Text & Photos by Farah S. Kamal

New York City (NYC) is one of the most visited and photographed cities of the world. It is vibrant, robust, has a wide range of subjects, and reflects an array of moods, emotions, and relationships everywhere at all parts of the day. My work, collaborating with one of the organisations located at Broadway, takes me to visit NYC frequently. But when it comes to writing about this happening city, it is tough to find a vantage point, and same is the case with Karachi. I have never written any travel piece about my own home town. Perhaps, frequently visiting or living in a city, no matter how popular it is, makes one lose the thrill of writing about it, or you know the city so well that it’s hard to narrow down the details. Having said that, a lot of readers out there would want to know about the Big Apple, (nickname of New York City), so I finally chose to write about some of my experiences.

I have a love and hate relationship with NYC. Way back in the year 2000, during my first visit, I lost my way in the multi-storey Penn Station at 34th Street, missed my train to a very important meeting, and ended up crying, only to be rescued by a kind policewoman. For a long time, I would dread a trip to my office on Manhattan, travelling through Penn Station, paving my way through the web of trains running both, uptown and downtown. Enough to crash a newbie traveller like me. However, over the years of frequent travelling, I started enjoying the cacophony of sights and sounds of the city, especially the Times Square which is so brightly lit that it is even visible from outer space. To me, it is like a brilliant light show made up of theatre billboards, glowing neon lights, the illuminated newswire, and advertisements.

Times Square is perceived as tourist trap around summers because it’s overcrowded and overpriced, nevertheless, I got an invaluable opportunity to observe all kind of human emotions and interactions being able to capture some of them through my camera lens. Duffy’s Square is a square within a square. Sitting right in the middle of the Times Square, it is a two-kilometre stretch with sitting arrangements for visitors. I would sit here most of the evenings, sipping chilled slush as I watch people and scribble notes watching people.

I lived around the Broadway theatre area and walked through Times Square to my institute (where I studied photojournalism and documentary works) everyday through the streets thronged with thousands of people of all colours, races, and ethnicity from around the world. I found inspirations and great vantage points to create images every quarter of a mile. Those walks were amazing for me to develop a vision and creativity catching poetry on the streets and create images that have mystery and are elusive. I would always stop in front of the Toys R Us – a toy store – and it was like walking in a Disney park. I always had fun chatting and photographing excited children and families taking selfies with the memes.

Times Square Broadway Street is the only place in the world to see original plays celebrated globally for decades in 41 theatres. Right across my apartment was the Majestic Theatre where Phantom of the Opera, based on the 1910 French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux has been enchanting the audiences for almost 30 years, making it the longest-running show on Broadway.

Crossing the key landmark of Times Square is the 57-storey skyscraper that tops the E-Walk complex at 42nd Street. Here, I would enjoy a pleasurable walk around the attractions like Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. One afternoon, I stopped at one of the artists on the sidewalk who made a funny caricature of mine, that’s definitely a fun experience for anyone visiting NYC. My favourites also include the occasional shrimp lunches at the legendary Bubba Gump, a restaurant inspired by a 1994 movie, Forrest Gump. After a tiring day shooting around the city, I would often unwind ordering juicy burger dinners at the always packed Hard Rock Café, listening to a range of music, while downloading the days shoot, watching the visiting tourists taking pictures by the guitar wall.

Over the past decade or so, I got to enjoy the city and love to accompany my friends and colleagues frequently for a stroll after a day’s work. One of my favourite moments were with colleagues from Pakistan visiting NYC for the first time. As soon as they emerged from the Subway at 42nd Street and Port Authority Bus Terminal they were flabbergasted with almost frozen expressions on their faces; chin upwards in the sky looking at the blinding lights, tall buildings, crowd, bicycles and yellow taxis. Just the picture-perfect NYC!