By Allan Ripp
Walking briskly around the Central Park Reservoir earlier this year, I passed a short man in a floppy sun hat hugging the railing while loosely holding a long-lens camera and looking out over the water from the northern end of the path.
His presence barely registered, given how many people trek to the Reservoir for selfies and postcard views – at least not until an hour or so later when I realized he was still standing in the same spot on my third pass around, and again on my fourth.
Over subsequent weeks, whenever I went out in the morning, there he was at his post facing south – it didn’t matter whether it was 5:30 as the sun was coming up or 8:30 if I got late start. There was something Zen about his calm stance and gaze.
Finally, on a quiet morning recently, I put on the brakes and said hello, noting how often I’d seen him and asking whether he was a professional. He nodded politely, explaining he was a cameraman for Japanese television, but photographing in the park was his passion, and this coordinate on the northwestern tip of the Reservoir perimeter was his preferred station.
He welcomed further discussion by email, where his son could help translate. He shared his Instagram so I could check out his work and texted me his name: Takamitsu Muroi. “Call me Taka,” he said.
At first his account – wildcpnyc – wasn’t searchable and I wondered if the pictures were stored in his brain. But after a few tries it appeared and was an immediate revelation: a streaming portfolio of poster-quality photographs showing New York as a naturalist wonderland.
There are scenes of falcons soaring and swooping, geese gliding in formation and paddling around with their goslings, cormorants and turtles sunbathing, herons and ducks taking flight from the glistening water, chipmunks drinking, a field mouse stretching on a twig, butterflies and mantises in repose.
Expertly composed, the images are rendered with exquisite light and color across all seasons – New York has never looked so pristine and unspoiled.
Many of the moments are set against the backdrop of familiar landmarks – from the San Remo, El Dorado, Beresford and St. Urban apartment houses on the Upper West Side to the jagged skyline of Midtown north and the George Washington Bridge (proof that Muroi moves around from time to time). There are even glimpses of One World Trade Center rising dreamily like a rocket ship from the bottom of the island seven miles away.
He especially likes the interplay between the city and its animal residents, birds in particular. Thus, the water towers, apartments, Reservoir maintenance sheds and other urban structures are as much the stars of his photographs as the egrets, seagulls and hawks flying past them.
In one image, a family of ducks is profiled in silhouette perched on the East Side edge of the Reservoir, with a pastel sunset view of the El Dorado and Central Park West lined up perfectly through the gaps in the iron fence posts.
“Basically, I try to photograph any type of bird with the buildings of New York City in the background – that is my goal,” Muroi emails me. Amazingly, his Instagram has fewer than 50 followers.
A Tokyo native, the 58-year-old Muroi learned film and TV production at an art technical school in his hometown and became a go-to camera operator for news and entertainment broadcasts. He traveled to Africa more than 30 times shooting one popular wildlife series. He moved to New York in 1996 at age 32 to marry an Asian-American woman named Stephanie, now a preschool teacher in TriBeCa. The couple live in the East 90s with their 16-year-old son, Ray.
Muroi began regular visits to the Reservoir early in the pandemic as a destination close to home and to keep close tabs on his favorite habitat. He rarely shoots with his phone, relying on a Sony DSC-R 10M4, a compact, high-speed autofocus camera with a zoom range of 25X, well suited for capturing sudden Reservoir takeoffs and landings, as well his intimate portraits of geese and their offspring.
He usually arrives before 6 am, to capture what he calls “oblique light” and enjoy the solitude. The early starts helped last winter when he was on the lookout for bald eagles that for a brief time made the park their hunting grounds.
“I love my spot because I can see One World Trade Center perfectly,” he writes, thereby setting a challenge for those who pass by to find the tower peeping through the other high-rises. He has the stamina to stay in position for up to six hours, shifting his feet but otherwise on guard for what might come by. Occasionally, he’ll return in the evening for a second show.
For extended periods when the action is light, he has little trouble keeping his eyes and attention occupied. “I watch the ripples and reflections of the water, the clouds, and the lighting around the trees and buildings,” he says, a good recipe for meditation.
Muroi is selective about his postings. He figures he’s taken close to 30,000 photographs of New York, yet his Instagram feed currently shows less than 500, making him an uber-disciplined editor of his own work. Still, he hopes to produce a book one day and makes sure that all his photographs bear his name for copyright purposes, though for now he hasn’t made even a single print.
He knows New York’s skyline has become gaudier and more crowded but isn’t bothered by the mega-development. He’d rather focus on how the light plays on the buildings and finds inspiration in the blue, orange and red tints that strike at various times. His most unexpected sight? “Sunshine reflected on One World Trade Center – it was so bright and beautiful it looked like another sun,” he writes.
Muroi has only had one unfortunate encounter on all his outings. Around 9 AM one morning this past February, someone punched him, which he believes was an anti-Asian assault. He had the composure to take the man’s picture and was driven to several police precincts – one in East Harlem and the other in the park – but no one has been arrested.
His dedication is obvious but it’s worth asking what else he does for enjoyment or fulfillment aside from photography. “I do not have anything else,” he says, but adds, “I do love wine and sake.”
I ask how he feels after one of his marathon sessions, observing and photographing. Is he energized? Tired? What does he do?
“I eat breakfast and drink coffee, then I rest,” Muroi writes. “I am excited about the photos I have taken that day, physically tired, and content.”
Allan Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York.