Gayle Kirschenbaum’s artistic career is characterized by imagination and joy, now visible in her newest display of creativity, her ongoing photography exhibit. In a lively but dimly-lit room of the Tavern on Jane, Kirschenbaum’s work illuminates the neighborhood bar with great streaks of orange and gold. It is easy to forget just how special New York scenes can be, and Kirschenbaum’s saturated lens reminds us of their exquisite beauty.
“I hope that they would walk away happy, and invigorated. And feel the beauty of New York that they might not have seen before, and enjoy the vibrancy of the city, and what I see,” Kirschenbaum said.
When you step into the Tavern on Jane, its walls are lined with Kirschenbaum’s bright photos throughout the entire space. The first thing the eyes are drawn to is the sharp shapes caught by Kirschenbaum, and the intense colors filtering through them.
“I love color, I am crazy about color... I just see the relationship of colors. And I see the relationship of shapes, and perspective,” said Kirschenbaum. “So I capture that, and I love it.”
Kirschenbaum’s photographs are often taken when the sun is about to set, acting “like a goddamn paintbrush.” She said, “it is saturating those colors because it is lighting them up... Just what [the sun] does to the environment is unbelievable. That’s why they call it magic hour, right?... It creates these shadows, and these shadows in themselves, are beautiful shapes and patterns that are created. So it is really, for me, a great time to shoot.”
She even added that when previously working with black and white film, she would use paint to enhance her work and create the hues she loved.
Kirschenbaum’s website explains her role as, “a Filmmaker / TV Producer / Writer / Photographer / Coach and Speaker.” This is her second solo photography exhibit. She has created her own films and written, directed, and produced for others, but she began as a graphic designer. In 2015, her film “Look At Us Now, Mother!” became one of her most important pieces of work.
She has won an Emmy and her own moments on the TED Talk stage. “I am two things, creator and communicator,” said Kirschenbaum.
Yet channeling a prolific career into a photography exhibit surprised many who were unfamiliar with her work in visual arts, despite being a natural progression for Kirschenbaum herself.
“I’ve been drawing since I was a child. So, visual arts was my first form of expression... I went to art school and I started studying photography. When I had my first solo exhibit which was in 2020, right before COVID, people said, ‘oh my god, you do that too?’ It was dormant, but it came back.”
Photography During COVID
For her, photography felt like a natural outlet during the pandemic.
“I could do [photography] without having to raise money and need a team, and during COVID all that is problematic. And my time [was] limited because I’m also caregiving for my mom now.”
Kirschenbaum’s belief that “everything we learn in life, our skills are transferable,” is evident in her own career.
“I never went to film school ... I never studied film ... I think it’s really important because I have moved around, I have done so many different things,” said Kirschenbaum. “I’m finishing up my first book, I’ve never written a book before... I have a need to express myself. In whatever form that’s going to be.”
In all, her work has one clear goal. “I love when my work brings people joy. I love when I can make people happy or help them. Obviously, when I’m out teaching forgiveness, I’m helping people... I love to bring joy and make people happy, and I see beauty and want to share it.”
As for the subject matter, New York came as naturally as the other factors involved. Displaying photographs of New York to New Yorkers is an essential element of the exhibit.
“I am a born and raised New Yorker. I have traveled all around the world, and there is no place like New York. I feel very happy and lucky to be a New Yorker and to be in New York, and I’m super proud. The vibrancy of our city, the life of our city, the acceptance,” Kirschenbaum said. “There’s just so much life, there’s so much creativity, it is so stimulating of a place to live... it’s just endless, it is a place where we are allowed to create. It is a place where we accept each other.”
After New York’s difficult years facing the pandemic and endless losses, Kirschenbaum hopes to play a revitalizing role in appreciating the city. “Instead of remembering tough times,” she says, “it’s about looking forward and seeing beauty and enjoying that.”