This story is over 5 years old.


These Surreal Optical Illusions Will Change the Way You See Everyday Life

Photographer Jonathan Higbee injects magic into the mundanity of city life.
All images courtesy the artist.

Sure, fancy photo equipment and years of practice are important parts of building a successful photography career. But as street shooter Jonathan Higbee knows well, sometimes a brilliant photo is born from simply following your instincts. “I think there is an innate sense or vision that is with you kind of naturally, but you can hone it and work it out like a muscle,” he said.

Higbee's Coincidences is a collection of photos taken on the streets of New York City at serendipitous moments: a man in an advertisement seems to lead a pedestrian by a rope; a commuter merges with The Weeknd when he passes behind a poster of the singer; a woman on the subway has a Mickey Mouse balloon for a head. Higbee prowls the city looking for naturally-occurring optical illusions like these, and his patience pays off (to the tune of 32K enthusiastic Instagram followers). Through quirky vantage points, creativity, and a well exercised instinct, Higbee captures delightful shots of everyday city life.


Over the years, Higbee has developed a knack for noticing patterns and anticipating moments. "Usually I do traditional street photo walks, where you just walk and shoot, and walk and shoot, and see what’s around the next corner. But while I’m doing that, I always have one eye out for something that seems to have a lot of potential in it—typically a bold minimal graphic, which I love. Or some really weird advertising. Or some minimal graffiti. Anything like that," he said. "If I see something like that, I’ll stay for a moment and check the flow of pedestrians and traffic to see what kind of people are walking there, how many are passing through.”

Wall Street, 2015. By Jonathan Higbee

This process can take as little as half an hour or as much as four months of dutiful watching, as was the case with his photo of the man being "led" by a rope: “I spent so much time there. And then I finally got that shot—which was perfect because two days later the ad was taken down."

Higbee said that his Coincidences series doesn't have an endpoint; as long as he walks the streets of New York, which endlessly morph based on the flow of humanity through the city, he will keep shooting. “Every time I’m out in New York, even when I’m running an errand or having lunch with a friend, I see the coincidences everywhere," he said. "And I have to photograph them!"

Times Square, 2015. By Jonathan Higbee

Garment District, 2016. By Jonathan Higbee

34th Street, 2016. By Jonathan Higbee

Midtown Crosswalk, 2015. By Jonathan Higbee

Life in New York, 2017. By Jonathan Higbee

42nd Street, 2016. By Jonathan Higbee

3 Train, 2016. By Jonathan Higbee

Comb Over 8th Avenue. By Jonathan Higbee

Bag of Surprises, 2016. By Jonathan Higbee

Downtown, 2016 by Jonathan Higbee

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.