Ben Orlansky

These are my eyes. This is my city. Welcome to New York.

Some of my photos lie. Or do they? I capture microseconds of humanity. Look at that old man laughing. It warms your heart and puts a smile on your face. Well, actually, he was just picking his teeth, but the results and effects of those little micromoments remain the same. I may lie through my photos, but those lies have affected me greatly, and I hope they do the same for you.

Everything about her is calculated, every word carefully measured, every smile perfectly placed. She sits upright. Always prim, always proper, always perfect. Even her smiles are a little bit frozen, lest they take over and ruin her face. This girl, there’s a soul in there somewhere and she’s hellbent on hiding it, lest, heaven forfend, you know who she is. Sometimes, she dances. In her head. When no one’s looking. Watch as she sits on the side by herself, her hands clenched white on the edge of her chair, as if fighting the urge to get up and dance. Watch as she sits there, her feet tap like dancers when she knows you’re not looking. Watch her eyes as she struggles to keep her composure, watch her die a little inside every time. Watch her. Watch her dance, watch her dance, in the dark by herself. Watch the dead girl get up and dance.

Don’t you get it? I don’t want to move you. I want to tear you open and show you your own insides. I want to make you question everything you’ve ever known. I want you to forget that you haven’t been breathing. I want to put you back together, a little more whole than you were before. Maybe I’ll be a little more whole too.

She’s what some might call overly emotional. She’s what some might call a little intense. The slightest thing can set her off, from the paintings in the clouds to the men in rags who sit on the floor. She walks down the street and it comes from all sides. Sometimes she has to shut her eyes just to keep it all inside. Then one day, it all goes away. No more tears and no more smiles - she has no feelings at all for a while. It would bother her greatly, if only something could bother her at all. All she knows is a dull sort of ache, a distant memory of the thing that nearly killed her and the very thing she lives for. Then she remembers. She remembers living. She remembers feeling. She remembers loving and she remembers losing. It hurts. It hurts so bad it brings tears to her eyes. Suddenly, all she wants to do is dance on thorns. And the tears, they’re ones of joy, for she’d rather feel something than nothing at all.

New Yorkers are used to noise. The sounds of people yelling, cars, trains, construction work, and general mayhem are all part of the city we love. That day is the only day I remember absolute silence. Eight and a half million people, and silence. Gone was the aggression and bravado that comes with our city, instantly replaced with the sudden realization that we’re all human, all vulnerable, all the same. There was a change in tone, a change in respect, a softer eye contact. Neighborhoods that usually don’t get along forgot about all the bullshit and stood next to each other and mourned together like humans do. The empty streets were an eerie sight. I remember looking up Coney Island and seeing the column of smoke covering the sky. I remember little pieces of debris in our hair and ash floating down and covering the streets. I remember reaching up and catching something. It was half of a yellow dry cleaning ticket. The person’s name was torn in half. I felt cold when I touched it - I don’t think I’ve ever felt that cold. I remember no longer feeling untouchable. I remember thinking how it paled in comparison to what goes on daily in other parts of the world, and I remember feeling like a shit for only feeling the atrocity when it was in my own backyard. There was no one untouched. Everyone knew at least one person who was there. Most of us knew at least one person who didn’t make it out. I was at a pizzeria watching it on TV when it happened. We all wanted to know what movie was playing.