Broadway the Hard Way

Broadway the Hard Way

“Broadway is essentially a pushy New Yorker getting where it’s going, which is The Bronx and beyond…”

There is a long road that starts at the bottom of Manhattan and goes all the way up the island and through the Bronx where it ends at the top of Van Cortlandt Park. But there is a lot in between Bowling Green and the quiet corners of North Riverdale. To walk the length of Broadway is to pass through a variety of neighborhoods that are quintessential New York City (SoHo, Midtown, Times Square, the Upper West Side, Harlem, etc.) to the effect that if you travel the length of Broadway you’ve really seen a broad cross-section of New York life.

Broadway is also something like the rebel of New York streets. The famous grid of Manhattan seems to make things easy even for tourists, but if there’s ever any confusion on a jaunt uptown from say 14th to 59th streets, Broadway is probably to blame. The road was established as an important thoroughfare before the grid plan existed and is a decided non-conformist. It can be disorienting even if you’re paying attention—one block you figure you’re still on Broadway only to find you’re suddenly on Fifth or Sixth or Amsterdam Avenue. As the road pushes its way ever westward on its ascent of Manhattan, it disrupts the avenues one by one and leaves a series of brilliant public squares in its wake (think Union, Madison, Herald, Times, etc.). Broadway, essentially a pushy New Yorker getting where it’s going, takes you places far from the trappings of Times Square and Broadway shows.

Those aspects of Broadway are interesting to me, and seeing that all these places are on the same road but worlds apart. If you navel gaze enough you can find yourself imagining Broadway as a self-contained world and I hope these pictures provide that space.

There was also the challenge of it, committing to walk the entirety and pushing myself to keep taking pictures, because what shooting Broadway offers initially as a cool idea or innocent gimmick, proves sobering in reality. Long stretches of Broadway are fairly dead with a population density lower than Manhattan’s average. 

While shooting Broadway like this for a week often felt like a slog I ultimately found the process inspiring and humbling. I am not done and will continue to visit Broadway in a focused way as there are many layers I haven’t even explored yet. The road actually continues north of the city, through Yonkers as South Broadway, and then as North Broadway where it edges along the Hudson and rolls past the charming river villages of Westchester County. It terminates as North Broadway in Sleepy Hollow, a village I moved to in childhood from the Bronx when it was called North Tarrytown. But even then, it continues through Ossining and all the way up to Canada under various names as part of US Route 9, to which those famous stretches through Manhattan also belong. It is possible that I will expand the current limits of the project to include those stretches of “Broadway”.

…Even though there’s so much history that’s invoked when walking this historic road, these pictures are of a Broadway at a very particular point in time.

Beyond the more abstract thoughts about the project and Broadway as a whole, there are certainly themes I am probing at in the individual photographs themselves, which overwhelmingly focus on the isolated moments of people inhabiting Broadway at the particular time of the photograph. There is a lot of labor involved just people existing with their bodies, and let alone more determined acts of work. How we use our bodies to extend our intent. There is a strain at times of wanting to record something as a matter of fact, a stray visual detail, an example of the usual incongruities that make urban life sometimes problematic and quizzical but also disarming and beautiful. There’s an inclination also to capture a representation of all the types of people living and working and playing on Broadway. So many lives, so much intention on this one road. 

I also wanted to capture class reality and social climate of our time. A photo like the one in Times Square where a family tourist picture is unwittingly taken in front of militarized police officers holding automatic machine guns really makes me reflect on the realities of our time. This is an example that highlights the fact that even though there’s so much history that’s invoked when walking this historic road, these pictures are of a Broadway at a very particular point in time. 

For the most part, these pictures could have been made anywhere. As single pictures, the isolated moments sing themselves and don’t on their face say much about Broadway. But when considered on the whole they paint some kind of kaleidoscopic portrait of the road, I hope.

-Frank Multari

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