“The Window People”

Street Photography of NYC People Looking Out Of Windows 1950’s by Norman Lerner

This was sent to me by a contact on Flickr. I hadn’t seen it before as I have not looked at my Flickr mail in quite sometime.

Beautiful imagery that touched my heart. So pertinent in these COVID times.

“You are never alone in “the big city”, even when you think you are. In this case, the big city was New York City where I lived and had my studio as a fashion and commercial photographer. One Sunday morning as I was walking down a street on the west side of Manhattan, I became aware of a presence. I looked up and there he was staring at me from a third floor window. He was hunched over, elbows on the window sill, chin propped up in a cupped hand, his face almost lost in the darkness surrounding him. I instinctively pressed the shutter. As a side note…in or out of the studio, I always had my camera with me. This was in the early 1950’s and the beginning of the series that I would call “The Window People”. From that moment on, it became apparent to me that there was an entire sub-culture that spent a large part of their waking lives just looking out of their windows. For the window people, it became a link to life for those who could no longer actively participate in its dialogue. With no elevators, many were too old or infirm to climb the stairs more than once a day to do their errands. The window in essence became a part of their being. The window people could be very aggressively observant detecting any unfamiliar pattern of human activity on the street below. At times, this made it very difficult to photograph them since they often retreated back into the darkness of their room at the sight of the camera. Others would attach a side view mirror from a car to their window frame. This way they could still observe what was going on outside, hidden in the darkness of their room. One man put bird seed on his window sill for pigeons to keep him company. Another person attached strips of fabric to the window sill that would rustle in the wind to frighten pigeons away. Some just sat like brooding Buddhas, framed by the window, seeing nothing, withdrawn into their own world. As the images make clear, it was the poorer people in the older buildings where I found the window people. The real window people could be found at their stations everyday, leaning on their pillows watching, perhaps waiting.When they were no longer at their windows, they had vacated something much more important than a window seat and were never seen again. I no longer live in the big city and I am told that these buildings no longer exist. The windows, the buildings, the people, are gone forever…except perhaps, the little girl at the end of the series, the day dreamer…I pray that her dreams came true.”

Norman Lerner


More by Norman Lerner – https://www.normanlerner.com

Published by Keith Goldstein

Photographer, husband, dad, and passionate cyclist. Lives and works in New York City.

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