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BY WALL DONE, 30/07/2012

TITLE: The Urban Prisoner
AUTHOR: Matt Weber
PUBLISHER: New York Sanctuary Books 1994 

 "Weber calls this book 'The Urban Prisoner', and it's many pictures of tight, shallow spaces, together with the sense it gives that Weber got out of Manhattan only rarely and briefly, as though on day passes, justifies the title and a reading of the imagery of fences, iron bars, closed doors and the like as prison symbols." — Ben Lifson


I started driving a taxi when I was pretty young. I was twenty years old and had been a truck mechanic at a shop in Brooklyn. As a skinny kid, I could barely lift the truck’s tires off of their axles and I would come home exhausted with skinned knuckles. The minimum wage was $2.50 per hour and after taxes I was taking home $80 a week. Someone mentioned that I could make a better living driving a cab and I knew that being a mechanic wasn’t any fun, so I showed up at a taxi fleet in Long Island City.

The taxis were Dodge Aspens which were some of the worst taxis, let alone cars, America ever built. They were ugly underpowered vehicles but I was young and found cruising around NYC actually pretty cool. Even though I’d spent my entire life in New York, there were many neighborhoods which I had never been to and I felt like I was an explorer as well as a driver. I’m not sure if I’d ever been to the Bronx other than to see Yankee games. Maybe I had one trip as a kid to Staten Island.

After almost six years of shooting pictures while driving a cab, I realized that I was driving around New York looking for pictures more than I was looking for my next fare! I didn’t care about money and was behind on my bank payments for the medallion. I made what was one of the worst decisions I ever made financially, and I sold the medallion in 1990. I wanted to be a photographer and had been driving a taxi for over twelve years. The problem was I didn’t know how to shoot now that I was on foot and I guess I didn’t know how to walk as well as I did drive, so my work started to suffer. I would suffer from the photographic equivalent of “Writer’s Block” for many years and it would be the crazy decision to spend most of my savings on a pair of M6′s and a few lenses, that would help me make a comeback.

The Leica’s were something which I knew I might never buy if I waited till I could afford them, so I took the plunge anyway. I’ve often compared the decision to buy my Leica’s to buying a new sports car. You’ll obviously want to drive the sports car all the time and you’ll drive it more often, with more precision. If you have a new lover, you’re very likely to make more love and probably with considerably more enthusiasm. I suddenly loved the feel of this new camera in my hands. I wanted to shoot more pictures. I loved the precise focus which yielded razor sharp results. The quiet shutter was great too. 
— Matt Weber


The above is an excerpt from an interview by Bryan Formhals where Matt Weber reveals the complications of being a street photographer in NYC. You can read the whole conversation here.

The hardcover edition of the book is also available through Amazon.

All images © Matt Weber

Wall done MAGAZINE