During a recent trip to New York I paid a visit to Coney Island, a sort-of neighbourhood amusement park located on the outskirts of Brooklyn.
There’s plenty of entertainment there - you can kick back on the beach, enjoy the rides at Luna Park, visit the New York Aquarium, or just grab some food and take a stroll down the boardwalk.
But while the attractions are interesting, it’s the people that really capture your attention.
For me, it was a guy called Larry that really stood out. When I came across him, he was entertaining people in the street with a marionette (pictured) made in his likeness by his friend Rick, complete with hair taken from his own head. While a bit on the quirky side, he was a really friendly and charismatic dude, and one of the few people there that were happy to pose for a few shots.
But it wasn’t until I did a bit of research back home that I discovered there’s far more to Larry than I thought.
For one thing he’s pretty famous. Known as “Larry the Birdman” thanks to the squad of pigeons which he’s more-or-less constantly surrounded by, he’s been featured on Humans of New York, “No Your City” - a mini-series on New York’s popular street entertainers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMRCNcV2chc) and has his own instagram hashtag, #larrythebirdman, featuring over 1000 posts.
But his story runs far deeper, and darker, than that. As it turns out, Larry has endured some horrific trauma in his life. Back in 1986, he came home from work to find two men had murdered his wife and daughter. In retaliation, he killed them both, and was subsequently imprisoned for twenty years.
I can’t even begin to fathom the pain and hardship he must have endured in the wake of these experiences. All I know is that this newly acquired knowledge drastically changed both my perception of him and the meaning of the photos I had taken.
What initially had seemed like an opportunity to capture a day in the life of a light-hearted, larger-than-life entertainer was now a reminder of the strength and resilience of the human spirit. The fact that he continues to strive to bring joy to others (his own words) despite suffering insurmountable pain in his own life is incredibly humbling to say the least.
This whole experience was a timely reminder that when it comes to people, there’s always more than meets the eye.
And that behind every face, there’s a story worth telling.