This past Saturday, I participated in Obscura Day. This event is organized each year by Atlas Obscura, a Wikipedia-like organization that aims to serve as a “collaborative compendium of amazing places that aren’t found in your average guidebook”. Obscura Day in particular is “an international celebration of unusual places” that allows participants to explore “hidden wonders in [their] own hometown”.
I had never even heard of Obscura Day before a mention popped up in my Twitter feed a week or so ago, but I was immediately intrigued. So many people associate being a traveler with getting out their wallets, brushing off their passports, and heading to some exotic, distant land; however, many of the pleasures of traveling can be found by just staying where you are and checking out something that you would normally skip. Obscura Day would be my chance to do just that.
There were several unique and interesting events going on in New York City, many of which were (much to my chagrin) already sold out. Fortunately, though, I found one open option that really piqued my curiosity: a street art photography workshop led by Saddleshoe Tours of the city’s Bowery, Lower East Side, and Soho neighborhoods. I brushed off my camera (still a touch gritty with dust from the Masai Mara and the Serengeti), charged the battery, deleted some of my older photos from the memory card, and headed out.
I showed up at our starting point a little late (stupid downtown traffic!), but our guide, Lia, was super-kind and uber-welcoming. She led us in a discussion of a handful of rules and considerations that we should keep in mind to improve our photography as well as a history of street art in general and background information on the artwork and artists that we would be seeing that day.
Some of the people in my group seemed quite knowledgeable about street art; I did not fall into that category, and I said as much when we went around the circle to introduce ourselves. I let the group know that I had purchased my camera for my most recent trip and was still working to improve my photography skills. Other people just came for the fun of it. Interestingly enough, there was a mixture of both DSLRs and iPhone cameras.
Soon after introductions, we headed out for the tour. We began with Lia walking us through the tour and talking more in-depth about each piece and each artist that we saw, answering any questions that we had along the way. After that, she sent us off on our own for about 30 minutes to take photos. I hustled to take as many good shots as I could while keeping in mind Lia’s helpful hints from earlier. Surprisingly, I only got a little bit lost during my solo sojourn, a rare achievement in my life–so rare that I usually factor in time for getting lost any time that I wonder outside of Manhattan (or, frankly, any time that I wander beyond Manhattan’s directionally-helpful grid of streets and avenues). Finally, I made it back to the starting point, the first in the group to do so (look at me, being on time and even early!).
Once everyone returned, Lia asked each of us to pick our best photo to showcase to the group–this was a difficult assignment as we each had several photos that we loved! We then voted one by one for our favorite photo (well, our favorite photo that wasn’t our own)–another less-than-easy task because everyone had displayed an impressive photo! In the end, the third- and second-place vote-getters each received a sticker with street art that we had seen during the day; the first-place winner got both a sticker and a free future Saddleshoe tour. As proof that you don’t need a fancy camera to get great pics, all of the three winners took their photos with their iPhone!
As for me, though my photo did not place, I had a great time during the tour, and I got that much more acquainted with my camera, downtown New York City, street art, and photography in general. All in all, I definitely can’t wait for Obscura Day 2013!
Check out the slideshow for some of my favorite pictures from the day. If you want to see more of my photos, you can go here. If you have any suggestions on how I can continue to improve my photo-snapping skills, please let me know in the comments–I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!