Photos by Conor Horgan

When I arrived to spend the winter of 2011 in New York, people naturally asked me why I was there. I told them I had no compelling reason not to be. I’d gotten lucky—a friend’s sister had a fifth-floor walk up in Little Italy she needed to sublet for a few months. An itinerant writer of my acquaintance had spent enough savagely bleak winters on the West Coast of Ireland to want a cozier bolt hole in Dublin–my place. I had a perfectly portable occupation, writing a screenplay, which I figured I might as well do in New York as anywhere else.

Sunlight and shadow on Prince Street.
Sunlight and shadow on Prince Street.

*   *   *

One of the first things I noticed is that a defining characteristic of the true New Yorker is enthusiastic complaining about how the city has changed for the worse since its former days of glory. My idealized New York is that of the Lower East Side in the mid seventies–early punk, bohemia, drugs and danger. I knew that things had changed a lot since then, but was still surprised–is it really necessary to have such widespread access to cupcakes? There isn’t a cupcake shop on the Bowery yet, but it’s surely only a matter of time.

Fat Fuck, The Bowery.
Fat Fuck, The Bowery.

*   *   *

Most mornings I would write in the Rose Reading Room in the New York Public Library, nodding a greeting to the impressively-coiffed woman manning the information desk as I passed.

A font of information, and an artist with hairspray.
A font of information, and an artist with hairspray.

*   *   *

In the afternoons I wandered, always with a camera. It feels wrong to go out without one in New York–there’s so much life on every street, to miss any of it would be a crime.

Bad Santa gets punished on Broadway.
Bad Santa gets punished on Broadway.

*   *   *

Being in New York often feels like being in a movie–almost as if it’s some kind of illusion. When friends at home saw my picture of Leonardo DiCaprio on Broadway they were very curious as to what trickery I’d used to achieve the effect–how had I transformed the poster to make it loom over the building like that? The answer was, I hadn’t–I’d just lifted my camera and pressed the button. It was all right there in front of me, the brownstone and the twelve–story-high photorealistic mural. Only in New York.

Leo looms large on Broadway.
Leo looms large on Broadway.

*   *   *

Everyone in New York has an attitude–sometimes it seemed
like even the dogs in the street expected me to account for myself.

"And you are?"
"And you are?"

*   *   *

After the bustle of the day has ebbed, New York is just the place for solitary late-night walks through deserted streets. I saw hellish liquor stores in the West Village…

Lubricating loneliness in the West Village.
Lubricating loneliness in the West Village.

…and wandered past a private moment between a girl and her
hairdresser on Hudson.

Hairdresser on Hudson
St.
Hairdresser on Hudson St.

Then I sauntered up to Hell’s Kitchen, where the sign in a
deserted car wash reads like a mantra for Zen living.

Zen and the art of car washing.
Zen and the art of car washing.

*   *   *

Despite the amount of time I spent on my own, I didn’t want for company. I hung out with a German playboy turning his life around, and an Irishman who’d spent time as the world’s only part-time personal astrophysicist.

Seamus, New Gallery.
Seamus, New Gallery.

I dated an avant-garde music composer I met at a recital in a black box studio in Chelsea, where the deliberate atonality of the music was occasionally relieved by somebody in the band standing up and hurling an armful of cymbals at the back wall. I had my first ever Jewish Christmas (a movie on Third Avenue, soft-shell crab in Chinatown) and I spent New Year’s Eve at a Malaysian-Lithuanian house party in Harlem. I photographed pretty much everyone I met.

Stand clear of the closing doors. Times Square Station.
Stand clear of the closing doors. Times Square Station.

*   *   *

Even though the city reached out to me, I often felt alone. It was a bittersweet, oddly welcoming feeling. It felt right. After a while it dawned on me that is one of the reasons I was there. New York is an excellent place to be lonely.

They don't call it the Empire State for nothing.
They don't call it the Empire State for nothing.

*   *   *

Conor Horgan is an Irish film director and photographer. He has directed eight films, including several arts documentaries and the multi-award winning feature "One Hundred Mornings." His photography has been commissioned by Harpers & Queen, GQ, British Vogue and Condé Nast Traveller among many others. His book of New York photos is available online, via iTunes, and at the Winding Stair Bookshop, Dublin. Limited-edition prints from the book are available for purchase at The Copper House Gallery in Dublin.

Other stories from Nostalgic for New York

You Can’t Go Home Again

Family tragedy brings a newly minted Texan back to New York, where he finds a city moving on without him, even as it stays the same.

You Say Bagel, I Say Croissant

A would-be Parisian abandons New York for the glories of Europe. But when visa troubles foil her plans, she finds the distance between the continents significantly smaller than imagined.

The Invisible Commuter

A Chicago man reflects on his high school commute into Manhattan and discovers, a decade-and-a-half later, just how much those train trips meant to him.

Deserting the Empire

An incurable case of wanderlust takes a born-and-bred Brooklynite from Wisconsin to California to Scandinavia. Along the way, she learns the world isn’t quite sure what to do with a New Yorker who decides not to be one.
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