PDN Photo of the Day

Nighttime Rituals of the Meatpacking District

It’s not hard to apply the metaphor of predator and prey to the scenes in Dina Litovsky’s new series “Meatpacking,” which chronicles nighttime street life in the Manhattan neighborhood known for its fashionable nightclubs. There are herds of young women crossing cobblestone streets in short black dresses or warily checking their phones while they wait in line outside a club. Men alone or in pairs observe them from cars or pick them out as they walk past—one grabs the hand of a woman as she passes by as if fishing mid-stream. But the roles that men and women play are more complex than pursuer and pursued. Instead, Litovsky’s pictures show a marketplace of attention, sexuality and power, where Tinder culture mixes with a heightened version of street life. As Litovsky writes in a statement about the series, “The rules that govern the city during the day are suspended; the act of looking, concealed in the daytime, is brazenly celebrated. Women, navigating the jagged streets in high heels, are confident of their presentation but unsteady in their step. A barrage of compliments and whistles accompanies them as they make their way through the space.”

Litovsky spent three summers photographing in the neighborhood, which was once known for its gay nightlife and transgender sex workers before becoming increasingly moneyed, “transformed into an ostentatious, high-gloss carnival for the young, single and heterosexual,” Litovsky writes. Dressed in jeans and flip flops, she positioned herself where the light was good, since she wasn’t using much flash, often pretending to be on her phone to distract attention from herself. To find good subjects, she tells PDN by email, “I observed the people around me and would stick to the ones I thought would fit those ideas. For example, if I saw a young, very well (and scantily) dressed woman walking alone there would almost surely be a lot of male attention directed at her and I’d just have to be patient to capture that. But I also left a lot to chance, for example some of my favorite images, like the woman in a wheelchair or the young women crowded together at a nightclub entrance, were totally unexpected.” Shooting with a Nikon D3s and either a 35mm f/1.4 or 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Litovsky often hung around the hotdog carts, which “would wheel in around 11 PM every night and occupy all the corners of the street.” They became a meeting spot, “a place where people would wait for their friends, take a break, check their phones or just stand by to people watch. That’s also where a lot of single guys would wait for women to cross the street. And luckily for me, the hot dog carts were very well lit and provided a spotlight-like lighting for the area all around them.”

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