top of page


February 26, 2024



Photography by Amy Horowitz
Interview by Bill Lacey

The look. The eyes. Expressionless, yet intimately revealing. Something below the surface, waiting to be revealed. Youthful, individual, all with a story to tell. The captivating portrait work of Brooklyn-born photographer Amy Horowitz and her “Don’t Smile” project highlight the rich diversity of a generation unafraid of individual expression. Set against a backdrop in New York City’s West Village, Amy captures something honest and pure, not distracted by a reflex reaction to a raised camera. Instructing her subjects to avoid smiling, she is able to pull back a curtain and explore an unexposed depth not immediately visible.

Overcoming a shyness to approaching strangers and with a 50mm lens in hand, Amy is frequently found photographing in Washington Square Park. When meeting her in person, she exudes a warmth and trusting aura, helping to set her subjects at ease. A veteran of the advertising world, she has a keen eye for spotting the uniqueness of individuals. Inspired by Diane Arbus and Mary Ellen Mark, Amy’s work reflects curiosity and empathy for her subjects, often photographing them more than once when the opportunity presents itself. Her daily walks in the culturally rich neighborhoods of NYC expose her to many young adults, typically students from nearby liberal arts universities.

“On the surface, there was a vibrancy, a specific mix of joy, defiance, morality, kindness, and a bit of despair, that I like to think is tinged with hope. Underneath the dyed hair and accessories, tattoos, and thigh-high boots, stands someone’s son, someone’s daughter, a human with hopes and vulnerabilities. While we’re all trying to find our way in the world, the beauty of these people is in their self-expression.”

Amy's portraits stand as a testament to the courage it takes to be truly seen. Each frame a narrative, each photograph a celebration of raw humanity. We invite you to delve into the visual anthology of urban youth, a collection of moments where the mundane transcends into the profound, sparked by the click of Amy's camera.

“Okay, look in my eyes, and whatever you do, don’t smile.”


THE PICTORIAL LIST: Hello Amy, so happy to have you part of The Pictorial List. Welcome! Please start off and tell us something about yourself. What would you say first drew you to photography?

AMY HOROWITZ: Hello. Thank you for including me on “The List.” I’m honored and very grateful to be amongst such talented photographers.

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, near Coney Island and my family moved to the New Jersey suburbs when I was six years old. After graduating college, with a major in Mass Communications and a minor in Psychology, I moved to New York City to pursue a career in advertising. There my clients included Coca Cola and Cover Girl. After working for about eight years, I married, moved back to the suburbs, got pregnant and chose to be a stay-at-home mom. Eighteen months later, I was pregnant again, this time, with twins. The three of them sparked my interest in photography, as is the case with most new parents.

Photography resonates with me as I find it to be fun! Once my children left home, I was able to devote more time towards learning about it and improving my technique. As a creative endeavor, photography keeps me focused on the present. And I believe it helps me to concentrate, even when I’m not shooting. My mind often feels like a computer with multiple windows open all at once. When I’m taking pictures, I don’t feel that way. I feel calmer and directed and I like that. I enjoy photography because I can do it on my own, which is important to me in terms of managing my time. When I’m feeling inspired, I can immediately act on my creative impulses.

TPL: How would you describe your photography, and what would you say you are always trying to achieve artistically? How do you hope people feel when viewing your work?

AMY: I shoot street portraits in New York City, primarily in the West Village and Washington Square Park. I’m looking for people who catch my eye: who stand out to me in some way. I’m looking for something genuine. I see myself in my subjects, and I hope others viewing my portraits also see parts of themselves as well. Happy with my own company, and more introverted than social, I still long to connect with the outside world, albeit, in small doses. Photography allows me the opportunity to meet and engage with people I otherwise wouldn’t without a camera in my hand. With my photography, I hope to tap into emotions and traits that we all share…hope, despair, longing, success, vulnerability, sadness, and passion, etc.

I hope my pictures make people stop and really look, and in some cases, look again and again. I’d like to think that people are spending time trying to discover the person in the portrait through various details in the image, like body posture, hand placement, location, expression, clothing. There is a little bit of every photographer in each of their images and mine are no exception. I hope that viewers of my work also see themselves, as we are all the same at the core, with hopes and dreams, and vulnerabilities and strengths.

TPL: What have been some of your favorite places you find inspiration to explore through your photography, and what draws you there?

AMY: My favorite place to shoot is Washington Square Park in the West Village of New York. The park is filled with people from all walks of life: NYU, Pratt, Parsons, and New School students, parents with their children, artists, musicians, drug addicts and random people strolling through or taking a break, sitting on the benches, taking respite from the busy city streets. Welcoming and relaxed is how I would describe the park. I’ve met and become friends with many other photographers and “regulars” there, so much so, that it feels like a second home.

I find it to be the best place to find people to shoot for my “Don’t Smile” project, as many I approach are also artistic and want to support fellow artists. The young adults I meet there are individual in their style and make for interesting portraits. In choosing who to ask for a portrait, I’m always looking for “something soft underneath the shell” but I also hope they have something of interest about them as well, whether it be colored hair, spiky boots, tattoos, or something as simple as ripped jeans or an interesting, patterned shirt.

TPL: What have been some challenges that you have faced as a photographer in NYC?

AMY: New York City, itself, doesn’t pose any real challenges for me as a photographer. I find the opposite to be true as the shooting opportunities here are endless. Averaging about five or six miles of walking a day, I find that I always come upon the unusual, and the extraordinary, whether it be a protest, a celebrity cooking in a food truck for charity, a dance group practicing in public, a pet rabbit on a leash, a snake around someone’s neck, or even a cyclist balancing a garbage can on their head. I find it all delightfully entertaining.

When I first started shooting portraits, the only challenge that I faced was within myself. I was a bit nervous to approach strangers and ask for their portrait. I distinctly remember seeing a person that I knew would make a memorable portrait and I just told myself that if this is what I want to do, I must face my fear and just go back and ask, which is what I did, and they said ‘yes.” After taking a few shots, I quickly scooted off, without even asking their name. I did this several more times with others and eventually became comfortable approaching strangers.

TPL: What is the camera you are using now, and your preferred focal length? And, how involved in post-processing do you get? Do you try to get the shot in camera or refine the raw image in Lightroom or similar?

AMY: For my “Don’t Smile” project, I’ve been shooting with a Nikon Z7 digital camera. My preferred lens is a fixed 50mm. My aperture ranges from f1.8mm to f2.5mm as I always want both eyes in focus. I always shoot manually and focus on the eyes.

I always try to shoot the best image I can, but always edit. Henri Cartier-Bresson is the only photographer I’ve heard of that never manipulated his photographs after he shot them. I do a quick pass in Lightroom and then refine my edits in Photoshop. For me, it can mean the difference between an okay shot and an extraordinary one. At times, I’ve even changed orientation. Primarily, I shoot portraits vertically, but have, at times, cropped horizontally, to create tighter, more impactful images.

TPL: What’s an important lesson you have learned over your career?

AMY: One of the best lessons I’ve learned is that you can’t succeed unless you try. I was nervous approaching strangers for their portrait, but I did it. I was reluctant to share my work on Instagram, but I did it. Computers used to be challenging for me, but once I learned Lightroom and Photoshop and printing, I’m able to manage it all. Thank goodness for customer service! Once I saw the incredible images in Gulnara Samoilova’s Women Street Photographers book, it was a goal of mine to be part of that community, so I entered their Open Call in 2022 and became a finalist for the first time.

Photography keeps me in the moment with no room to think about the past or worry about the future.

TPL: Do you have any favorite artists or photographers you would like to share with us and the reason for their significance? If you could just choose one photographer to shoot alongside for a day...who would you choose? And why?

AMY: Diane Arbus and Mary Ellen Mark are two of my favorite photographers. Diane Arbus’ work reflects a reverence and sympathy for her subjects. Mary Ellen Mark photographed some of her subjects over the course of decades, building trust and taking a real interest in their lives. In fact, she offered to pay for college for one of the runaways she photographed, called “Tiny”, but she had refused.

Both photographers have greatly influenced my photographic experience. For my “Don’t Smile” project, that I’ve been developing for the past several years, I shoot primarily young adults on the cusp of adulthood. Many I run into and photograph again and again. It’s interesting to see how their looks change from season to season and year to year. It’s nice to catch up and see how they’re doing. We follow each other on Instagram to stay connected.

Many are very creative, pursuing careers in fashion, film, music, art, and the like, and I follow their efforts, struggles and successes. I’m happy when a person I’ve photographed tells me excitedly that they are modeling at Fashion Week, or got signed by a modeling agency, or are arranging flowers in Virginia, or are interning with a famous music group, or looking to apply to art school, or got hired as a DJ at a famous club.

I love when they tell me that they love their portrait, and that I caught them at a low point the day I took it, and they look at the image now and they don’t feel that way anymore. And I’m sad when I see them posting that it’s a dark time for them and that they are struggling mentally and/or are having a hard time making ends meet. I feel good when I shoot someone who clearly used to self-harm, with razor cut scars visible on their skin, but now they are thriving, feeling mentally stronger and pursuing new goals. I find the trust and connection that develops with many of those I photograph, to be tremendously rewarding.

Mary Ellen Mark once said, “I realized all of the possibilities that could exist for me with my camera: all of the images that I could capture, all of the lives I could enter, all of the people I could meet and how much I could learn from them.” I totally relate to her words.

There are so many talented modern day street portrait photographers whose work I admire and find inspiring, like Rob Bremner, Billie Charity, Ilana Rose, and Lewis Gant. I would love to spend a day with all of them, but I came upon Richard Renaldi’s book, Touching Strangers, and found it to be deeply moving. For this project, Richard approached and asked strangers to physically interact while posing together. This work is all about human connection.

Like Renaldi and most portrait photographers, I’m an observer. I think we look for something of interest on the outside, but search for an inner authenticity in our subjects. There’s a trust and engagement necessary between the photographer and those they photograph. Beyond that, there’s a certain compassion we feel and expose through portraiture. Renaldi’s work speaks for itself in that regard. So, Richard, if you’re reading this, I would love to spend a day learning from you and watching how you work.

TPL: What role has the digital community played in your photography journey thus far?

AMY: The support I’ve received from the digital community, specifically Instagram, has been tremendous. A bit nervous to put my work out there, I made a year of “Don’t Smile” portraits before I created an account and began posting my work. I don’t remember if it was my becoming a finalist in the annual Women Street Photographers Annual Open Call for the first time in 2022 or an invitation from Danny Jackson to interview me on Street Badass that helped increase my visibility, and ultimately “followers” on Instagram. Most recently, Roma Street, another photography collective, has been very supportive of my work, often sharing it on their Instagram “stories.”

Equally as important as the people viewing and following my work, are the incredibly talented pool of photographers that I “follow” and support. Each morning, I spend a couple of hours “traveling the world,” as I call it, looking at and analyzing images made by photographers all over the globe. I learn something from all of them.

It is a wonderful community of creative individuals, many of whom I now call my friends. I’ve had walks in New York with photographers visiting the area from Israel (Iddo Pedahzur), London (Mish Aminoff Moon), Italy (Andrea Morani) and Florida (Adrienne Marie). It’s so interesting to see other photographers shoot, what they look for, what their eyes see, and if they shoot covertly or go up and ask like I do. I’ve had a wonderful photographer, Harry Williams, from San Francisco, send me a copy of his book, “Eye See You”, as a thank you for supporting his work. Marcos Queiro and Nina Go, both artists, have used my portraits as inspirations for their artistic creations.

TPL: How do you educate yourself to take better photos?

AMY: When I moved to New York City, I took several classes at The International Center for Photography. Through the “Grammar of Photography” series of classes, taught by Christopher Giglio, I learned about famous photographers and what sets them apart, as well as what makes a photograph truly special. In class, we would look at hundreds of photographs and analyze them. The experience helped me see in a new way. There would always be homework and the Professor would critique everyone’s work in front of the whole class. I learned to take better photographs by looking at other people’s work, and by trial and error. I try to shoot every day.

TPL: What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you?

AMY: My passion for photography has been rewarding to me in so many ways. It has broadened my world. For decades I’ve been focused on others, primarily my family. Now, I can focus on myself and devote the time it takes for this craft. Also, I love to walk and wander, and observe. I’ve always been that way and for many years that part of me was put on hold.

Photography keeps me in the moment with no room to think about the past or worry about the future. It feels almost meditative, calming, in fact, until which time I find someone or something interesting to photograph and then my adrenaline fires, and the stimulation of knowing I got a good image takes hold. And there are times when I’m out shooting and I’m not sure of the quality of my images until I import them into my computer. Editing at the day of the day is a treat as I find the process to be relaxing and creative

Interacting with the people I shoot has been remarkably gratifying to me. Having the camera in my hand opens the door for interactions with people I otherwise might not have met. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve found the photography community to be caring and supportive and have made many good friends.

TPL: Are there any special projects that you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?

AMY: I’m continuing with my “Don’t Smile” project for now. I’ve thought about choosing another demographic or location for my project, but I just don’t feel the need to end this project yet. I have shot “Don’t Smile” portraits in my travels abroad and found it both challenging and fun to ask people to not smile when I don’t speak their language. Usually, I let them smile, as they’re inclined to do, take the shot, and then use my hand over my mouth to illustrate, “don’t smile”.

My goal is to publish a book of my “Don’t Smile” images. I put together a hardcover coffee table book for myself, during Covid through Blurb (in Lightroom’s Book module) and loved the experience of curating my images.

AMY: “When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…

I enjoy spending time with my family. My interests have remained the same since I was younger: exercising (I’ve been a Pilates enthusiast for years) going to the movies, Broadway shows, art galleries, and museums. I love meandering through cities, observing, and looking for inspiration. While I love doing these things with family and friends, I’m quite comfortable doing all of them by myself.”

Amy Horowitz's camera serves as a window into the souls of urban youth. Through her "Don't Smile" project, Amy has embarked on a journey of discovery, venturing into the streets of New York City's West Village to seek out the stories waiting to be told. In the faces of her subjects, she finds a kaleidoscope of emotions – joy, defiance, vulnerability, and resilience – each one a thread in the rich tapestry of urban life.

But beyond the surface, beyond the facade, Amy uncovers something deeper, something more profound. In the quiet moments between poses, she glimpses the innermost thoughts and desires of her subjects, revealing truths that words alone cannot express. Each photograph is a chapter in a larger story, a testament to the courage it takes to be truly seen and understood.

Amy Horowitz remains steadfast in her mission – to capture the essence of humanity, one frame at a time. So, as we navigate the winding streets of life, may we be inspired to see the world through Amy's lens – with wonder, with empathy, and with an unwavering belief in the power of the human spirit.

read more
interviews >>>