Snow is my absolute favourite weather, even when it inconveniences me it’s worth it in so many ways, and I’ve never once not been happy to be out in it. However, I haven’t had many opportunities to photograph using it as an element, as London rarely sees a decent fall. Snow in New York is something I’ve greatly anticipated, and it was only a matter of time before one of my visits aligned with the season. Storm Olena hit towards the end of my last visit, and after having to wait in during the first day due to train cancellations I made it into the city two days after the blizzard hit. The street photography potential was rather quiet, but I enjoyed how different everything was to what I was used to. Not just the visual changes but the behaviour change in the people I did see out, all dealing with the cold and difficult walking conditions in their own ways.
That evening I got a message from Paul, a really friendly and very accomplished street photographer, who let me know that there would be a gathering the next day for a snowball fight in Washington Square Park. This sounded like a great use of my time, so I made sure to arrive there just before it was due to begin. There was already a good sized crowd, encircling the central fountain in the park. A few were already engaging in smaller scuffles, and I knew there would be great potential once the energy rose.
I decided to just shoot whatever was to happen using my M4 with 35mm f/2 7artisans, and to focus in only on the closer action. I wanted to move and react quickly, and didn’t want to be playing around with any settings. It was overcast, so I (rightly) assumed that there wouldn’t be much changing in terms of exposure. I metered once, and set my camera to around a stop over what it had recommended, so that the snow would come out as white instead of mid-grey. I think I ended up at 250th/s, and f/8 which meant I could set the distance scale to around 2.5m, giving me everything between 1 and 5 meters in focus. I didn’t touch the settings after this, and when it eventually came to developing this roll I dialled it back a couple of ml, and left it in the tank a little longer so it could sort itself out in there. Exposures came out pretty perfectly to my eye!
As I was doing this lines were being drawn, sides taken, and eventually the first missiles were thrown. This video recorded by Cole Mcmanus decently showcases the chaos that ensued. You can actually see me enter the frame from the left at 12 seconds in, running to the side. People who know me will recognise my long coat and stumbling pace.
I threw myself into the middle of the battleground, and noted that people were being especially careful to specifically target photographers, which i found pretty funny. It was a real obstacle course, and I took my share of hits as I worked. I managed to protect the front of my lens, as I knew if that took a shot I would waste time cleaning it at best, and potentially cause issues at worst.
It would have been too easy to just photographs backs of heads, but the best images put the viewer right into the scene, not having to crane their necks to see the action. The closer images I made are quite effective at this, whereas the wider scenes shown here ae good at setting the scene and contextualising those other images. I finished the roll of HP5+ in my camera and loaded another of the same, making it through around a quarter before it started to settle down. All in all the peak of the action lasted around 20 minutes, and I think I used my time well.
The photographs in this article aren’t the best I made there, I’m saving those for when I eventually sequence the project they are a part of! If you want to get updates on that and my other projects, follow my Instagram. In the meantime, I’ve collected together some of my work from my trips to the States from 2019, 2020, and most recently 2021, into a “digest” which can be found here.