The Urban Lens: Richard Koek creates a ‘visual hymn’ of NYC with his candid photos

Posted On Mon, May 7, 2018 By

Posted On Mon, May 7, 2018 By In Features, People, photography, The urban lens

6sqft’s series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

Dutch-Argentinean photographer Richard Koek gave up his profession as a tax lawyer to pursue his passion for photography in New York City. He now splits his time between NYC and Amsterdam, and Lannoo Publishers just released a beautiful photographic tour of the city in his book, “New York New York: A Visual Hymn.”

Koek loves to walk and believes it is the only way to truly get to know a city. And flipping through the pages of his book truly feels like you’re walking alongside Koek (so much so that your feet may get sore by the end!). As photographer Alice Rose George says in the preface, “New York can be frightening just by its size and number of people, or it can be exhilarating for the same reasons… You can see bits and pieces from inside a taxi or the swollen streets as you enter a theater or restaurant, everything at a distance. Or you can dive into its complexity.” 6sqft got Koek to sit down and stop walking for a brief moment to talk about this complexity, his process, and his inspirations for the book.

You clearly love New York. What drew you here and kept you here?

I have always considered The Netherlands a small country. I realized that in a bigger city, I would have more opportunities. That is what drew me here. This is true. I have fallen many times but also given equal enough changes to dust myself off and start all over again. That is what keeps me here.

When you set out in the morning to take photographs, do you have a goal?

My goal is very broad. It is a subway stop or an area or event. I found out that my power lies in staying in the moment and letting what happens happen because it’s supposed to happen. This attitude is kind of my life philosophy as well. If someone does not want to be photographed, that is okay. So I just wonder what the city gives me and try to capture what I encounter. All is good, whatever that is.

Do you ever talk to your subjects (for instance, the subway rider with the iguana on his back)?

Yes and No. Ha, that is Leslie and Godzilla. I did speak to him after observing him. But I took a chance to ask his permission. After I get that I have more freedom to get what I have in mind at that moment. Asking also means accepting the risk that I will get a “no” and an opportunity will be lost. Sometimes I am a fly on the wall and use my wifi camera with my cellphone. People have no idea that I use my camera when looking at my phone. Perfect to stand in the middle of a community happening and capture it without being a disturbance.

What New York buildings are your favorite to photograph?

Buildings are not my favorite subject. Architecture is manmade and I am most of the times dominated by the structure. I prefer the building to be part of my backdrop. If I focus on a building, I don’t have much space to put my own vision in it. I assisted Todd Eberle for many years. That guy is the man who can make visual poetry of architecture. I have learned that is not me. I am drawn to the odd architecture. I have a spread of this impressive brutalist building called “Terrace on the Park” in Queens. It’s from the World’s Fair in the 1960s. It is fascinating and then there’s the inside!

Do you have a favorite neighborhood? If so, why?

No I don’t. Any neighborhood can have something perfect for me. Even the cookie cutter structures in the Rockaways are a visual mantra of construction with its repetition. The brownstones in many Brooklyn areas give me that recognition of old NYC TV shows I grew up with. The cold structures of the yards on the west side, which, to some, are a real estate heaven, surprise me with their bombastic presence where people turn into ants crawling around them.

What is your favorite time to photograph in the city – both in terms of light and activity?

Afternoon, because I am not a morning person! But I know that sometimes I need less crowds and a sun that is low or untouched snow in a park. All these things are in my book and take an early rise to capture them. Nighttime is the most difficult technical wise. City lights take long exposure time and that doesn’t mix well if you want to capture people.

What shoes do you wear because you trek a lot of miles!

Ha, funny question! My plain, simple black Adidas sneakers with the famous three white stripes. Love them! 😉

Instagram: @richardkoek

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All photographs © Richard Koek

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