Feature: Cheryl Dunn Rolls With the Punches

January 08, 2018

“I live in NYC where the streets tell you stories if you are willing to watch,” Cheryl Dunn reports, as someone who reads the streets deftly, capturing a genuine essence by reacting quickly, much like the boxing champs she once documented in-depth for years. Dunn has embedded herself in many cultures and subcultures, contributing significantly to both street photography and documentary filmmaking. Rare is the artist whose purpose is to shine a light on her contemporaries and community, applying that breadth of knowledge to document her own field.

Through her filmic portraits of artists, Dunn tells the stories that will become legacies, including the seminal film, Everybody Street, about New York street photographers. As with all of her projects, both commercial and independent, she captures the heart of her subjects, grasping that fleeting glimpse of a person’s true soul. With the unique ability to capture that exact moment on film, she has a knack for nailing it, opening the door for emotional connection between subject and viewer. The subtly sensational Cheryl Dunn shared a few of her knockouts, explaining her lifelong focus: “These images reflect consistent themes: “aggression, freedom, protest, humor, resilience, the streets.” —Kristin Farr  

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Head in Crotch
Cheryl Dunn: This is one of my old boxing pics. I documented boxing in New York and New Jersey for about eight years back in the day and used it as a documentary subject to hone my skills, shoot fast, anticipate action, and fight for my territory.

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CD: This is classic East Village. His eyes are sad, it’s very cold, he sleeps on the street.

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Bronx Paddy Cake
CD: When my stepson was 10, he got into a fight at school. The hippy teachers thought he might be a flight risk if he was allowed to come on the class trip to the Bronx Zoo. That, of course, was ridiculous, so I offered to chaperone. All these little kids and parents took the train to the Bronx from the sleepy Berkshires in Massachusetts. He, of course, did not run away, and it was an aggressive day at the zoo. The kids got to see a polar bear eat a duck, a snake swallow a rabbit, and a mother beating her little son as she dragged him down 183rd street. Afterwards, I walked around to shoot, and happened upon this scene: kids playing and a little girl running around with a plastic bag over her face. Da Bronx.

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Costa Rica Dreaming
CD: My good friends built a treehouse on the Osa peninsula. We talked a few people into paying us to do photo shoots here over the years.

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Free Food
This was a few days after Hurricane Sandy. This boat washed up on the highway and someone spray painted “free food” on it. A woman walking her dog told me a guy with a food truck came out here to give people free food and water because they were cut off from everything for weeks and he just wanted to help.

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Women's March, D.C.
CD: I love her sign and her strong, confident eyes. She gives me hope for the future.

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Dash at the HOLE
CD: Now closed, it was a gay bar that was filled with all the derels wilding out. One night, when I was there, Dash ran in and said, “Cheryl, someone just punched me in the face. Take my picture.” So, here it is...

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Iggy Pop
CD: Iggy Pop, the ultimate reflection of the energy of this town. This shot was taken at ATP at an old borscht belt hotel in upstate NY. The likes of Sinatra and the Rat Pack played here in the ornate and now crumbling ballrooms… the whole place was filled with friends sleeping for the weekend in the soggy rooms next to a geese shit pond. It was epic.