Welcome to In Focus, a feature where writer Hannah Frishberg profiles some of the great street photographers of New York City's past and present.
"I didn't have a camera in my hand before coming to New York," says photographer Stéphane Missier, but the city inspired him to start shooting. Now eight years later, he has hit every urban explorer's favorite sitethough don't call him an urban explorer. Missier was born in the small town of Metz, in northeast France, and although he's spent nearly a third of his life in his native country, he maintains that he only has the accent to prove it. "My biggest inspiration is New York," he says, and he spends his days capturing the street life in Brooklyn and Manhattan, focusing on urban ruins and oft-forgotten corners of the city.
What do you think your photos say about New York City?
Why do you think street photography is important?
What attracts you to ruins photography?
Do you have a favorite abandoned place in New York?
How do you feel about the phrase "urban exploration"?
Do you find photographing a living subject more intimidating than breaking and entering?
Have you ever been confronted while taking pictures?
Does photographing the changing city make you sad? Do you feel as though something is being lost, or do you find the process very photogenic?
It definitely makes me sad. I walk through my old neighborhood and nothing's the same. I walk past those beat up walls, the iconic graffiti and pieces of art, and it's gone. The streets are in constant flux. One time, I was shooting a friend and I said, 'I know a very nice wall, we'll shoot there.' We went there and it was repainted. If you see something you like you've got to take a picture right now because you don't know if it's going to last. It's almost like Manhattan doesn't have any soul anymore, and that soul is disappearing in some sections of Brooklyn, too. So from a photography standpoint I need to find another turf. Living in Bed-Stuy, I'd just walk around my block, didn't have to take the subway or travel. Everything felt so genuine. Now I have to find other places.
It's difficult for me to talk about gentrification because I'm not a native New Yorker. I'm not even from the U.S. I moved to Bed Stuy in 2007. I am technically a gentrifier, but I have a bunch of principles I try to respect when I go to a new neighborhood. You try to know the neighborhood where you are. When you know your neighborhood, you're going to respect it and the residents.
What kind of camera do you use? Do you ever use film?
Do you have a favorite photo or photo taking experience?
Also, one of a guy with a tattoo of his chest that says "In memory of mom." I really like that picture. We were talking about where he got the tattoo, and the guy said he got it in jail, and then we talked about how he ended up in jail. My favorite pictures are linked to the moments and conversations with the people. My favorite pictures have an amazing story in the background.
In your photos of the Bushwick train tracks, were people living there when you shot those images?
You used to go by Charles Le Brigand - what happened to that identity?
Who or what is your biggest inspiration or influence?
My biggest inspiration is New York. I didn't have a camera in my hand before going to New York, and then I realized stuff was happening. Seven years ago, no one was in Bushwick and you had some nice spaces and I was like, 'oh, I'm going to document street art.' I saw the life happening around pieces of art, and I dropped street art