In New York City’s hustle, Reuben Radding is both an observer and an artist. His photos are spontaneous, capturing the city’s raw humanity and rhythm. Through his black-and-white shots, Radding addresses personal feelings of isolation while blending street photography with personal stories. His art is globally recognised, featured in renowned publications such as The New Yorker and Financial Times, and galleries. With ties to Hamburger Eyes and successful self-published photo zines, Radding also mentors budding photographers, holding workshops online and at NYC’s International Center of Photography.
A short foreword from Mr Radding:
There’s no such thing as “best,” is there? I’m looking at these images and letting them remind me of the role they played in my growth and how they seemed to almost lead to each other. Even if it took many years and didn’t feel that way at the time. But from where I stand now, the only important part is the actual day-to-day living in the photos. The pictures are a souvenir that only matters to the extent it makes you feel something about your own life.
1) Cinco de Mayo, Brooklyn 2013
“The poet Richard Hugo said, “When you start to write, you carry to the page one of two attitudes, though you may not be aware of it. One is that all music must conform to the truth. The other, that all truth must conform to music.” I had read this passage years before, but once I dedicated myself to shooting in black & white (the same week that I took this photo) it made sense to me in a whole new way. Subject matter, I realised, is simply material, and the things I wanted to say depended on my letting go of the things I knew, or thought I knew, about the situation, appearance, or people in my pictures. Since then, I keep finding more and more to let go of: story, ideology, self-protection, ego, or any preconception I have about the world in general, and New York City in particular.
“I don’t think of my work as an attempt to “capture” things but rather to use the material of life unfolding, and make something of it that is unparaphrasable, that makes you want to know more, and hopefully says something far more complex and meaningful about life than any of the stuff I could explain in words. It’s asking too much that gets me almost enough.”
2) DeploraBall Hands, Potomac, MD 2017
“At the Gays for Trump ball in D.C., uncertainty loomed as I feared attendees might sense my leftist background. Hoping for trust, I aimed to be familiar, so they’d be receptive to my photography later. Instead of talking, I focused on listening. Many journalists posed repetitive questions. But when I asked tuxedo-clad conservatives, “how do you feel?”, it became my go-to. Astonishingly, this direct question prompted guests to share personal tales. Their genuine narratives emerged as I listened, fostering a sense of warmth and acceptance toward me, even as they remained unaware of my own story.
“Arriving at the ball, my assumptions about attendees were swiftly upended. Their diverse origins and politics puzzled me. As I listened, a unifying theme emerged: they felt like outsiders, much like me. Whether they were gay Republicans, conservative outcasts, or isolated military members, their experiences resonated. I’ve often felt disconnected, be it as a Jew among my community or an artist among my peers. A profound compassion welled within me, reshaping my perspective. This transformative realisation wasn’t the catalyst for the photo, but pursuing it altered me. Some friends judged my newfound empathy, but they’re missing the profound connection beneath our differences.”
3) West 14th Street, NYC 2017
“I once dined with a friend and her lawyer husband who sought advice on picking a musical instrument due to my bass-playing background. He listed several instruments, finding flaws with each. The trumpet’s loudness might disturb, and small hands might hinder cello play. His hesitations indicated an inertia against making music. Exhausted, I said, “You can always find reasons not to start. GO GET WET.”
“I was thinking of this photograph, which I would not have made if I had let the weather keep me stuck at home. You can’t wait to have everything neatly figured out or comfy. You have to take a risk at some point. You might be disappointed. You might fail. You might annoy someone. You might waste some money or wreck your shoes. But you aren’t actually getting any closer to the target sifting through all the possible strategies from the safety of home. You have to go out and get wet.”
4) Lafayette Street, NYC 2018
“It’s the pictures that happen almost involuntarily before thinking can get in the way. Those are the ones that feel the most mine. There was nothing to know or think about when this moment happened. There was only the instinctual sense that something went off, and I snatched it out of the air. I didn’t even know what I had till a while later. And then a couple of years later, it still felt like a miracle I earned with readiness and receptivity. Is that all it takes? Sometimes. Every now and then, it’s just handed to you like you were pre-chosen, and it’s better than anything you could have designed.
“How do you take a picture that contains resonances you weren’t aware of or thinking about? How do you know which 1/125th of a second in your day will put you in the path of something that could fascinate you or others for years to come? I still have no idea. By the time this photo came to me, I had identified that I loved in-between moments, which this certainly is. The woman has a firm grip on the boy’s wrist, and she’s begun her insistent drive into whatever future awaits them, but his arm is still relaxed, and he has not yet been pulled forward. This highly charged slice of time becomes almost unparaphrasable for me, and I could ask nothing more from one of my photographs. One of these days, I’d like to equal it.”
5) Park Slope, Brooklyn 2021
“Again, a matter of alertness and then a vain hope that just maybe there would be people other than myself who thought there was some metaphorical power to be found in this lightning shot that only chance could deliver. Seems like it worked. Speaking only for myself it felt like an illustration of how I felt that season, moving forward despite the faceplant, and not letting go of the strap. I’d made it through the test of the pandemic but was nearly a case of suicide by step count. I felt closer to my purpose than ever, but I was struggling to keep going. Looking at the stoic resolve of this kid I felt myself represented enough to go on for another day. And another. And another.”
6) Plainfield, VT 2018
“Thanks to the Internet I have a lot of students in my workshops who live in places other than NYC. Many of them aren’t even in big cities. Sometimes they express to me that they feel like where they live isn’t so good for photography, or at least not as good as New York. I tell them that means they have to make different kinds of pictures, but isn’t that cool? Don’t we have enough New York pictures?
“I love New York City more than I love most human beings, but it’s easy to feel like everything about it is already discovered, or being discovered right now by someone else who does what I do. But I was the only dedicated photographer who witnessed this spontaneous group outburst, and seeing this image come up on the screen made me feel like life’s vitality and I could meet anywhere and be happy together. Like the central figures in this image, we can dance together in an ecstatic moment of embrace and then go on about our impermanent lives. But I get to keep a little souvenir. A little head-fake towards immortality. Ten years since that first Cinco de Mayo image that pointed the way, I pray most for…what? Ten more years.”