Artist explores the ‘Lost and Found’ on the Upper West Side

Written by NYPress on . Posted in Arts West Side Spirit, West Side Spirit.


“Yummy Manhole” by Ner Beck.

Upper West Sider Ner Beck, a graphic designer and photographer, is exhibiting his photographs of “Lost and Found West Side Street Art” at Morningside Heights Public Library, 2900 Broadway, 113th Street and Broadway, through May 12. His photos take everyday items, such as a painted fire hydrant, and turn them into a surprising piece of art.

Where do you draw your inspiration for taking photos on the street?

I shoot every day as I go on my daily walks on the West Side. I have learned to walk at a relaxed pace and to soften my vision, so that the subjects come forward to catch my attention. I have found that the trick is to not look too hard for an image to photograph, and to wait for the image to appear. It is a little like when we lay on our backs, stare up at the clouds and start seeing animal or human forms appear. It might be a glowing color on an overcast rainy day, two circles that make a pair of eyes that speak to you, or a juxtaposition of elements that tell a story for that moment. Many of my images contain faces. They have always been interesting to me because they express such a range of emotions to everyone in such a visceral way. They can be compelling in the same way a child loves their stuffed animal or when an adult looks into the face of a family member or their pet. Masks have had an important historical significance and always commanded everyone’s attention.

What was your first piece and where did you find it?

I started shooting street art in 1965 as my final senior project in art college. After graduating I worked as a graphic designer for 45 years. But, I always maintained my interest in found street art. Over the past year I picked up my digital camera and started my shooting walks again. I have lived on the West Side since 1968, and one of the great adventures was treasure hunting on the street for tossed-out furniture and art objects. My photography is a continuation on that theme. My first piece in this series was “Patriotic Plug.” During the 1976 Bicentennial, neighborhood residents painted this fire plug in red, white and blue, and it still survives today in front on Ben & Jerry’s at 100th and Broadway.

What kind of equipment do you use?

When I started my college project I used to use a little 1940s Leica because I could slip it in my pocket and travel light. Today I have a tiny Nikon S7C that is only a little bigger than a credit card but takes very high-resolution photos.

What makes an item photo-worthy?

The image must stop me in my tracks and tell me an interesting story that I have never heard before. It has to have a strong emotion. Humor, sadness, fear, abandonment or something expressing itself in a powerful personal way.

What is your favorite photo and why? 

It is very hard to pick just one photograph because every picture contains a unique message for me. But I think the one that relates to me the most is “Nature Wins One,” which is a tree eating a tire. That tree is on 100th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus across from the Bloomingdale Library Branch. I believe the tire was attached to the tree base in the parking lot to protect the tree from cars bumping and damaging the bark. Over time the tree has grown around and engulfed and crushed the tire. A timeworn urban battle.

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