I have previously written about how former mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg have sucked the personality out of New York City and essentially transformed Manhattan into a gated community for the rich. Now that mindset is spreading to the outer boroughs: take out a subway map and use it to chart the future course of gentrification. Even subway stations are getting gentrified! So you can imagine my surprise when, earlier this year, I walked down West 56th Street and saw so much real New York personality. Yes, one block away from the 57th Street detailed in the Moyers & Company documentary The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy. Fortunately, I had my camera to document it because who knows how long it will last. What surprised me about me this street was how unchanged it was: I was a student at John Jay College during the late 1980’s when one of the campus buildings was on 56th and 10th Avenue. While the surrounding neighborhood and John Jay campus have changed significantly, I found that 56th Street, from 8th to 11th Avenues, was relatively unchanged. I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I enjoyed rediscovering this street.
Beautiful architecture as seen from the platform of the Metro North 125th Street – Harlem train station. A variation on the photograph may be seen here: https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/harlem-architecture/
Stereoscopic photography is a technique for creating the illusion of depth in an image via binocular vision. This three-part blog looks at the stereoscopic photographs taken during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Part one may be found here: https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/stereoscopic-views-documenting-the-building-of-the-brooklyn-bridge-part-one-of-three/
Part Two: Stereoscopic Photography
The first line in the prologue of Alan Trachtenberg’s vivacious study on the Brooklyn Bridge states, “Brooklyn Bridge belongs first to the eye.” Trachtenberg further goes on to describe the experience of walking over the bridge; how the stone towers “seem to frame the irregular lines of Manhattan” and how the steel “cable compels the eye.”
The Brooklyn Bridge also belongs to, and is a colleague of, the camera: modern structural engineering and photography both evolved simultaneously and explored new ways of looking at the organization of space and visual representation. Equally significant is the role that both played in America’s industrial growth.
“As photography bespoke the influence of new technology-new ways of seeing and experiencing-its practitioners rushed to the nation’s burgeoning cities. From Albert S. Southworth and Josiah J. Hawes’s early daguerreotypes of Boston, through George R. Fardon and Eadweard Muybridge’s San Francisco panorama’s and Robert Newell and John Moran’s cityscapes, to the urban images of Henry R. Koopman in Chicago and George Francois Magnier in New Orleans, photographers strove to capture and present the new modern environment. Nowhere was this mission more keenly felt than in New York City. As the city marched uptown, as buildings and neighborhoods were created and demolished at a staggering rate, the camera was there to document every stage and each new detail.” – Richard Haw
Stereoscopic views were perhaps the most effectual method of documentation because of their three-dimensional quality. Stereoscopic photography began in England when Sir Charles Wheatstone published “Contributions to the physiology of Vision-on Some Remarkable, and Hitherto Unobserved, Phenomena of Binocular Vision,” a paper he presented to the British Royal Society in 1838. Wheatstone demonstrated that the mind perceives an object in three dimensions because each eye receives a somewhat different view. To define this phenomenon, he devised the word stereograph, from the Greek words stereo (solid) and graph (I look at). Wheatstone prepared drawings of single objects seen by each eye and devised a viewing instrument of angled mirrors called the stereoscope. After the announcement of Daguerre’s and Talbot’s photographic processes in 1839, Wheatstone commissioned Talbot and Henry Collen to make stereo daguerreotypes and calotypes. Research by Sir David Brewster resulted in the a stereoscope that duplicated the normal 2 ½ inch separation between the eyes by placing a pair of lenses side by side in a small box with a lid at the top to admit light and a slot at the opposite end for inserting the mounted pair of stereoscopic images. A version made by French optician Louis-Jules Duboscq was presented to Queen Victoria after she admired the invention at the Great Exhibition in 1851.
William and Frederick Langenheim introduced stereoscopic photography in America in 1854 and within four years, numerous local photographers and major publishers were creating scenes for a very enthusiastic public. Initially, most stereoscopic collectors were professional men who had returned from trips to Europe with groups of views. One of these men was poet and physician, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was fascinated with the new phenomena and saw infinite possibilities for its uses. Holmes’s zeal for the stereoscope’s possibilities surpassed mere praise for the stunning representation of the visible world. Through the means of the photograph and the stereograph, he explained, form had become an intellectual entity-distinct from physical objects-in the same way that the printing press had liberated thought. Holmes recognized the need for a more affordable stereoscope and created a hand-held stereoscope from scraps of wood and showed his design to several people in Boston. Holmes eventually met Joseph L. Bates, who had a small business selling stereoscopes and views. Bates refined the Holmes design by adding the sliding focus stage with wire holders for the view. The stereoscope was a success and the lower cost brought stereoscopic photographs to the masses.
Early stereoscopic photographers referred to themselves as artists. Like painters, stereoscopic photographers were equally concerned with composition, a factor crucial to producing a fine stereoscopic image. Equally critical was a print with rich, even tones much like mixing paint on a palette. And like the first time one views a stunning painting, the experience of looking at a stereoscopic view was unmistakable:
“Everyone who views a good stereoscopic image is immediately enthralled. I have noted a level of excitement and involvement unmatched by two-dimensional visuals, other factors being equal. The strong emotional and esthetic reaction observed and reported by many artists throughout the stereoscopy’s 130-year history raises the interesting speculation that we may be imprinted with specific responses to fundamental or archetypal spatial stimuli in our visual world, in addition to many shapes, patterns and colors.” -Robert Silverman
As a twenty-first century American living in the digital age, I did not expect to be very taken with stereoviews. The contrary proved to be true-I was nothing short of enthralled. I didn’t just see the tallest structure in New York; I stood on the tallest structure and concur with Holmes reaction to stereoscopic photography: “Every conceivable object of nature and art will soon scale off its surface for us.”Every angle, steel wire, and cut stone of the bridge was there for me to experience. The Dennis Collection of stereoviews at the New York Public Library allowed to me feel as if I was witness to the construction.
McCullough, David. The Great Bridge. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972
Haw, Richard. The Brooklyn Bridge: a cultural history. New Brunswick: Rutgers University, 2005
Bowers, Brian, Wilson, Margaret. Sir Charles Wheatstone Frs 1802-1875 (I E E History of Technology Series). London: Institution of Electrical Engineer, 2001
Ferragallo, Roger. “On Stereoscopic Painting.” Leonardo. 7.2 (1974); 97-101.
Waldsmith, John. Stereo views: an illustrated history and price guide. Rador, PA: Wallace-Homestead Bk. Co., 1991
Silverman, Robert. “The Stereoscope and Photographic Depiction in the 19th Century.” Technology and Culture. 34.4 (1993); 729-756.
Yesterday, before the blizzard kicked into full gear, I walked around the Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College and snapped some photos. The Hall of Fame is a New York City landmark that was founded in 1900 to honor prominent Americans. The chief architectural feature is the open air colonnade, which showcases bronze busts of the honorees. The categories of endeavor include authors, educators, humanitarians, scientists, statesmen, artists, and explorers; stone plaques along the walkway distinguishes each one. I happened to snap two of the plaques in succession: scientists and teachers. Looking at these two photos reminded me of something I once read. In response to this NY Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/18/nyregion/18kearny.html) regarding the controversy that erupted after a New Jersey high school teacher expressed his religious beliefs in class, Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote:
“People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah’s ark carried dinosaurs.
This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.”
I agree with him.
I thought it fitting that I dedicate these pictures to him. Tyson was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, is an alumnus of Bronx High School of Science and is half Puerto Rican—just like my oldest nephew! He is also someone I can imagine with a bust in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.
Stereoscopic photography is a technique for creating the illusion of depth in an image via binocular vision.
This three-part blog looks at the stereoscopic photographs taken during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The history of the construction of the bridge as well as the history of stereoscopic photography will also be explored.
PART ONE: From Agrarian to Industrial Nation
The day before the Brooklyn Bridge opened, merchants, in the then City of Brooklyn, prominently displayed a sign in their windows that read:
Babylon had her hanging gardens, Egypt her pyramid, Athens her Acropolis, Rome her Athenaeum; so Brooklyn has her bridge.
Juxtaposing the Brooklyn Bridge with these structural engineering marvels was not premature: the bridge is more than just a span over water because of its innovative design and functionality. The bridge also represents America’s transition from agrarian to industrial society, fostered by the nation’s greatest resource: immigrants. Perhaps the bridge’s greatest achievements are in its visually collective aesthetic qualities: those that anyone, regardless of education or economic status, can understand and appreciate.
The idea for a bridge spanning over the East River was first proposed in 1800 by General Jeremiah Johnson (who would later serve as mayor of Brooklyn), in a pamphlet that examined the topography of Brooklyn:
It has been suggested that a bridge should be constructed across the East River to New York. This idea has been treated a chimerical from the magnitude of the design; but whosoever takes it into their serious consideration will find more weight in the practicability of the scheme than at first sight he imagined.
In other words, the builder of a successful bridge over the East River will have to conceptualize something new and never before attempted. The bridge would have to be able to withstand the elements and not interfere with the busy maritime traffic. Johnson went on to convey, “Every objection to the building of the bridge could be refuted.” A bridge of this magnitude would require vast industrial resources. Industry was something many Americans did not envision for the young nation. This sentiment was echoed, one year after Johnson’s pamphlet was published, when President Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural speech, conveyed that America’s best defense against the corruption of the old world (crowded fuming cities) was to remain an agrarian society:
“Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation.”
Rousseau theorized that democracy has “natural limits.” The concept of a republic had been realized in smaller nations, but could it survive on the large scale that America presented? Jefferson realized that in order to assure the Union and benefit from the land, a national system of roads and canals would have to be built. Interestingly, one argument for a bridge over the East River had to do with national security and a safe, viable connection to the nation’s largest city. America had to become an industrial nation in order to survive. Industry breeds technology and technology breeds industry. The day the bridge opened, one article from the New York Times declared, “With the towers and anchorages completed, the stone age, as it may be conveniently called, gave way to the period of steel.” Stone and steel, the materials that comprise the Brooklyn Bridge, also make it a factual, visual representation of the nation’s shift to industry.
McCullough, David. The Great Bridge. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972
Trachtenberg, Alan. Brooklyn Bridge, fact and symbol. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965
Jefferson, Thomas, Koch, Adrienne, and Peden, William. The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Modern Library, 1998
Barnett, Clive, Low, Murray. Spaces of Democracy: Geographical Perspectives on Citizenship, Participation and Representation. London: Sage, 2004
“Making The Big Cables” New York Times 24 May 1883