This Photographer Captures NYC’s Diversity through Its Gritty ‘No Parking’ Signs

June 9, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

New Yorkers are very territorial about their space, even when that space is on the side of a curb in front of a vacant lot. That’s what photographer Holger Keifel noticed on bike rides through the Bronx as he saw dozens of “No Parking” signs — unique in design, but singular in message: Stay out of my space. The diversity between the signs and their simple, no-nonsense message inspired a new series, “No Parking NYC,” which documents hundreds of the signs across the city’s 5 boroughs. The result is a collection of photographs that show the personalities of New York’s less gentrified (but still rapidly changing) neighborhoods.

Keifel, 52, is German-born but has lived in New York for over 2 decades. He has made a name for himself photographing detailed portraits of boxers and other works that are housed in permanent collections at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of the City of New York and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, among many other places. He seeks to turn the “No Parking” series into a book via a Kickstarter. ANIMAL spoke to Keifel briefly about what inspired the new project.

When did you start this project?

Spring last year.

What inspired it?

I love to ride my bike, and I just got a new phone so I wanted to check out out my camera. I combined these two and snapped some pictures [on my ride]. And then I recognized that there’s a lot of “No Parking” [signs] in the city. There’s no parking anywhere!

One day, I rode up to the Bronx, and I had a ton of new fantastic images, especially in Hunts Point. It’s really beautiful up there. I thought [the signs] could be a series. I’m a photographer, so I went out an bought a camera. I have cameras, but they’re all big and clunky and I want to enjoy my bike ride, I don’t want this big camera hanging around my neck. So I bought a nice compact camera and off I went. I shot a whole series with this camera….I shot way over 1,000 good images. It was really hard to edit it down to the book. The book has about 145 images.

What camera?

A Canon G16. I like to have control, and with this camera you can shoot manually, control the shutter speed, control the F-Stop.

What areas did you find the most interesting signs?

I have to say, Brooklyn, Queens — Long Island City — and the Bronx. I like the handcrafted, more individual signs. I wasn’t interested in official parking signs. The handmade and individually-made signs [capture] the attitude of the New Yorkers. Sometimes you have 4 or 5 signs within a few square feet just to make sure [you know]: “This is my property. Get outta here. Don’t even think about parking here!” That’s basically what comes through with the whole series. They protect their property and they really make sure people know it’s off limits.

Have you ever seen this in other cities?

I think it’s a New York thing. I mostly exclusively lived here over 21 years. But I talked to a friend — a New Yorker– and he moved to LA a few years back. And he was laughing and said, “Yeah, this is completely New York. In LA, it doesn’t exist.” But it’s a space thing, also, because I did the 5 boroughs and in Staten Island, it was really hard to find “No Parking” signs. Because, of course, there is space. You have space to park your car. You probably have a driveway. It’s a completely different thing than within the other 4 boroughs.

(Photos: Holger Keifel)