New York is like a playground for photographers, with its endless opportunities to capture shots of iconic architecture, bustling avenues, mouth-watering food, diverse people and more. And thanks to social media networks like Instagram, both professional and amateur photographers can share their varied views of the city with a wide audience, which is how That’s So Manhattan connected with New York native Daniel Iemola.
Since his first job working at a pizza stand during the Feast of San Gennaro, the vibrancy of New York has been an important part of his career. Today, he works in technology with clients throughout the city, and as a side job/hobby, he runs AlwaysBeenMad Photography.
Through his Instagram account — alwaysbeenmad — a name derived from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album on which a spoken voice says he’s always been mad (as in crazy) — Daniel combines a very personal look at his life with fantastic shots of the city. He was kind of enough to do the same for That’s So Manhattan in this Q&A about life and photography in New York:
That’s So Manhattan: Where did you grow up?
Daniel Iemola: I was born in Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan in 1979. I spent a few years on Sullivan Street in the West Village with my mom and her boyfriend. My mom and I then moved in with my grandparents on Mulberry Street, between Spring and Prince in Little Italy, in the same apartment where my mom was raised and where my grandmother still lives today. This area is now called NoLita, but growing up I also referred to it as the Lower East Side.
I lived there ‘til I was 18, then lived in Astoria for a short time, followed by Williamsburg for an even shorter time. Then I moved to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn for a few years until 2003 when I moved to Western New York, about an hour outside of Buffalo.
In 2007 I found my way back home in Bay Ridge up until 2015 when I moved to my current location in Staten Island.
TSM: What do you like about photography in general?
DI: I would consider myself a very nostalgic type of person. I appreciate old things and I love looking back. Photography is a way for me to freeze time, to stop that moment. Maybe just as a visual, but it’s how I see that point in time, and I can revisit it whenever I’d like and share it with whoever would like to appreciate it and see the world through my eyes.
TSM: Why do you like to photograph New York?
DI: New York is an amazing feast for the senses, especially sight. There is no end to subject matter in this city. I love the major sights and I enjoy shooting them, but I also love the small inconspicuous objects and scenes that I have the ability to breathe life into and shine a light on — sights that many take for granted and walk right by.
TSM: How do you decide what to photograph in New York? Do you look for certain scenes or do you randomly come across good photo ops?
DI: I try to take my Nikon D5000 with me whenever I’m out. I always have my phone as well; I think I’m addicted to Instagram.
I think that there’s always an opportunity to grab a great shot and my mood varies so often that there’s never a way to tell what I might shoot. Sometimes I’ll know I’ll be an area that I might want to photograph, so I’ll think of certain perspectives or angles I’d like to try. But then when I get there I’ll see a flower and have to shoot that, and then a squirrel will pop up and stare at me until I take it’s picture. So a lot of my city-based photography is spontaneous in nature, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
TSM: What do you like and dislike most about Manhattan?
DI: I have a love-hate relationship with Manhattan; I find a lot of natives do. I respect it and am proud to call it home, but it has changed, and I’m not happy with every change. Take the neighborhood I grew up in — what was once Little Italy is now NoLita, which I get because the makeup of the neighborhood has changed to the point that it really has no resemblance to what was Little Italy, but I miss it.
My favorite part of Manhattan has always been the West Village/Greenwich Village, probably because there are areas there that have gone untouched and I just can’t get enough of that. Sometimes I feel that the city has been polished up to look so pretty and clean, but that grit, that patina that used to give it character has been washed away, and that makes me long for the way it was.
What’s funny is if you spoke to my grandparents back when I was a child, they would explain how things have changed for them and how they miss the way it was. I suppose that view is inevitable for most of us.
For me, the biggest change has been the expense of Manhattan. Everything has gotten too expensive and many people just can’t keep up.
TSM: What makes things so Manhattan, and how do you see it in relation to the other boroughs?
DI: You can’t beat the food and the entertainment, but the lifeblood of the city is clearly the people — all of them, the natives, the transplants and yes, the tourists too. The diversity is what makes it amazing, with that endless mix of culture. That’s why we have so much amazing food, art and talent, with so much and so many squeezed together. It’s a crazy, amazing, and at times volatile place, but it’s New York City, what more can you say.
I have love for all the boroughs; I have lived in almost all of them and have friends and family in every part. Manhattan is like the engine room of a ship. It’s constantly running, churning, spitting out sparks and steam, and moving the entire city forward.
TSM: What led you to Staten Island and how does that compare to Manhattan?
DI: Manhattan itself is too expensive to live in, and if you could afford it why would you really want to spend all of that money just to do so? Brooklyn and Queens used to be affordable alternatives, but now even those options are getting a bit much. For me it was either North or South, and I chose South because I had family in Staten Island, I was familiar with the borough and that ferry is actually pretty damn convenient.
I have a nice apartment that would cost be double the amount in Brooklyn and who knows what in Manhattan. Oh, and the icing on the cake is that I have a driveway for my car, so no more looking for spots on alternate sides of the street days. That alone makes the commute worthwhile. I have always said that for me, Staten Island is just far enough away from the craziness but just close enough when you really need it.