The Humans of Daniel Arnold’s New York

In his afterword to “Pickpocket,” the director Josh Safdie—one of the founders of the production company Elara Pictures, whose imprint, Elara Press, is the book’s publisher—calls Arnold a “human paparazzo.” The photographer’s subjects are largely unknown, but they are a bit like the celebrities shot by a stealth lens: unposed and not necessarily aware of or prepared for the camera’s gaze. There is also a kind of humane wonder in Arnold’s pictures, which have none of the gotcha-style cruelty that often mark paparazzi shots. “It’s not about unmasking an individual but representing, in a larger way, the oddness of going through the world,” Arnold told me. The monograph, a selection of his work between 2012 and early 2020, includes preparatory photographs that he took in the diamond district for the film “Uncut Gems,” which was directed by Josh and Benny Safdie. The collaboration was a natural one: much like the Safdies, who are known for their gritty New York movies, Arnold chronicles the interstitial weirdness of the city and the people in it, who are often too caught up in the busy stream of existence to pause and reflect on their lives. Arnold is “our witness to a unique brand of human fraught-ness, to a human cacophony in the life of a city, to the moments where we’re blind to ourselves,” Safdie writes. Reading these words, I was reminded of a passage in Martin Amis’s 1984 novel, “Money,” in which the protagonist describes New York: “So I walked south down bending Broadway. . . . I strode through meat-eating genies of subway breath. I heard the ragged hoot of sirens, the whistles of two-wheelers and skateboarders, pogoists, gocarters, windsurfers. I saw the barrelling cars and cabs, shoved on by the power of their horns. I felt all the contention, the democracy, all the italics, in the air. These are people determined to be themselves, whatever, little shame attaching.”

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