Friday, a cinematic love letter to the city opens in theaters.
“New York, I Love You” offers 10 vignettes, crafted by 10 directors, that tell 10 quintessential city stories. One recurring character unites all of the stories, providing a lens through which the audience can watch people falling in and out of love from Brooklyn to the upper West Side and everywhere in between.
Of course it’s easy to find love in New York if you’re following a script. But when the streets are packed, work runs late and the 6 train is held up, what is there to love about a city that never sleeps?
That’s the question Michaela Dalzell asked herself when she moved to the Big Apple from Michigan to get her masters in digital photography at the School of Visual Arts. She had planned on becoming a commercial photographer, but her desire to understand New Yorkers took her in a different direction.
“I came here searching for my career,” says the 24-year-old, who learned about photography from her father. “I kind of thought all New Yorkers were here, and they were just working. I didn’t think it was possible to have a family or a significant other, and I wanted to prove myself wrong.”
So she decided to focus her thesis project on how to find love in New York City, and like a true New Yorker, she posted an ad on Craigslist to find the answer.
“The ad said: I want to know what people love here – nothing too specific. It was more that I reacted to the responses that I got,” Dalzell says. “They had to agree to let me come to wherever that love existed, be it their home, their place of work, their favorite part of Central Park, whatever they loved.”
The first letter came from a man named Eric, who said he enjoyed nothing more than spending time with his dog Emily in Central Park. With that humble beginning, Dalzell began sifting through more than 200 responses as they rolled in, from ardent love notes dedicated to spouses, to tongue-in-cheek letters about good old-fashioned New York hot dogs. She picked the love stories that were specific to New York, which rarely followed the boy-meets-girl formula we see on-screen.
“There was a girl who was really into the fact that President Obama got elected. I liked the quirky nature of it,” Dalzell says. “The fact that you can be young in New York City and maybe not have traditional love, but you can really love something and have a passion about it, and that keeps you going. That’s what the project was about. It was about finding what keeps people going in such a busy city. Obviously, I wanted that to be love, and that’s what I found.”
Often, subjects told her it was the city as a whole that enamored them.
“Lynn DeRosa is the older lady in Bryant Park in the wheelchair,” Dalzell says of one of her favorite photos. She was in her 80s and about to move away from the city she loved the most.
“Now that she was leaving she felt like New York City was her home. It was part of her. That day I spent with her, I was so incredibly moved by the power of the city on a person, and how they fall in love with it.”
Though she began her research believing that New Yorkers were nothing but “cold professionals and people chasing a paycheck,” Dalzell soon found her own answer to the question she posed on Craigslist: What do people love in New York City?
“The people have become my family here. They’re all diverse, they’re all different ages, they’re all different backgrounds, but if I need anything I can call them now. That’s what I love now about New York City,” Dalzell, who lives in Brooklyn, says. “I love the people here.”
In fact, when her photo essay “Finding Love in New York City” goes on display at the School of Visual Arts on Oct. 21, Dalzell says all of her subjects will be there to support her. While they may not be Hollywood A-listers, the real-life New Yorkers in the photo collection showed her that love abounds both on- and offscreen in the Big Apple – all you need to do is look through the right lens.
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