Big thanks to Interview Magazine and writer Ngozi Nwadiogbu for this very nice piece on my new book (click on photo):
Bill Hayes: How New York Breaks Your Heart
February 15th – March 17th, 2018
Opening Reception: Thursday February 15th, 2018, 6-8 p.m.
Steven Kasher Gallery presents the first ever exhibition of photography by Bill Hayes. A love letter to New York City, the exhibition How New York Breaks Your Heart features 24 black-and-white and color photographs. Hayes photographs ordinary New Yorkers at their most expressive and at their most fleeting, bringing the texture of the city to life. The exhibition launches the publication of a book of the same name, published by Bloomsbury, which features 150 photographs from the series woven through with Hayes’s lyric reflections.
Hayes cites Garry Winogrand, Peter Hujar and Diane Arbus as his artistic influences. Much like Arbus, Hayes photographs people on the streets of New York at close range with a straight on composition. But as the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out, “[Hayes’s] photos are reminiscent of Diane Arbus’ street portraits, the difference being that Arbus was drawn to the strangeness in people while Hayes is drawn to their warmth and beauty.” Former United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins says, “It’s in these ocular embraces that we feel the humanity and the beautiful eccentricity of individuals being revealed. Hayes gives us glimpses into the souls of the city’s characters in these arresting on-the-spot portraits.”
Street photography purists seek invisibility and don’t engage with their subjects beforehand. On the contrary, Hayes always ask his subjects if he can take their picture, creating a momentary intimacy. “I want to create portraits, but taken on the spot, on the fly, with no set-up or props, and only using natural light.”
Bill Hayes is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction and the author of four books, Sleep Demons (2001), Five Quarts (2005), The Anatomist (2009) and the critically acclaimed memoir Insomniac City: New York, Oliver Sacks, and Me (2017).
Bill Hayes: How New York Breaks Your Heart will be on view February 15th-March 17th, 2018. Opening Reception: February 15, 6-8 PM.
Steven Kasher Gallery is located at 515 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10001. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 AM to 6 PM. For inquiries, please contact Cassandra Johnson, 212-966-3978, [email protected]
“Frank, beautiful, bewitching…” – The New York Times
Available in paperback on Tuesday, January 16th (in taxi-cab yellow).
Wherever books are sold. Or, order your copy here.
“How New York Breaks Your Heart. . . immortalizes ordinary people in the city that never sleeps.” – The New York Times
“A photographic love letter to New York City and its people that is sparse in text but loaded with images and feeling. . . . Hayes succinctly and sensitively traces what he has identified as the stages of falling in love with New York and getting one’s heart broken by it. . . [An] affecting portrait of the city’s vibrant people, and the social and solitary effect of living among them.” – Publishers Weekly
Available for preorder. On sale February 13, 2018.
*Starred review, Publishers Weekly: “The River of Consciousness”
“Acclaimed neurologist Sacks (1933-2015) demonstrates the range of his knowledge of evolution, biology, chemistry, medicine, neuroscience, and the arts in this collection of 10 essays he was working on before his death in 2015. The book is a tribute to his appreciation of all that’s beautifully complex in humans…. Readers will feel a sense of gratitude for [this] extraordinary work that Sacks left behind.” Publication date: Oct.24, 2017 (Knopf). Now available.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Stephen Metcalf, Critic-at-Large for “Slate,” about my book “Insomniac City” at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May 2017. The interview is now available as a 55-minute podcast on iTunes–click here
Many thanks to the Sydney Writers’ Festival.#SydneyWritersFestival, Bill Hayes, Insomniac City, Slate, Stephen Metcalf, Sydney Writers Festival
What a nice surprise to see “Insomniac City” on Amazon’s list of “The Best Biographies & Memoirs of the Year So Far” – Many thanks to Erin Kodicek and Omnivoracious, the Amazon Book Review:
“The late, great Oliver Sacks was so famously private, he didn’t divulge that he was gay until his memoir, On the Move, was published, shortly before his death at the age of 82. Granted, this revelation was one of the least interesting things about him. Sacks was widely beloved, which is saying something for a scarily brilliant, yet somewhat reclusive neurologist. But his childlike wonder and ability to wrap our brains around the complexities of everything from music to migraines to the cancer he succumbed to, was infectious, and the graciousness–and extraordinary gratitude–with which he accepted his terminal diagnosis earned him even further admiration. It stands to reason, then, that Sacks’s life partner must be pretty remarkable as well, and Insomniac City provides ample proof. In this affectionate and magnanimous memoir, author and photographer Bill Hayes pays tribute to their relationship, and provides a paean to one of the other loves of his life: New York City. Hayes’s contagious regard for the Big Apple makes you almost believe that getting lost on the subway is a happy accident (almost!), and his Humans of New York-esque vignettes inspire the same esteem and faith in humanity as Brandon Stanton’s blog of the same name. Add to that a couple of delightfully unlikely cameos from Björk and a black-eyed Lauren Hutton, and you won’t want to sleep until the last page of Insomniac City is turned. Somewhere, Oliver Sacks is smiling.” –Erin Kodicek
“O’s Brain”- Australian Book Review, June 2017
By Suzy Freeman-Greene
When Oliver Sacks began seeing Bill Hayes in 2009, he had never been in a relationship. He wasn’t out as a gay man and hadn’t had sex for thirty-five years. Sacks, the celebrated author and neurologist, was almost thirty years older than Hayes, who had moved to New York from San Francisco after the sudden death of his partner. The two visited the Museum of Natural History and went for walks in the Bronx botanical garden, where Sacks could expatiate on every species of fern. When Hayes gave Sacks a long, exploratory kiss on his seventy-sixth birthday, the older man looked utterly surprised. ‘Is that what kissing is?’ he asked. ‘Or is that something you’ve invented?’
Hayes’s luminous memoir, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and me, is full of such startling questions. For Sacks’s mind – erudite, deeply scientific, yet with a childlike sense of wonder – must now process the mysteries of love. He caresses his lover’s biceps: ‘they’re like … beautiful tumours’. As he watches Hayes do his daily push-ups, he counts them by naming the elements: titanium, vanadium, chromium. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could dream together?’ he asks Hayes one night in bed.
This is a memoir bookended by deaths. It begins with the loss of Hayes’s partner, Steve, who died in bed of a cardiac arrest at just forty-three. It ends, as we know it will, with Sacks’s death from cancer at the age of eighty-two. The prose is poetic, deeply felt, but never mawkish or prurient. Between journal entries about his life with Sacks, (or O as he calls him), Hayes writes about the people he meets and photographs as he roams Manhattan and rides the subway: Kenneth, a young man in a business suit quietly weeping on the train; Ali, who runs the local tobacconist; Sunny, a Sri Lankan taxi driver who declares he will remain a virgin until married.
At first I was so greedy for time with O that I almost resented these tales of New York, where life, as Hayes puts it, ‘is a John Cage score, dissonance made eloquent’. But they grew on me. They are finely observed. In depicting a wider, grittier world, they ensure this memoir is outward-looking, never self-absorbed. Given the curiosity and generosity of spirit that characterised Sacks’s writings, this seems apt.
Still, it is O who is the star of this book, or more precisely, O’s brain. He savours words like ‘triboluminescence’; gets stoned on cannabis chocolates, then forensically describes his hallucinations; plays Schubert on the piano, though half-blind; and marvels at the ‘living geometry’ of the local skate park. As the pair listen to Bach one night, he says, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a planet where the sound of rain falling is like Bach?’ There are lovely anecdotes about his brushes with fame: a lunch at Bjork’s house in Reykjavík – like something from a fairy tale with its staircase made of whale rib bones – and a hilarious encounter with the model Lauren Hutton, who latches onto Sacks at a chamber orchestra concert. (‘Hey doc, you ever done Belladonna?’) O hasn’t a clue who she is.
Hayes, in turn, is teaching O new things, like how to share a life with someone and how to open a bottle of champagne (which O does wearing swimming goggles, just in case). In closely observing the world around him, he is moving through his grief over Steve’s death. The tall trees outside his apartment window fascinate him. Whipped by wind, rain, and lightning, they are ‘not fighting this storm but yielding to it’. Their species, he notes, has evolved to survive.
The last fifty or so pages of this book – so tender, intimate, restrained – are painful to read. A recurrence of a melanoma has metastasised to O’s liver. He takes the news calmly (he is not interested in ‘prolonging life just for the sake of prolonging life’). Soon after, he writes a list of eight and half reasons to remain hopeful. ‘1. An easy death (relatively). 2. Time to “complete” life’, and so on.
After surgery to cut off the blood supply to the tumours, O is in so much pain he keeps tearing off his hospital gown. Hayes calms him by reading from a book on the elements. As his condition worsens, O either rests or writes with his fountain pen and notepad. ‘The most we can do is write,’ he reflects, ‘intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively – about what it is like living in the world at this time.’ He gradually lets go of everything inessential, barely eating, keeping his eyes closed when not writing.
When O’s breathing slows, in the last phase of dying, Hayes clears away the medical detritus littering his room – the oxygen tank, the pads and medications – and brings in the things O loves: his books, his ‘beloved minerals and elements’, his fountain pens, a fern, a cycad plant, and a ginkgo fossil.
Later, when the funeral directors have taken O’s body away, Hayes returns to his own apartment. He feels ‘tired, grateful, peaceful, battered, sad, wise, old’. Once more, he is grieving in New York. But he has made something beautiful and wise from his sadness. After finishing Insomniac City, I started looking at trees, really closely, and I found myself uncharacteristically chatting with a woman from Lahore on my morning bus.
Suzy Freeman-Greene is the Arts and Culture Editor of The Conversation.
Many thanks to Catherine Conroy for this very nice piece in this weekend’s Irish Times: