What follows is a group of photographs made at gardens in and around New York City in late spring. We spent more time than I thought we would visiting public gardens on our trip back east. Given the vicissitudes of the trip, that was a good thing.
If you know me, you know not to expect an array of colorful flower pictures. I’m as likely to get caught up in the way petals fall onto the sidewalk as I am to admire the flowers.
I photographed garden structures: a bamboo fence, a rose trellis, conservatory windows. And carp – I love to watch fish as they move nearer and farther from the water’s surface, their bodies curving gracefully. There are leaf studies because I could be happy doing those for the rest of my life. A shadow and a reflection or two are here because hinting at rather than spelling out a scene always intrigues me. In that vein several photographs picture something seen behind or through something else. I photographed the way the shape of a Japanese maple tree interacted visually with a cloud-strewn sky. And there’s a flower, too – a lovely peony. But not in color.
From an afternoon withJohn Todaro at Bridge Gardens, Bridgehampton, NY: #1, 3 – 6, 13, 19.
From a stroll on the grounds of Nassau County Museumof Art, Roslyn, NY: #2, 14.
From a leisurely morning at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and BotanicalGarden, Staten Island, NY: #7 – 10, 16, 17.
From a walk in Norman J. Levy Park, Merrick, NY: #11, 12, 15.
From a walk at Tackapausha Preserve, Massapequa, NY: #18.
We just returned from the first long trip we’ve taken in two years. The pandemic quashed our plans for excursions last year, but by March of this year we were “two past two” (two weeks past the second shot) so it was time to get back in the saddle and plan a serious trip. A family member had a stroke last year and we were eager to lay our eyes on him, instead of relying on second-person reports. We could combine seeing him in Massachusetts with visiting family in New York and day trips to Manhattan by booking a flight to Boston, renting a car and driving to New York, and flying back to Seattle from JFK. We hadn’t been back to New York, where we’re both from, for several years.
So that was the plan.
The text below alternates with pairs of photographs from the trip; each pair includes an image of the human-built environment (mostly from Manhattan) and an image from one of the gardens and parks we visited.
A series of snafus made this trip beyond memorable. Let’s say it was successful overall, with wrinkles. The trouble started before we boarded our Alaska Airlines flight in Seattle, when I began frantically digging through my backpack for my phone and realized that it was missing. No!!! I was crushed. We called the van operator that took us to the airport and asked them to look for a phone. Just before we took off we talked with them again, and, whew! – they found my phone and promised to hold onto it until we returned.
I was grateful but my emotions were all over the place as I thought about being incommunicado for ten days, days with an itinerary that involved about twenty friends and relatives. How would I manage?
Let me say here that this is the problem of a privileged person; I know that. Many people in Sudan, for example, own a mobile phone but are malnourished. The current vaccination rate there is only 0.2% of the population. Wealthy countries like the one I live in need to step up and help. I also know that spiritually, there’s more to life than having a phone.
But back to the story.
Sitting crumpled up on a plane with a mask on for five hours doesn’t exactly sooth one’s nerves – especially in the current atmosphere of high anxiety about flying and unruly passengers who cause trouble in the middle of long flights. At least I had ample time to hatch a plan: as soon as we arrived and procured our rental car, we would bee-line to the nearest phone store where I would buy a cheap replacement to use during the trip. New York time is three hours later than Seattle time but our morning flight should leave time to accomplish the task, I reasoned.
After arriving in Boston we located the rental stand and were directed to a shiny new Nissan. Opening the doors, we realized the car had been rubbed clean with so much chemical disinfectant that we couldn’t breathe without the windows rolled down. A few choice words flew around as we figured out how to start the car and open the trunk. “Let’s just get on the road” I thought, “this is too stressful.”
We whizzed through a city neither of us know (at least we had Joe’s smartphone for navigation) and got to the store well before closing. Of course, we soon confirmed what we knew must be true: the least expensive phones aren’t exactly cheap. Worse, I learned that one’s contacts reside on one’s phone, which in my case was 4,000 miles away, sitting in a drawer in Seattle hotel. That meant no phone numbers, no texting, and no communicating with people, unless I figured out another way to get their contact information. Needless to say, I don’t have any phone numbers memorized other than mine and Joe’s and I haven’t carried a paper phone list in years.
Watching the salesman set up the new phone, I tried to maintain a calm facade, while alternately seething, berating myself, and trying to talk myself into accepting the situation. Back and forth my mind went…
“Can we set up my email account?”, I asked the man. But when he tried to activate it on the new phone, Gmail wanted a four-digit authorization code. Guess where they sent it – to the phone in Seattle, of course! I didn’t want to tell the strangers keeping my phone safe how to unlock my phone so they could read the code to me – that wouldn’t be smart.
Now it looked like I would be without phone numbers AND email for the entire trip. Maybe you’re thinking, cheer up, it’s healthy to disconnect! Or you might wonder why I didn’t try again, and again. One time, Gmail locked me out for two weeks because I forgot my password and tried incorrect passwords too many times. There was no recourse except to wait until the company reactivated my email account. Thinking about being locked out of email for weeks made me cringe – I couldn’t risk having that happen again. Joe came to the rescue – he had been cc’ed on the family emails with the details for our big get-together the next day. At least we had an address for the reunion and the ability to contact family.
Leaving the shop with a rather rudimentary phone and a troubled face, I tried to reason with myself as we wound our way through Boston to a restaurant. I don’t recall dinner that night but I know that once we checked into our hotel, we collapsed.
That was just Day One!
The following day we visited the sibling whose stroke radically changed his life last fall. He had been actively immersed in academia at a prestigious college in Boston; now his days are scheduled around speech therapy appointments, meals, and exercise. But he’s as positive as he ever was, his sense of humor is intact and he’s working hard to rewire his brain and get back the skills he lost. It felt good to be with him. Reassured, I left to meet a dear friend I hadn’t seen in ten years who drove down from Maine for a rare, in-person visit. As always, we picked up right where we left off, plunging into conversations about anything and everything. It was wonderful.
I was swinging from the low of worrying about a lost phone to a high of happy connections with friends and family – but the day wasn’t over yet. The first of two big family get-togethers was that evening. We all know these reunions can be simultaneously awkward and heartwarming and our gathering fully lived up to that expectation. Exhausted from a day of emotional intensity and far from home, I slept poorly again.
The next morning we hit the road for New York. Joe drove and I navigated, which means that I had an opportunity to unwind a little. I was grateful for Joe’s patience over the previous two days but as we got closer to the heavy traffic of metropolitan New York City at rush hour, patience wore a little thin and his long-buried New York edge emerged. Later on we would joke about needing to purge the tough, New York attitude (which one absolutely needs to get on with life in the city) before returning to the Pacific northwest, where politeness and a forgiving outlook on life are the norm.
Seattle has experienced a boom and traffic there can be beyond aggravating, a fact of life we’re both glad that we don’t deal anymore, now that we live in a more rural environment. New York traffic is another matter – it’s famously busy and you have the added stressors of unpredictable, rude, aggressive drivers and terrible roads.
We were back in the fray and we were out of practice.
A stop at a sibling’s house for conversation and snacks was a welcome respite. None of our respective siblings, nieces and nephews who reside in metropolitan New York live in Manhattan. Most live on Long Island, so we chose a centrally-located hotel there. Of course, it happened to be hosting a passel of noisy hockey fans the night we got there, as well as an undetermined number of college sports teams.
We slept poorly. Again.
Seven more days of family visits and excursions ensued, including a hot, tiring but satisfying day in Manhattan, where we viewed inspiring art exhibits and enjoyed just sitting outside a cafe, watching the street life. There were visits to gardens in and around the city. We had an intriguing conversation with a Guyanese caregiver who was waiting for the same train we were. We endured a loud, heated argument at another family gathering that shocked everyone present. There was a poison ivy-laced walk through a preserve, pressured smartphone searches for places to eat, and hours spent navigating busy highways and sitting in traffic jams. We took a spontaneous tour of our old neighborhood, which we hadn’t seen in nine years. We enjoyed a richly rewarding afternoon of coffee, conversation, and a garden visit with John Todaro, a fine art photographer I’ve admired for nine years. That was a high point!
We were struck repeatedly by the intensity and scope of sensory input during the trip: noisy people, rich food, hectic traffic, unfamiliar sights, strong smells, muggy, oppressive heat we could hardly bear, beautiful skies – our senses were assaulted with a range of impressions the like of which we hadn’t experienced in a long time.
We’re both retired now. We live in a quiet, extraordinarily beautiful place that always seems peaceful – even the weather changes slowly here and rarely throws us for a loop. Over the last year our lives shrank; sensory and social input was more limited than we had ever experienced. On this trip we felt as if we had jumped straight into a fire.
Eventually we settled down, slept better, and began to relax. Even the horrid smell in the rental car began to dissipate. But true to form, an unexpected event threw us off again, this time on the flight home. A passenger who apparently ingested something he shouldn’t have was talking rudely at full volume, then became very quiet. I noticed him struggling to maintain an upright position as he headed down the aisle to the bathroom. I heard the stewards call for medical help. After a half hour or so, apparently they determined that it was safe to continue on to Seattle; the flight didn’t have to be diverted. At the gate we were met by a uniformed phalanx of police and medics. With rescue truck lights flashing, medical kits, and handcuffs at hand, the pros handled the situation with aplomb, diplomatically convincing the unmasked man to exit the aircraft. Finally, we deplaned and called the van to take us to the lot where our car was parked. It arrived with a thrilling gift on board – my phone! The battery was dead but oh, the familiar feel of the case felt good in my hand!
I thought about the hundreds of emails in my inbox. They would be deleted, answered, and dealt with soon enough.
Heading home through a Pacific Northwest rainstorm, we sighed with relief when we pulled into the driveway. The air was fresh and smelled good. Everything was in place. We were home.
As stressed as I was from the emotional roller coaster and lack of sleep, my eyes were always open wide. Again and again, I looked and I thought about what I saw. I was inspired by beautiful paintings, imposing sculptures, interesting photographs. A store called Printed Matter with 15,000 artists’ books on the shelves offered more food for thought.
But not only art inspired me.
There was delicious food. There were energizing interactions with strangers – the warm, spontaneous, to-the-point kind that New York is famous for and we miss dearly. There were heart-warming visits with family – little ones we’d never met and grown-ups we hadn’t seen in over a decade. There were gardens galore, filled with irises, peonies, wisteria and water lilies. My ears delighted at the sound of birds I grew up with, singing their hearts out at the height of spring: cardinals, mockingbirds, Baltimore orioles – even Blue jays and Red-bellied woodpeckers made me stop and smile. The owner of the neighborhood pizza joint we used to frequent recognized Joe instantly after an absence of nine years (and oh, the taste of a real New York slice!). We dined on Peking duck served by white-gloved waiters, wolfed down Trinidadian roti from a busy lunch spot in Little Guyana (a neighborhood in Queens), and savored perfect Agedashi tofu at a Japanese restaurant.
But back to the point: returning to the practice of paying close attention, no matter what disruptions and distractions are going on, is a practice that keeps me going. Look at this amazing world we live in, study what you see, watch the light, think about how shapes relate to each other, examine details. This is a refuge. Not an escape from anything, but a refuge. Be nourished by it, every day.
Unless you’re on the other side of the equator, of course, in which case you may be anticipating fall. Here in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere, spring teases us in March. We know it’s coming; the days are noticeably longer, the light brighter. But spring comes in fits and starts as winter lingers on.
Maybe a full immersion in April flowers would suit us now, as March gets underway. I’ve gathered a virtual bouquet of photographs taken in April, ranging from 2004 through 2020. There’s a shot of New York City rooftops from 2008, pictures from gardens in and around Seattle, and scenes from the streets of Amsterdam. There are daffodils and tulips as well as mosses and grasses. Should I arrange them in chronological order or mix them up? I’ll figure that out as I go along.
That was fast. Mix them up.
I hope you enjoyed this visual immersion into one person’s love affair with the month of April. There’s no question that every month has plenty to offer – I’m just partial to this one and I’m looking forward to greeting it again.
Yesterday I learned that Patti Fogarty had died. We hadn’t been in touch for quite a while but she was such a life force, so vividly herself, that I thought – I hoped – the news couldn’t be about her. It must be someone else – could there be another Patti Fogarty who’s a street photographer in New York? No, unfortunately, the news was about the Patti I knew.
We met online about six years ago, after following each other’s blogs. We appreciated one another’s work. Patti’s blog, “Nylon Daze” was mostly New York street photography, just the right injection of vivid energy I craved every now and then. Though I left the city very deliberately, I missed its vitality. Patti lived for life on the street, gravitating toward the wilder characters who exemplify the creative self-expression that New York encourages in people.
Lots of people do street photography but Patti approached her subject – basically all of NYC humanity – with great love, and it showed. She had a sharp eye for humor and the contradictions life presents. Replying to a comment WordPress two years ago, Patti said, “… as an immigrant living here in NY I always see America as that vast land stretching beyond the Hudson River with awe and wonder at how this crazy place works. And how can we be sure a certain POTUS doesn’t f*** it all up? There’s the doom factor!”
Our styles were very different – Patti photographed city street life, fearlessly walking up to anyone and everyone, relishing events like Pride parades, protests, and traffic-halting snowstorms. I photograph alone in the woods, mostly. I enjoy working on my photos in post processing and I like telling a story with words and text on WordPress. Patti preferred to be spontaneous, direct, emotional, in the moment. No wonder she eventually migrated to Instagram and Tumblr.
She was a true New Yorker, coming from somewhere else and falling in love with the energy of the city, like so many before her. After a trip to England she said, “Sometimes I think the best part about traveling is coming back to New York. For all it’s faults, rough edges etc I always almost want to kiss the ground once I get back here.” Always generous with praise, she encouraged people to follow their paths, wherever they lead. Once she said, “Funny isn’t it where we find our comfort zones, not looking at something but rather searching for some thing . . . “
In the spring of 2016 Patti and I finally met in person. I was in New York and we agreed to meet at the Rubin Museum, which was convenient for us both. I thought we might see the exhibit after coffee but we never got to that, launching straight into intense conversation as if we’d been friends for years. Patti asked about my camera. When I said “Here, take a look” she began shooting. I watched, fascinated. There was something physical about the way she handled the camera, without hesitation. She fiddled with the art filter settings on the camera, took some pictures, and that eventually led to this post. I came away inspired that day by Patti’s involvement with the camera as a tool, and by her direct engagement with the world.
In October, 2017, we got together one more time when I returned to the city for a visit. We met near the World Trade Center, walked around West Street, Battery City and the World Financial Center, then sat down for a snack in the plaza by North Cove Harbor. Patti was as lively and curious as ever. While we sat and talked I photographed the buildings around us, again using the in-camera filter to dramatize the scene. Patti set people at ease, even as her own restless energy charged the air.
After we parted company I prowled the streets, relishing views that I used to pass on the way home from work. I wandered down to Battery Park. There were asters blooming and Monarch butterflies flying around. A wedding party clowned for their photographer. Throughout the afternoon traces of Patti’s energy wove through my own nostalgia for New York, making for a day in the city that felt slightly bittersweet, but very much at home.
Life got busy, as it often does. Instagram, where Patti posted, frustrated me with its too-quick takes, so I seldom looked at it. Patti wasn’t visiting WordPress much either, and we fell out of touch. I feel terrible about that now, but this is life. Like a friend said, Patti’s sudden death is a stark reminder to be thankful for the days we have.
Here’s to Patti, may she live long in our memories and continue to inspire us.
On a cool October morning in 1972, I woke up with a plan: I would write down every single sound I heard on that day. As soon as I was aware of a sound, I began to record what I heard in a small notebook. At the end of the day, exhausted, I fell back into bed and noted the last sounds I heard; the final sound was “breathing.” In the following days I went through the notebook, deciphering my scribbles and working out the grammatical kinks, resulting in a 60 page typed manuscript.
Since that day I’ve contemplated repeating the exercise, but the world is infinitely noisier now than it was back then. In any case, the piece stands on its own: a lopsided record of an ordinary day, made extraordinary by a single-minded focus on sound.
Here are a few excerpts from the Sounds piece, interspersed with images to complement, rather than explicitly adhere to, the narrative. I noted the time sporadically throughout the day, whenever I thought to look at a clock. In this excerpted version a line: ___________ means I’m skipping ahead to a later time in the day. I begin here at 9:30 am, a few hours after I woke up.
light switch turning on
light switch turning off
blue jay calling
clothes sliding against each other
clothes falling on chair
paper falling on the floor
paper bag rustling
jars hitting each other
glass hitting the counter
door closing liquid pouring door opening
blue jay calling
lid screwing on
glass hitting other glass
match striking matchbook
paper sliding across table
chairs scraping the floor
match striking matchbook
piece of wood hitting table
sandpaper sanding wood
fingers scratching head
truck passing on the street
elevator door closing
elevator door opening
elevator door closing
elevator door opening
elevator door closing
elevator door opening
slide projector motor running
cigarette pack dropping into bag
pad rubbing leg
slide projector clicking
slide projector clicking
ladder hitting the floor
traffic passing on street
bus passing on street
hand rubbing my hair and face
elevator door opening
elevator door closing
elevator door opening
subway passing by
motor in clock running
A few words of explanation: Early that morning I made a decision to record sounds by naming what made the sound, rather than spelling out what the noise sounded like. I quickly realized that trying to write down the actual sound I heard was impossible, in most cases. Using a tape recorder to make an actual recording was not a consideration, because my primary interest was in exploring the relationship – or the space, in a way – between the sensory traces an object makes (our perception) and a record of those traces, a concern that interests me to this day. *
What is different about a sound you hear and the mute, written words that describe that sound? What is lost and what is gained when you step back from direct experience, and put something – in this case, the written word – between you and the experience? What does a day look like when the traces that are left of it are only a written description of the sounds that were heard and some bits of memory? How is the shape of the day itself altered when one sensory component of it moves into the foreground?
I was in my final year at School of Visual Arts in New York when I made the Sounds piece. I had moved back to my parents’ house temporarily, after losing a shared Brooklyn loft and all my belongings in an unfortunate incident. Each morning that semester I awakened to the quiet of suburbia, then I commuted by bus to the city and took the subway to school or to my part time job as an artist’s assistant at a studio on Irving Place. On this October day I went to work first, then walked to an evening art history class, probably with Carter Ratcliff. Thankfully, those classes were usually a lecture with slides, and were relatively quiet. But as soon as my friends figured out what I was doing, they made their best efforts to interrupt any quiet that would give me a rest from mad scribbling in my notebook by producing an assortment of difficult-to-describe sounds. A few are seen above, along with my foot-stamping frustration. Unsurprisingly, it was for me, a day of few words.
I used a small notebook to write down what I heard that day. When I was in a quiet place I would hear the page turning. Later, when I typed up the piece, I chose to follow the same page spacing as in the original notebook, so that “page turning” appears at the top of some pages. The piece was submitted as part of my final work for a fine arts degree, and was well received. Now the paper edges have softened, the cover is tattered, and rust is slowly eating into the binder’s metal insert. I hope to transcribe and digitize it one of these days.
An earlier post on this subject with photos of the original manuscript is here.
A light fixture for sale at ABC Carpet and Home on Broadway, in New York City. I took the photo in New York on October 17, 2017, exactly 45 years after I made the Sounds piece. What goes around comes around; the artfully distressed wall behind the light is reminiscent of the way walls actually looked in downtown lofts in the early 70’s. It wasn’t chic then, it was just what existed.
A rope-tied rock serves as a polite barrier in a path at Seattle’s Japanese Garden.
A view of trees outside a window. A small piece of blue glass in a wood frame rests against the window.
A collection of insects at an eccentric museum inside a Roman Catholic seminary in Mount Angel, Oregon.
At the Seattle Japanese Garden, workers erected a tarp to protect plants while they worked on a new addition to a structure in the garden.
Hoses on the old wood floor of an auto repair shop in Ferndale, California.
The view across the street from the ABC store window where the lighting fixture photo above was taken. This view hasn’t changed since I was in school.
A single rubber glove dropped on a sidewalk in Seattle.
* A concern with investigating the difference between objects as they are and as we perceive them was prevalent in the 1960’s and 70’s art world. It was a time when conceptual art questioned art itself, and minimalism was beginning to battle it out with post-minimalism, a term coined by art critic Robert Pincus-Witten, who taught at SVA. Dorothea Rockburne, one of a number of working artists who taught at SVA then, would often bring up Kant in connection with ideas like this one, from Wikipedia:
Kant argued the sum of all objects, the empirical world, is a complex of appearances whose existence and connection occur only in our representations. Kant introduces the thing-in-itself as follows:
And we indeed, rightly considering objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.
A random group of images from a trip to New York comes together under the rubric “Contained,” then inspires a poem.
What’s left of a perfect espresso macchiato and eggplant pastry at La Colombe, 601 W. 27th St., NY, NY.
A freestanding window frame contains the view at Queens Botanical Gardens, 43-50 Main Street in Flushing, NY.
Packing crates for sculpture on the second floor of the Noguchi Museum, 9-01 33rd Rd., Queens, NY.
Basket made by Pomo Indians (?) in what is now California, photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY.
Looking up into a sculpture by Ruth Asawaat the David Zwirner Gallery, 525 W. 19th St., NY, NY. Asawa (1926 – 2013) learned to draw while interred in camps in California & Arkansas during WW II. Later, she studied with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College.
Stacked trash cans at Fort Totten Park, Totten Ave. & 15 Rd., Bayside, NY.
Moving sculpture (probably the work of Deborah Butterfield) on West 22th St. in Chelsea, NY, NY.
An old wooden toolbox, washed up at Little Bay, East River, near the Throgs Neck Bridge, Whitestone, NY.
A portion of “Lorrkon (Hollow Log)” by John Mawurndjul, a leading Australian contemporary indigenous artist. This sculpture relates to the ceremonial use of painted hollow logs to inter people’s bones after death. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY.
A sculpture by Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner Gallery, 525 W. 19th St., NY, NY.
A locked door to a now empty ammunition magazine at Fort Totten Park, Totten Ave. & 15 Rd., Bayside, NY.
A broom and trash cans by the ammunition magazine, Fort Totten Park, Totten Ave. & 15 Rd., Bayside, NY.
Feet ache. An afternoon treat of espresso and pastry revives me, and
I relax and look out at the city streets, as fresh now
after coffee, as a green garden framed
by a floating
window, the window’s square geometry signaling the reassuring
order of framed and enclosed spaces, spaces
that hold us as safely as a crated sculpture, the crate’s stamped symbols
advising “This side up” and so
the contents are safe, unbroken, captivating and precious,
like the basket with feathers on its rim, the basket
that could fly, and it did, it flew
like Ruth’s hands when she wove her round forms
(“We always saw her making art, it was part of her everyday existence”),
the empty/full shapes weightless, almost insubstantial, yet
anchored in craft and material,
the looped metal wires and round contours as familiar as a trash container – but
uncommonly beautiful. And even a trash can might
transcend its surroundings, by way of
aquamarine paint –
as the horse transcends the city street even when
wrapped and tied. Waiting patiently, blue-clad movers watch the street for
signs of trouble, and daydream about fishing a strip of
derelict shore where a toolbox sits,
also patient, also transcending its setting by wearing
ragged, green seaweed vestments,
its wooden surface bearing the creamy, painted evidence of usefulness,
which the hollow ceremonial log
sitting quietly in the museum vitrine,
is denied. Covered with tiny cross-hatchings in outback earth colors
(“I put the experience in my head and went to paint the same thing”),
the somber container
longing for the bones it should but will not contain.
Sixty blocks south, another receptacle hangs tenuously
Will the old brick and stone buildings with neatly
soon stand alone among
glittering glass giants
with perfect edges?
Then again, the glass towers have
their own edgy beauty, an orderly flow of pattern in a
city teetering on chaos, chaos even on
the best of days, days when we
thought we could forget the
planes, the van, the
Curves and edges duke it out. As I walk the sidewalks downtown
architectural transitions are split-second, from
order to confusion.
Turn a corner, it’s quiet,
and gulp down
the sensory flood.
Edges and curves,
The clean lines of Brookfield Place, a few blocks from One World Trade Center.
Brookfield Place is a six building office complex built in the 80’s (it used to be called the World Financial Center). After extensive damage on 9/11, buildings underwent renovation and restoration. The arched roofed glass building houses the Winter Garden, an airy atrium with tall palm trees, a welcome respite on winter days. The complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of a marina on the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus (below), the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
A limestone arch and dome inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With two million square feet of gallery space packed with two million works of art from all over the world, it is New York’s high church of culture. The building dates from 1879 and is the largest museum in the US. This view of ceiling details in the Great Hall is from a balcony on the second floor. HERE, you can peruse a well-thought out presentation of 100 works from the museum.
Fort Totten, in Queens. Construction of the coastal defense fort began in 1862 and halted after the Civil War because this type of masonry became obsolete. It was used by the Army for various purposes, including developing underwater minefields, electric powered torpedo experiments and Army administrative offices through the 1970’s, then it was transferred to the Army Reserve. Rumor had it that a mob boss who ratted was hidden here for a time. Much of the sixty acres is now a park.
Inside the Fort Totten battery. There is a small museum on the property and a long, dark underground tunnel leading to the battery, which on a sunny October weekday was almost deserted. There are beautiful views of the East River converging with Long Island Sound under the Throgs Neck Bridge.
Deep inside the ammunition magazine, which is now empty, someone carefully placed a metal folding chair under a circle of light formed by a skylight. Was this a clever reference to the ghost of La Cosa Nostra’s “Cargo Joe” Valachi, rumored to be hidden here by authorities in 1970? After all, his testimony about the Mafia brought the inner workings of the criminal organization into the light.
The exterior of the magazine is overgrown with Porcelain berry vines. New York City has a surprising number of romantically overgrown, seemingly (but not really) abandoned spots like this.
This stalwart pre-war brick apartment building on West 27th Street in Chelsea is literally a stone’s throw from the High Line. Art galleries and the popular High Line park have transformed this area from a rough and tumble, Wild West-like wholesale meat market to a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of wealthy New Yorkers. The land this building sits on is worth a lot; it may not last.
A nice late 1860’s example of New York’s cast iron architecture seen through a window at ABC Home, a large home goods store on Broadway. The Arnold Constable Building was also a retail enterprise. I like the way the window arches curve more sharply as your eyes move skywards. Manufacturing went on upstairs and retail and wholesale below. It was one of New York’s most important stores, catering to the carriage trade in the 19th and 20th centuries. Later, the store moved uptown, closing in 1975. The building is now protected as part of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, which includes the famous Flatiron Building.
A lower Manhattan scene contrasts old and new. On the left, a sliver of the Beaux-Arts style Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, now housing the National Museum of the American Indian. The “new” building is 1 Whitehall Street, in the heart of the financial district, built for offices in 1962.
Another look at architectural contrasts in the city, with One World Trade Center on the left. The older Art Deco building towards the middle is 21 West Street, an office tower built around 1930 and converted to residence rentals in 1997. Currently, a tiny 5th floor studio can be had for $2975/month. The glass tower with rounded corners is 50 West Street, a brand new 64 story residential building for Manhattan’s elite. As I write this, a 1000 sf one bed, one bath apartment on the 21st floor was rented at $5,700/mo. For three bedrooms you’re looking at over $15,000/mo. Or you can purchase a 3 BR penthouse (Fantastic Views!) for $24,540,000. Ah, life in the city…
Looking west on Ann Street, One World Trade is in the center. St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church, built in 1766, is on the left. This beautiful little church was the location of a ninth-month long, round-the-clock ministry to workers at Ground Zero after 9/11. Upcoming events include a Conversation on Achieving Racial Equity and a presentation of the Rachmaninoff Vespers, an a capella choral composition.
One World Trade soars above office buildings at Brookfield Place, a six building office complex built in the 80’s (formerly called the World Financial Center). Some buildings suffered extensive damage on 9/11. These days, the complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of the North Cove marina and the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus, the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
One World Trade reflected in the glass skin of Four World Trade Center, a 1.76 billion dollar project completed in 2013. Osamu Sassa of the architectural firm that designed the building said, “We like the idea of the building dematerializing.” It is essentially a parallelogram topped by a trapezoid with an especially thick glass facade making for a smooth, flat appearance, in deference to the Memorial.
A favorite view from Zucotti Park, a tiny park in lower Manhattan. This is where Occupy Wall Street was encamped back in 2011. The park was replanted after 9/11, so its Honeylocust trees are relatively young; their delicate branches are a nice foil to the glass and concrete masses surrounding the park. Here’s a photoI took during Occupy days, after work one evening.
Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in Chelsea is now ten years old. Made of reinforced concrete and glass, the building has only two vertical columns – all the others are off vertical, by as much as 25 degrees. The glass “curtain” walls, which were cold-warped (bent on site!), have two laminated panes, an airspace, and a tempered pane. Small white ceramic particles are embedded in the glass, increasing energy efficiency and reducing glare. Perhaps my favorite building in New York.
The World Trade Center’s Oculus, a transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava. Cost overruns were “insane” and of course, the building’s facade is controversial. I doubt there was ever much controversy about the quietly dignified office building behind it, 90 Church Street. I used to work there. We had a fascinating bird’s eye view of the excavation and construction at Ground Zero. When Obama came to lay a wreath in 2011, we watched as snipers methodically unwrapped their gear on the overhang below our windows. We had to stay in the building while he was on site – it was lunch at the desk, or eat late.
The Oculus inside.
The ammunition magazine at Fort Totten in Queens.
Broadway and John Street, downtown Manhattan. The red building is the Corbin Building, an 1889 Romanesque Revival style office building. It was restored by the Metropolitan Transit Authority as part of the huge Fulton Transit Center next door; you can enter the subway through the John Street entrance. While hand-digging the foundation for the transit center renovation, an old well and artifacts such as a clay pipe and ledger books from the 1880’s were found under the building, now a city landmark.
Looking west on Dey Street, Friday afternoon crowds move quickly down narrow sidewalks. On the right is 195 Broadway, the old AT&T/Western Union building, built in the early 1900’s with oversized columns designed by the architect who designed Rockefeller’s country home, Kykuit. Harper Collins has offices there now. Just to the left of the American flag is the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Here are 25 images from 8 days in New York City, where I lived on and off through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 2000’s. My view of the city is never the same two days running, but it’s likely it will be in line with this:
“There is no surrender of beauty, only an effort to find beauty by going past the typical and arriving at the common. I do not love the travel pages. I look past them and go to the substratum of the visible environment. What I love about Bali is what I love about Sao Paulo, Nairobi, Seoul and Reykjavik: the material evidence of human life, which goes on in spite of the world’s enmity. In this search, the intense attachment to the beautiful remains. The sun pours itself all over the world and the world’s things. Things are being built, or repaired, or broken. Things sit in the street, free of use. Things are on the verge of speech. Ladders rise, angels invisibly ascend and descend.”
“Assemblages inhabit their own complexity and color. What I visit less often is what has been labeled beautiful ahead of time, what has been verified by the tourist board. I want to see the things the people who live there see, or at least what they would see after all the performance of tourism is stripped away. I love these places that are not mine for the underground channel of perception by which they are connected, the common semantics of used space, the shock of familiarity, the impossibility of exact repetition.”
Ever since I first saw a reproduction of a statue of the Three Graces, I’ve been drawn to the idea and manifestation of Three Graces. In mythology the three graces are Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Abundance). Who doesn’t need more of those qualities? Who would foolishly turn away from them?
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I walk though the Greek and Roman Galleries on my way to see another exhibit, and I’m stopped short by the vision of my old friends, the Three Graces. Full size, the hover above me but are not out of reach. The galleries are crowded with visitors but the familiar form burns into my retina, cancelling out everything else.
The three women connect with each other, joined in a relaxed stance that belies the importance of their work: bringing joy and beauty to the world. Facing, not facing, facing, they include everyone in grace. Fellowship and power – the power of grace – are embodied in the feminine.
(Also called the Kharities (Charities), they attended Aphrodite and Hera. Dance, song, joy, goodwill and adornment can be added to their virtues. Cults worshiped them in southern Greece and Asia Minor, and many artistic renditions of them sprang up in pottery, on coins, in sculpture, etc. At first they were clothed, later they were shown naked. From Botticellito Niki de Saint Phalle, artists continue to work the theme.)
The 2nd century AD statue was purchased in 2010 with the help of, among others, Oscar de la Renta, the fashion designer. Mr. de la Renta, famous for clothing women elegantly, helped the museum keep these unclothed beauties in the public eye.
The painting (titled “Meeting (The Three Graces)” is by Manierre Dawson, whom I hadn’t heard of. An American born in 1887 to an art-loving family, he studied civil engineering and worked in an architectural firm. In 1910 he traveled to Europe, where he looked at lots of art and attended a soiree at Gertrude Stein’s. What an education it must have been! After returning to America he was producing innovative abstract paintings, one of which Stein purchased. He supported himself and his family by working a fruit farm at his family’s summer property in rural Michigan. The contradictions artists often live within: Dawson purchased a Marcel Duchamp painting at the Armory show in 1913; on the farm he mastered orchard skills: what trees need to bear fruit.
In a 1913 journal entry he writes, “Why not stay here on the farm, add a few acres of level land … and earn a living from the soil, with every spare hour devoted, at times to the pleasures of married life, or at times to the pleasures of painting, sketching or carving.” “The pleasures of” – the Three Graces’ whispered message is heard, and heeded. The farm became successful and Dawson devoted more time to making art, finally achieving recognition late in life with shows in Florida, and later New York. He is considered an American pioneer of abstract art.
The day after visiting the Met, I was in Chelsea and again I was stopped short by a vision of Three Graces.
A water offering sits at the base. Traffic streams down Ninth Avenue. The women are a counterpart to all that rushes and flows around them and I’m drawn in to the warm, sensual feeling emanating from gray stone.
One more image from New York seems to fit the theme:
A tree mars the composition but you take what you can get when you’re taking pictures on the street. The women are part of a wedding party gathering for pictures on a Friday afternoon in Battery Park, in lower Manhattan. There are more than three people and they’re not all women, but Beauty, Mirth and Abundance are embodied here, on this October afternoon.
Besides seeing various versions of the Three Graces, I made other connections on this trip, connections that are inevitable if you think about what you see, and unfetter your mind. There was the work of two Japanese American artists who were interned during WWII, Isamu Noguchi and Ruth Asawa. I don’t know if they ever met, but I saw connections in their experiences as Japanese Americans with complicated identities, in their mastery of materials and in the simplicity of form in their work.
Trees were a running theme, whether at an old African Burial ground in Queens or a busy downtown park. Monarch butterflies too, because they were flying at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Battery Park. Bamboo, featured in a Metropolitan Museum exhibit, also drew my eye at the Noguchi Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Architecture and ordinary buildings held my attention everywhere. The sensory overload was intense, but my eyes were hungry.
It felt good to return to the gentle rains of the Pacific Northwest.
And needless to say, there are many photographs to look at, think about, process and share. There are more in my inbox; the backlog is eleven days old. Today I’ll begin catching up with what everyone is doing.
On this trip, we spent a lot of time in the outer boroughs – five days of seeing sights and lively, often raucous, get-togethers with family and friends in Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island – leaving just three days in Manhattan. New York is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. Manhattan is at the center, the others are the outer boroughs. When people say “New York City” they usually mean Manhattan, but a city resident could spend their entire life in the Bronx and never go into Manhattan.
As we traveled from borough to borough by car, glimpses of the Manhattan skyline captivated me, just as they have for many years. I first came to New York as a five-year-old to visit my grandparents. We went up to my grandfather’s office in a building on Park Avenue, and looking out his window, I was transfixed by all the yellow cabs, the activity, the color and movement. The view up Park Avenue and the energy on the streets and sidewalks of New York became focus points driving a deep longing to fully experience life in the city. By the age of 18 I was living in Manhattan. A photo from that early trip:
Here are a few views of Manhattan from the elevated BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway), a notorious traffic nightmare. It wasn’t too hard to grab shots of the skyline as we went from Queens to Brooklyn at a 20 mph clip, which is decent for the BQE. The old Kosciuszko Bridge over Newtown Creek had just been demolished, leaving sections of the roadway angled wildly into the air like a sculpture John Chamberlin or Mark di Suvero might have done back in the 60’s. That’s the kind of eyeball-popping excitement I expect from New York, and I’m never disappointed. There are always surprises in New York, especially when you’ve been away for a few years…
How about that? The iconic Empire State Building and Chrysler Building stand proud behind a foreground lush trees and a cemetery. Not your average NYC skyline view.
The Chrysler Building is on the left, and to the right is the soaring, skinny 452 Park Avenue, said to be the western hemisphere’s tallest residential building. The East River, which separates Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens, can’t be seen here. It’s between the high rises and the older buildings.
Pieces of the old Kosciuzko Bridge roadway, seen from the new one, after the bridge was demolished. The center section of the bridge was cut off, lowered towards the water and barged to a New Jersey scrapyard, then sections of bridge roadway on either side were VERY carefully detonated. Watch the demolition here and here. I think the sections I photographed are farther from the main bridge, so they haven’t been fully demolished yet – but if anyone knows better, I’m all ears.
This view shows Newtown Creek in the foreground. It separates Brooklyn from Queens, and has been a busy hub of industrial activity for decades. It’s a Superfund site now because of copious amounts of raw sewage and industrial waste dumped there over the years, along with 30 million gallons of spilled oil. How placid the polluted estuary seems!
In my mind, the old smokestack echoes the new residential tower in Manhattan, tying together two very different sides of New York – the glitzy world of high-price Manhattan real estate and the workaday world of heavy industry and sewage disposal. Just two days ago an 8-acre residential site went up for sale on Newtown Creek, in the middle of what has been an industrial wasteland for many years. Someday, this could all be gentrified…
I’ll be back soon with more from New York….where just five miles from the places pictured above I saw this magical sight – a group of hungry Monarch butterflies feeding on asters at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.