People with smartphones ignore fool’s gold and the Gatsby Hotel

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People with smartphones ignore fool’s gold and the Gatsby Hotel
best picture Statue of Liberty
Image by Ed Yourdon
This was taken Houston Street, between Eldridge and Allen Streets.

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This set of photos is based on a very simple concept: walk every block of Manhattan with a camera, and see what happens. To avoid missing anything, walk both sides of the street.

That’s all there is to it …

Of course, if you wanted to be more ambitious, you could also walk the streets of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. But that’s more than I’m willing to commit to at this point, and I’ll leave the remaining boroughs of New York City to other, more adventurous photographers.

Oh, actually, there’s one more small detail: leave the photos alone for a month — unedited, untouched, and unviewed. By the time I actually focus on the first of these "every-block" photos, I will have taken more than 8,000 images on the nearby streets of the Upper West Side — plus another several thousand in Rome, Coney Island, and the various spots in NYC where I traditionally take photos. So I don’t expect to be emotionally attached to any of the "every-block" photos, and hope that I’ll be able to make an objective selection of the ones worth looking at.

As for the criteria that I’ve used to select the small subset of every-block photos that get uploaded to Flickr: there are three. First, I’ll upload any photo that I think is "great," and where I hope the reaction of my Flickr-friends will be, "I have no idea when or where that photo was taken, but it’s really a terrific picture!"

A second criterion has to do with place, and the third involves time. I’m hoping that I’ll take some photos that clearly say, "This is New York!" to anyone who looks at it. Obviously, certain landscape icons like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty would satisfy that criterion; but I’m hoping that I’ll find other, more unexpected examples. I hope that I’ll be able to take some shots that will make a "local" viewer say, "Well, even if that’s not recognizable to someone from another part of the country, or another part of the world, I know that that’s New York!" And there might be some photos where a "non-local" viewer might say, "I had no idea that there was anyplace in New York City that was so interesting/beautiful/ugly/spectacular."

As for the sense of time: I remember wandering around my neighborhood in 2005, photographing various shops, stores, restaurants, and business establishments — and then casually looking at the photos about five years later, and being stunned by how much had changed. Little by little, store by store, day by day, things change … and when you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s even more amazing to go back and look at the photos you took thirty or forty years ago, and ask yourself, "Was it really like that back then? Seriously, did people really wear bell-bottom jeans?"

So, with the expectation that I’ll be looking at these every-block photos five or ten years from now (and maybe you will be, too), I’m going to be doing my best to capture scenes that convey the sense that they were taken in the year 2013 … or at least sometime in the decade of the 2010’s (I have no idea what we’re calling this decade yet). Or maybe they’ll just say to us, "This is what it was like a dozen years after 9-11".

Movie posters are a trivial example of such a time-specific image; I’ve already taken a bunch, and I don’t know if I’ll ultimately decide that they’re worth uploading. Women’s fashion/styles are another obvious example of a time-specific phenomenon; and even though I’m definitely not a fashion expert, I suspected that I’ll be able to look at some images ten years from now and mutter to myself, "Did we really wear shirts like that? Did women really wear those weird skirts that are short in the front, and long in the back? Did everyone in New York have a tattoo?"

Another example: I’m fascinated by the interactions that people have with their cellphones out on the street. It seems that everyone has one, which certainly wasn’t true a decade ago; and it seems that everyone walks down the street with their eyes and their entire conscious attention riveted on this little box-like gadget, utterly oblivious about anything else that might be going on (among other things, that makes it very easy for me to photograph them without their even noticing, particularly if they’ve also got earphones so they can listen to music or carry on a phone conversation). But I can’t help wondering whether this kind of social behavior will seem bizarre a decade from now … especially if our cellphones have become so miniaturized that they’re incorporated into the glasses we wear, or implanted directly into our eyeballs.

If you have any suggestions about places that I should definitely visit to get some good photos, or if you’d like me to photograph you in your little corner of New York City, please let me know. You can send me a Flickr-mail message, or you can email me directly at ed-at-yourdon-dot-com

Stay tuned as the photo-walk continues, block by block …

Manhattanhenge 2013 #2
best picture Statue of Liberty
Image by Ed Yourdon
(note: the buildings in the background are in New Jersey, on the far western side of the Hudson River.

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As I wrote in another Flickr set last summer: t housands of years from now, when aliens descend upon the Earth, looking for signs of intelligent life amongst the debris of beer cans and Starbucks coffee cups, what will they find? If they happen to land first at Stonehenge, by some curious coincidence, they might well get the impression that we humans like to line up big stones and tall buildings in such a way that they align with the sun during the summer and winter solstice.

Then the aliens would come to New York City. Of course they would: it’s the Center of the Universe, right? Where else would they go — Easter Island? What on earth is there to do on Easter Island, after you’ve seen the big statues? No Times Square, no Yankee Stadium, no Statue of Liberty, no Central Park; just a bunch of funny-looking birds and the big statues…

Anyway, once they got to New York City, our friendly aliens would find a curious alignment of buildings (I’m assuming, of course, that the buildings are all still standing, even though the humans have disappeared), in which the setting sun aligns with the east-west streets in the borough of Manhattan — and which can be seen in late May and mid-July. In the spirit of henge-y things, they would adopt the name first proposed by Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2002 (who, as everyone now realizes, is actually an alien who was sent to Earth back to scout things out before the rest of his tribe made the journey, notwithstanding his day job as an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History): they would call it Manhattanhenge.

And the aliens would wonder if New Yorkers really comprehended what they were building when they began following the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 in March of that year, which laid out a grid that was offset by 29.0 degrees from true east-west (if it had been aligned with true north, then the henge event would take place exactly on the summer and winter equinox). Indeed, the whole thing was largely ignored until Mr. Tyson called attention to it in 2002; after that, it was the focus of an episode of CSI:NY that aired on November 25, 2009, and it was part of the closing scene in an utterly forgettable 2010 film called Morning Glory.

With their curiosity thus piqued, the aliens would venture further afield, and would discover that the "henge" phenomenon can be seen elsewhere, too. In Chicago, for example, where the setting sun lines up with the grid on September 25th. And in Toronto, where the setting sun lines up with east-west streets on October 25 and February 6th. And in Montreal, which experiences a similar event around July 12th. God only knows how many other cities have henges that they don’t even know about – the mind boggles.

Indeed, there is even an MIThenge. Of course there is! It takes place in mid-November and late January, when the sun shines all the way through 825 feet of MIT’s Infinite Corridor, stretching from the main entrance on Massachusetts Avenue through Buildings 7, 3, 10, 4, and 8. Honesty compels me to admit that we didn’t celebrate the event when I was a student there — but after all, that was slightly before the invention of electricity, and we were all scared of the dark.

You can imagine that the aliens would look at all these henges, and then shake their heads in disbelief. If humans were smart enough to do all that, they would ask themselves, why weren’t they smart enough to stop killing each other and destroying the planet? Why indeed? Maybe it’s because all the good vibes caused by the sunset henge phenomena are offset by bad vibes associated with the corresponding mornings that cause the rays of sunrise to shine in the opposite direction, east to west, along the same lines. In Manhattan, this occurs approximately December 5th and January 8th — days when crazed taxi drivers have been known to run down doddering old seniors as they wobble across the street, days when feral rats have been known to attack innocent tourists as they stand huddled in empty subway stations, days when savvy New Yorkers call in sick, stay home, and get roaring drunk. (For what it’s worth, MIT has no winter henge event, because the eastern end of the Infinite Corridor is blocked by Building 18. But you probably knew that already.)

Sometimes I think that I must be one of those aliens, sent from my home planet to observe the behavior of these strange Earthlings on henge-day. For what it’s worth, I can report that they behaved reasonably well during the mid-July 2012 Manhattanhenge celebration. There was some advance notice in the local newspapers, so photographers and astronomy buffs were prepared; but for the most part, the rest of the city’s population ignored it completely. Unlike last year’s Manhattanhenge, which I photographed from an overpass in front of Grand Central Station on 42nd Street (click here to see the photos of that event), I decided this year to stick closer to home — and photograph the view from 96th Street, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Specifically, the photos in this set were shot from the middle of 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue…

All of the photos shown here were HDR composites (the first several photos are 5-image HDR composites, and the final several are 9-image HDR composites), so I brought a tripod, and a cable shutter-release to take the pictures without shaking the camera. But the tripod was busted (crooked when I set it up), and the cable-release disappeared somewhere between my apartment building and the street corner … so I ended up taking all of these photos in a handheld fashion. Most of them came out okay, but a couple were blurred due to camera shake.

Most people who were crossing 96th Street simply ignored me completely, or gave me a brief quizzical look.But a gaggle of giggling teenage girls suddenly surrounded me in the middle of the street, and began taking shots with their iPhones and Samsung Galaxy gadgets. One of them even figured out to use the HDR feature on her iPhone camera, and was stunned by the results. And when we all dashed back to the street corner (to avoid being run down by the east-west traffic along 96th Street), one little old lady asked, with great curiosity, what we were doing. She had never heard of Manhattanhenge, and carefully wrote down all of the east-west cross-streets that I recommended. Maybe she’ll be out here with us next year…

Anyway, that’s it for Manhattanhenge in 2013. If you happen to be in Manhattan for this special event in late-May or mid-June of 2014, and if you happen to see a friendly-looking alien with a camera, it will probably be me…

New Yorkers have small, quiet pocket meadows too …
best picture Statue of Liberty
Image by Ed Yourdon
This photo was taken on Central Park West, between 101st and 102nd Street — peeking over the wall into a small pocket-meadow.

Note: I chose this as my "photo of the day" for August 3, 2013.

***************

This set of photos is based on a very simple concept: walk every block of Manhattan with a camera, and see what happens. To avoid missing anything, walk both sides of the street.

That’s all there is to it …

Of course, if you wanted to be more ambitious, you could also walk the streets of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. But that’s more than I’m willing to commit to at this point, and I’ll leave the remaining boroughs of New York City to other, more adventurous photographers.

Oh, actually, there’s one more small detail: leave the photos alone for a month — unedited, untouched, and unviewed. By the time I actually focus on the first of these "every-block" photos, I will have taken more than 8,000 images on the nearby streets of the Upper West Side — plus another several thousand in Rome, Coney Island, and the various spots in NYC where I traditionally take photos. So I don’t expect to be emotionally attached to any of the "every-block" photos, and hope that I’ll be able to make an objective selection of the ones worth looking at.

As for the criteria that I’ve used to select the small subset of every-block photos that get uploaded to Flickr: there are three. First, I’ll upload any photo that I think is "great," and where I hope the reaction of my Flickr-friends will be, "I have no idea when or where that photo was taken, but it’s really a terrific picture!"

A second criterion has to do with place, and the third involves time. I’m hoping that I’ll take some photos that clearly say, "This is New York!" to anyone who looks at it. Obviously, certain landscape icons like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty would satisfy that criterion; but I’m hoping that I’ll find other, more unexpected examples. I hope that I’ll be able to take some shots that will make a "local" viewer say, "Well, even if that’s not recognizable to someone from another part of the country, or another part of the world, I know that that’s New York!" And there might be some photos where a "non-local" viewer might say, "I had no idea that there was anyplace in New York City that was so interesting/beautiful/ugly/spectacular."

As for the sense of time: I remember wandering around my neighborhood in 2005, photographing various shops, stores, restaurants, and business establishments — and then casually looking at the photos about five years later, and being stunned by how much had changed. Little by little, store by store, day by day, things change … and when you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s even more amazing to go back and look at the photos you took thirty or forty years ago, and ask yourself, "Was it really like that back then? Seriously, did people really wear bell-bottom jeans?"

So, with the expectation that I’ll be looking at these every-block photos five or ten years from now (and maybe you will be, too), I’m going to be doing my best to capture scenes that convey the sense that they were taken in the year 2013 … or at least sometime in the decade of the 2010’s (I have no idea what we’re calling this decade yet). Or maybe they’ll just say to us, "This is what it was like a dozen years after 9-11".

Movie posters are a trivial example of such a time-specific image; I’ve already taken a bunch, and I don’t know if I’ll ultimately decide that they’re worth uploading. Women’s fashion/styles are another obvious example of a time-specific phenomenon; and even though I’m definitely not a fashion expert, I suspected that I’ll be able to look at some images ten years from now and mutter to myself, "Did we really wear shirts like that? Did women really wear those weird skirts that are short in the front, and long in the back? Did everyone in New York have a tattoo?"

Another example: I’m fascinated by the interactions that people have with their cellphones out on the street. It seems that everyone has one, which certainly wasn’t true a decade ago; and it seems that everyone walks down the street with their eyes and their entire conscious attention riveted on this little box-like gadget, utterly oblivious about anything else that might be going on (among other things, that makes it very easy for me to photograph them without their even noticing, particularly if they’ve also got earphones so they can listen to music or carry on a phone conversation). But I can’t help wondering whether this kind of social behavior will seem bizarre a decade from now … especially if our cellphones have become so miniaturized that they’re incorporated into the glasses we wear, or implanted directly into our eyeballs.

Oh, one last thing: I’ve created a customized Google Map to show the precise details of each day’s photo-walk. I’ll be updating it each day, and the most recent part of my every-block journey will be marked in red, to differentiate it from all of the older segments of the journey, which will be shown in blue. You can see the map, and peek at it each day to see where I’ve been, by clicking on this link

URL link to Ed’s every-block progress through Manhattan

If you have any suggestions about places that I should definitely visit to get some good photos, or if you’d like me to photograph you in your little corner of New York City, please let me know. You can send me a Flickr-mail message, or you can email me directly at ed-at-yourdon-dot-com

Stay tuned as the photo-walk continues, block by block …

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