Kelly McCann arrived in Hell’s Kitchen in January 2020 with her husband, Cameron. She’s taken pictures of cities around the world, and loved the solace she could find in quiet, tranquil places with no people. When solitude became enforced, she says: “I really missed the energy and found myself craving it and wanting to photograph people. Be careful what you wish for, eh?”
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
We were in serviced accommodation on W42nd Street for a month while we looked for somewhere to live. Neither of us were very familiar with Manhattan, so we chose that location based on its proximity to Cameron’s work in Midtown. It didn’t take long for the lovely Landmark Tavern on 11th Ave to become our local, and we liked Hell’s Kitchen. Plus, we had just spent almost three years in Hong Kong, which meant moving from HK to HK was fate, right? So we stayed. We’re on W57th now.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
It’s got to be the diversity of the area. It feels like there are all walks of life within the Hell’s Kitchen grid, and there’s an inviting energy about it. The mish-mash of architectural styles and ages is appealing to me, and the odd mix of land use tells an interesting story. It has an edge.
Beyond that, Hell’s Kitchen feels connected. Obviously, I am new to the area, but it seems to me that the people here really are neighbors who know each other.
And don’t forget the dogs. I love dogs, and there are tons here.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
It’s too windy on my block. I mean, drastically colder and windier than one block further east. It’s a bit annoying, but I suppose I can’t really blame Hell’s Kitchen for that. I’ll survive!
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I’m a photographer, so I worked freelance on art photo commissions and the occasional interior photography job.
When lockdown began, I wanted to capture what was clearly a unique time in history, so I wandered the Manhattan streets with my camera. I have gathered the images into a self-published, fine art photo book, and I am now battling through the final proofing stages. So that, along with street photography, is keeping me busy.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
For most of my life as a photographer, I have tried to find calm, tranquil city images with very few or no people in them at all. I don’t know why; it’s just what I did. Maybe a rebellion against the chaos of places like London and Hong Kong. During the lockdown, though, when the streets cleared, I really missed the energy and found myself craving it and wanting to photograph people. Be careful what you wish for, eh?
I’m loving the colorful characters, the individual style, and the quirkiness of the people here. On top of that, Manhattan has this particularly unique and compelling light about it that is perfect for dramatizing the streets. So I’ve learned, or am learning, a new way of seeing, I guess.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
I think it’s witnessing the way that people have adapted to the situation. People have had to change the way they run their businesses and live their lives, which has been hard, but it’s also a testament to the determination that people can muster.
There’s a quote by Socrates that I noticed on one of those advertising screens in the Herald Square area that says, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Apt, I thought.
Beyond that, I’ve spent a lot of time roaming the streets, and one of the things that struck me the most was seeing the city lights that have stayed on — all the neons of Times Square and the lights on Broadway. It’s like a reminder of how things will hopefully be again, soon.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
I ate cakes baked by UK celebrity chef, Nigella Lawson, at Charles Saatchi’s house in London.
What’s your superpower? My unwavering commitment to keeping up with the almighty British soap operas, EastEnders, Emmerdale, and Coronation Street. Yes, it’s my guilty pleasure, and I will not apologize for it. That’s quite super, I think.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
Um, the last song I sang in the shower was ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ — which Google has informed me was originally sung by Betty Hutton. The version I sang was Bjork’s, though. It’s one of those that you really have to belt out; otherwise, why are you even bothering? And you have to sing the music bits in between the words. A treat for anybody listening, I’m sure.
Which people inspire you the most?
People who can induce emotion in others through their use of language, spoken or written. There are too many to list, and some are friends of mine. But a recent addition for me this year is social justice activist Tamika Mallory.
People that can go through life genuinely not caring what anybody thinks. Do they exist?
People who wear cool hats.
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
I was toing and froing between Doctor Who and Mark Twain. I’ll go with Mark.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” That one.
“Nothing quite broadens the mind like travel and British soap operas.” There’s one from me.
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
I would imagine that in normal times, Times Square would not be my favorite place. Tourist hubs are never much fun for residents, are they? I’m picturing London’s Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, or the entirety of Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong — overpriced food, tacky souvenirs, and too many aimless wanderers — am I close? But for now, from a photographic perspective, I do love what those massive colored lights do to the subjects below.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
Photography by Kelly McCann! My photographic work and info about my upcoming photo book is on my website: https://www.kellymccann.co.uk/
My Instagram — @itsphotoart — is updated regularly with Manhattan street photos: — I’d love to connect with more Hell’s Kitchenites over there (or is it Hell’s Kitchenettes?).
HELL’S KITCHEN HAPPY PLACES
The Landmark Tavern. I’ve always loved a good local, and this place has it all. It’s so cozy with all that beautiful dark wood and dim lighting. And of course, the landlords, Donnchadh and Michael, and the waiter, Pratap — all are brilliant for a good conversation about things that matter and things that don’t.
Empanada Mama. I love their empanadas! They have a great selection that I am working my way through.
Hudson River Park. I like running alongside the river in the morning. Water generally makes me feel calm and energized at the same time.
Anywhere that I can see the sunset. Hell’s Kitchen sunsets can be quite something, can’t they?
The streets. I can walk the streets for hours with my little Fuji camera. There’s always something new to see.