Architecture

Looking Up In Black and White

Yesterday, on July 30, 2021, I visited The Met. I primarily went to see the Alice Neel: People Come First exhibition (another blog entry to follow). Of course, I brought my camera. From the moment I got off the train at Penn Station, I found myself pointing my camera upward. After the museum, I wandered around Central Park and Manhattan. It was the first time I had wandered around Manhattan since the summer of 2019. While I was cognizant of the gentrifying construction horrors on what is now being called “billionaire’s row”, it was still a shock to see how much of the skyline had changed—and not for the better.  I prefer the skyline when Essex House was what dominated the southwestern side of Central Park.

I hope you enjoy this photo essay. Let me know in the comments below what you think.

1:17. The clock in the new Moynihan Hall at Penn Station is nothing short of wonderful. It is already iconic.
Viewing Bove. The current facade commission outside of The Met by Carol Bove.
Detalles Clásicos. Even the architectural details of The Met are interesting.
The Sky Above 82nd and Fifth.
A Cloud Over The Great Lawn.
Essex House Still Dominates.
Wayback. As seen along the Central Park Lake.
Dakota Details. I am endless fascinated by this beautiful building.

https://edwinroman.com/

The City Wet: A Photo Portfolio

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about photography and experiencing the moment. I mentioned that when I visited San Diego in 2014, I went whale watching and did not take a single photograph. I did take photographs around San Diego, but wanted to experience the whales without distraction — it was something I always wanted to do, see whales on the Pacific. In this conversation, I also noted that I regretted being so restrained with my film camera in the 1980’s and 1990’s (stemming from the fact that I did not have much money to spare) because there are places in New York City I would have loved to have captured during that time, not unlike the way in which one of my favorite living street photographers, Matt Weber, did. While I may not have photographs, I remember these places as they once existed and carry them in my heart like the whales of San Diego. Still, I would have loved to share them with the world today. Interestingly, sometimes, I’ll see a photograph by Weber and think, “Wow, I could have easily been in that shot.” Or, “I wish I had taken that shot.” Painfully, the photographs that I did take were lost during a move.

Now I have a digital camera and am significantly less judicious about turning my shutter loose. I have decided that to make the distinction between photography and experiencing the moment, I will capture the life and scenes from everyday life. There is a New York that is being lost and it should be captured. In the spirit of everyday New York City life, I present to you some rainy day pictures of my beloved home town.

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Do Not Enter. 2012.

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Commuters and Bagels. 2016.

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The Wet QMT. 2016.

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Artful Rain. 2015.

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Queensborough Storm. 2012.

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Wet and Naked Billboard. 2016.

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Autumn Showers in the Bronx. 2015.

Taken at the Bronx Community College Hall of Fame.

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Reflections of Light on the LIE. 2013.

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Misty Morning in Queens. 2015.

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Rainy Day Reflections in The Bronx. 2016.

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Leafy Drops. 2011.

Brooklyn Bridges

Digital photographs taken from my visit to Brooklyn last week and remixed with some Photoshop and creativity.  The second graphic will be available for sale on a glass, mug and green bag.

Be sure to also read my entries on Stereoscopic Views Documenting the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge Part One and Two. Part Three will be published later this month.

Brooklyn Bridges

Digital Photography and Photoshop.

First Stop In Brooklyn

Digital Photography and Photoshop.

Stereoscopic Views Documenting the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Part Two of Three)

Stereoscopic Views Documenting the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Part Two of Three)

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.

Sources:

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.

A page of stereoscopic parts in Wheatstone’s paper of 1838

A page of stereoscopic parts in Wheatstone’s paper of 1838

Brewster’s stereoscope

Brewster’s Stereoscope

Patent Drawing of the Holmes-Bates Stereoscope

Patent Drawing of the Holmes-Bates Stereoscope

Joshua Beal, “Panoramic View of NYC, Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Tower” 1876

Joshua Beal, “Panoramic View of NYC, Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Tower” 1876

View of the Footbridge from the Brooklyn Tower, created by Albert J. Fisher

View of the Footbridge from the Brooklyn Tower, created by Albert J. Fisher

A Category from the Hall of Fame

Dedicated to Neil deGrasse Tyson

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.

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The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College

Brooklyn Bridge Tower One Plans

Stereoscopic Views Documenting the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Part One of Three)

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.

SOURCES:

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

Early Plans for the Brooklyn Bridge, 1857

Early Plans for the Brooklyn Bridge, 1857

The Architecture of American Horror Story.

Last year someone recommended that I take a look at the hit television series, Modern Family.  While I found the one episode I viewed amusing, I was severely underwhelmed with the production of the show — the sets were generic with no real feeling for architecture and place. It looked as if one could take the characters of Modern Family and drop them into Wisteria Lane (Desperate Housewives) without anyone noticing. The homes in both those shows look like a real estate staging.

Visuals should play a large part in the visual story-telling mediums of television and film. Authenticity is vital. One of my favorite childhood shows was Little House on the Prairie, but I can recall questioning why Walnut Grove was so desert dusty like a Western (from what I had learned in school up to that time, Minnesota was supposed to be greener). Friends, a show I never liked, further annoyed me with the bogus, vanilla depiction of 1990’s New York City (they didn’t even film the corny opening credits in New York City!) In contrast to Friends and Little House is Breaking Bad, which had a very deep feeling for time and place: New Mexico was one of the stars of the show (every time I saw the Sandia Mountains, I smiled)! The same is true of American Horror Story.

American Horror Story follows a distinct set of characters and settings each year with a repertory cast that includes Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson and Frances Conroy in dissimilar roles. While each season has presented very different stories, outstanding architecture (and production) is ubiquitous.

The first season, titled American Horror Story: Murder House, follows the story of a nearly broken family that moves into a home haunted by individuals who died there, often in very brutal ways. The exterior of the “murder house” is a real Collegiate Gothic-style mansion built in Los Angeles by Architect Alfred Rosenheim in 1908. Collegiate Gothic stems from Gothic Revival, an architectural style inspired by medieval Gothic architecture.  Gothic Revival was a heavily used building style during the 1800’s because of its moral overtones for academic and religious buildings.

Filming for the interiors were done on a sound stage with near accurate re-creations of the real interior. Real or re-creation, what a visual feast for the eyes: the sumptuous Stickley (or Greene and Greene) inspired interior, accented with Tiffany windows and fixtures.  The distinct sprawling staircase was a Crafts movement masterpiece. Not unlike the Enterprise from Star Trek, the “murder house” is a star of the show, integral to telling the story. The gorgeous house stands in bleak contrast to the horrible experiences of the people who once lived there and the awful things they did, which were hardly academic, religious or even harmonious with the concept of home.

The second season, titled American Horror Story: Asylum, takes place in the 1960’s and follows the stories of patients in an asylum for the criminally insane. I must note that I found this visual portrayal of the 1960’s to be more accurate than Mad Men (another favorite show of mine). The most glaring visual inaccuracy in Mad Men is the contemporary hanging ceilings in the offices. Here is an example of a hanging ceiling from the 1960’s: http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000S1oPAPSQ.Y8/s/880/704/Petro-Philadelphia-1960s-Office.jpg. Because Mad Men employs low angle shots so often, one can’t help but notice those flawed ceilings.

Exterior filming for Asylum was completed at the Orange County courthouse in California, a Romanesque style building. Interiors were created on a soundstage.  Unlike the ‘murder house’, the ‘asylum’ was not as prominent a star except for one aspect, the stairs. Complex, slightly disjointed, reaching upward toward a skylight that was always dark, the stairs formed an amphitheatre of sorts. I couldn’t help but recall Dante’s Inferno where paradise has the shape of an amphitheater with an endless series of stairs: “..it is by such stairs/that we must take our leave of so much evil.” In Asylum, the opposite is true. Instead of ascending to heaven, one actually ascends to hell. Unlike Murder House, setting and story were congruent.

The most recent season, titled American Horror Story: Coven, follows the clash between witches and voodoo practitioners. Set and filmed in New Orleans, Coven beautifully depicts French Creole architecture while paying homage to female power as depicted in classic cinema.

French Creole architecture borrows traditions from France, the Caribbean, and Africa—-places that are part of the storyline of Coven at various points.  French Creole architecture heavily employed the use of decorative wrought iron. Wrought iron is tough and beautiful, much like the characters of Coven. The nearly colorless, but finely appointed, witch mansion complements the distinct fashions of each character. Watching the final episode of Coven, I realized that each incarnation of the series shared one common visual architectural motif: stairs.

The stairs in Murder House are where Ben takes his life, a major turning point in the story. Promotional ads for Asylum and Coven both prominently feature stairs (see picture below). The stairs in the Coven witch mansion are reminiscent of those seen in the Joan Crawford classic, Queen Bee (also set in the South). Queen Bee is a story about a family dominated by ruthless and strong women — not unlike the characters of Coven.Image

Stairs are a principal and practical part of architecture that stand with a sense of purpose: in the same way that water gives and takes life, stairs can bring us up and plunge us down. Is American Horror Story bringing us up or plunging us down? The last shot of Coven is of the new supreme standing glowingly on those Queen Bee stairs. She is the new, modern supreme—one who encourages witches to come out of hiding and stand together in community. Hiding fosters fear, while visibility gives strength.  Note that she was only able to become supreme and achieve this new age  after the old witches, who were filled with hatred and stuck in their old ways of thinking, were eliminated one way or another. Perhaps this is the central theme of American Horror Story: we can only bring ourselves up when we let go of the things, like fear and hatred, that plunge us down.