* B A C K G R O U N D   N O T E S


Taking some of the images involved strange situations and even
huge luck. Here are some of those situations unearthed.



Woolworth | Western Union | Brooklyn Heights | Irving | Chase
Javits | Queens | Marquis | 'Alternate' views | Lescaze |

I found a perfect view of the
Woolworth Building from in front of the US Post Office, in the entrance niche, to be accurate. I had placed myself and the tripod-mounted camera on the side of the entrance niche, away from the traffic going in and out through the revolving door in the middle, or so I thought. Just as I had set the camera properly, a guy came from within the building and put a cord obstruction with a plaque "use side doors" in front of the revolving door! I must have seemed like a total idiot crouching there in the way of people coming in and out, but the 'line of sight' was simply best from where I was, so I just had to squeeze myself next to a dustbin and try to take the picture as fast as I could.
While 'bagging' the
Western Union Building, I went into the lobby to take a photo of it because I felt that the building is externally so much like the nearby AT&T Building that it would be of no use to photograph also the W.U. in its entirety. Just as I had taken my spot meter out of bag, a 'bouncer' came to me and said that photography in the lobby was forbidden! I didn't know that W.U. was that sensitive of its property. Maybe some of its business partners passing the lobby coudn't face the light of day... Well, joking apart, I went outside and photographed the entrance instead.
The first photo session of the trip was carried out under less than perfect circumstances. The promenade at Brooklyn Heights offers magnificent views of lower Manhattan, but its location in waterfront can cause also grievances, as I was to experience. When I arrived there it was terribly windy (there went the cover leaf from my Village Voice...) and I even considered leaving and coming back later, but as I couldn't really be sure whether the weather (pun, pun...) would be any better even then, I decided to try to make the best of it as I was there. Moreover, I was on a tight schedule and didn't want to make the trip back to the 'other side' of the river later on. Well, as I used the telezoom lens to isolate the buildings from Financial District I had to use the tripod, and as I used the tripod I needed to wait for a less windy moment to shoot, so that the wind wouldn't affect the result (a drawback of not carrying a sturdy, heavyweight tripod, despite that I used the rucksack and the camera bag as weights on the tripod). It was a hellishly long procedure, to wait and wait for the wind to calm down for a few seconds at a time and, moreover, constantly measure the exposure, half-cloudy day as it was... I estimate that it took about five times the normal time to take all the images (like the
Downtown waterfront) I'd planned to take from the Brooklyn side. Eventually, the images came out rather well, albeit a bit on the light side due to the erranous incident metering, but the increased contrast of the scanning balanced that quite well.
The photographing of
1 Wall Street involved perhaps more interaction with the 'natives' than during the photographing of any other single building on that trip. As I was taking exposures and setting everything, a group of youngsters passed by and the girls in that group wanted me to take a photo of them. "Sure", I joked, but as they thought that I was serious, I unfortunately had to let them down as I had my 'Effie' set on tripod and trained on 1 Wall, and I wasn't too excited about interrupting the delicate settings. Those young girls were very delicate too ;^) and I had to soothe their disappointment by saying quite truthfully that "of course I'd love to take their photo, but etc..." Anyway, I used slide film, and it might have been more than difficult to get them the copies they wanted. A bit later two dudes came by, and as I told them that I was photographing 'scrapers for the 'Net, they recommended me some subjects and I even (grinningly) had to admit that I was a -- tourist... In both these instances when asked about what I was photographing, I babbled the slogan I came up with: "those two, the cathedrals of capitalism and religion." Well, don't know was it the 'distractions' or what, but I actually forgot to move the skyscraper wall to a higher zone, ie. in practice, open the aperture one stop from the measured spot reading, and thus the wall of 1 Wall (yes, another pun) came out a bit dark.
Huge luck got involved when photographing the
Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza. As I arrived at the bank it was late afternoon and brokers and clerks were hurrying homebound. I took some time to find a good spot to get on film both artworks in the plaza and a part of the bank building itself. I hesitated many times before I was actually happy with the sharpness in viewfinder and the camera settings and took the picture. Just as I was putting the camera to bag -- it must have been only about ten seconds after actually pressing the shutter release -- that the fountain in the pool was shut down! Well, not that the outcome as scanned would have been that much different, the fountain jets aren't very visible in the image, but it was a strange coincidence that I'd actually, unbeknownst, take the picture at the last moment. And the fountain is an integral part of the water-sculpture artwork, after all...
Little did I apparently know about the vaguely informed "restricted area policy" around the Downtown Civic Center when photographing the
Javits Federal Office Building... I walked off the street just like anywhere to a most suitably placed square next to U.S. Courthouse, from where to bag the Javits ("My, it's much wider and lower than I thought..."), unaware of anything being wrong. I though wondered that the square was surprisingly sparsely crowded. In fact, apart from two older people sitting in a bench nearby and talking something important in a low voice, there was hardly anyone there. I took the picture and walked back towards street. In the corner of the Courthouse a policeman stopped me and started to scold me from entering a forbidden area, restricted for Civic Center personnel only! He showed me a plaque on the Courthouse wall about the restriction and said that I should have noticed it and keep out of the Courthouse property. I, as an ardent debatist, of course started a counter-argument that the plaque should be in a more visible place, for example on a pole etc.... But as I said that I've done what I came to do there, and I'm done now, the quarrel died away, and I continued towards City Hall Park... (In the full-frame slide one can see the policeman eyeing suspiciously from the corner, but I've cropped him from the scanned image.) (5 Jan 1999: he's back in frame, and in fact, walking towards me at the corner)
The weather during my visit was almost surprisingly amiable, contrary to my worst fears, as foggy or rainy weather is a merciless enemy of skyscraper photography, for obvious reasons. The only time I encountered foggy weather while shooting was in the morning when I had ridden to the Queens side of East River to bag the U.N. Plaza and the slanted roof of Citicorp -- and maybe the Chrysler top. The arrival to Queens was uneventful (although I surely noticed that prices in Times Square area, where I had 'mistakenly' eaten breakfast the day before, can be really profitable -- that is, for the cafe manager -- as now on Queens side I got twice as much breakfast for half the price...), but once I reached the waterfront, I was disappointed: weather was quite foggy, and, for example, the fume-puffing Citicorp tower wasn't, with its gray aluminium 'skin', very distinguishable from the dull-coloured sky behind (and the picture of it didn't come out too well, either) [10 Jan 1999: Well enough for being included now, anyway]. The image of the
U.N. Plaza required a fair amount of manipulation to get some more contrast to it -- so it isn't one of the most handsome around, but will do. [the image has been replaced] After taking the pictures I wanted, I set out for a long, long walk towards the Roosevelt Island, to ride the tramway back to Manhattan, another thing not planned for before the trip, but as I thought, I might just as well do it, as I've travelled all the way to the other side of the globe...
The atrium shot of the
Marriott Marquis Hotel was the only indoors picture I took for the skyscrapers web site -- it not only told vastly more about the building than an exterior shot would have done, but the dim Blade Runner interior was also such a sight that it simply made a fine picture in itself. I went up to the hotel's eighth floor lobby for the first time during one of my Times Square evening strolls, confident that with my suit'n'tie clothing no-one would turn me away from that laudably expensive (for hotel guests, that is) environment. I slightly hesitated to go back there during the day, though, in my less-than-chic 'work' clothing and photo gear, to photograph the interior. Anyway, I took there with the Owner-of-the-City attitude, walking around the lobby level, well aware that my shabby clothing wasn't exactly something expected of a Marquis guest. Finally I found a good spot from the cafe and cautiously metered the exposure with spot meter and took a couple of pictures of the 'space' atrium, not sure whether photography even would be frowned upon by the personnel. But the slides did turn out well...
One issue before the trip was how to photograph some architectural icons that have through the decades been photographed from virtually the same angles in all reproductions. Not least of such icons are the
Flatiron Building and the RCA/GE Building, which have been almost always photographed from the most familiar angles -- the pointed apex of the Flatiron and the jagged Plaza side of the RCA/GE, that is. So, even before the trip I had decided upon the points-of-view from which to shoot these buildings, and which would show a hitherto less known side of these respective buildings. There was no particular sense in photographing the Flatiron from the apex side as that had already been done ad nauseam and there already were links to such images on the site -- the same went for the RCA/GE Plaza side. How many of you do in fact know or remember what the Flatiron 22nd Street facade looks like, or that the RCA/GE is so totally different on the Sixth Avenue side? They may not be as dramatic on these portrayed sides, but nevertheless should help to complete the outward image of the buildings.
As I arrived at the
Lescaze House I saw to my horror that there was a yellow car with a truly messed-up, patched paintjob parked in front of it. A perfect way to ruin the facade of the coolest building in New York City... It could have been advisable to come back again later, but the timetable was strict and I had to manage the best I could. Fortunately, the mismatching paint on the door of the car wasn't that bad on the scanned image, and I could further lessen the effect by blurring the car with photo manipulation (2 Jan 1999: blurred no more...).

M A I N   P A G E

lo-go © e t dankwa 23 December 1997