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Back in the scene | Mi casa no su casa... | Cityscape | Visuals


It took three years, but eventually I made it back to The City to once again roam around with photo gear -- of course, it was not the only thing that was done there...

Like after the 1997 trip, there's an assessment of the photo equipment on the NY Architecture photo subsite.


When reserving the flight, also a window on the left (port) side of the plane was of course prepared, for seeing the view of Manhattan when approaching Newark International -- something I missed on both legs the last time.

So, did I get to see "the island Manhattan"? And f*** I did. As my luck would have it, the clouds were hanging that day at 800 feet (those TVs/video projectors with minute details about the plane's current meter readings, don't you just love 'em...) -- with an appropriately rough landing, which I already anticipated judging by the pretty turbulent approach which necessitated the liberal use of throttle and unhealthy airspeed until touchdown, ILS didn't seem to help the pilot too much ;^) -- and absolutely nothing of Manhattan was to be seen. On return flight the window pointed again to the "wrong" side, with only something of Downtown to be seen while ascending. "Bugger."


All in all, the visit was not so cordial as the one three years earlier, beginning with the attitude-overloaded immigration "official" with an especially bad day, who didn't for some reason like his own medicine, and gave yours truly a little bouncin' around. Fair enough. ;^) The infamous rudeness called "NYC attitude" seems to never fail to raise the hair in the back of my neck. Show me a deli with polite personnel...

The issue that made the trip a slightly paranoid experience was not though even the unreal physical grabbing and shoving by some guy with a horribly screwed-up job on a full gold tooth upper jaw, while I was photographing the 101 West End Avenue on the first morning in the city. Not that I'd advocate that The City is more dangerous than any other, but when someone is minding his/her own business in clear daylight and is approached by a type who talks in a totally incomprehensible dialect something about "Mercedes-Benz" (that's all I made out ;^)), and very nearly hits with a fist, it's time to take off. It was not even about mugging for money as he was cordial enough ;^) to go around my standing tripod without felling it -- with my plastic-covered digicam on top... Needless to say, after he left, I grabbed the tripod without dismantling it or the camera and moved from the scene swiftly. I can only assume that he mistook me for someone else... It was the only time I've met threats in The City, but it certainly frightened me.

The Thing I'm talking about was the, at times, almost incomprehensible NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) of the corporations of The City.

It all began with being approached by the "security" at the Lincoln Center about the use of tripod being not allowed. After that, the tripod seemed to rise to the status of an eyesore so frighteningly many times.

The specific permit for the use of a tripod seemed to be the magical word that in most places was required even in outdoors. I don't think that the restrictions had so much to do with the intrusiveness of tripod use in the building plazas, as I think that few tourist photographers would tote around and use a tripod, rather than indeed the stated "professional" nature of a tripod. And I guess that mine was looking professional enough, too much so for my peace (of mind). Or, on the other hand, I don't know what they've thought when making those rules...

I can fully understand the no tripods policy in interiors like Trinity Church -- although at the Riverside Church its use was allowed (both happened in 1997) -- but when one gets bullied in an open-air public plaza (however much within property lines) time after time, one gets the feeling that there's something a bit askew...

The exceptions and totally "whimsical" interpretations of private property -- as changing that piece of pavement or floor space that was originally presented as public to get the development bonuses, into private property -- got sometimes into farces. The best one must have been the one on the Solow Building 57th Street plaza (in effect an extension of sidewalk, which, BTW, was also said to be off-limits for tripod use), where a guy in an ordinary suit (and caucasian, so he must have been in the upper levels of building maintenance personnel...) approached at 5:30 AM and whisked me off a bit condescendinginly from the totally empty plaza and sidewalk. Fortunately I'd already taken the pics I needed, but he made it very clear that the plaza was private and no use of tripod was allowed and that despite my "early start", I'd been "caught after all". One wouldn't have believed that the building's developer had actually got extra development rights from the city for its "public" plaza(s) -- which don't seem very public after all...

So, if you simply want to have proper results from your archi photography and maybe bracket exposures etc. by using a (proper) tripod, then prepare to be called a "professional" who needs special permits. For these reasons I, in some cases, reverted for good to the use of my special cord-stabilization of the hand-held camera.

The lack of any kind of general rules on photography and especially use of tripod led eventually to politely asking about the Tripod Policy of this particular property owner, just in case. Some allowed, other didn't. Lincoln Center: "permit required", Columbia University: "sure, go ahead". The word may be a bit strong in this case, but I have to say that after innumerable cases of sometimes ridiculous restrictions, in the end I was close to paranoid and almost jumpy if someone approached while photographing...

Usually I couldn't blame the security personnel who, however strange the situation seemed and however smug some were, only did their job. The Most Obnoxious Piece of W*nk prize must still go unanimously to the pr*ck of a desk clerk at the Metropolitan annex at 11 Madison. Someone give my regards to the moustashioed bodybuilder at the main lobby desk... ;^) You could have said "no" much more nicely.

As opposed to the corporative representatives, the "commoners" of The City were very accommodating with my tripod even during rush-hours and gave no complaint at all. Some even came to talk and ask things. (The exceptions were a small restaurant keeper who at 6 AM came to chase away from the sidewalk in front of his empty shop as I had just set up the tripod for a quick shot of the MONY, I guess that bringing tourists to the city and his establishment (even) with this site is OK, as long as it happens "NIMBY". The other one was a maintenance man who made me in fact finally lose it with his comment to "stop playing around" with my gear, although I had thought to be well clear of his way -- he had definitely his work to do, but just a moment earlier he was working on the other end of the long facade, where he abruptly returned as I exploded. I'm afraid he had to take the burst of my anger of the last few days, but when I had paid large sums from my own pocket for the trip and equipment and gone through both physical and mental stresses to improve a serious web site promoting The City, the last straw must be being called someone who merely "plays around" for fun.)

© Studios Hergé

In general, the corporations could learn something from the citizens' accommodation. "It's still 'we, the people' -- right?" like Mr. Mustaine sang over a decade ago...

If the above seems to have a healthy complement of * words, that's because even after a couple of weeks the p*ss-off feeling has still not completely gone -- a feeling not helped the least by Arsenal FC's loss in the UEFA Cup Final in Copenhagen during the 24 hr. plane change stop there on my return flight...



But onto other subjects after the lengthy complaint. Despite all the "bad vibes", I managed to take over 100 publishable pictures on the trip and will be adding them to the site(s) in the following weeks. Maybe I could even start to add the first new building entries to the site (if one discounts the entries on the New Developments) in almost two years...

Although the majority of the photography was still about skyscrapers, I had also targeted many other architectural entities, mostly around the theme of non-scraper NYC Modernism, undoubtedly spurred much by the behemoth of a book "New York 1960" by Stern, Mellins and Fishman. So, now, buildings like the Manufacturers Hanover or Pepsi-Cola, which were omitted on the last trip, were at last bagged.

As for the issue of bagging new skyscraper top restaurants, both the 1 World Trade Center's dance bar and the Marriott Marquis' rooftop rotating bar were stormed (literally) smart-suited on the Silly Saturday. And neither visit was pre-planned, as usual. I actually went to TriBeCa that rainy night to catch an Off-Off-Broadway play, which I, given the low-key nature of a typical OOB premises, totally missed (I didn't even find a building with that number...) -- so I went to the WTC instead, and up-up. If anyone can visit the WTC's Windows on a stormy night, do it. There was an excellent swing night with a live band on the top bar (I understood it was their Big Apple night) and a few times the lightning bolts struck really close and illuminated the whole interior through the low-lying clouds. Magnificent. After the last call the sky cleared and the Downtown lights were visible dizzyingly a quarter of a mile below.

On my way to the Sub station I slipped through the open doors (after midnight!) into the lobby of the Woolworth, with a polite young dude officiating -- a change after his daytime colleagues in other buildings -- giving a paper with some history about the building and also acting as a tour guide by pointing out without asking (!) the sculptures of Woolworth and Gilbert. Good experience and good PR for the owners, Witkoff. Promote the kid immediately, I say.

With nothing better to do, I ended up in the Marquis' top restaurant after a zooming elevator ride, and got in for free as a hotel guest (I wasn't going to correct their impression) with a hotel guest I shared the elevator with. After the last call and a round in the city and cab driving around empty Times Square at 4:30 really half clinging [hum] out of the speeding cab's windows (I first resisted the thought of following his example, but in the end "it's perhaps only once in a lifetime I get to do this in NYC's Times Square" won ;^)) and throwing high fives over the cab roof we ended up in balcony of the top guest room floor (where his room was) of the Marquis' vast atrium, something I never believed I'd be able to do with my fear of heights without doing a Mel Brooks act. It was actually so high that there was no specific sense of height against the reception level dozens of floors below. Looking down over the rail gave an almost unreal feeling of the atrium's vastness. It was only 5 AM as I got to my hotel, so I had a full two-hours sleep before the next day's ordeals...

Indeed, two to five hours of sleep a night during the trip and no matter how long it took last night, it's rise and shine before 6 AM and hit the street -- encumbered with photo gear. 'Twas hard work -- with my feet usually on fire after the first two hours and after that it was simply pain, with only plaster tape keeping the soles from getting thoroughly blistered -- and involved some long treks, like the one from upper Midtown down East Side to Civic Center. (Another little leisure stretch (although without any baggage), from 125th Street to upper Midtown ended in entering mistakenly a bit too posh restaurant, clad as I was in my army boots under the rolled-up black denims less than shiny at that point and my beloved black Arsenal FC text T-shirt under my suit jacket -- and with the broken and still somewhat dirty nails ;^) from the day's hard work with the tripod -- I bit my lip and let the yuppie waiters/esses have a giggle while I stubbornly dined. Although I tipped them along my 20% scale, may these wanna-be actors (what half the waiters in The City must be) enjoy a career of obscurity forever...) But I still loved the job, as hard and demanding as it was.

One more thing: the NYC Subway is, at least in the "main" areas, a perfectly safe and dependable means of movement even in the small hours -- it may not be as "homelike" and groovy as the London Underground, but gets the work done. After I realized that I stopped taking the cab for every hop downtown (and back) from the hotel...

BTW, I don't totally understand the claim that a cab is hard to find (at least on Fifth) in rain -- I found getting one as easy (ie. difficult ;^)) as on dry...


As I get the images from the trip online, I'll start to add links also to this page to respective images and also introduce a "happenstances" page for this trip (1997 version).
Check out this space.

2 June 2001:
Have to admit that I'm a bit disappointed of no-one having complained about the acts written above -- maybe I should have then not shied away from mentioning the attending of a relaxed screening of Julian Temple's excellent Sex Pistols documentary "The Filth and the Fury" on the last night of the trip, or how the poor taxi-driver actually got himself a warning from the Blues after our out-of-window experiences in his speeding taxi or how the bouncer at the Rainbow Room atop 30 Rock, well, bounced me after claiming that I wasn't dressed properly with my aforementioned Arsenal FC shirt and army boots (after all, I had a suit jacket, huh?)... Hmmm, come to think of it, forget what I just said...

Well, it took in fact a whole year to finally have the images talked-thru' and the page introduced. The page is now however online at the NYC Images collection. Better late than never. (Or as John Cleese's Mozart said in the first ever Monty Python sketch, "Famous Deaths": "Oh how time flies...")










lo-go © e t dankwa 2 June 2001