Patience, Battery Park, New York City, New York, 2009
Crowds line up every day to board the boats that will carry them into New York harbor to visit the Statue of Liberty and the Immigration Museum at Ellis Island. On this day, it was bitterly cold, with freezing rain and snow flurries. These people have been patiently standing in line, waiting their turn to enter the security tents prior to boarding their boat. I see in their faces patience, endurance, and a touch of resignation. All of these attitudes are human values, and are mutually shared by the New Yorkers and visiting tourists who face such waits in lines all over the city. In the post 9/11 world, New York tenaciously protects its national treasures, and if its visitors must stand in line in the cold because of it, so be it.
Manhattan, from Ellis Island, New York City, New York, 2009
I made this image through a window in the great hall that once held hundreds of European immigrants as they awaited entry into the United States. Manhattan is only a few miles across the harbor, but to many immigrants it must have seemed very far away. They had to wait in long lines to be questioned, examined, and cleared for entry, and some of them were turned away and sent back to where they came from. In this image, the Empire State Building, once the tallest building on earth, dominates the midtown skyline. By the time the Empire State Building was built in 1930, Ellis Island no longer processed immigrants. It was then used as a deportation center, closing in 1954. They were left to decay. The building on the left remains a ruin – only the main building has been restored to its original appearance, and reopened as an immigration museum in 1990.
Echoes of the past, The Registry Room, Ellis Island, New York City, New York, 2009
Twelve million immigrants passed through this tiled hall between 1900 and 1924. Today it echoes to the footsteps of thousands of tourists. Many of them are the descendants of those immigrants. By abstracting the visiting tourists down to silhouettes and shadows, and converting the image to timeless black and white, I symbolize the American journeys that began in this room 85 to 100 years ago.
Gramercy Park, New York City, New York, 2009
The New York Times called it “The Ultimate Neighborhood Park.” However it is always locked, off limits to everyone except neighborhood residents with keys. But through the magic of photography you can enjoy the view from the West end of the park. In the foreground is a monument to Samuel Ruggles, who purchased the land for the park back in 1831, when it was part of an uptown farm. Ruggles envisioned a community built around a central square owned by the neighbors, and that is what it remains today. I fill the image with the warmth of the late afternoon light, precious greenery, and a background of elegant apartment buildings.
Consolidated Edison Tower, New York City, New York, 2009
Built in 1928, and designed by the same architect who created the famed Plaza Hotel, the Consolidated Edison Tower is the home of the city’s major electric and steam utility. Instead of photographing it in its entirety, I abstract the face of one its famous clocks by blocking 9 hours of it with an adjoining red brick apartment building. The late afternoon light warms the gray stone and intensifies the warmth of the red brick. The vertical flow of windows on the brick building complement the horizontal windows of the Tower. The key to this image, however, is the huge stone urn topped with a flame. There are four such urns on the Tower, and their flames symbolize the origins of the company itself. Consolidated Edison, New York’s electric company, was originally known as Consolidated Gas.
Signage, The Bowery, New York City, New York, 2009
The Bowery, formerly New York’s skid row, is being gradually gentrified. A sign for the times fills the side of an entire tenement building, which sports a façade painted in complementary colors. The result: an incongruous blending of 21st century advertising with 19th century architecture.
Graffiti, The Bowery, New York City, New York, 2009
The fire escape and windows of this tenement building become almost invisible in this image – the vivid colors and bold designs of the graffiti energize the structure as it expresses the culture of the neighborhood and creates a layer of folk art upon the architecture of another era. By underexposing the image, I deepen the colors and make the building recede even further into the background.
Dream House, The Bowery, New York City, New York, 2009
The Germania Bank Building was built in 1898, when the Bowery was middle class and German. To the casual passer-by, it appears to be abandoned. However photographer Jay Maisel purchased the entire building 42 years ago for $102,000 – and has lived in what New York Magazine calls “A 72-Room Bohemian Dream House” ever since. Six stories and 35,000 square feet of living space hosts Maisel, his wife, daughter, studio, and galleries. And there’s even a working elevator, the original 1898 copper cage. In 2005, Maisel’s home achieved New York City Landmark Status. The Bowery is being gentrified and the city wants the exterior to be graffiti free, but the building remains a mecca for street artists. Maisel has given up scrubbing his walls. While preserving part of New York’s 19th century history, he provides contemporary folk artists a canvas for expression. For this image of Maisel’s home, I use a wideangle lens to embrace as much graffiti as I can, and layer it with a lonely bicycle.
Obama Rising, The Bowery, New York City, New York, 2009
This is the most fascinating image I was able to make during seven days of shooting in New York City. Walking through the Bowery with fellow pbase photographers Tim May and Judy Tillinger, I came upon this spontaneous, layered, and ultimately accidental work of art on the wall of a building at the corner of The Bowery and Houston Street. It all begins at the top, with the remains of a Barack Obama campaign poster by street artist Shepard Fairey. Another street artist later “enhanced” it with vivid red, brown, and green coloration. Such modification is only fair, after all, because Fairey himself had based his poster on AP photographer Mannie Garcia’s shot of Obama at a press conference. Time, chance, and the weather then complete the picture before us. Additional posters and ads were later pasted over the enhanced Obama poster – the intersection of The Bowery and Houston Street is one of the busiest on the Lower East Side, and that wall is a prime spot for advertisements. On the day I appeared with my camera, those posters and ads were in shreds. Yet the top of Obama’s heroic visage can still be seen, rising above a world of chaos. A bit of bold graffiti comes into play as well – a steel plaque commemorating artist Keith Haring’s famous Bowery Mural a few yards to the west, has been obliterated by an indecipherable scrawl. And even that seems quite fitting. When Obama thanked Fairey for contributing the poster to his campaign, he told him “your images have had a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign.” Fairey responded by noting “…and that thing about stop signs? He’s kind of endorsing graffiti, isn’t he?” My own image finds shadows that add dimension, sculpting the torn posters and ads into abstract art. I add still another layer of expression, and in the process, I close the circle with photography. What began with Mannie Garcia’s image of Obama has ultimately become my own photograph of Obama Rising, with Shepard Fairey, the sun, wind, rain, and various unknown graffiti artists acting as my transformational agents.
Young chef, The Bowery, New York City, New York, 2009
Objects in windows can make fascinating photographs. Such is the case with this figure of a child dressed as a chef, which calls attention to the goods displayed in a restaurant supply shop on The Bowery. Coloration is the key to expression – the blue eyes are haunting. They seek us out and won’t let go.
Mannequin, The Bowery, New York City, New York, 2009
A cartoonish mannequin representing a waiter stands with towel at the ready at the entrance to one of a number of restaurant supply shops on the Bowery. I found its presence incongruous, and photographed it from the side so that I could lead into it with a row of kitchen sinks, and back it up with a colorful umbrella that nearly repeats the color of the towel. I try to make the situation as life-like as possible – at first glance, one might even see the mannequin as real. New York can be a city of illusion, and this image shows us why.
Clothing store, SoHo, New York City, New York, 2009
The slanting shadows that slice across this shop window are symbolically at odds with the name “Free People.” The three models depicted in the window display seem constrained rather than free. And that is why I made this image – things are often not what we would want them to be. The largest figure in the scene, the woman at right, seems to be symbolically blinded and made mute by the large black shadow running horizontally across the image. What is intended here as marketing icons of style and pleasure can, at a certain time of day, also become inadvertent symbols of pain and pressure. Such is the case here.