Shot for Shot: Eian Kantor + Harrison Jacobs // Chinatown, Manhattan

Shot for Shot: Eian Kantor + Harrison Jacobs
Chinatown, Manhattan
September 27, 2018

Harrison and I went to high school together in New City, New York, a drab suburban town just north of New York City. Before this Shot for Shot, the last time I saw Harrison was, I think, in 2008, the year we graduated high school. I’ve been following his journalistic work for a few years, and after reconnecting with him a while back on Instagram, we thought this would be a fun endeavor.

We chose to do this Shot for Shot in Chinatown, Manhattan on September 27, 2018. Harrison and I both love wandering around Chinatown, and since I could only get there at around 5:45pm, we thought it might be a cool spot to explore, even in low-light. This experience did not disappoint. The streets were filled with neon signs, old Chinese men taking smoke breaks, bustling street markets, and the occasional alley that smells like a weird combination of fresh fish and urine.

Harrison is a New York native, but has been traveling around the world for the past year. He is Business Insider's international correspondent covering global issues, international technology industries, and travel from both a budget and a luxury perspective. He is on instagram as harrisonxjacobs.

These photos were taken with digital cameras. Click an image to make it larger.

We hope you enjoy the photos and the commentary!

- Eian

HJ: My girlfriend and her cousins always tell me stories about growing up at their parents’ restaurants: doing homework at the table reserved for family, playing games on the sidewalk, or taking turns at the cash register. I don’t know if this little girl is the child of the restaurant owner but something about her gaze reminded of being a kid, stuck and bored somewhere, waiting for your parents to finish work.

EK: Both Harrison and I love this particular market. I usually photograph full photos of people, but i was particularly stuck by this interaction/transaction. I love that these are unidentifiable hands, but if you know New York City at all, you’d definitely know that this is in Chinatown. The woman’s red bag and the green vegetables are also examples of staple colors in Chinatown markets.

HJ: I caught this one as you were walking up to meet me. I’m sure I’m not alone in this as a photographer, but when I see something like a sport or dance, I start viewing the human figures more for the pattern or gesture they might create. These two guys were playing a heated game of what seemed like squash without rackets and I got drawn to the different configurations they would set throughout the match.

EK: The food in Chinatown is some of the best (and cheapest) in New York City. It’s not uncommon to see chicken and duck hanging in window roasters, or fresh fish in open storefronts on the street. I thought this photo was a good representation of the kind of food you could get in Chinatown.

HJ: The light in Chinatown is always so gorgeous. The neons and the storefronts shift between bright colors and a dusky yellow. Here, I was trying to capture the yellow. I loved the way the yellow fell over the street. It was another happy accident that this guy was walking by at that moment. His eyes are directed square on the camera, no doubt a wary reaction to being photographed.

EK: This was the last photo I took of the night. It was DARK. I think my ISO was up at max capacity. It’s hard to shoot street photography at night with no flash. But, the light from this kitchen reflecting onto a worker sitting outside on his break was ideal. This man was deep in thought while the rest of his homies were chatting and smoking.

HJ: I took this photo without thinking. I just saw the guys balling and I loved the idea of catching the layup at the perfect time. It goes back to viewing the human figure more for its gesture or pattern. But what made me include the shot was something I didn’t notice initially. The older man on the right enjoying the game. His grin hooked me. A happy accident.

EK: I often take shots from the hip without looking in my viewfinder. For this one, I stopped, picked up the camera, and quickly snapped 10 versions of this. Restaurant work is tough, and these two were enjoying noodles and soup on their break at the foot of basement steps. Once again, it was extremely dark outside, but the light from inside the kitchen was perfect.

EK: We stopped for a moment to watch folks playing soccer. However, I couldn’t take my eyes off of this seemingly father/son duo, who were also watching the game. From the muted colors of their shirts to the way in which the father is holding his arm around his son, this moment was screaming to be photographed.

HJ: As we walked through Chinatown, we walked by half a dozen tables of old Chinese men playing Go or poker or just shooting the shit. I want to shoot it every time I see it. I’ve seen young Chinese-American photographers who know the old men sit down with them and take beautiful, intimate photos of the gatherings. That’s the photo I want, but, truthfully, I feel its not my photo to take. I decided to shoot this because of the interplay between the “Boys” sign and the old men at the table.

EK: We stopped to watch these guys play this game (I think “Go”?) for a few minutes. I don’t think they minded that we were photographing them. Watching these kinds of games, posted up on old produce boxes, reminds me of the strong and deep community in Chinatown.

HJ: As we walked down Canal, this couple was shooting photos on their smartphone of everything building and person they saw. Not unlike what we were doing. One of my favorite things to do when shooting a space is to turn the camera on the photo-takers. The people in the places we shoot so often become hyperaware of their presence in front of our lenses. They operate as involuntary characters in our drama. But the tourists, the interlopers, and the photographers we leave out of the frame. They don’t fit the story we want to tell. But they are just as much part of it.

EK: The street was very crowded at this hour, but this woman was on the move. I love the way she is pushing through the hoards of people with her hand. She could not be stopped.

HJ: Red is such an important color in Chinese culture. It means so many things. Prosperity, good health, good luck, happiness. But what struck me here was the different shades. The translucent red of the take-away bag that all the restaurants in Chinatown use, the maroon of the father’s sweater, and the identical primary reds of the mother and son’s hoodies.

EK: This is a classic Chinatown scene. I love the on-lookers: not sure if they’re waiting for their turn or if they’re scrutinizing this cast of players or if they’re just watching their friends play.

HJ: This market underneath the Manhattan Bridge is a spot that I keep going back to photograph. What has always struck me is how it acts as a distillation of Chinatown: it exists solely to service locals. It has nothing to do with the tourists who might pass it by or the young Manhattan and Brooklynites who want cheap produce. You have to meet it on its own terms: the prices are written in Chinese, the produce is almost exclusively ingredients popular in Chinese cuisine, the sellers speak little English.

EK: I kept mentioning to Harrison that there’s this one shop where lotto tickets litter the entire floor. This wasn’t that shop, but the storefront reminded me of it. This window is so busy: signs from the lotto coupled with Chinese pro-cure regiments.

HJ: I love shooting street scenes as wide as possible sometimes. Street photography is so based around capturing that “decisive moment” and I love to try to capture those. But sometimes, I think it can be just as powerful to capture a kind of nothingness happening. The space between those moments. An anti-moment. That’s where most of us live our lives anyways.