As each year draws to a close, America’s eyes turn to Times Square, the bustling bowtie-shaped intersection in New York City between 42nd and 47th streets that serves as the setting for the iconic New Year’s Eve ball drop. Even if they’ve never physically been there, most of America and the world photographically witness the awe of Times Square during this annual celebration, the changing of the times. This December, street photographer Betsy Karel aims to show that the reverse is also true: Times Square sees America.
Karel brings us America’s Stage: Times Square, a new photobook from Steidl that explores the exhilarating and exhausting corner of the city that we call Times Square. Featuring 73 black and white photographs taken in summer, America’s Stage: Times Square uses five New York City blocks as a metaphor for urban America today, where almost every inch of public space has been taken over by private corporate interests.
“Here,” Karel writes in her essay, “many of the major trends of our society—consumerism, hypersexualization, hucksterism, surveillance, narcissism, globalism—are condensed and amplified. Fantasy parades as reality.” In the pages of this remarkable volume, Times Square becomes a vivid, almost hyper-realistic form of theater, one that is peopled by tourists, attraction-seekers, businesspeople, and the off-brand performers who make their living under electronic billboards the size of football fields.
“[Karel] has not only captured a mood with flair and intelligence at a pivotal point in American history, but more importantly, in a perhaps small but vital way, she has shaped our understanding of both life and society from her personal experience,” writes British photographer and critic Gerry Badger. “She records the intermingling of those responsible for the cacophony, those reacting and those who appear oblivious,” adds Anne Wilkes Tucker. “She recognizes the sadness that co-exists with outrageous exhibitionism, the excessive signs competing for attention with 24/7 congestion, workers, beggars, and lovers. Quick glances will miss much of the value and pleasures to be found in these images that are masterfully complex, layered, and astute.”
With the end of 2018 marking one of the most politically, socially, and culturally turbulent years in American memory, America’s Stage: Times Square offers a timely look at the place where—with showmanship and with feeling—each year slips into the next.
Betsy Karel, born in New York City, now lives in Washington, DC. She worked as an award-winning photojournalist in the 1970s before she stopped photographing for 20 years. Karel is also the author of Conjuring Paradise (2013), published by Radius Books, and Bombay Jadoo (2007), published by Steidl and shortlisted for the German Photobook Prize in 2008. Her photographs are in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Yale University Art Gallery.
America’s Stage: Times Square
Photographs by Betsy Karel
Afterword by Gerry Badger
Published by Steidl
Clth, 10 x 13 in. / 128 pgs / 73 bw
ISBN 9783958292727 / $45 US
Publication Date: December 2018
Distributed by ARTBOOK | D.A.P. |