25 years after first visiting New York as a teenager, Böttcher returned to the city. Curious to see how he managed to show one of the world’s most photographed cities in a new way, we asked Böttcher about his memories and his eternal fascination for New York City…
How do you experience the city today, given that the last time you were in New York City was 25 years ago?
Böttcher: “In the late eighties, the city was, as I recall, a wonderful moloch that has only been cleaned up properly in the last 20 years. The zero-tolerance policy of Rudolph Giuliani has made New York City walkable and accessible again. Meanwhile, the city is a tourist magnet stronghold, and from every speaker roars up a voice booming “For your own safety…”. Nevertheless, New York is an amazing place that anchors the mindset of its inhabitants in its skyline. It is a guarded adventure playground for anyone who wants to have fun in it. New York has always been and will always be a ‘wow’ city.”
What fascinates you most about New York City?
Böttcher: “More than any other city, New York is a projection for yearnings and dreams, a promise that you can do anything if you only work hard enough. If you fall for such dreams, then New York seems to be the best place in the world. When I was 20, I was strolling around the streets of Manhattan, carrying the book ‘Catcher in the Rye’ with me while searching for the beginning of my life. 25 years later, I came back to meet this young boy again on the Brooklyn Bridge and give him a pat on the back. I guess here in Buchholz, where I live now, this moment would have lacked the same fascination…”
New York City has already been photographed from every angle imaginable. What do you think make your photographs stand out from the others?
Böttcher: “In ‘Logbuch New York’, I captured my memories from the past. Since I couldn’t really find the things I was looking for anymore and also couldn’t retrieve my memories in detail, I used a technique that allows me to take a ‘blurred view’ back into the past: for the majority of the book, I used an old projection lens pushed into a rubber sleeve. Admittedly, it did not look very masculine, but the results made it worth it.”
"For the majority of the book, I used an old projection lens pushed into a rubber sleeve."
Can you tell us a bit about the selection process behind the photo book?
Böttcher: “For the first time ever, I worked together with a curator on this project. While still in New York, he’d already taken a look at the results. I must say that the book has benefited so much through this collaboration. There were a lot of shots taken out, since they didn’t meet his criteria – sometimes we removed photos which I was very proud of. But when I realized where the journey was going, I trusted him and saw it through. In the end, his selection has made the book to what it is today.”
In general, how do you approach the discovery of a new city?
Böttcher: “Usually, I just wander around with no goal. Sightseeing bores me to death, so I always completely ignore a city’s attractions. What I really like to do is to stay in one place for a longer period of time and see what happens. Every city has a special effect on the mindset of its inhabitans in some way – and also the other way round. I also really like to watch myself and how I adapt when I’m in other cities…”
All images © Steffen Böttcher