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 Brazilian designer Nei Valente presents his series of nighttime newsstand photos. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
By day, Nei Valente is a designer at branding agency Brand Union, but in his free time he photographs street scenes around the city, many of which are taken once the sun has set. In “Newsstands,” he captures the changing face of newsstands around the city, exploring how their evolution relates to our shift from print to digital media. Inspired by Moyra Davey’s newsstand series of 1994, Valente finds it fascinating how newsstands have changed over the last couple of decades.
How long have you lived in New York?
I first moved to NY in 2014 and lived here for a year. After that I moved to São Paulo (I’m Brazilian), where I lived for just over a year. I moved back to New York last July, and I’m living in the Washington Heights area.
Why did you decide to focus on newsstands in your series?
I studied communications and I work in design. Print media vs. digital is an ongoing debate, and I thought that the newsstands would be an interesting way to talk about that.
I took the first photo while photographing night scenes for another series. The image really stood out to me, and I started to research the history of NYC’s newsstands. It’s a good indicator of how the media landscape has changed. Back in the ’50s there were 1,500 newsstands across the city. Now the number is closer to 300.
What are some of the similarities among newsstands? The differences?
One of the nicest things of the series for me is the busy visual aspect of the newsstands. This happens for all of them. When they are all together you almost have a colorful pattern created by magazines and candies. The backgrounds of the people manning the newsstands are also often similar; in 1986, the New York Times published an article showing that newsstands were a solution for a lot of southern-Asian immigrants. There was an Indian family who owned more than 200 newsstands. Now you still have a lot of the workers and owners with similar background of immigration (or family with recent immigration).
But what makes you spend some time looking at the photos are the differences. It’s interesting to see how they are adapting to this new world. While some stand by, and remain confident in, the role of print media, others have let magazines and papers become something they sell in addition to all kinds of confectionary; transforming the stands into a kind of candy shop. Displays that used to be occupied by magazines are now home to Kit Kats and Ruffles chips, whilst newspaper spaces are packed with souvenirs, especially in tourist areas.
What are some of the other subjects you like to photograph?
Besides general street photography, I have some projects that are published, but that I’m always updating. One is about late-night NYC and the lights you can find around the city. The other is called “Urban Ghosts” and uses long exposure to create a blurry effect and talk about the millions of people who visit NYC and leave a bit of themselves when they leave. Over the next few months I’ll also publish a series about the winter and another street photography series using a very dramatic chiaroscuro lighting – the sort of thing you’d see in a Caravaggio painting.
Going forward I’d like to focus more on stories, like the newsstands, than simply on aesthetics. One thing that really intrigues me is how people build their identities. How can a portrait show the story of a person instead of just showing their face? Does it need to show the face at all? The next project will be something around that.
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See more in our gallery below…
- The Urban Lens: Harlan Erskine explores an eerie Midtown after midnight in 2008
- The Urban Lens: Chaz Langley captures the people and places that make Chinatown tick
- The Urban Lens: Documenting New York City’s Vanishing Privilege Signs
Images courtesy of Nei Valente
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