Where to go was the question that was on my mind when I awoke on Saturday morning and after a cup of hot strong coffee I decided on Socrates Sculputre Park, an urban open air museum at then end of Broadway bordered by Vernon Boulevard and the East River waterfront. I took the Q69 bus to 21st Street and Broadway and walked toward the park taking shots as I strolled through this urban neighborhood. It was my second visit to Socrates and the last time I was there it was in between exhibits but I was in luck this weekend as EAF13 – the 2013 Emerging Artist Fellowship exhibition was on, showcasing 15 new distinctive pieces of visual art.
Now, this was my kind of art; skillfully crafted from everyday stuff which is the “stuff” I love to photograph. The best part about this museum is the exhibits are not just for viewing but for touching, climbing, crawling and probing; a sprawling surreal art playground.
As I approached the entrance my eyes were drawn up to a painting of a dazzling African sunset poised on top of the gates created by artist Wangechi Mutu entitled “Broadway Billboard”. Upon entering the park I turned toward the right to a piece by Aida Šehović: “Obstacle Course.” This was very popular with the adults as much as the children. I watched as a women walked over to the exhibit, looking pensively at the rubber tires at the head of the course, then dropped her bag and showed off her dexterity by hopping through the old car tires with the agility of a 9 year old. Then satisfied that she still had it, picked up her bag and waltzed over to the Saturday morning Tai-Chi class near the exhibit.
The most intriguing was Justin Randolph Thompson’s “Brutus Jones,” a hulking creation of an old rusted wreck and an enormous jutting head glaring out at the visitors. I loved “Tree Wood” by Toshihiro Oki, an open wooden structure in the middle of a small grove of trees. I maneuvered my body within the frame work so I could look up through the beams and boughs and capture the sunlight peering through the leaves. I was delighted when I noticed a huge chandelier dangling from one of the roof beams giving one a feeling of being in an upscale tree house.
I walked around each piece looking through my lens for that special angle that would best showcase the size, shape, texture and color while marveling at how the artists turned a combination of wood, wire, stone, plastic, metal, paint, enamel, water bottles and canvas into urban sculptures. I listed all of the artists, whose work I loving photographed, at the end of this post.
As you wander through the park you begin to see that it is an urban photographer’s paradise. The main office or staff house is actually old cargo containers stacked one on top of the other and painted a dark forest green with a greenhouse topping it off. There were big wooden spools used as tables with tree stumps for seats. A wide open metal work shed for the artists to work in littered with the remnants of creation. But, my favorite spot of all was behind the shed where anything and everything that is used by the park staff and the artists is stored. Most of it was old and worn, some items covered in cobwebs, dust and rust. There were ladders, shovels, saw-horses, poles, containers of all shapes and sizes, winches and pulleys, ropes and rags, grease and glue and a hundred other tools. There was a huge white iron ball that I had to assume was an old buoy pulled from the East River and will someday be a part of an artists imagination and crafted into a new exhibit. Two pussy cats made this their urban abode; one napped on top of a container while another pair of golden feline eyes watched me from behind a leafy cover as I took my fill of photos.
When I exited the park I turned left and walked just a few feet over to Hallet’s Cove. A teeny-tiny strip of shore line and a great place to find grunge. It happened to be low tide and I walked about in the mire and the very pungent smell of the murky waters lapping at my feet. Sun blackened seaweed covered the rocky beach. Sticking up from the sand was a rotted wooden stump resembling an ancient worn totem pole. There were a few pieces of urban debris that washed up on a shore; a bottle without a message but with a seaweed beard and a lost smart phone cover. I climbed around on some boulders that are hidden during high tide, and looked for riparian treasures to photograph. I stumbled upon two large stone blocks, one with a seaweed hair pierce nestle in the sand and the other perched on top of a big boulder. Each had a large single letter carved on them like those children’s wooden ABC blocks. I have seen these blocks inside the park and I don’t know if they were carved by an artist or left over from when the park was an abandoned riverside landfill.
This was definitely a fun, unique and interesting day of urban shooting in my borough of Queens, and I hope you enjoy the images below.
- Thordis Adalsteinsdottir
- Diann Bauer
- Michael DeLucia
- Tamara Johnson
- Anthony Heinz May
- David McQueen
- Kenneth Pietrobono
- Aida Šehović
- Sandy Smith
- Edouard Steinhauer
- Chris Boyd Taylor
- Justin Randolph Thompson
- Hong-An Truong
- Gustabo Velazquez
- Myung Gyun You
Last September I wrote a blog post entitled “Seeing Art in a Desolate Landscape” which, was about an area along the East River, in Long Island City, Queens that had been raised to make way for whatever project the city had planned for this prime water front piece of land. I had assumed it was going to be either or both commercial and residential buildings. But, last Wednesday I read in The New York Times of the opening of the brand new Hunter’s Point South Park, on the shores of the East River and a kissing cousin to Gantry Plaza State Park. I then made my plans to visit that weekend.
I woke up Saturday to an almost autumn morning with warm sunshine and cool temperatures. I grabbed the camera and hurried over to this new jewel among the New York City urban parks. I took the #7 train to the Vernon/Jackson Boulevard stop, not the Hunter’s Point stop as one would think. Once on Vernon Boulevard I crossed the street and walked up 51st Avenue toward the East River and Gantry Plaza State Park. I crossed the new Center Boulevard and stood on the spot where the two parks are now joined, with Hunter’s Point South Park on my left.
Remembering the site as I had previously photographed it one year ago, with piles of rubble and other construction debris, this completed section of the park took my breath away. It sparkled and gleamed in the morning sun, like a young beauty at her debut. When entering the park you are welcomed with a sea of seasonal flowers and wet land plants in patches or small gardens and some decorated with old rusted rail tracks; a reminder of when the LIRR picked up cargo from these shores, which was off loaded from ships via the old Gantry’s back in LIC’s industrial hey-day.
Continuing my walk south I came across an enviable doggie run, the likes I’ve never seen before, with sloping hills and an embedded water trough flowing right through the middle of it, so the dogs can take a sip of cool water in between chasing their canine friends and non-stop barking. There was one little pug whose owner had put his ball up in a tree and this energetic furry fellow jumped straight up and down for about 15 minutes trying to retrieve his precious toy.
There is a colorful children’s playground with swings, slides and tunnels to crawl through, bike and running lanes snake throughout the park, a large shimmering green oval Astroturf lawn, and best of all a small sandy “urban” beach! Next to the beach is the cool shaded pavilion, constructed from pleated photovoltaic panels that fanned out in a graceful arc adjacent to the NY Waterway ferry landing.
To me, the best part of the park is the broad clean river promenade with the most fantastic views of the much photographed iconic Manhattan skyline. Along the promenade are cozy little nooks with seats for two or a whole row of angular wooden benches with high wide comfortable backs for lounging in the sun and watching the river’s traffic float by. Below the protective fencing, surrounding the water front portion of the park, the river laps against a strong rocky shore interspersed with sweet wild grasses.
I walked all over the park’s 5.5 acres until I was back at my starting point and then spent some time walking the fishing pier at Gantry Plaza State Park and taking photos of the stalwart black gantries. I climbed down to the water’s edge beneath one of the gantries, carefully balancing myself on the pink granite stepping-stones as I photographed the landscape from a lower perspective.
Walking up 51st Avenue, on my way back to Astoria, I looked up between the apartment buildings and spied 5 tiny planes writing across the clear blue sky and a few blocks further there was a gorgeous grouping of old but still regal row houses, the last hold outs from the turn of the 20th century among the steel and glass giants of the 21st.
Enjoy the photos and if you are in Long Island City you must visit this lovely urban utopia.
A few weeks ago I went to Brooklyn Bridge Park to take photos of the East River water front from the Brooklyn side perspective. When I had exited the #4 train at Borough Hall I had a bit of a walk toward the pier, but since I was in the beautiful neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights the walk was enjoyable. I made a mental note to come back in the fall to photograph this charming neighborhood and its incredible Brownstone homes, old mansions, restaurants and cafes.
I started my walk along Joralemon Street but then made a detour to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade which over looks piers 2 & 3 with wide open vistas of the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island to the left. The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to the right and South Street Seaport and lower Manhattan straight ahead of you, with Brooklyn Bridge Park down below. The park is still under construction especially piers 2 & 3 so I had the best of both worlds urban photography wise, with the typical tourist views of the Manhattan skyline combined with my favorite grungy industrial stuff.
I wanted to make sure that the composition included the new construction as the forefront to the bridges, seaports and the East River. I also wanted to zoom in on the construction bits too since when one is on the street level a site is usually blocked by covered fencing with maybe one or two peep holes. But, from up above I could photograph the red dump trucks, yellow digging trucks, orange cherry pickers, green dumpsters, and a myriad of other construction accoutrements I have no names for but made for great images. Peeking out of the water’s edge were the remnants of the old piers mutely watching as a new 21st century world was going up around them.
As I looked left toward the completed sections of piers 5 & 6 in the distance I could see blue umbrellas, and tables, soccer fields and hordes of bicyclists gearing up for a ride through the park. I took the last of the photos from above and hurried down making my way back to Joralemon street and finally into the park itself.
When I got there it was just teeming with people barbecuing, picnicking, walking, running, fishing, tanning, reading, painting, playing, and like me just taking in the views and marveling at this wonder of urban “parchitecture.” The park has grassy knolls and tree-lined trails, which were little oasis of cool comfort on a hot summer’s day. I followed the crowd as we wended our way through temporary alleyways around the construction toward Pier 1 and the Brooklyn Bridge.
By this time I was hot and looking for a place to have a bite to eat and something to drink, when I spied a creamy sanctuary sitting under the bridge; The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, Hurrah!!! I made a mad dash through the doors and entered into a world of frozen sweet treats and many happy faces. I had a double scoop strawberry cone and sat outside in the shade licking the drips from my fingers as I watched the tourist disembark from the New York Water Taxis.
There was a restaurant right next to the ferry landing with a very enticing deeply rusted old fence which I had to take a few photos of. After that I decided to make my way back and walked through the land side of the park through the many shady paths and wide open lawns surrounded by plants and wooden benches. I followed a trail that led across a foot bridge that crossed over the highway and took you to Squibb Park and back into the streets of Brooklyn Heights to catch the train back home.
I am the owner of a brandy new iPad Mini. I traded in two old lenses and a camera through the Amazon trade in program and, received enough money to buy the iPad. The first thing I did was to download any and all photography apps and magazines and have been immersed in iPad heaven for the past two weeks. Yesterday, I decided to try the camera on the iPad on a walk around the neighborhood.
I took a few test shots and was happy with the crisp clear amazingly well exposed images. Since the camera was doing most of the work the only thing I had to worry about was composition and making sure I held the iPad in a firm grip. It was an early spring day with blue skies and puffy clouds but basically unexciting being early in the season and no color other than in the sky. So, the question was: What to shoot?
There is an app that came with the iPad called Photo Booth which comes with nine preset effects and after a little experimentation I chose three of them to work with: mirror, kaleidoscope and swirl. I used these for the rest of the day especially the mirror image. That preset transformed the landscape from OK to Oh Boy! Everything I shot took on the look of a Rorschach test. It was fantastic. I loved what I was capturing and by just positioning the pad a little to the left, right, up or down you could control how wide or thin the mirror image should be. Bare branch trees became wooden cathedrals, and bridges split in two and hovered in mid-air. Any of those annoying things that get into your shot and you would normally remove in post processing, looked great because they were perfectly matched on either side. Tiny fractal faces appeared in the seams and crotches of the abstract designs that were created by this effect. This same effect when focused on the gnarly knots of tree trunks turned them into huge alien monsters!
As I walked along the street I switched to the swirl affect which moved like a mini hurricane across the screen. I would wait until a car, truck or bus would pass by and get caught in this swirling vortex as I tapped the screen. It worked just as well with passing tugs and barges on the East River as I waited for the unsuspecting ship to get sucked into and stretched through an imaginary black hole. The kaleidoscope was fantastic on wide angle landscape and close up shots, splitting the images into broken crystalline pieces of color and texture.
The best shots I took and my favorites are of a man trying to get his parachute to launch itself in the middle of Astoria Park. I have no idea where he thought he was going but the ‘chute provided a wonderful big colorful subject for the mirror effect. At times the man holding the ropes disappeared completely as I angled the pad to create a surreal image of the parachute that seemed to appear out of thin air against a fantastical back drop of the Hell Gate Bridge through the looking-glass.
Enjoy these preposterous trippy little images of a day in iAstoria.
There is something about a cold grey day that fills me with a strange magical excitement. The clouds take on an ominous thrilling look and trees, buildings and bridges look black against the somber sky. It is quiet and few people are to be seen. This Saturday was just that kind of day as I took my morning walk to Astoria Park. I looked up at the sky and wished I’d bought my camera with me but, then I gleeful remembered I had my iPhone with me and the trusty Hipstamatic app which would add the perfect aged, grainy, dark effect to the images I had been seeing in my mind. This was going to be a good day.
The newly laid asphalt pathways; coal black with bright white symbols for bikers, skaters and pedestrians started me off. The pathways turned and snaked through the park and pulled the eye along to a distant point. The gnarled arthritic branches of trees and bushes along the frigid water’s edge were perfect frames for the Hell Gate and Triboro Bridges.
Twenty minutes into my walk the winds picked up and the sky grew misty with tiny flakes of snow that stung my face and fingers as I tried to capture the seagulls floating gracefully in an up draft of wind. I walked further north toward the end of the park as the flakes grew fat and fluffy flying everywhere at once. Out on the water, the distant buildings barely visible in the mist a large maritime vessel appeared out of the cold white vapor on its way up the East River.
Turning in away from the water I walked through the park where the snow was starting to powder the landscape bringing out the textures in the bark of trees and adding a thin icing to the leaves of winter plants. I walked in and out of the trees and followed the paths to a clearing blanketed in white and let the snow swirl around me. I stood upon the public deck to the Astoria Pool looking out at the magnificent view flanked by the two famous bridges taking images and remembering the hot summer childhood days my siblings and I spent there. Walking to the other side of the deck I looked down at the cascading stairways that lead to and from the entrance of the pool that had accumulated a dusting of this first of winter’s snow. Towards the afternoon the snow turned to rain and I turned my cold and wet feet towards home and hot coffee.
This morning the sun was shinning bright, the air cold and crisp and although not as exciting as yesterdays mini snow squall it did provide me with some fantastic winter subject matter. Ice. During the night the drop in temperatures froze any puddles that had accumulated in yesterdays rain. The frozen water cracked into spider web mosaics and knife-edged triangles of ice. A slushy foot print was frozen in time until a warmer day erases the memory. Left over autumn leaves and tufts of dried grass were also enveloped victims of nature’s frosty magic.
Stay warm my friends winter is just beginning.
Saturday, I embarked on a three hour voyage to learn about and photograph the historic lighthouses of New York Harbor. The tour was sponsored by the National Lighthouse Museum and the Working Harbor Committee.
At 9:45am we boarded the high speed ferry Sea Streak at pier 5. Now, this ferry is just fabulous for getting people to and from New York and New Jersey in record time but, as a sight seeing boat, not a good idea. Because this boat went at such high speeds it was very bumpy, kicked up gale force winds and enough salt water spray to think you were at Niagara Falls. I spent a good deal of time trying to keep my balance, wiping off the lens and sticking my camera under my jacket to protect it from the elements as best I could. The boat did slow down and idle in front of the lighthouses so we could get a good look and take a few images. But, I knew right away my shots were not going be great due to the spray and that I could barely keep my balance. I just kept on shooting as did the other photographers who were in the same boat as I was (pardon the pun.)
When viewing the images on the computer the salt coating on the lens gave the same look as the old 1940’s movies where they smeared Vaseline on the lens to create that soft glowing blur. I used all of my artistic digital darkroom talents to turn these photographic lemons into lemonade. I converted all of them to black and white, applied a sepia finish which sharpened some of the blur and pulled out any detail. The “salt” blur actually worked well on a some of the images but most of the shots were deleted because the blur was too much and you could barely make out the subject of the image. The last four images are an exception to this. I kept them because the blur had a very dream like in quality to it. The images I took of the pier before we embarked on our harbor tour obviously did not experience blur problems but I converted them to sepia just the same because I felt it gave a nice aged look to the wooden planks, beams and poles.
Despite all of the above, I did enjoyed myself and captured images of the following lighthouses listed in order of appearance: Fortwadsworth (SI); Coney Island (Brooklyn, NY); West Bank (SI); Romer Shoal (NJ); Navesink Twin Lights (NJ); Great Beds (NJ) and last but not least Old Orchard Shoal (NY).
Each lighthouse has a unique history and for me the two most interesting light houses were the Fort Wadsworth, sitting on top of the old Fort Wadsworth Battery Weed under the Verrazano Bridge and, The 150 year old Navesink Twin Light houses with their medieval castle architecture. One of my favorite lighthouse shots though, is of Old Orchard with a man in a small boat fishing at the foot of the Light house while a flock of socializing Cormorants napped, groomed feathers and chattered on the top of the light house. A very picturesque moment.
Although these lighthouses are no longer in use, due to modern GPS technology, they still stand as historic monuments and museums. Reminders of the importance of the maritime industries that serve the ports of New York, New Jersey and Staten Island.
This past Sunday I went meandering around Long Island City looking to add to my urban grunge photo collection and happened upon the “southern” waterfront of the East River at the end of 5th Street and 46th Avenue. I was immediately attracted to the old rusting barges and rundown warehouses and made a bee line to the water’s edge to spend a few happy minutes photographing these old river relics.
When I had finished taking photos of the old boats I noticed brightly colored kayaks along the side of the dock. These belonged to LicBoathouse.org. I spoke with one of the representatives of this organization and I was told they provide kayaking tours of the East River. I was absolutely fascinated and was given a tour of the boathouse, which is in an old meat smoking factory now owned by a company called PLAXALL. The original old company logo of a bull’s head and a large letter F can still be seen on the corner-stone of the building. This building also houses a bicycle re-”cycling” center , another terrific ”green” gem in Long Island City.
Once inside the boathouse head quarters I spoke with the people who lead the kayaking groups and took a few photos of the kayaks, life jackets and other equipment and of course the now empty huge meat smoking chambers. Apparently kayaking the East River is very popular with adults as well as children who enjoy this type of riparian adventure. What makes these tours so special besides the great learning experience and fantastic views of New York City is that they are absolutely FREE! Can’t get any better than that!
Monday, I continued my urban grunge sojourn in Astoria visiting Socrates Sculpture Park an outdoor museum, and finally Hallet’s Cove both adjacent to each other on Vernon Boulevard. I was in my element with plenty of industrial detritus to photograph. The park did not have any current exhibits on view at this time but there are a few permanent pieces like Curtain, a project conceived by architects Jerome Haferd and K Brandt Knapp. This piece is a combination of architectural structural framing with plastic chain link partitions and enclosures. It reminded me of a white chain link weeping willow and I just loved walking around and through it taking off angle photos. Just as you enter the park there are three sculptures of young African American teenagers in life style poses. My favorite was the basketball player; I could have sworn he was real. I had the good fortune to meet artist, Chanq-Jin Lee preparing for the installation of her piece called Floating Echo a giant inflatable Buddha which will be on exhibit on September 9th. I took a few photos of her team loading a floating platform that will be transformed into a Lotus flower that the Buddha will sit upon in the calm waters of Hallet’s Cove.
The park as well as Hallet’s Cove are on the East River facing Roosevelt Island and Manhattan. As usual my attention was drawn to the shoreline and to all of the old debris from forgotten docks, piers, railroads and warehouses that line this part of Western Queens. A small new dock sits among the remains of the old docks where a little pea green boat was tied up and is used for people who want to take a row on the water (weekends only.) On the tiny beach at Hallet’s Cove I found myself walking the few feet of sandy “beach” taking shots of twisted rusted metal sticking out from large tumbled pieces of concrete that at one time were part of a pier. I left the beach and I walked along Vernon Boulevard to the promenade of a housing project to capture the park and the cove at a wide angle distance with the dilapidated piers reflecting in the water.
I hope this blog motivates you to kayak the East River or make a visit to Astoria Queens to wander through an outdoor museum or sit and relax in Hallet’s Cove on the shore of the East River. Enjoy the photos below.
Last Sunday, was a picture perfect day and with camera in hand I went on a most unusual but fascinating boat exploration of Newtown Creek as part of a Hidden Harbor tour. As you know I have a fascination with urban grunge and this trip gave me ample opportunity to capture images of industrial exploitation that would not have been possible on land. Our tour guide and narrator was Mitch Waxman, who is a blogger, photographer and historian for the Newtown Creek Alliance.
The tour group met at the NY Water Taxi “stand” at Pier 17 and the boat left at 11:00am beginning our three hour voyage up the East River with expansive vista’s of South Street Seaport and the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges before moving into Newtown Creek.
Once on the creek the scenery was not your picture-post-card views unless you consider toxic waste one of them. Newtown Creek unfortunately has the undesirable distinction to be one of the most heavily used bodies of water in the Port of New York and New Jersey and one of the most polluted industrial sites in America. The water is a noxious mix of discarded toxins, gallons of spilled oil, and raw sewage from New York City’s sewer system! You would need to wear a hazmat suit to go for a swim and would be considered insane for doing so.
By now you are no doubt thinking why in hell would anyone want to take a “tour” like this? Well, for one thing it is a piece of urban history in my own back yard, so to speak. Secondly, it has all of the grit and grime an urban photographer could possibly ask for. But, most importantly it opens ones eyes to the reality of what can happen when commerce and industry are allowed to run amok without any ecological accountability.
Newtown Creek is bordered on either side by Greenpoint Brooklyn and Long Island City Queens. Standing on the stern of the boat the Whale Creek Fuel Tanks loom over the landscape on the Brooklyn side to my left. On the Queens side to my right were huge mountains of crushed shredded metal and plastic, once cars, waiting to be loaded on barges. In the distance is the skyline of Manhattan, a mirage of shinning gleaming buildings. Warehouses old and new, abandoned sheds and small factories, rusted and decaying building equipment, tools, machinery, trucks, cars, small boats, rubbish, and litter mixed in with the weeds and wild grasses are the somber hallmarks of this shoreline.
During those three hours I was all over that boat trying to keep the glaring sun behind me and create images depicting the natural and unnatural scenery. Although the water was a dark yellow-brown miasma that assaulted my nose and eyes, I was able to find some beauty in the water’s abstract reflections.
The Pulaski Bridge opened wide its arms in welcome as we passed underneath and the Kosciusko bridge added a quiet gentility as we slowly sailed past. I could not help wondering as I looked all around of what this waterway was like before the European settlers arrived and the original inhabitants swam, fished and lived along the shores. Is it possible that we could bring the land and water back to life once again? Thanks to the inspiring work and dedication of the members of the Newtown Creek Alliance this dream someday, might come true.
Stay In Focus,