I’m over it: Immigrant Literature
I don’t know when it happened. It might have been somewhere in the middle of Teju Cole’s Open City, as I followed his protagonist around the streets of New York. Or maybe it was at the end of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, when I boarded the flight to America with its precocious star. Or perhaps it was a few weeks after finishing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and I had finally begun to forget the stress carried by illegal African immigrants in Europe.
Whichever way it happened, it happened. And I found myself flinging my copy of The Granta Book of the African Story across the room, vowing to never read a piece of African Fiction again, or at least its “Afropolitan” variety.
Let me explain.
The photograph of Robert’s that was a significant turning point for me is “Canal Street—New Orleans.” This image had always puzzled me, as if it were saying, “See this undifferentiated mass of pedestrians? It’s worthy of an image.” But why? I asked myself dozens of times as I paged through “The Americans.” Why did Robert make this photograph? What was he thinking? Why did he use it in the book when it seems so generalized? Over time, I came to realize that the reasons for making a photograph and what it may mean to you later are two different things, and what it means to somebody else is yet another. This image came to life for me years after I first puzzled about it, when I was undertaking a transformation in my own work and realized that Robert had planted a seed that was then sprouting.—Joel Meyerowitz
Although I could convey a moment and capture peak action and even humor in my pictures, I didn’t know how to wade into situations of emotional intimacy. After discussing the problem with Dan Habib, the paper’s photo editor, I knew I had to try something different. I had heard about approaching an assignment as a fly on the wall, and this appealed to the introvert in me, but I made a conscious decision to break out of that mold. For my next long-form project, I resolved to invest in a close relationship with my subject. Once I had tried it, I decided, I would assess the outcome and move forward.
After the slog of commuting and working on a New York summer day, walking outside into the light of the golden hour can be a salve in itself. That fleeting period of time—shortly before the sun sets, or after it rises, when shadows grow longer and everything appears to glow—lends us an opportunity to reconsider the world around us, recast in warm color. To mark the seventieth anniversary of Magnum Photos, The New Yorker asked the storied agency’s photographers, who were in town, last week, for their annual meeting, to capture New York City during the evening golden hour. The physical distance between the resulting photographs, a few of which were taken on days when the weather yielded more blue light than gold, is quietly underscored by the emotional distance in them: in Midtown, a lone white-haired man walks an empty road, bowing toward the sun, while Pride Parade revellers in the West Village seem to welcome the oncoming night. Viewed together, these images offer a portrait of the city in the vanishing light of long summer evenings. “In my mind,” the Magnum photographer Peter van Agtmael told me, “sometimes the shadows the light casts are more interesting than the light itself.”