Street Photography Interview | Richard Sandler and 1980's NYC

Richard, could you tell us a little about you, at least for those who don't know you?

I'm a 68 year old filmmaker and a street photographer; also I play saxophone in counterpoint to the making of 'things,' like negatives and silver prints.

CC Train, NYC, 1985 (subway portfolio).jpg

Could you define in one word what street photography has brought to you or what it's helped you become?


subway couple, nyc, c.1987.jpg

You have a big part of your photography revolving around the late seventies and eighties in NYC. New York back then was a very different place, were these more interesting times for street photographers or just different?

I think those were more interesting times because the warts of corporate/capitalist society were more visible then they are today, and those contradictions could be photographed more directly than now... also every third person was not virtual, being on the fucking phone and not really on the street.

subway noir, nyc, c. 1987 (subway portfolio).jpg

Have you had anyone ever question your motives in the street? Did you ever piss off anybody?

Occasionally people get angry and they have a right to, I am stealing a little something from them. Also for many years I used the strobe on the street and so there was no hiding what I was doing... it can be startling. I have been kicked, spit on, and chased, but not very often. Once a woman with a rabbit pursued me for 30 minutes because I had flashed her and her pet.

subway profile next car.jpg

What do you shoot these days? Have films replaced photography entirely?

I still shoot film with a Leica every day, but I do split my energies between street shooting, and shooting motion picture film, and video-making... but that happens on the street too... have you seen my 2011 film about Los Angeles, called "radioactive city," it's on my on "film and video"

Subway, Couple Kissing, NYC, c. 1987 (subway portfolio).jpg

"You may get lucky and take the best picture of your life today." Imagine being able to play the Goldberg variations well on the day you start playing the cello.

true you found it , subway, nyc, 1984.jpg

I read somewhere you used to be a chef? Funny as I trained to be a chef and have a real passion for food. Do you see similarities between cooking and shooting? (composition, mixing the right ingredients, contrasts in textures..)

Well yes, they are both handmade crafts. The place I see so many similarities in cooking and photography is in developing film and printing pictures in my darkroom: I'm cooking up chemical soups to transform silver halide crystals into food for the soul. Only kidding, but the darkroom sink does feel a lot like a stove... in both places a kind of alchemy happens.

Finally a question I ask all photographers. What would be the single most important piece of advice you wish you were given the first day you picked up a camera?

You are about to embark upon the art form with the easiest entrance point of all of them, so be wildly experimental. "You may get lucky and take the best picture of your life today." imagine being able to play the Goldberg variations well on the day you start playing the cello. That's what I mean by saying that photography, as an art form, has the easiest entrance point. And so you can get inspired immediately...

Woman with Veil, NYC, c. 1983 (subway portfolio).jpg

Thanks a lot for this interview Richard!

If you'd like to see more of Richard Sandler's street photography visit his website and also like his Facebook page!

All photos © Richard Sandler