I’m somewhat convinced that New York City serves as a portal to another dimension, where people shift in and out between their plane of existence into ours. I came up with that theory one night as I shot some photos around downtown Manhattan. I’m somewhat cautious when pulling out my camera anywhere, especially in the city. Before I take out my Canon I scan the street in front and behind me for anyone who may look like they want to run off with my equipment or who may try to give me a hard time for taking a photo (NYPD and security guards come to mind).
Somewhere around 12 a.m. midnight I stopped around 12th St. and 2nd Ave. After scanning the area, I quickly pulled out my camera and as soon as I began to adjust my settings I felt a light tap on my elbow. I looked down and there was a small Asian man in a wheelchair, smiling up at me and pointing to my camera. How did I miss seeing him a second or two ago? He would have taken a while to get to where I was in his wheelchair, and yet there he was, next to me in the blink of an eye. Through his broken English he asked me if I was a photographer and was curious about the shot I wanted to take. Somehow this man didn’t seem strange or creepy, I felt a warm familiarity and comfort, as if I’ve known him for years. I took my shots and let him view the photos through the camera’s back screen. His smile was truly genuine, a rarity in this city.
He shook my hand and his grip was gentle but firm, told me his name (which I can’t remember now, I wish I did), and said he was from Cambodia. After taking out a cigarette, he invited me to sit and talk about photography. I took the opportunity to fill up my tobacco pipe and listen to this odd yet wonderful man’s story. Although his English was somewhat limited, he told me he used to be a photographer in his native Cambodia, before Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over the country, where he fled to Thailand and worked as a street vendor. I asked him if he ever wanted to get back into photography. He told me that when he left Cambodia he left his camera, as well as the lower portion of his left leg.
We talked for nearly an hour, sitting there on the middle of the block at 12th St. and 2nd Ave, before I got up and said my goodbyes before heading back to the New Jersey Path train. We shook hands one more time and I walked up the block and crossed the street, only to look back and see a nearly empty block with one or two people passing by, but no sign of my new friend. Deciding to not question the encounter and just take it as something that maybe I wasn’t meant to understand, I shrugged it off and walked back to 14th St. and 6th Ave, stopping only to take this photo on the way there.