The Solitude of 8 Million
April 15, 2014
New York City: a cacophony of activity. It's a place that never seems to slow down for anyone; it unabashedly straddles the line between order and chaos. With a population of over 8 million residents, one might think that crowds are a constant in NYC. While it is something that every New Yorker encounters on a regular basis, it is not impossible to be alone—it's just different.
Different cities have different cultures of solitude. You're never terribly far from another person in NYC, but that doesn't make solitude impossible. You just have to be resourceful. Maybe solitude is a pair of headphones on the subway or a bike ride through the park. Maybe it's a long walk or a short elevator ride. It comes in many forms.
For me, when I put the camera up to my eye, it gives me a sense of solitude. It's a bit of security in a city where it's so easy to feel exposed, and a sense of solace in a place where it's easy to feel overwhelmed.
When I go out, I'm often drawn to moments of solitude in others. I like to find scenes where the subject has been isolated from their surroundings. Usually, the person is wrapped up in their own day-to-day tasks and thoughts. They have extracted a bit of solitude for themselves, and I try my best to frame it.
We often walk through the streets with walls around us—both literal and figurative. When you're never more than 10 feet from someone else, it's such a relief when there's a moment for those boundaries to breathe and relax.
New York City may be the most populous city in the US, but it's actually really easy to feel alone. Sometimes the tall buildings, the people, and the sounds are too much. They flow around us like water, and that can be a really lonely feeling. It's difficult to be noticed in this city, and while that affords its residents a certain sense of privacy, I personally battle with loneliness from time to time. That's not really what I'm writing about, however.
There's loneliness, and then there's solitude. Loneliness can make you feel like no one cares, and being surrounded by strangers only amplifies that feeling. Solitude, on the other hand, can be so valuable. It's in those moments that you are with your own thoughts. The distractions of the everyday fade into the distance, and sometimes we get a little relief, a little recharge. For me, being able to manage my solitude has been essential to my well-being, and finding time for solitude in day-to-day tasks is like unearthing treasure. Making these images is like coveting another's solitude, all while enjoying my own.
I'm almost never alone. I have days where I feel overwhelmed, and the sea of people in this place all but drowns me. Then I have days where I am with myself, and the solitude is so satisfying.
Perhaps that evening commute is the only bit of peace between a rough work day and the responsibilities that await you at home. Maybe that 15 minute break is the breath you needed in an environment that is suffocating you. Maybe those few moments outside are your only chance to decompress when you've been under so much pressure. I like to think that for the 8 million of us in NYC, a respite from the constant grind is always welcome, however brief. No matter the size of the crowd, we are all individuals.