Portraits of New Yorkers Whom the Rest of the City Ignores
Chase Hall's <i>Milk and Honey</i> features 62 pages of intimate portraits of New York City's idiosyncratic and disenfranchised populace—from the homeless to local kids.
Chase Hall's aura is essential to his photo work. The photographer has an undeniable charisma that puts others at ease, bringing out their character and allowing them to be vulnerable without even knowing it. This is a skill that can't be faked or bought, which helps explain how the young artist can take such intimate photos without having a formal arts education.
His latest photo book, 'Milk and Honey,' features 62 self-published pages of portraits focused on New York City's "underdogs." The book's a testament to the way Hall interacts with his surroundings and his ability to connect with others. Each day, he wakes up and goes for a ten-mile walk by himself with his camera in tow, without a destination in mind. Often, he ends up shooting the shit with strangers and engaging with New Yorkers most people wouldn't make eye contact with before snapping a pic.
"People always ask me, 'Chase, why do you only shoot crazy old black dudes?'" the 22-year-old, mixed-race photographer told me. "But I don't see it like that. First off, I shoot all types of people. I'm attracted to all sorts of humans, but particularly those whom society turns a blind eye to, or places a stigma upon because they're 'flawed' by normative standards... We're quick to grant fame, but quicker to defame."
For example, there's a portrait he took on his very first day in New York in 2014 that's included in the monograph. He was in Red Hook with some friends when he "came across this incredible human with a glistening mouth of gold—I couldn't not go up to her," Hall remembers of Bridgette and her gold teeth. She ended up giving him a tour of the neighborhood and introducing him to her friends who were playing the song "Ghetto Superstar" from some speakers.
"They must have known this was her jam because she broke out in dance and sang every lyric of the song. One of the dudes laughing with us exclaimed, 'Damn, Bridgette, you really is a ghetto superstar,' and she smiled ear to ear." Hall took a photo of her and "knew from that point on that I wanted to share that happiness, that realness, that positivity for all my years to come."
Milk and Honey is the culmination of the countless blocks the artist has walked and the characters he's shared a moment with since moving to New York City. But the moments aren't always positive. Sometimes Hall photographs ugliness, violence, and human depravity. There are images of forehead boils ready to pop, glass eyes, missing eyes, cloudy eyes, blood-shot eyes, and dudes who look like they're about to punch Hall's Mamiya 6 medium-format camera. But Hall is actively interested in documenting "the soul and the grit" of the city, and sometimes that stuff is coarse on the surface level. If you just see a gnarly boil in the portrait, though, you're missing the point.
When asked if he ever worried about fetishizing or romanticizing his subjects, Hall replied that the photo collection is "the most real and most vulnerable thing I have ever created... I have always looked up to the underdog, someone who perseveres regardless of their odds. My mom was like that, and she's forever kept it real. I find that struggle and wisdom usually fall hand in hand. My goal is to showcase those hands."
Follow Zach on Twitter.