I was on a mission last Sunday to photograph grunge; the real nitty-gritty of  an urban landscape. The day dawned grey and overcast with occasional dark clouds which added to the stark mood of the images I was after. The night before I had a notion in my head to capture this type of true-to-life subject matter in all of its abstract state, then convert the images to a high detailed black and white allowing only tiny bits of color to peep out in certain areas of the image.

I took the N to Queensboro Plaza in Long Island City Queens and started my sojourn there ending the day in Queensbridge Park on Vernon Blvd. along the shore of the East River.

Long Island City is going through a wonderful and much needed transformation with construction going on all over. The landscape is a contrast of the young robust framework of new buildings going up and the effete skeletons of abandoned houses with all the fabulous photographic detritus that surrounds both sites.

The first images are from the walkway arching above the streets of the “new” Queensboro Plaza. This is still a work in progress but the make-over so far has transformed the streets leading to the access of the 59th Street Bridge into a tiny oasis for bikers and walkers. From the vantage point of the walkway I was able to capture the N & Q trains slithering up from and going down into the bowels of New York City like gigantic silver centipedes with the 59th Street Bridge looming large in the background.

The #7 train tracks are also undergoing a needed renovation and expansion and I wandered over to Court House Square for a brief time capturing reflections of construction signs in a muddy puddle of water beneath the elevated train. From there I walked over to Vernon Blvd. stopping along the way and photographing a set of rusty steps leading down to an unwonted cellar, some old tires against a backdrop of creeping vines, a broken window with the shards of glass frozen in wire, painfully sharp razor wire, and lots of goodies like that.

Once on Vernon Blvd. I gravitated toward the newly painted and proud Queensboro Bridge a.k.a. the 59th Street Bridge. This being a Sunday and an industrial area the neighborhood was desolate with only an occasional biker zooming by enabling me to stand in the middle of the street to get the shots I wanted without becoming road kill.  This is the first time that I have photographed this bridge from the Queens side. The 59th Street Bridge connects Long Island City Queens to Midtown Manhattan spanning over the East River and Roosevelt Island and is the daily commute for many Queens residents.

As I was walking and mentally composing shots of the bridge I was distracted by a brick wall completely covered in dried up vines with a solitary screaming orange Home Depot shopping cart standing next to it. The perfect abstract shot. Smothered under the vines was an old rusted “no parking loading zone” sign that could not be passed up.

My next stop was Queensbridge Park which until that day I had never heard of and happily wandered in to see what awaited my creative imagination. The first thing I saw was what must have been a park concession stand now boarded up with weeds growing through it. I fell in love with it immediately and walked all around it forming a shot that would accentuate the years of neglect.  The landscape of the park was of grass and ball fields surrounded on one side by the river and the bridge, and on the other side,  apartment buildings and industrial stacks that looked especially tall and menacing against the dark clouds rolling in.

My final stop was as I was walking back toward Queensboro Plaza and 21st Street to catch the bus home when I spotted a totally trashed car enclosed by worn tires and tons of garbage. Now, you know I could not let that pass without a few photos as well as shots of the N & Q trains whooshing passed over head.

All in all this was a very fun day for me and I have spent the entire week going through the hundreds of photos that I took to present you, my faithful viewers with an exciting selection of the eclectic urban grit, grime and grunge of Long Island City. Enjoy and Stay in Focus.


2 thoughts on “Nitty Gritty and Nothing Pretty

  1. Cate–I really like these photos. Not sure I agree with your ‘nothing pretty’ assessment; there is a certain beauty in the angularity of various manmade components running in raucous juxtaposition against one another, or against occasional natural elements (like the leaves sprouting around the tire). Or to put it another way, I’m reminded of a comment I once read in a critique of Mendelssohn’s music. The critic said, ‘He reminds us that what is pretty can also be beautiful.’ These photos remind us that what is beautiful need not be pretty. My favorite? The crane standing atop the building; somehow you framed just enough of the soaring sky to render the breathless height of the machine, like a symbol of human striving. Wish I had a few framed prints of these. A good day’s work


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