experimental self-portraits, which is a genre I’ve been working in for over a decade. When I take portraits of people or places within the city, I’m aiming to capture the fragility of life and the quiet beauty within it. When people describe my work, they usually point to a somewhat haunting element, and I think this perception recognizes the timelessness that I try to capture.

My process relies a lot on chance and synchronicity. I don’t like being confrontational when I take portraits of people. I prefer to be as invisible as possible out of respect for their personal space, but it also allows for a much more emotionally authentic image. I’m very drawn to the quiet moments and thoughtful pauses that occur in the middle of something as routine as walking down the street. So much passes across a person’s face every second, and in those pauses I often see moments of beauty and depth.

When I first started, I didn’t even know what I was doing was called “street photography” until I had been doing it for close to a year. I think this really freed me up to follow my own path because I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what it should be. As I started looking at a lot of street photography, I noticed that it’s a very male-dominated genre, with very little representation of women at all. I’m very interested in seeing more women represented in street photography and hopefully, I can give a voice to this.

You mention that you’ve lived all over the country and in many different areas of NYC, but always return to the Upper West Side. What is it about this neighborhood that draws you in?

I have always found the Upper West Side more peaceful and quiet than other neighborhoods. It feels like a refuge away from the busier and louder parts of the city. There’s also a strong sense of community here and it feels more like a neighborhood in the classic and more old-fashioned sense. Even though businesses come and go so quickly here, the landscape and the overall energy of the neighborhood feels the same to me as it did decades ago. I also love being bordered by both Central Park and Riverside Park. It’s important for me to be surrounded by nature and I love being sandwiched between two of the best parks in the city.

How would you describe the unique personalities of the neighborhood?

The neighborhood has often been described as being an intellectual and cultural hub, and the personalities here are very true to this. With Lincoln Center so close by, there are a lot of artists, musicians, and teachers living in my part of the neighborhood. It’s also very culturally rich and diverse, which reflects in the great selection of restaurants and local businesses and the people behind them. A lot of the old timers have a fantastic and eccentric sense of style and I tend to gravitate toward photographing the older people of the neighborhood for this reason.

Speaking of local businesses, do you have any go-to spots? What about a favorite building? 

The architecture is actually one of my favorite things about the Upper West Side. I forget to look up so often that when I do, I’m still amazed by the beauty of the architectural details on most of the buildings here. My favorite are probably the Ansonia and the Dakota because of their interesting histories and architectural beauty.

As far as shops and restaurants, it seems like many of my favorites are closing all of the time. My favorite spot for brunch was Isabella’s, but they closed last month after being a staple of the neighborhood for 30 years. Irving Farm on 79th is my favorite for quick lunches, and they also make the best coffee. For food, I think Boulud Sud near Lincoln Center is one of the best culinary experiences in the whole city (and their oysters are better than some of the oyster bars). Fairway Café is a great spot that is usually tourist-free. I’m also somewhat addicted to Hummus Place on Amsterdam (best hummus on earth!). I also recently discovered and fell in love with the Pier I Café at Riverside Park.

As far as shopping goes, I feel like I’m always in Century 21 or Kiehl’s, and I love browsing the vintage books at Housing Works. I also spend a lot of time attending events at Lincoln Center, but I also just love sitting and watching the people milling around the area because it’s always an interesting mix of locals and tourists.

If you had to live in a different neighborhood, what would it be?

I would definitely want to live in Greenwich Village again. I lived there for a few years and loved it for many of the same reasons that I love the Upper West Side. I lived on MacDougal Alley for a while, which is one of about six private streets in Greenwich Village and has such a timeless and peaceful feel. I love that there are these unique private streets in the Village.

I divide my time between my place on the Upper West Side and my place in Rhode Island because balance is very important to me. My ideal lifestyle has always been half city, half sea. I travel back and forth a lot, and part of the reason I love the Upper West Side is that it’s a peaceful transition between these two completely different islands.

Instagram: @kalliopeamorphous
Website: kalliopeamorphous.com

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All photos © Kalliope Amorphous

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Neighborhoods : Upper West Side

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