Photographer Lihi Brosh's "Love Letter to NY"
Complaining about NYC is commonplace. It’s as accepted a convo starter as the weather: the trash, the angry people, the list goes on and on. But as much as we groan, NYC remains a mecca where vibrant characters pursue a whirlpool of ambition and desire, and people search for truth in the tired story of a concrete jungle where dreams are realized.
Photographer Lihi Brosh is one of those characters; though unlike the “came to make it” narrative, she is far from cliché. While some hopefuls come to NY from small sleepy midwest towns and expect chaos, Brosh came from across the world and felt more at home than ever.
She was 14 when she first picked up a camera in Israel and began to teach herself photography. She was 16 when she flipped through an SVA art book and enthralled by the photos she saw, bought her first ticket to NY while never looking back (or getting her highschool diploma.) After six years of shooting street, celebrity, and editorial, and for reasons outside of her control (fuck ICE,) Lihi is back in Israel working on a return home.
For now, she shares a love letter compiled of photos of the people and places she has known and not known, in the city she has come to love. Tumultuous, toxic at times, but energetic and passionate nonetheless, for photographer Brosh, breaking up with NY felt like losing a whole lot more than a second home. But if you ask her, she would surely say: it’s not over yet!
What was growing up in Israel like? When you think about your childhood what do you think of?
We grow up to a very political country and situation, and I think that we’re desensitized. Things seem normal when they’re not. I grew up in the liberal part of Tel Aviv, the main city, so people are more artistic and left. When I came to New York, I realized that a lot of things that seemed normal to me were actually kind of fucked.
How did you feel coming to New York?
I’ve felt more comfortable in New York. Since I arrived I felt like that was my place. I felt like I had found it. I felt connected to the movement and pace. One of the reasons I felt less myself in Tel Aviv was because it felt smaller. I always want to meet more people and discover new things. New York is limitless, and I am a curious person. I remember the first week I was here I hated it. I thought it would be like Sex and the City. Everything was noisy and smelly. Slowly I started to understand. New York is like a game, and you have to know how to play it.
That makes me think of the power games people play with each other in relationships.
You have to be smooth and you have to know what you want. If you don’t you will get spit out. You need to be focused and motivated. That’s why I say it’s a game. When I was 17, I had no idea who I was.
Has your photography mainly evolved in New York?
Yes, I met my mentors in New York. Clayton Patterson and Q. Sakamaki. They’re both documentary photographers who told me I need to push my limits. For example, if I was shooting fashion, they wanted me to push the world around that model, or ask what was really happening. That’s when I started to do more documentary myself. In New York, people are waiting to be seen and to tell their stories. I just walk down the street and can start conversations. In other cities, people are more hesitant. People want to be seen here.
That’s an interesting way to think about it. In a city where everyone is waiting to be documented, does that make authenticity nearly impossible? How do you get past that layer of desperation to take a candid in a city where everyone is prepared for a photo?
You can approach people you don’t know. Sometimes they will even put up a shell of themselves. But I think people that you know, they want you to see the character that they have built for themselves. But if you want to get past that, you just need to stay with them a little longer, make them feel more comfortable. That little bit takes a long time though.
It’s the same with an interview. You need to make people comfortable and then ask the right questions. Except with photography, those questions exist as energy in the ways you invite people to be themselves.
It’s body language. And I’m still learning. But it’s all natural, things we learned as babies. People also just respond to whatever you’re putting out. If I’m stressed, you will be stressed in the photo.
Can you talk about the photos in the set?
All the people I photograph are people who had something extra. They bring something. Some extra energy; which is what I love about New York in general. The people I’ve met here are everything. I came without my family, so I need them. But some of the people I photograph I don’t know. These photos are my why. And as time goes on, they will become history. People will look at them to see what we were wearing, what the vibe of the era was. I want to capture that.
Besides the people in your photos, what do you love about the city?
The high volume of everything. You have ten friends? Not enough. 20 friends? Not enough. 100? Not enough; it’s never enough. And it’s not just with friends, it’s with quality and fashion and your art. Everyone is always trying to do something greater. But that’s a blessing and a curse.
There’s time that I want to be more in myself and zone out. Even a day for ourselves. That’s hard. I get into it so much that it takes more energy to relax than go out. It only feels overwhelming when I’m trying to slow down. You understand.
I do. If NY were an ex-lover, what kind of lover would they be?
Probably like that super intense ex. That hits you up all the time, “Hey, what’s up? Where you at? You wanna link? Link? Link?” Someone super high strung. I wonder what other people would say.
What was the break up like? Leaving to go back home after so long?
Heartbreaking. It felt like losing half of me. Losing my identity. I’ll tell you what’s on my mind. In Israel, I grew up on American culture. The only channel I had was MTV. I was an MTV girl, always watching American things. I don’t think other people my age knew as much about it as I did. We didn’t have social media then. I always felt that connection to that culture was like a secret between me and America. I was sure I was the only one who knew it, and then suddenly I was in a place where everyone did. So when I came to New York I felt connected to these parts of me that I didn’t at home. I felt like I could be understood, and express myself and people would get what I do and what I want to do.
For me, it’s not just being able to express myself, but being able to look around and see people who are expressing themselves even if it’s completely different than what I’m putting out.
This is deeper than we speak about. So many people come to New York to feel a part of something unnamable. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived here. Every time you see the skyline, you have this moment of being overwhelmed by the beauty. I’ll never get tired of it, of crossing the bridge on the train. It’s those small things that every morning I wake up to. We think New York is so personal, but everything we do is bigger than us. You go to one party and it’s on the news. I am always surprised by the city. I would never leave, if I could. But I’m working on it. I should be able to get my visa. And when I do I’m coming back for good.
Images Courtesy of Lihi Brosh.