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Exclusive Interview with Steve Hoffman

Posted on August 31, 2023 - By Sandrine Hermand-Grisel
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Exclusive Interview with Steve Hoffman
Exclusive Interview with Steve Hoffman
Steve Hoffman is a documentary photographer who has who spent the last dozen years working with and photographing the people that live the housing projects in Coney Island. He was the winner of the July and August 2022 Solo Exhibition. We asked him a few questions about his life and work.

All about Photo: Tell us about your first introduction to photography.

Steve Hoffman: In 1990 I took a job in Manhattan . I live on Long Island, so I took the railroad every morning to Penn Station. Everywhere I looked in the station and walking to work I saw the homeless. After about 3 months I joined an organization as a volunteer called Coalition for the Homeless. Every Thursday evening, I drove a truck through lower Manhattan and with a small group made about 12 stops to feed people who lived on the street. After about six months I began to photograph the people, we were helping. I wasn’t happy with the results, so I enrolled in a course at the International Center of Photography . Where I learned the basics of photography as well as how to develop and print my own pictures. Many of the pictures I took over the next several years are in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York .

What started your career as a photographer.

I never really had a career in Photography. My entire career was in retail and manufacturing. Everything I did in photography I did on my own .


Steve Hoffman

© Steve Hoffman



Steve Hoffman

© Steve Hoffman



Steve Hoffman

A very loving couple © Steve Hoffman


What inspires your photography?

After several years photographing the homeless and doing my own printing . I felt my work was good enough to show . I made an appointment with the curator at the Museum of the City of New York . The museum purchased about 12 of my photographs . I was thrilled . I took these photographs to the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, and they also purchased several of my prints . I began to look for other groups in New York City to document . My next project was to work with the Lubavitch Hasidic Jews of Crown Heights Brooklyn . I spent about 2 years working with the Lubavitch and I had a solo show of this work at the Museum of the City of New York .I love to photograph people doing everyday things. I try very hard to get below the surface. I don’t always succeed but I keep trying .

What made you choose black and white ?

I just think the pictures that I take look much better in black and white . Also, I spent a lot of time looking at the work of Bruce Davidson. Ansel Adams and my absolute favorite is W. Gene Smith. His Life Magazine essays of the Country Doctor and his World War II essays are just magnificent . Another reason I chose black and white is the printing . I fell in love with printing I could spend hours and hours in the darkroom. I could work on a single photograph for weeks until I got it just right. Unfortunately, that is all a thing of the past.


Steve Hoffman

© Steve Hoffman



Steve Hoffman

© Steve Hoffman


How do you know when it’s the right moment to capture an image ?

I’m not sure . Sometimes it is just a feeling . I let the subject dictate the situation. They will do something put their hand near their face or turn a certain way and I know that’s the time to snap the shutter.

Why did you choose to photograph Coney Island and its people?

As a kid I spent a lot of time on Coney Island at the beach and on the rides . When I began the project, I was photographing the amusement park and the people that worked there . Unfortunately, the amusement area was very small, and I didn’t think it was very interesting . I had always been intrigued in those tall buildings along Surf , Mermaid and Neptune Avenues . The people that lived in those buildings I wondered what their lives were like . I spent time reading about the construction of public housing in Coney Island . Most of the projects were built in the late 1950’s and the early 60’S . I wanted to photograph the people in those buildings. After some searching I read an article in the New York Times about an activist that wanted to build a community center for the kids in the neighborhood. I contacted the journalist, and she was kind enough to give me his name . I called him and we hit it off and together we spent several years going through the building meeting people and photographing them. After several years he moved away, and I just continued on my own. Earlier I mentioned Bruce Davidson and one of things he did was give each person a copy of the picture he took of them . I decided to do the same thing . I spent time with people in their homes , on the street , in businesses, and most importantly in the churches in the neighborhood.


Steve Hoffman

Lubavitch © Steve Hoffman



Steve Hoffman

Lubavitch © Steve Hoffman


You have captured a lot of history of Coney Island in your photographs . Do you have a favorite photograph or a moment in time that stands out to you the most?

I had a small group show at the Brooklyn Museum about Coney Island . A group of kids from the neighborhood went to see the show and a girl saw a picture of her father in the show . The curator told me about it, and everyone was very excited about it .

How has your work evolved over the years?

I have become much more patient . I can spend hours just trying to take the right photograph . I don’t rush things as I used to . Also, I will speak to someone and ask to take their photo and they will turn me down. I know longer take no for an answer . I will go back maybe a week or a month or several months later and ask them again . Most of the time they will say Ok.

Do you spend a lot of time editing your work?

The answer is yes . During the Pandemic when we couldn’t go out, I reviewed almost all my Coney Island pictures . I found quite a few that are now some of my favorites. Also, I leave pictures and go back to them weeks or months later and see something different .


Steve Hoffman

Lubavitch © Steve Hoffman



Steve Hoffman

© Steve Hoffman


What has been the best experience of your career so far ?

The article in the New York Times about the project in Coney Island . Coney Island Beyond the Wonder Wheel. It was in the Sunday Times, and I was very excited about it at the time .

Have you had any challenging moments in your career?

Coney Island can be a dangerous place to work in . Gun violence is a very serious problem . I have had several very tricky moments . The thing that has helped me is always to be honest with the people you are dealing with. If you can do something, do it if you can’t make sure you tell them.


Steve Hoffman

Lubavitch © Steve Hoffman



Steve Hoffman

Lubavitch © Steve Hoffman


What advice do you have for someone who is new to the industry or wants to be a photographer?

I would tell them to learn the basics whether it’s analog or digital . Know what the F stop means . Learn what depth of field means . Learn how to use the ISO setting to improve your pictures . Also, how the shutter speed affects the image . Don’t be afraid to ask people to take their picture . You may be surprised how many people will let you .

What are your upcoming projects?

I know that the Coney Island project is coming to a close. I just haven’t decided about something new.


Steve Hoffman

© Steve Hoffman



Steve Hoffman

Hiding away © Steve Hoffman



Steve Hoffman

Wordly wise © Steve Hoffman


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