Two limbs can tell a lot about a city.
Photographer Stacey Baker navigates New York with her eyes cast down.
But unlike most of us, she’s not looking at a smartphone screen. She’s looking at women’s legs.
Baker, the associate photo editor of The New York Times Magazine, launched Citilegs in March of 2013, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a chronicle of the most interesting legs in New York City, photographed from the waist down and captioned only with the cross streets where Baker discovered them.
On her Instagram account, @stace_a_lace, she’ll often add the featured woman’s handle, but publicity, Baker says, is not the point of her photographs. In a city as jam-packed as New York, her images—which Kehrer Verlag will publish in book-form this July—are a bit of simplicity. “It’s just the woman’s legs, the wall, and the location,” she tells CityLab. “That’s it.”
Framing the body in this way certainly draws attention to the legs—but instead of deploying this heightened awareness for titilation, Baker used it to address a sense of self-consciousness. “As women, many of us are very critical of ourselves; we always want something we don’t have. In my case, I always wanted longer legs.” So instead of pining after them, she began documenting them.
At first it was a here-and-there venture; Baker didn’t initially set out to make a project of it. But she soon fell into a pattern. “As you’re walking around New York, you see so many people and you notice what they’re wearing; their legs and their hair,” she says. “And I thought: wouldn’t it be far more interesting to take a uniform approach to documenting all of it?”
For Baker, that meant doing a lot of looking, both for radical legwear-and-footwear combinations (lycra features prominently), but also for walls. Wall-scouting has become a veritable industry among the urban fashion blogger set, whose feeds are full of bright patterns and colorful graffiti (Instagram’s head of fashion, Eva Chen, runs an account devoted entirely to “photogenic walls”).
Baker, instead, zooms in. She places her subjects against subtler backdrops—weathered brick, textured cement—that nevertheless convey something essential about where she photographs her subjects. She tells CityLab that in getting up close and personal with New York’s footpaths, she’s become more attuned to how they index the city’s stratification.
“I live on the Upper East Side; I’ve noticed that on Park and Madison and Fifth avenues, there is no gum on those streets,” she says. “But outside my office building on 40th, and up in Harlem, it is just pockmarked with gum; the walls are dingy and scraped.”
It’s the latter type of scene that features more prominently in Baker’s images. Her favorite place to photograph is 125th Street, in Harlem. “I wanted to shy away from the types of places and folks that are photographed a lot,” she says.
In her nearly three years of documenting the legs of New York—both by seeking subjects out deliberately and stumbling upon them on her way to the grocery store—Baker has photographed only a handful of women more than once. One woman she came across during the Pride parade wore black and white strings laced up her legs to the bottom of her tiny red shorts; Baker photographed her again on 125th street wearing something completely different, and didn’t recognize her until the woman mentioned she’d photographed her before.
“I guess I don’t pay much attention to people’s faces,” Baker says.
Which, after all, is part of the beauty of her images: they’re an entirely different way of paying attention to the city. Other urban photography blogs—Humans of New York, in particular—place equal importance on captions, but by limiting hers to the location alone, Baker leaves open the possibility for her followers to take a broader look at the streets around them.
“The viewers can bring to the photos whatever they want,” she says.