Re-visiting My In Crossing Portfolio; How to Love Learning Photography

September 24, 2022

When rebelling against the grain helps you discover your voice

In Crossing by Charlie Naebeck. All Rights Reserved.

In 2015 I was burnt out on commercial photography. My work in fashion left me drained. There were many grueling hours that everyone wanted me to put in for the perfect image.

I worked sixteen-hour days, barely slept, and hated everyone’s opinions of my work.

They would say, “oh my goodness, this image is so perfect.”

I would see many people strive to hide their imperfections. I thought, why hide what makes us human? But then again, this multi-billion dollar industry brainwashes all in the name of the almighty dollar. Who am I to throw a cog in the machine?

Every time that I touched Photoshop, I cringed. Another high-pass image out the door where someone has no pores, I thought. Another digital liposuction for someone’s insecurities. Another clean-up of someone’s drunken night before a shoot. And I swept all the secrets under the digital rug.

My job paid me well, but I was very dissatisfied with the work. I was born to lie about my images. I was not photographing the truth. But then again, what is truth in photography?

Starting In Crossing

by Charlie Naebeck. All Rights Reserved.

I was in the streets of Manhattan when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign that said, “What’s stopping you?”

A million and one thoughts surfaced about how I wanted to quit my job falsifying photographs. And I thought to myself, what is stopping me?

I stopped for a moment and saw the literal reflection of myself in this advertisement. It dawned on me that this felt like a triumphant moment, so I pulled out my camera to document it.

Strangers on the streets (above), and a Mother’s love for her child (below) by Charlie Naebeck.

I have always had a love affair with light throughout the years I have photographed. If I see a great light, it does not matter what the subject is; I photograph it.

The above images were the gateway to what would become “In Crossing.” I had a goal in mind that I would shoot the anti-fashion. I would shoot in the streets with my voice. My intention was to share images closer to the truth without the hours and days of manipulation. In my heart, I wanted to return to my values instead of being an art director out for reads and profit.

I looked at these images together and drew in my sketchbook like a football coach forming the next play. I was going to make my next book.

Throwing the spaghetti to the wall to see if it sticks

Moto vs taxi vs my student by Charlie Naebeck. All Rights Reserved.

Long ago, an Italian friend introduced me to his Grandmother, who invited me to dinner.

I volunteered to help make the meal as a good guest should. My friend’s Grandma said in broken English, “would you like to test if the pasta is done?”

I agreed to help test when she picked up a clump of cooked pasta and flung it at the wall.

She should have been a pitcher for the New York Yankees with the velocity that the pasta hit the wall. I started in disbelief.

She turned to me and explained that to test if the pasta was al dente, her Mother taught her to see if it sticks to the wall. If it sticks, it is done. And if it does not stick, it needs more time.

I smiled and thought to myself, this is life. You have to test to see if the spaghetti sticks before you go forth.

As I started to photograph for my “In Crossing” book, I tested many experimental techniques. I tried to think of everything that a traditional photographer would not do.

This led me to shoot from the hip and at many unconventional angles. It was my big F-U to fashion.

I did not want the ‘perfect’ image.

I wanted something creative that spoke to my soul.

In the image above, I walked back from Union Square Park after teaching a class with my students. I saw the motorcycle from the corner of my eye next to a taxi. I thought it was an exciting combination for a race in my imagination. I shot blind from my hip with my camera pointed in the general direction of the scene.

What resulted spoke to me. It was a typical New York moment where you have people in the streets every day but do not interact with others. I introduced the interaction of the moto, taxi, and my student in one frame, and a question was born. Why don’t people interact more in their daily lives?

The boots

The Boots by Charlie Naebeck. All Rights Reserved.

As my experiments continued, I made it a point to expand what I photographed. I was far from interested in beauty. I wanted real moments that spoke to me.

I would walk the fourteenth street in Manhattan on my way to and from classes at a school I taught. One day I was walking and crossing under some scaffolding. Most New Yorkers make the mistake of never looking up. They may be too busy, in a hurry, or non-observant. I tried to always remember to look up.

When I looked up under the scaffolding, I saw a pair of feet dangling in the summer breeze. I wondered who they belonged to. Were they having lunch? Was it someone that climbed the scaffolding to take a rest? Or was it a mannequin?

I did not have time to investigate, but I did have my camera in hand and made the shot. I like to think that the boots are happy on a summer’s day.

The man with the cigarette and newspaper

Man with cigarette and newspaper by Charlie Naebeck. All Rights Reserved.

Every day I walked towards The Highline on the fourteenth street, I would commonly see a man with a cigarette and a newspaper.

I was always curious why he decided to sit on the stairs of the same building scowling at his newspaper. His cigarette was always in his right hand, drifting into the breeze. And he reminded me a bit of my Grandfather.

For many weeks, I wanted to stop to say hello but could not pull the courage in my gut to approach him. I felt like he would be the type to scream, “get off my damn lawn, you crazy kids,” at me, which stopped me.

One day I realized that he was not there on several walks toward the Highline. I wondered, did he pass away? Did he move? Maybe he decided that his sofa in his home was more comfortable to read the paper on.

But I never saw him again.


Cat in a backpack by Charlie Naebeck. All Rights Reserved.

Like the gypsy cat in someone’s backpack above, I felt that my street photography saved me. It kept me from the familiar feeling that I was a number in a system to make someone else’s vision.

Work always works, but we all need something to feed the creative soul for balance. And for me, I photographed 8,532 images over one year in the streets of New York City.

My book, “In Crossing,” explored the idea of interactions and human nature.

If you are someone like me who struggles with the idea of ‘perfect’ imagery, I would highly suggest going out to the streets and having an adventure.

I wrote about the twelve benefits of street photography here if you want to see how it can help you improve your photography.

And if you would like to see more of my “In Crossing” work and support me as a photographer, I recently made the book available for the first time digitally here:

In Crossing - by Charlie Naebeck

It is $9.99, and proceeds go to helping me create more content to inspire photographers as a teacher. My other books are also available on Gumroad now for digital download.

Have you struggled as a photographer also? Let me know how you work and what you do to overcome it in the comments.

Happy shooting!

Hi, I am Charlie Naebeck
I am a husband, professional photographer, teacher, life coach, and digital nomad. 
Voted in the top 10 photography teachers in NYC. Top photography writer on Medium. I also have written for The Phoblographer, Adorama, Dpture, and more.
I travel the world with my family and camera giving others the gift of photography. I also consult with businesses to help develop content creation strategies for business engagement.
Contact me here to book a session.
Download my digital classes and Ebooks here where I provide many valuable insights and tips. 
If you like what you read, please consider giving me a follow on Medium.
Thank you!
P.S. If you are interested in how I got to this point in my life, read my story here.

Re-visiting My In Crossing Portfolio; How to Love Learning Photography was originally published in Photography101 on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.