Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Saya

Some time about a month ago I was walking west on 23rd Street when I couldn't help but notice an extremely tall and narrow building under construction off in the distance. It was one of those increasingly common moments where I thought to myself "Gee Cary, you stay away from a certain part of town too long and next time you're back there's a huge building already topped out." As I got closer I could see the building was going up right where Madison Avenue begins at 23rd. It's basically going up on the southeast corner of Madison Square Park. It was not difficult to find information on the project. By simply googling "high rise" "23rd" and "Madison Square Park" I learned that the building is called The Saya and will have the notable address of One Madison Avenue. I didn't really give it any more thought until about a week later, as I was flying back into New York from Kansas. Coming up the East River en route to La Guardia Airport, I was looking out the window on the left side of the plane watching the numbered streets of Manhattan drift by below me. My eye immediately latched onto The Saya, and it was somewhat startling to make the connection between the building I was looking at from the air and the building I had seen on street level a week earlier.

Not surprisingly, I am pretty late to discover such real estate happenings (unless they're right in the immediate vicinity of where I've lived the past 8 years, the swath of Manhattan that I like to call NoLiHoSoLo). Curbed, however, is all over this kind of stuff. From Curbed I was able to find out a lot about the building itself, as well as a condo that recently had its price lowered by over $900,000 due to its uptown view being blocked by The Saya. And over at skyscraperpage.com I found a ton of great pics, as well as some interesting renderings of the building, one of which is at left. Okay so whatever, a big high rise is going up on 23rd Street. I'll never live in it, so that was pretty much the end of my interest. Until, about another week later when I was walking down Broadway near 13th, through a street fair, when I turned back to look uptown. That's when I saw The Saya totally jutting up right smack dab in between the Empire State Building and the old Metropolitan Life Tower (which also overlooks Madison Square Park, just a stone's throw from The Saya). Click here for an older post concerning those two skyscrapers. Below are two photos that show the uptown view before (left) and during (right) construction of the building. The photo on the right was with my cell phone, so please excuse the quality. But it definitely gives you a sense of the skyline disruption. I've always known that New York City is pretty much the only city in America that continually has buildings under construction that are taller than the tallest buildings in 90 percent of all other American cities. For example, the tallest building is Wichita is about 26 stories tall and wouldn't make a dent on NYC's skyline. On the other hand, The Saya, at about 50 stories tall, makes a pretty significant poke in the eye of lower midtown Manhattan, no matter from which angle you view it (and I didn't even notice it until it was 90 percent topped out). The Saya is going to be about as tall as the old Met Life Tower, which only 100 years ago was the tallest building in the world (from 1909-1913).

Friday, May 16, 2008

CB's Gallery

This picture was taken August 21, 2002 on the opening night of a group exhibition I was in at what used to be CB's Gallery, 313 Bowery, right next to CBGB's. About six months earlier I had submitted some of my work in the hopes of getting into one of the gallery's monthly group shows. I remember being in Kansas in July of that year when I got the call saying I had been chosen to participate in a show that was going to be called "Common Bonds." So once I got back to New York I went into CB's Gallery to measure and photograph the walls that I would be using (essential tasks when planning an exhibition). The opening on August 21st worked out perfectly, because the very next morning I had scheduled to fly back to Wichita to attend my 10-year high school reunion (which I had organized).

Details have gotten a little fuzzy since then. All I know is that I had 21 prints total on display. Eight of those were 16x20s and were displayed at the front of the gallery. Hanging the 16x20s was extremely tense because it involved a rickety two-ladder balancing act above a stairwell. My high school friend James Nguyen, who is about 50 pounds lighter than I am, helped me with this. I was pretty proud of how it turned out. But the 13 prints on the back walls weren't initially supposed to be that spread out. Originally, I was only supposed to get the very back wall (the one with the angled top). But on the day when all the artists were supposed to show up and hang their work, the large wall on the right was unclaimed. Apparently the person the gallery director had chosen for that wall hadn't even replied to her phone calls. So she was more than happy to give me the extra space. And am I glad because I think I had some horrible plan to try a 3x5x3 cluttered mess with 11 prints. Needless to say, everything worked out much better using two walls. The two prints on the far left were total afterthoughts that I think I hung fifteen minutes before the opening. One was an older print made for a different show and the other was an Epson print I did and threw into a frame.

I have fond memories of that night (here's a brief slide show, click each image to advance). Every once in a while I'll see somebody walking on the street that I remember from the opening, somebody who had just come in off the street. I always cite that experience as being one of my earliest successes in New York. In recent years I might even dare say there's perhaps a whiff of prestige having been affiliated with the gallery before CBGB's closed down (one of my pictures from the show was actually taken inside CBGB's). CB's Gallery recently reopened as an outpost of the Morrison Hotel Gallery. Below is a picture from the most recent opening, last month, featuring the rock photography of Bob Gruen. The place has been entirely gutted, so it was a big surprise to see how cavernous the space really is. I highly recommend going in to see Gruen's photos. So many of them have been etched into my brain for as long as I can remember. In an era when everyone's bemoaning the loss of how things used to be, complaining about the upscale John Varvatos store coming in and taking over the CBGB's space, it's been the gallery next door that I've kept my eye on. Walking into the Morrison Hotel Gallery and feeling the abundance and prominence of the photography, I definitely know at least that space got into the right hands. (photograph below by Rick Edwards)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Manhattan '45

I came across a phrase a few weeks ago that really grabbed me. The phrase is simple: "the future about to occur." I Googled the phrase in quotations and discovered it's from a book called "Manhattan '45" written by Jan Morris. The book is filled with lots of eloquent descriptions about New York from that year and it's impossible to read the excerpts I've found and not feel nostalgia.

Perhaps the main reason why I reacted so strongly to Morris' book was because I had been in search of a way to convey, verbally, my own experience of New York. My mission was to give non-New Yorkers some insight into what the city is like now, via my photography. But instead of simply showing them only my pictures, I wanted to get them into a "New York state of mind" and show them some classics. All of this was preparation for a talk I gave last week at Wichita State University. To make a long story short, a former workshop student of mine, Landon Taylor, who is now president of the WSU Photography Guild, recently acquired some funding from the university's Student Government Association to pay for a speaker to come to Wichita and talk to the guild. He had pitched the idea to me in March and over the past few weeks we've been planning my visit. The funding not only covered airfare, hotel accommodations and printing of publicity fliers for the talk, it also included a modest honorarium for my time and preparation. The talk was this past Friday at WSU's McKnight Art Center.

Again, what excited me the most was the opportunity to show some iconic mid-20th Century photographs of Manhattan. What came to mind immediately were pictures from the 1930s, such as the shafts of sunlight beaming down into Grand Central Station, the Rockefeller Center construction workers having lunch on a steel beam, even a shot from the original 1933 production of King Kong. From the 1950s of course there's the shot of James Dean walking in Times Square in the rain. But arguably the most famous Times Square picture, Alfred Eisenstadt's masterpiece from V-J Day of the soldier kissing the nurse, was taken on August 15, 1945. This fact conveniently coincided with the title of Morris' book. And so with her words and many, many photographs in mind, I set out to write an opening script that I would read as narration accompanying an introduction to my presentation. After ten or so minutes of that I jumped to modern-day New York, the city I moved to on a hot day in August of 2000.

Obviously, what "The Greatest Generation" had as one of its biggest New York moments is about as polar opposite from my what my generation experienced on September 11, 2001. When I think of how old I was that day, compared to the average age of most soldiers on August 15, 1945, I get a little emotional. When I think of the euphoria and relief of the war being over then, compared to the unlikelihood of a specific victory date ever being declared in this current war, I get more than a little worried. Nearly seven years after 9/11, the city is still very much haunted by that day. And to think that the United States accomplished as much as it did in the period between Pearl Harbor and V-J Day, compared to its recent involvement in Iraq since 2003, is just flat-out depressing. I have many feelings about our country's current situation in the Middle East, but none of them are as strong as my frustration that we're even there in the first place.

With this in mind, I'll leave you with some lines from Manhattan '45. She begins her book describing the Queen Mary as it entered New York Harbor in June of 1945 carrying 15,000 US soldiers, the first contingent of troops returning home from the battlefields in Europe. Victorious and well-mannered, the first thing they asked for when they disembarked was milk.

"The Manhattan skyline shimmered in the imaginations of all the nations. Its buildings stood there metal-clad, steel-ribbed, glass-shrouded, colossal and romantic—everything that America seemed to represent in a world of loss and ruin." She continues: "[New York] was not only bound to be, in the postwar years, the supreme and symbolical American city. All the signs were that it would be the supreme city of the Western world, or even the world as a whole...This crowded island was the head, the brain, the essence of America, and the idea of America was omnipotent then...It was the present tantalizingly sublimated. It was the Future about to occur.” Looking back from 1987, Morris writes: “The moment of grace soon passed—it lasted no more than a few years, and by the mid-1950s was fast becoming hardly more than a regretful memory. New York was never to lose its excitement, its power to move, its limitless energy; but never again, perhaps, would it possess the particular mixture of innocence and sophistication, romance and formality, generosity and self-amazement, which seems to have characterized it in those moments of triumph.”
(Photo credits: top, Alfred Eisenstadt; middle, US Navy Photo; bottom, Louis Faurer.)