Night Windows of New York
What’s in a window? Sometimes it’s just a glimmer, or a blur of color that your mind can make into anything it wants. Sometimes it's just a mood...
What’s in a window? Sometimes it’s just a glimmer, or a blur of color that your mind can make into anything it wants. Suggestion is much stronger than representation. A glimpse is often more powerful than a stare.
I should state that I don’t go around photographing through peoples’ windows. Aside from the ethical quandaries, there are legal considerations at work. You can photograph anything if you’re on public property and if the subject has no “reasonable expectation of privacy.” That is the legal test, based on the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. A private photo is considered a warrantless search.
Some pervert or a voyeur with a long lens - a telephoto - cannot legally point it into your window and photograph you. Even paparazzi know about this distinction, whether they apply it or not to their own work. But this is all so much hot air. I don’t shoot into private windows, but I will still shoot “a window.” I have been known to shoot “through” the large plate glass window of a barber shop or diner, which may or may not violate anyone’s expectation of privacy, but even those shots were taken by accident while I was shooting something on the exterior of the building.
When I do shoot a window, though, especially a lit window at night, it’s because I’m trying to capture what I am seeing of the outside. This sounds clunky. What I’m going for is the mood. And even though I’m not always sure of what the mood is, if I like the way it looks or it evokes something in me, then I’ll shoot it. It’s my own personal constitutional amendment—if it looks good, shoot it. What’s a mood, anyway? It’s just a feeling that reminds you of something you already felt once before.
Here are some windows at night.
New York City - 2005
Some second story supernatural den. It’s in Apartment 2E. They do tea leaf readings, which is not as common as you’d think. And what really got me on this one? “Charmed Ones.” That still gives me pause. I shot this on fast black and white film, which explains the graininess. Or maybe it’s the spirits getting in the way of the photons.
The Lower East Side, NYC - 2002
I had not intended for this column to be so creepy. It feels like the tree wants to be a part of the photo. It feels like that kid is alive. It feels like I should have kept the camera on my shoulder that day and kept on walking. It was dusk and he appeared in the window as the sun was going down. I’m sure I had just eaten a taco or something and was not doing my best thinking. I should have ripped the film out of that camera and burned some sage.
New York Subway - 2007
I cannot resist the subway. Moving temporary refuge, moving, illuminated windows rolling down the track. People standing, people sitting, people watching. And the people on the opposite platform, some of them with cameras, shooting the action.
NYC, The Lower East Side - 2003 or so.
This is now the location of a fancy Mexican restaurant, but it used to be a wedge-shaped diner stuck against the side of a building. The counter survives and I sometimes go there to eat tacos. A good counter is hard to find.
Brooklyn, NY - 2017
This may or may not be Pitkin Avenue, but I know for certain it was in East New York. This window just screamed out to me as I drove by. It was a cold day and I was hungry, but I didn’t go in. The tree may be tiny, but it’s as big as any holiday tree I have ever seen.
Greenwich Village - 2019
The White Horse Tavern on a cold evening, before the Pandemic with a capital “P,” before the world changed forever, before the White Horse was sold and its history erased. The old world.
We hope you’re enjoying Juke. Subscribe for free to receive new posts by email. To receive special member-only posts and benefits, please consider supporting our writers with a monthly or yearly paid subscription.
Paul Vlachos is a writer, photographer and filmmaker. He was born in New York City, where he currently lives. He is the author of “The Space Age Now,” released in 2020, “Breaking Gravity,” in 2021, and the just-released “Exit Culture.”
Oh, Paul, I love this selection of photos. all hauntingly beautiful. The Greenich Village one especially. thank you.
Tea leaf readings! Good stuff.