An Irishman in New York - Pete Lee

When Ed and I moved to NYC we were so excited that we were sharing the experience with a friend from the UK, Pete. Sadly, he left the city recently and headed back to the homeland, so I couldn't resist collaring him to do a quick photoshoot and ask him some questions about New York. As a film maker, Pete has a lot of experience with cameras and has developed a strong sense of style, so I saw it as a great opportunity to pick his brain and see what I could learn and implement during the shoot.

What did you do on your last day in NYC?

My plan was to just be in the city. My experience of New York is that it is a constant marvel, and so just being there and being around everything is enough. I also went to the cinema as well, because my love for film is closely linked to this city.

Where is your favourite place in the city?

AMC Empire 25 Cinema on 42nd street. I've been going to that cinema ever since I was a teenager. Its in the tourist centre of the city, but that's ok because once you're in a cinema it transforms into another world. It's an awesome cinema as well because it's split over around 10 stories, so sometimes you'll need to take several escalators that show a great view of the city just to get to your screen! There is something magical and very meaningful about that place for me.

Why film? 

Film is about telling stories and connecting with people. When I make films, it's basically an effort to recreate that connection I felt when I watched “Into the Wild” at the little cinema in Bath, or when I went to see countless movies with my dad in Dublin and Bristol.

What do you miss most about NYC? And what was the draw from London?

I miss the people and the melting pot of cultures. I love how close everything is and the city just has this buzz around it. They say people come to New York to chase their dreams, and you can actually feel that in the city. My family live in England and Ireland, so being closer to them is great. I have two baby nephews and so getting to hang out with them at such a young age is great. Probably also knowing how many minutes until the next train leaves will be nice. That's not something I love about the subway! 

What makes a true New Yorker? And is it possible for out of towners to earn that title?

Being confident enough to not take any crap from a taxi driver and the holy grail is 'taking their medallion number' if they don't take you to where you ask. There's also a heavy element of a community consciousness. New Yorkers can be very solitary, but when they need to they stick together. I think so. I definitely don't think I achieved it, but I think after a good few years of memorizing the subway map, understanding which boroughs are yours and which you probably should avoid, and also perfecting the art of folding over a slice and eating it as you walk down the street, it's definitely possible. New York is a city of immigrants!

Now, I've never photographed a chap before and I was super worried that I wasn't going to quite get the feel right. It helps that Pete is a friend and we had a lot to chat about, but I am really pleased with how these came out, especially the later ones in the shoot. I felt that I had relaxed into the process a bit more and I was taking inspiration from how Pete said he usually liked to shoot. When I look at other photographers' work, I usually swoon at the beautifully crisp subject with the beautiful fuzzy background, but Pete was saying that, in film, he likes to shoot in a way that the eye isn't used to seeing so I tried to take that into these last images. I took out the kit lens and loved the result. 

There are two, very distinct styles within this shoot. The first is much more typical of portrait photography, with the bokeh and my 1.8mm lens, while the second seems to be driven by character and the telling of Pete's story, which seems to capture how he likes to film and it's certainly something I'll take into shoots more often.

Thanks, Pete! Say hi to the homeland for me and if you do decide to come back and join us in Feb, maybe we'll have a “why you came back” shoot!