An Interview with Photographer Lanie McNulty

Interview By Lindsay Hunt

At Red Rooster Harlem, the art is an essential part of the experience. The choices that Marcus Samuelsson and his team made in curating the space and the artistic objects that fill it enhance the entire experience.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lanie McNulty, a talented photographer who has three beautiful photos from her Lifted Up in New York City project in Red Rooster. Lanie's project began in 2004 and represents her personal exploration of faith and worship in New York City.

Visit her website at www.LanieMcNulty.com and head up to Red Rooster to enjoy her stunning black and white photographs.

How did the project start?

I think the world has a view of New York City that is kind of like a gritty, sinful, godless community. I think maybe Frank Sinatra said it best, "If you have problems, if you want to achieve something, it's all up to you." And there's not a perception that there's a need for a spiritual being, but you can do it all yourself.

I was one of these people that always felt like I had a spiritual hole, and I tried many things to try to fill that spiritual hole, some healthy and some not so healthy.

I was in my mid-30s and it felt like my life had changed for the better over night. But, I felt a bit alone. I wasn't ready to leave New York, so I said, Okay, so I've got to reconcile these two lives. Being in New York and being a Christian.

What inspired the first picture you took for the Lifted Up project?

It was at a church in Lower Manhattan. I started taking pictures there because one day I was done praying, and I opened my eyes and across the balcony and there was a woman and she just had one hand in the air and one hand across her heart and she was singing her heart out and I thought "that is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, and I've got to photograph that.

What are people's reactions to your work?

I think that people's reactions to my work vary across the board, and a lot of it has to do with where people are in their spiritual journeys.

I've had people across the board saying to me, "what are people doing with their hands up? Please explain this to me." Or people will ask what people are doing in the photo, lying prostrate on the ground.

People have been blown away [by the photos], because it's so foreign.

And I've had people cry. It strikes a chord, because of something they long for, or something they have experienced.

I don't get angry or dismissive responses, I think mostly, people are curious. That's kind of what I hope for. Even if one thing looks familiar, there will be another picture [that makes someone think] "what is this person doing?"

Why is it important to you that your work is in Red Rooster?

It's really special to be here at Red Rooster. I admire what Marcus is doing here - It's what I'm trying to do with my photography.

It seems that what he's doing here is going on a journey, and taking people on that journey, saying, "let's explore what Harlem is." It's a multi-cultural, dynamic place, that's still in the process of becoming. That journey seems to be a very personal journey - Marcus is doing it as an insider.

As you look around the restaurant, it's his personal photographs, objects he cares about, his food, reflective of so many different experiences in his life. In a way it makes you vulnerable. So now he's becoming part of what Harlem is. In a way that's what I try to do, photograph as an insider.

Do you have a goal or a takeaway from your project?

And at the end of the day you hope that you have something to say that either will make you personally stop and rethink assumptions, or expand your understanding of something, or start a dialogue with people who have very different views.

That's what I hope most of all. It's nice to think you could have the perfect composition, the decisive moment, but for me it's so what does one picture or a group of pictures, can they start a dialogue?

This interview has been edited and condensed.