His Pictures are Worth Over a Hundred Thousand Followers

A scientist’s city picture-taking hobby became a popular social media handle

| 05 Oct 2020 | 09:07

When Noel Calingasan moved to New York from the Philippines, he wanted to share his experiences here with his family and friends back home. A neuroscience researcher by day, he launched a photo-blog that turned into an Instagram handle that now has close to 120,000 followers.

With initials that, very fittingly, happen to be nyc, the Washington Heights resident posts daily under the handle nyclovesnyc. The pandemic has not stopped him from appreciating the beauty of our city. As of late, his vivid images include one of the Fearless Girl statue donning her mask on Wall Street to others of the floral wreaths an artist is laying in memorial of those who passed away from COVID-19.

It warms Calingasan’s heart to be able to capture the essence of the city for those who, like he once did, aspire to live in our city. “It gives me so much pleasure when someone says, “My dream of living in New York may never come true right now, but through your pictures, I get to experience what it’s like.””

What made you move to New York? Did you always want to come here?

I’ve always wanted to come here to the city. I used to live in White Plains; that’s where I got my first job, at the Burke Neurological Institute, which is also affiliated with Weill Cornell Medicine. And I used to come here every weekend just to see the city and also do some library work. Since that time, which was 1992, I have always been fascinated by the city and always wanted to live here, and that opportunity came in 2001 when a job offer came to me and I transferred to Weill Cornell Medicine in Manhattan.

What has your experience been with Instagram and when did you realize your handle was taking off?

When Instagram came, I decided to use that as my new platform to showcase my visual diary of the city. And the Instagram account grew and became a platform for me to share my love of New York City with not only my friends and family in the Philippines, but also with those who, just like me, wanted to live in New York from all over the world. And it gives me so much pleasure to share that with those people who have the same dream to come here. In 2014, I started hashtagging different feature hubs, which feature your photo for a day and then you get noticed and get more followers. And this included accounts of different television networks, including ABC7, and that’s when I got interviewed for their website and that helped me a lot too. In addition, some of my Instagram photos were included in the book called “New York City on Instagram,” which also helped.

In that ABC article, I read that you connected with many photographers through Instagram.

I used to attend Instameet, which is a group meetup in which we go to different locations and shoot different places together and learn from each other. I’ve met people who are real professional photographers, not like me, I’m just a hobbyist. They have inspired me with their work and have also helped me with my photography.

What are some of your favorite photos you’ve taken in New York?

Photos of Central Park at different seasons. Coming from a tropical country, the changing of the seasons to me is very special and Central Park is one of my favorite places to shoot that. It teaches me the importance of capturing the moment, because it will never be the same. It doesn’t stay there forever; it changes constantly. Capturing the moment is so special; that’s why I like photography.

What are some of your favorite areas to photograph here?

I recently discovered the different neighborhoods of Brooklyn. I have done all the touristy spots and landmarks. And I discovered neighborhoods, brownstones, ivy-covered houses; those have become my recent favorite things to shoot.

Do you ever have negative run-ins with people while taking photos?

I usually have a good experience and I try not to photograph people. Because I think I’m afraid of people. [Laughs] Sometimes I like to take portraits and a lot of people ask me to do environmental portraits of them with the sights in the background.

Do you sell any of your photos?

I don’t sell actively, but when I meet people who are genuinely interested, I sell them. So I have sold many already.

Tell us about the floral hearts that you photograph, which are laid in the city in remembrance of the victims of COVID.

I was so inspired by what [Kristina Libby] did. What she does is create floral hearts which she lays in different locations in the city and each heart is dedicated to a particular person or persons who reached out to her. She collaborates with 1-800-FLOWERS and they donate the flowers.

She did it in Times Square two weeks ago and then she reached out to me and said she is going to do it again in Bryant Park and asked if I would be willing to photograph the floral laying and that’s what I did last week. And she told me that she’s doing it every Thursday. Her goal is to encourage people to mourn together because we still don’t have the time to do that. We have never thought about grieving together and maybe that is one way of dealing with this pandemic.

Explain your job at Weill Cornell.

I do research in neuroscience and what we do is research related to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. We use an animal model in which lab animals are genetically manipulated to mimic the disease in humans. And we use test compounds or chemical drugs to see whether they are effective in mitigating the abnormalities in the brain and the behavior in these mice. And if they are, then maybe they can be used for clinical trials in the future.

Follow Noel Calingasa on Instagram @nyclovesnyc.