A double-denim man walks into frame with a cockatoo perched on his shoulder. A Rottweiler skulks on the sidewalk, its eyes fixated to the right. A couple embrace for what seems like an eternity. Amidst them all, a lone character seemingly exhausted by life slumps dejectedly, the peak of his hat pointing down towards the ground.
What kind of peculiar metropolitan allegory is this? Have we just stumbled across the world’s most convoluted joke?
Melanie Einzig’s snapshot is remarkable; it effortlessly demonstrates what Henri Cartier-Bresson christened the “decisive moment”—the art of seizing photographic instances so fleeting that they come and go in the click of a finger.
At this exact point in history, on this particular New York sidewalk, four supposedly unrelated elements come together for a single moment in time. Just moments later, this improbable yet strangely alluring quartet would have surely wandered on, never to meet again.
Notice how the road running parallel to this street holds a queue of cars, while the position of the sun has sunk the rest of the sidewalk into a profuse shade. Whether she intended to or not, these elements have effectively enclosed the figures into a single, self-consistent and wholly natural frame—a spotlighted microcosm of the city that never sleeps.
Ten years after this photograph was taken, Einzig told blogger Blake Andrews that this was one of her “lucky moments”:
“I was walking home in a good mood and saw the man with the bird. Sometimes I follow a particular person of interest to see what happens. The man who is nodding out on heroin or methadone in the centre of the frame piques my attention most, especially his tie. I always wonder why the man with the bird has his fist clenched.”
There is little doubt that capturing beautifully converging narratives requires a combination of observation, patience, reaction time and luck. So often these moments are right in front of us, yet despite our digital age we are often too slow or apathetic to react. Photos such as this bring together tiny details usually unnoticed in the rush of life, while capturing the fleeting juxtaposition between them. This is far and beyond one of my favourite street portraits—though I can’t deny it would have been funnier if they were walking into a bar.