The mundane seems momentous when it feels out of reach. A lap around the block goes from leisure stroll to head-leveler. Mindless coffee runs offer a reprieve from the routine. On-the-go skateboarders evoke a kinetic familiarity. These days, the default white noise of city life seems to resonate deeper.
It’s these visual undercurrents that underlie Alessandro Simonetti’s “D Bulletin,” an engaging chronicle of the daily activity off Avenue D in East Village, where the photographer and creative consultant — who’s worked with the likes of Pirelli and Carhartt WIP, and has featured in a host of publications and galleries — has called home for six years. Snapping from his apartment rooftop with a long lens-equipped Canon EOS-1D C, Simonetti shares the day’s proceedings to Instagram as an ongoing document of neighborhood life.
And though Simonetti, who was born in Bassano del Grappa in Italy and has lived in New York City for 15 years, has found his approach, the from-above style wasn’t initially in his plans.
“As soon as this started, I automatically thought, how can I get my eyes busy? This is an important time to document,” he recalls. “I started to ride my bike to areas like downtown, Financial District, Chinatown. I started to shoot on the street, but I was coming home with no matches. I wasn’t really able to translate all this emptiness of the street, and I didn’t want to come back home with [stereotypical] images of Times Square empty or Broadway completely desolated.”
The regimented process — he typically ascends for a morning, afternoon and evening session, often photographing from the same vantage point — has given way to an ever-growing portrait of the surrounding scene.
“I realized that my block was more alive than what I was expecting, and more alive than other areas of New York. Because the restriction, shooting with a long lens from a detached point of view, if you will, sounded like a good project,” notes Simonetti, whose photos most frequently fall between 7th and 8th Street.
“Avenue D has a style, you know, which is probably what you can recognize as New York style as well,” he adds.
Simonetti’s eye, though calculating, is wide-roving, capturing everything from joggers darting by and bikers gliding through striking shadows, to the geometries of the nearby Jacob Riis Houses (“I feel so close to his attitude towards the subject of photography,” Simonetti says of its namesake Riis, the reporter and photographer whose blunt compositions laid bare tenement conditions more than a century prior).
Positioned from an aerial perch — and one of comparative remove — Simonetti’s images have a control not afforded by head-on, street-level snapping. Light slices exactingly through compositions like a scythe. Hyper-tight framing divorces subjects from their surroundings, and suspends animated physicality to almost inert effect. Selection orientations seem to crystalize the lingering stasis illustrative of this year. Far from his subjects, discernible facial features, details and cues are either hidden or obscured, resulting in a nondescript anonymity that, in a moment of isolation, feels relevant and universal.
“This project in a way speaks about [COVID-19], but it’s not journalistic. It speaks about gentrification without mentioning [it]. It speaks about style, if you will, without being too hyped,” Simonetti says.
And though it was borne out a specific period in time, with the increasingly familiar visual cues of a new reality (like the masks and gloves peppering his pictures), Simonetti observes that the project, which he hopes to potentially turn into a zine or book, could extend into the future.
“[Having] restrictions like physical and point of view, in a way, leads me to really go deep into a certain kind of photos that I was not doing before,” Simonetti says. “In a way, [it] opens a sort of genre that I could keep continuing. The subjects that I’m shooting, and the photos of themselves could work even outside the context of COVID-19.”
As he continues to record what transpires around him, Simonetti highlighted a few of his favorite shots.
“I think that what I’m capturing these days is essential no matter what. No matter if it’s work essential, [like] you have to deliver a load of Arizona Tea. Or, push around the block with your mate. It’s such a New York shot. I think the aspect of pushing in New York is equal to the LA swimming pool kind of vibe.”
“Avenue D is mostly populated by USPS, UPS, FedEx dudes. At this point, you know the two, three dudes that bring you your FedEx, and you’re like cheering up on the street. It’s definitely a category that won’t have the luxury of staying home, even if they perhaps wanted [to]. I feel an attachment for these people, for doing the job in such absurd times, being not constricted.”
“[This] is a shot that freaked me out … He’s locking his helmet. So the skull is looking straight at me. I love it. I love skulls in photography.”
“It’s part of this series of runners that I like quite a lot. This picture is interesting — the shadow, the subject here, and how the shadow really gets extended on the sidewalk. And here he’s probably not touching the ground in any place. It’s [like he’s] floating.”
“This one was shot early in the morning. You see the shadow being taller than the subject itself. There is a certain kind of rhythm and pattern. The subject is placed almost perfectly with his arm between the legs of the second subject and his arm. It’s almost symmetrical. You almost lose the perception of what’s the real subject you have to read? What’s the point of view?”
“Another photo that I love is this one of the Doberman. Again, you have a flat kind of reading, because all the layers are basically flatter because of the lens I use. It’s just like a clash. This elegant dog [against] the concrete structure.”
- Photography: Alessandro Simonetti