An Englishman in New York, part two

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Above the description of Bell and his previous works posted in the gallery is Bell’s own self-portrait in New York. His right hand reaches out in front of him, and his black jacket blends into the buildings behind him, as if they are one and the same. The sun hits the side of the building and shines right into the lens as the brightest part of this black and white portrait. Not smiling and looking straight into the camera, he must be angling himself and the camera together, because the Empire State Building and the other behind him are almost fully included in the picture as they reach up towards the sky. The photograph was taken on May 12, 2010 in East Midtown, Manhattan. Most of the other photographs in the exhibit feature the person in their workplace or wherever it is that plays a part in who they are, and this placement of Bell in front of the most famous building in the city, in almost the very middle of Manhattan, makes him not only a participant, but the center of his gallery.

Zoe Heller, An Englishman in New York
If you were to continue along the gallery, moving through it clockwise, the photograph following this description and self-portrait is of writer Zoe Heller, most well-known for her novels Notes on Scandal and The Believers. But in this picture of her sitting on a metal stoop by the street in Tribeca, all she looks like is a New Yorker. She’s sitting at an angle on the corner of the stoop, with her right arm propping up her face and her left draped across her knees. Her black converses are loose and untied and she has what looks like a tattoo on her upper right arm. She wears a watch on that hand. She seems like she’s waiting—waiting and looking for who ever she’s waiting for. Her eyes are focused past the camera, but it’s her nose and her lips that draw attention to her face—her nose strong and catching light, her lips full and patient. She’s wearing large, but thin, silver hoop earrings that are mostly hidden by her curly brown hair. She looks like anyone you might pass on the street in New York: casual and creative. In her quote hanging next to her photograph she says, “There’s a mythology here that anything is possible. With so many things, I’m torn between the appeal of that American hopefulness and a kind of English realism.”

Hanging next to Heller is a color portrait of the Detective from the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, Martin Speechley who says, “As a NY City police officer I don’t just live in the city, I’m a part of it… the NYPD is like a big family. Inside the Englishman in me is still there.” The next wall is one of the short ones in this rectangular room, filled with all color photographs. Here we meet playwright Sir Peter Shaffer and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Sir Mark Lyall Grant. Then, as the only portrait oriented photograph, hanging in the very center of the wall, is one of Thomas P. Campbell, the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This photograph compliments its center status with a symmetrical border within. This border is made of ancient Egyptian ruins, familiar to any New Yorker as the top floor exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Through the doorway of this ancient wall covered in carved hieroglyphics stands Campbell, facing the right but with his head and upper body turned the ninety degrees toward the camera. Dressed professionally in a suit and tie, with black framed glasses on his nose, you can see even more of the same ruins surrounding him. Anyone who’s familiar with the successful British comedian John Oliver will notice a very strong resemblance—a round but serious face, a small straight-lined mouth, and slightly graying hair. In his description to the left, Campbell’s quoted as saying, “I first came to New York in 1985 as a student. I fell in love with the city’s international cast of characters, the scale of the extraordinary buildings cheek-by-jowl with the most rundown, God-forsaken, almost forgotten areas… This is such an exciting country to live in. By living in New York and going back to Europe regularly I have the best of both worlds.”

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