If you're casually walking along East 4th street unaware of your surroundings you will probably miss it.

The 'it' I am referring to is photographer Alex Harsley's 4th Street Photo Gallery. Harsley opened his modest gallery in 1973 around the same time he established Minority Photographers, Inc., a non-profit arts organization helping to establish up in coming photographers of minority backgrounds. The gallery is small, a bit cluttered with an abstract sculpture hanging from the ceiling, and under sits the tall and slender Mr. Harsley with a big smile.

Alex Harsley

His images range from street scenes in old Harlem, to portraits of his first client Muhammad Ali (whom he speaks of as being hilarious to be around). To Coney Island in the '60s, and stage side at a Nina Simone concert. Being in the gallery you feel a sense of knowledge of the images as if you've seen them before but you know you never have. In fact what you're looking at is the blueprints and footnotes of so many photographers and artists.

Alex Harsley

Alex Harsley was born in a small rural town in South Carolina but after some family turbulence, his Mother decided to move him up to New York. Harsley always had an attraction to photography, as a young child he was fascinated with the family camera and the action of how the camera works. He says he began his journey around 1958 as he points to one of his earliest images, a black and white photo of a street. Throughout his career, he has worked with and inspired the likes of Robert Frank and befriended icons like Basquiat. Before we started the interview he explained to me that he wanted me to truly get to know him and his traits of paranoia by watching a video he created splicing together dance performances, natural landscapes, New York street life, and news footage from the September 11 attacks as well as other acts of carnage around the world.

Alex Harsley

Once the hour long video of bizarre yet eye catching imagery was over I turned and asked him what was the message and he simply replied: "Honesty. I wanted to show how I view the world." He spoke of what it was he wanted me to know in grave detail such as who's a crook and what to do and not to do but oddly enough he answered my questions swiftly and nonchalantly as if they were minor inquiries in an otherwise greater life lesson. It had the resemblance of a '90s Disney TV movie where the young know it all get schooled by the elder who has experienced life and all its beauty while also being mysteriously well versed in tragedy.

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What is your favourite thing to capture in your work, what message are you trying you convey?

It's how I feel about things it's how I see things and how I respond to those things. That's what I basically started off with in terms of what I wanted to do in those directions with my work. It's like a writer I'm not a writer but I can write a photograph, and I have a special skill to do that. It took me a long time to realize a lot of people don't have that skill, I don't have to think about it I can just do it so at that point I realized that I had this interesting tool that I could use anytime that I wanted to, depending on the situation and what I could use it for.

Alex Harsley

What has photography taught you about life?

It taught me first and foremost to be honest. That's what I see, how that's interpreted is up to I would say the inner soul of me.

What advice would you give to any up and coming photographers?

Make a lot of money get comfortable then you can play.

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Mr. Harsely and I sat around surrounded by his vast body of work for about fifteen minutes after the interview. Wanting to soak up the skill set and genius of his work I looked around at all these images pulling and tugging at me to pay attention. I nervously began to open up to him about the struggles I deal with as a young hungry photographer looking to find success with my craft. I told him that I feel it's long road to truly getting to do what you love and he stopped me and said the single most important thing I have heard in a very long time: "it's all in your wording. I don't like to say the road is a long one I like to say it's an exciting one."

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