ED YOURDON DIES, LEAVING BEHIND A REMARKABLE COLLECTION OF UWS STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

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A self-portrait by Ed Yourdon.

Upper West Sider Ed Yourdon, who died on Jan. 20 at the age of 71, was well-known for his achievements in computer programming.

But he was also a prolific and skilled photographer. In particular, he loved to take pictures on the Upper West Side, finding a quiet spot and using a telephoto lens to capture people walking around the neighborhood. Yourdon would shoot hundreds of frames of people going about their business, making connections, saying goodbye, having a laugh; then he’d go back and find the most dramatic or telling shots, posting them on photo-sharing site flickr.com. There are thousands of his photos there, and they will hopefully stay on the site or at some other public archive, because they bring the neighborhood to life in a unique way.

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One of Ed Yourdon’s last photos, taken in October through the window of Earth Cafe at 97th and Broadway.

Yourdon went all over the world but many of his pictures are from the neighborhood, including large sets taken on 96th street where he lived and in busy spots like Verdi Square (72nd and Broadway). Here’s an explanation he gave about the photos in one recent set:

“I live on a street corner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where there’s an express stop on the IRT subway line, as well as a crosstown bus stop, an entrance to the West Side Highway, and the usual range of banks, delis, grocery stores, mobile-phone stores, drug-stores, McDonald’s, Two Boots Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Subway, 7-11, and other commercial enterprises. As a result, there are lots of interesting people moving past my apartment building, all day and all night long.

It’s easy to find an unobtrusive spot on the edge of the median strip separating the east side of Broadway from the west side; nobody pays any attention to me as they cross the street from east to west, and nobody even looks in my direction as they cross from north to south (or vice versa). In rainy weather, sometimes I huddle under an awning of the T-Mobile phone store on the corner, so I can take pictures of people under their umbrellas, without getting my camera and myself soaking wet…”

Because Yourdon would remain incognito much of the time, he could capture candid moments. And he enjoyed adding quirky captions to the shots, making his own interpretations of the motivations of people in the photos. These can be off-putting, depending on how one feels about privacy and photography (some may also be offended by the fact that the people, including children, are sometimes depicted in photos posted on flickr without them knowing it). A man who may or may not be looking at a woman ahead of him is having “unpure thoughts,” he jokes. At the same time, others might see the comments as the funny musings of a friend sitting on a bench and commenting on people who walk by. He wrote a little more about his philosophy on another set of photos.

“As I indicated when I first started this project nearly four years ago, I don’t like to intrude on people’s privacy, so I normally use a zoom telephoto lens in order to photograph them while they’re still 50-100 feet away from me; but that means I have to continue focusing my attention on the people and activities half a block away, rather than on what’s right in front of me. Sometimes I find an empty bench on a busy street corner, and just sit quietly for an hour, watching people hustling past on the other side of the street; they’re almost always so busy listening to their iPod, or talking on their cellphone, or daydreaming about something, that they never look up and see me aiming my camera in their direction…

With only a few exceptions, I’ve generally avoided photographing bums, drunks, crazies, and homeless people. There are plenty of them around, and they would certainly create some dramatic pictures; but they generally don’t want to be photographed, and I don’t want to feel like I’m taking advantage of them. There have been a few opportunities to take some “sympathetic” pictures of such people, which might inspire others to reach out and help them.”

There are a few more choice shots below. The moon was shot from 96th. Here’s more about Yourdon’s contributions in the world of computer programming and his flickr photostream.

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ART, HISTORY, NEWS | 16 comments | permalink
    1. fartface says:

      Hello Bill Cunningham!

    2. Ananda says:

      Amazing street photography!

      • Mary says:

        Lovely photos.
        Please tell me that’s a real moon!

        • Josh says:

          Ha — I had the same thought (after the kerfuffle over competition winner with fake moon).

          • Mark says:

            Like the winner, real moon, fake photo.

            From his notes: “I then used Adobe Photoshop Elements to extract just the moon out of that photo, and pasted it into this HDR composition in a separate “layer”, which I was then able to enlarge to a ridiculous extent.”

    3. Danny I says:

      Fantastic photos by an accomplished photographer. Ed your work will live on as your legacy as well as your goodness to those u touched in life, especially on the UWS. Rest in peace, sorry I never met u.

    4. 21D says:

      Great article and photography. I’ve been thinking lately, Is a picture “worth a thousand words”?

    5. Toni Nash says:

      Ed would be delighted with this. Photography, particularly street photography, was his great passion. Thank you.
      Ed’s family

    6. Very impressive. Excellent photography.
      Had no idea that we had next door to us
      such brilliant individual.
      We will miss him.

    7. Lucien Desar says:

      These are great photos and capture everyday life. In 40 years from now people will look at these as historical documentation of this era.

    8. Terri Meyer says:

      Ed Yourdon was an amazing photographer. His passing is an incredible loss, but what a legacy of photos he leaves behind!

    9. Bruce Bernstein says:

      thank you for this. Apparently the corner he lived on was 96th and Bway.

      I was a software developer in the 80s and most of the 90s, and we studied and used Yourdon’s work. he was a giant in the field and made large contributions to the efficient and stable engineering of computer systems. most people come into contact with his work, built into much of the modern software code base, without even realizing it.

      On the Upper West Side, we rarely think about who it is we are passing on the street. I might have walked past Yourdon taking photos on the Bway median and not given it a second thought.

      it is a shame that he died relatively young. Condolences to his family and a tip of the hat to this outstandingly talented and accomplished West Sider.

    10. Susan says:

      I met him on the street and I was struggling with my photography. He was so patient and gave me some much needed tips. Who knew. Great story.

    11. Jennifer (Yourdon) Coffey says:

      Thank you for this article and for all of the wonderful comments and anecdotes.

      Ed’s daughter,

      Jennifer

    12. Francesca says:

      Ed’s photos are amazing,ironic and poetical in the same time… wonderful! Meravigliose!
      Thank you, grazie, Ed

    13. nancy neva gagliano says:

      tremendous condolences to Ed’s family. he was such a brilliant and generous soul, and patient with his knowledge. my friend and i met Ed in 2012 during a photo workshop in Taos, and we were both such novices compared to all the others. Ed was always there with encouragement, suggestions, and extra batteries! over the years, i’ve followed his posts on FB, instagram, flickr, and appreciated his eye, his narratives, his sharing of the world in the best way.

      clearing up Facebook connections, i noticed nothing from Ed there for some time…so i checked instagram and saw his family’s sad news.
      a dear and gifted human being touched many, many lives…
      and: well, rational words seldom ease feelings.