Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New York/42nd Street and 5th Avenue

42nd Street and Fifth Avenue (4x5 film)

My life is a constant yo-yoing between mundane assignments and obligations, and extraordinary moments and opportunities. One is tempted, at times, to complain about the drudgery of less interesting work, but as I've found over the years, the extraordinary moments often spring without warning from those flat interludes.

Consider the picture above, which I think is a fine representation of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue at very heart of Midtown. Behind me is the Public Library and in the right is Chrysler Building towering over Grand Central Terminal. My assignment was to shoot the H&M store kitty corner across the intersection attempting to locate it at this famous spot. Earlier I had done a number of closer pictures that described the storefront well, but didn't say much about the location.

While making one of the closer views, an elevation of the store windows while several window dressers adjusted the manniquins (a nice bit of unplanned activity), a man stopped and we chatted briefly. He had an interest in large format photography and was glad to see that I was still using a view camera. He did pictures himself, usually of architecture in Turkey and eastern Europe, and, in fact, was headed to Bulgaria the next day. I just barely caught his name as he dashed off down 42nd Street.

I then crossed Fifth Avenue, and as the light began to fall, I discovered the view above from the elevated terrace in front of the Public Library. This was where I should have been looking from the beginning.

Later, when I got home, I Googled the name of the person I had spoken to on the street--Steve Lewis--and discovered that he was an architectural historian, urban planner, writer, translator, Fulbright scholar, and on and on. He had lived in the Netherlands for years, as I had, and grew up on the Lower East Side, the neighborhood that has been at the center of my life in New York. I e-mailed him, and because his trip to Bulgaria was postponed, we met in a café the next day and had a most enjoyable conversation about photography, architecture, and life in the Netherlands.

It's a cliché to say that photography is about serendipity. Usually, it refers to catching something in the split second of an exposure. But for me, it's about chance events much more broadly defined: like the opening of the Berlin Wall in the midst of my project photographing the Iron Curtain, or much more prosaically, an encounter in the flow of people and cars on a familiar corner while shooting an H&M clothing store.


Anonymous Mike said...

Nice photo, you have a good eye for that, I guess that's the reason you've become a photographer in the first place.
I wanted to ask you how do you like living in Williamsburg part of Brooklyn (several posts back you've mentioned that you were moving there). When I was in NY few years ago, that neighborhood was full of artists but now I hear that it became very fancy and expensive and all artists are pushed out.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Brian Rose said...

I haven't yet moved to Williamsburg, but hope the apartment will be ready before the summer. It's true that artists are being pushed out and the neighborhood is becoming more expensive. But it's still considerably less expensive than Manhattan and much rougher around the edges--in a good way--than other parts of Brooklyn.

Despite all the changes in New York, the city remains the largest employer of art/creative related people in the country, if not the world. Some are paid better than others to be sure, but the work is here, and, with difficulty, people find places to live.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Brian. The H&M shot is indeed excellent and places the store appropriately. (I'm struck by the irony of a retail chain that originated in the street markets of the east of Amsterdam placing it self securely in one of Manhattan's "signature" locations.) Thanks, by the way, for mentioning our meeting and conversations. Anyone who would like to read/see elements of my work in architectural/urban history is welcomed to click through to www.bubkes.org

4:52 AM  

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