Creator Q&A: 1234NYC

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1234NYC is an ambitious, decade-spanning project to document urban-dwelling individuals employed in creative fields. Already three years in the making, photographer Farhad Parsa has come to Kickstarter to help complete the second stage of principal photography. Intrigued by the scope of his endeavor, we recently dropped him a line to chat. His responses gave us unprecedented insight to his ongoing project.

You can check them out, along with a selection of his photographs, below. Support his ongoing project here.

You began this project with a really focused, long-term goal. Has it been hard to stick to your plan?

Yes. When I began this project in 2007 the world was in a much different place.  There was no economic meltdown and prices in NYC were going up up up forcing a lot of fellow New Yorkers to reconsider our living situations.  So, my plans and goal for the project had a different “atmosphere” in its inception than it’s current status.

Sticking to my plan…well, yes and no.  Ten years is a long long time to plan things out but I figured “Hey, this interests me and I’m dead set to find out what’s going to happen to these people.”  But I’ve found that with any project if you stick to the gist of it and plug away you’ll get it done.  Not only will you get it done but people will respond to your passion and help you.  I really believe that the harder you try the more things will fall into place.  Not to say there aren’t exceptions to that rule, because I’ve seen failure aplenty, but overall; you work hard, you’ll get a return for your efforts.

How did you meet these people? 

Some people were colleagues of mine at Beth Schiffer (a photography darkroom) before I went digital in 2007. Others were people I met when I was playing music.  A few others have worked with me on film sets and a couple of others I met when I was doing theater work at the Juilliard with a friend of mine and a number of them are regulars at 9th St Espresso, by (9th and C), which is a place I discovered in 2002 when I was living on Avenue D and E 9th.  Some subjects I’ve dated and others I know only through their business, so it’s a hodgepodge of New York living.

Your photos are really full of life, as if they are breathing. What techniques do you use?

I think it’s the cinephile in me that tries to create living photos.  The photo is a static two dimensional medium but there are times in which it can tell a story better than something at 24 frames a second. You know?  Henri Cartier Bresson, William Eggleston, Bruce Davidson, Nan Goldin, Mary Ellen Mark, Avedon…shit, their photographs are on my altar…you know?  But I have to say that filmmakers like Godard, Truffaut, Wong Kar Wai, and Kurosawa have also created living photographs with their films.  It’s life affirming to watch their films, the purity of the framing and composition alongside with those little earthquake moments that they give their characters.

That’s what I want to attempt, capturing people’s little earthquakes.  And to do so I have to have my subjects unguarded and in action.  Getting someone to do SOMETHING usually gets their mind off me and my gigantic lens and lights.  If I don’t, the bulk of them are rabbits in the headlights of a big big truck.  So it boils down to “action” and a touch of awkwardness.  I love awkward moments because it cuts to the fragility of our sense of selves…makes us human.

What were the original motivations behind photographing these people? What initially struck you? And why did it feel like they were intrinsically tied to NYC?

My original motivation behind photographing these people came when I began this project in 2007 and the world was in a much different place.  There was no economic meltdown and prices in NYC were going up up up forcing a lot of fellow New Yorkers to reconsider our living situations.  To sum it up I wanted to photograph my friends and acquaintances before they disappeared.  My general philosophy on photography is I photograph because I want to remember…to remember moments that will likely disappear. I am afraid of forgetting these moments and with photography I have a way of creating memory, freezing time and turning it into a physical and easily accessible form; the photograph.

Anger.  Anger has a lot to do with this.  A lot of people I knew, friends of mine, were talking of or leaving New York for other cities…other countries too.  They were fed up with George Bush and with the high cost of living and rent.  They had felt like they had already paid their dues and New York wasn’t giving back.  Instead, our city was slapping us with a bunch of drunken kids (and adults) vomiting on our stairs, kicking trashcans, and starting fights.  I felt I was in some college town…not New York.  Shit, I moved to New York to be part of that New York fraternity of individuality but instead I found my neighborhood on 1st and 1st transforming into a cookie-cutter world that I did not want to be part of.

I actually did a 12 minute stop-motion film that summed up my anger, it’s about a guy who hasn’t left his apartment for weeks because his girlfriend left him but when he does leave he walks over to the closest mailbox, a block away, to mail her a letter.  On the way to the mailbox he is essentially attacked by characters who represented every aspect of New York that was bothering me at the time.  I’ve worked with members of the Upright Citizens Brigade and Second City before so I got them to play these characters.

That film you’re watching is actually 23,000 photographs i pieced together in After Effects and Final Cut Pro along with 16mm film.  I had the actors work with me in pre-production training for this pixilation aspect of the film and then brought them back into a recording studio in Harlem for the voice overdubs.  It was a blast to make but it took a whole year to sew it all together.  I think making films like this helps me in photography to be patient.

When I started taking these photographs I was struck by how locked in my subjects were with their space…Naturally, they felt like they belonged in their environment.  Like, if I tried to cut out Rob and put him in Zach’s place, it wouldn’t FEEL right.  And vice versa.  Right off the bat I knew something was going on because everything felt right in the photograph.

You mention that if anyone leaves NYC, they are out of the project. Have you had to deal with this yet?

Yes, one couple moved to the Marshall Islands, another 2 moved to Los Angeles, another to Philadelphia.  But keep in mind that they are only out of the project for that portion of the project’s lifeline.

A quick breakdown of the project’s end goal is that if a person lived in New York from Autumn of 2007 to Autumn of 2017, the project’s end year, then there would be 4 photographs of them.  1234NYC is named that way because the project began in 2007 (1), the 2nd follow up began in 2009 and ends in 2010, the 3rd are 2012-2013, and the last one is 2016-2017.

I suppose I could have called this 1+2+3+4 because that is what it is, 10 years spread out in increasing numbers.  But I should mention that if my subject comes back to NYC during that time then they could be back in the project.

I know you left NYC. Was this hard for you? How did it affect your project?

Leaving New York was painful.   I woke up the other day thinking, I’m gonna go to the MET today and then I realized that the MET was 3000 miles away.  Shit.
I left New York to focus on writing.  Long story short I’ve had some success in screenwriting, three separate feature length films I co-wrote with a buddy of mine Bob Peyton, have gotten in to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2007, 2008 and this year.  I thought by coming West and moving to a sleepy suburban city like Portland, Oregon I would be able to focus all my energy on my scripts.

Me leaving NYC has made it very difficult to continue the project.  Last October I had a job that brought me back to NYC and I was lucky enough to photograph a several people for the 1234NYC project while I was there.  Besides that I’ve had to look for opportunities to get back to New York but nothings come up.  Kickstarter has been the answer for my project prayers.

What is your hope for the conclusion of the project?

My hope is to keep dreams alive.  That sounds a bit hoity-toity but it’s true, I hope that people who see this project and the people in the project will never give up pursuing their passions and dreams.  The whole reason they are in the project is because I thought they are passionate creative individuals who wanted “something more” from this life than the average person.  There is a quote I’m going to steal from Rumi, a Persian poet, says, “Let the Beauty of What you Love Be What You Do.”  That says it all to me, it cuts out all the bullshit and states simply, create a life worth living by working with your passions.

This project is here not just so I can remember these people involved and the city they live in but ideally it will show us how ordinary creative souls can make a difference by pursuing their passions.  I really believe that if people put more energy into their passions then extraordinary things will happen for them and not only will they be in a better place but they will make the world a better place.  But if you ignore the things that make you feel alive, that make you feel happy, that make you feel…if you ignore your dreams, then I have to wonder, have you ever been awake?

Where do you see the project in 2017?

The project will be shown as a gallery show, there will be a book and a one-hour film.  Now depending on the success of the project and my own personal successes, this of course will determine if the show is a rented basement space in the LES or at the Gagosian gallery, whether the book is printed by Blurb or by Taschen, whether the film will be on my website or on HBO.  Only time will tell…and that’s exciting.

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