Photographic Expeditions, Not So Far From Home

[Part Two—did you miss Part One?]

Soooooo, to make a long story longer, the idea of the NNYPC sounded perfect—a focused assignment to take pictures of specific neighborhoods in the city, mentorship by established architectural photographers, and a show at the end of it all.

With the best intentions, the Architectural League, I gather, must have let everyone in who applied—there were over 100 people. While that is totally fantastic as far as getting diverse views of the city, it meant the communication with the established photographers was pretty minimal, and the assignments were created on the fly without, I assume, too much preparation since the organizers were kept on their toes just keeping up with the logistics of so many participants.

The gist of the project is documenting how New York City has changed in the last 10 years. Here we are at the end of a decade of Bloomberg, nearly a decade since the Twin Towers were transformed into a gash in the urban fabric (still not healed), a decade of urban transformation. So our first assignment was to photograph this somewhat ineffable thing, how the city has changed, and to hit at least 3 boroughs. As far as I could tell (and I’m sorry I can’t show you the pictures yet), more people ignored the rules than followed them, so it ended up being a pretty freeform project.

Me, I like structure and the prospect of photographing the entire city of New York was just too much to contemplate, especially since the weather wasn’t particularly cooperative for part of the time. So I focused (ha) on finding things that weren’t there ten years ago, or were drastically different. And seriously, just wandering around my own neighborhood gives me vertigo sometimes. I literally got dizzy looking up at all the high rises along the East River. Where there used to be garbage dumps and squatters there are now glittering towers of condos. Weird!

I took most of my pictures in one huge photo-walk of a day, starting here in Williamsburg, walking up through Greenpoint and across Newtown Creek to Long Island City and Hunters Point, then under the East River to Times Square. Wshew!

[First round of photos.]

The second assignment was to photograph our own neighborhoods and two other neighborhoods—mine were Greenpoint and Ladies’ Mile (roughly the area between Union Square and the Flatiron District, which used to be lined with fancy-pants department stores 200 years ago). Greenpoint I have always found to be a photogenic neighborhood, so I was happy to go back there again. I miss some of the urban decay that’s been disappeared (like the huge factory that burnt down under suspicious circumstances), but there’s still plenty to be found , sometimes right down the street from glistening condo-pods, finished or not.

Stalled construction is one of the hallmarks of here, now. So many empty things, big and small. Sometimes I feel like I live in a soon-to-be ghost town, though the emptiness is too new to have any ghosts, unless you count the ghosts that were razed to make way for them, but nobody really does.

Anyway, Greenpoint (like Williamsburg) has changed pretty drastically since I’ve been here (the summer of ’93 for those keeping count), but Ladies’ Mile is a different story. I was happy to take a closer look at this neighborhood, since I’ve always considered Union Square the omphalos mundi (did I spell that right?) of my New York—14th Street is my decumanus and Broadway my cardo. So look again I did, camera in tow. But, yeah, that neighborhood is one that has changed almost not at all. Stores have come and gone (Whole Foods et cetera), but the lovely cast iron buildings along Broadway are pretty much unchanged. So I took pictures of what new things I could find, but it was a bit uninspiring.

[Second round of photos.]

So that’s the story. There will allegedly be a show (in January I think?), which you will undoubtedly hear all about.

The second assignment was made harder by the shorter days (and the colderness—too bad I didn’t yet have this), and here is the gloaming again. But I think the flurries are starting up here, so maybe I’ll take my camera out into the world for a bit now to see what I can see.



This entry was posted on Saturday, December 19th, 2009 and is filed under architecture, photography. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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