Mark Garbowski: Street Photography in NYC

Mark, you're a street photographer based in New York, tell us a little about you.

I'm a father, husband, lawyer, and amateur photographer based in New York City.

Crosswalk No. 63.jpg

I see you shoot a variety of urban subjects, not just people. In my opinion, every type of photography teaches you skills that are transferable. For example macro photography taught me to look into the details, see things that aren't obvious, useful in street photography. On the other hand you'll hear some say that one should only focus on one type of photography. What are your thoughts on this?

So much depends on what your reasons or goals are in connection with pursuing photography. Specialization - becoming proficient and well known in one or two areas - really helps in developing a brand, so if your goal is to pursue photography as a career, I think you have to start with a narrower focus. The same is probably true for amateurs if you would like to develop a loyal and substantial following for your blog, or photostream on any social network.  

Personally I have no designs on making this a career, and while I would love to have a larger and more engaged following, I'm just not willing to give up shooting whatever hits my fancy on any given day. And that's not out of an over-developed sense of personal integrity - it's really that I'm not willing to sacrifice the time and effort it would take to promote myself enough to really break through, while simultaneously limiting my photographic options, for what is probably a rather small likelihood of achieving notoriety. 

Plus, my own innate sense of curiosity is oriented towards being a jack of all trades and master of none. When I learn of a new style, technique or type of equipment, or when I conceive of something new and fresh on my own, I can become a bit obsessed at learning how to do it and creating good work, but only to the point of becoming good-to-rather good it at. Then my attention usually turns to the next thing and I start all over again instead of truly mastering a small number of styles.  I might be better served not indulging this tendency, but again, this is my hobby, and I do it because I love it and everything else is secondary.

Finally, I do agree that a variety of subjects and styles can complement each other and keep you fresh. If you do focus on one or two areas for your career, I think it is good to have a handful of others you indulge in for fun.

Crosswalk No. 67.jpg

What's behind your domain name "Too Much Glass"? Is this something to do with buildings, lenses...something else?

When I started my blog in 2009, I had no name in photography. I thought that a cute/clever domain was the way to go.  Like most photographers, I have a passion/weakness for lenses, or “glass,” and “Too Much Glass” can fit in a variety of sentences:

  • You can never have too much glass.
  • There is too much glass that I want to buy.
  • Owning too much glass can divert your creativity.

As time has gone by, I've lived up to the name in that I clearly have a weakness for buying more lenses than I can reasonably use, but if I were starting from scratch, I would probably just go with a web domain related to my name. You'll notice that I do not really use "Too Much Glass" apart from the domain name, and I have rebranded the design to read "Mark Garbowski Photography." I guess I think of it as Mark Garbowski Photography at Too Much Glass, but I never really say that because it's a bit of a mouthful. Also, my galleries are at markgarbowski.com with a link to my blog and I sometimes direct people there. I should probably be more consistent about such things.

Looking at your site, I can see you have often focused on themed series. Do you think it's important to do this? What do you think are the benefits of committing to a project?

Series are great. I do not always have one running, but they can do a lot of things for a photographer or any artist. For me they act as a partial counterbalance to my tendency to want to move on to the next thing.  My two biggest series -- 100 Bus Stops and 100 Crosswalks -- were conceived and executed simultaneously, and also coincided with my initial foray into street photography. They kept me focused and also built my audience. I'm pretty sure the period of fastest growth in my web stats was during the time I ran those 2 series. 

PB102245 - 2010-11-10 at 14-56-49.jpg

You live in a fantastic place for street photography. I personally love London but if London didn't exist, I'd probably be in NYC. Have you ever been to our city?

I was but it was quite a while ago, in 1987. I was not pursuing photography at the time- that came about 20 years later - so my shots from that trip were rather mundane tourist shots.

How much time do you dedicate to photography? Are you like many of us who have kept our day job but think photography pretty much 24/7?

Yes. I work full time as an attorney.  That and family come first, and I actually spend a lot less time on photography than most people think, and most of that is spent keeping the blog and galleries updated, plus working various social networks like Facebook, G+ and Twitter. The time actually spent shooting or editing is comparatively small.

Crosswalk No. 68 - Version 2.jpg

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into photography or more specifically Street Photography?

If you are truly just starting out, then I think the best advice is to start. Don't wait for the right time, or until you can buy new gear.  Also do not start by creating a blog, opening an expensive online gallery, and did I mention not buying new equipment?  Take what you have, be it a smartphone, point and shoot or an old film SLR that's collecting dust and just start shooting, with no real plan at first.  If and when it is time to buy more or better gear, you will be better informed as to what you need. This will also train you never to use your gear as an excuse.  At the same time, start visiting a variety of  photo-sharing sites to get ideas, inspiration, and to figure out where you will want to spend time sharing your own work once you are ready.  And then start doing that just slightly before you are ready, or you might never publish that first shot.

For street photography, I think that timidity is a big issue for newcomers. It helps to start out in an area frequented by tourists, where no one will look twice at you when you walk around taking random photos. If that is not possible where you live, try a busy area with a lot of transient foot traffic, such as retail or commercial centers. And the worst thing you can do is to take half-measures skulking about where it is obvious that you are both taking photos of strangers and pretending to do something else. Learn your local laws and customs about street photography, stay within those boundaries, and then walk around like you're not doing anything wrong, because you aren't. If it helps, make up a back story in your head such as "I grew up here, and wanted to document and capture it before it changed." In the unlikely event that anybody actually confronts you over what you are doing it's rarely advisable to lie, but having that story in mind might make you feel more comfortable and confident, and even less likely you will be challenged. And don't be afraid to ask for permission before shooting, sometimes with no more a tilt of the head and raised eyebrow. I love candids but random street portraits have their own beauty.

DSCF1772.jpg

Finally, reach out to other photographers online and locally. Ask for help, and offer help. Offer praise, and carefully offer constructive criticism. Accept both graciously when directed at you. And be on the lookout for friends. I have built true relationships and friendships with other photographers I first met through an online interaction. This can be the most rewarding part of the hobby.


Thank you Mark!


Visit Mark Garbowski's website for more: www.toomuchglass.net

All photos © Mark Garbowski