Until recently, I did not consider myself a photographer. Even now, it’s still far from something I would put on my business card, but in the few months it’s been since I picked up a camera for the first time that wasn’t built into my iPhone, I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of growth and interest in the subject. An eagerness has formed in me to experiment and document both the experiences that I have, and the inspirational spark that others bring to the world. For me, photography is something that has quickly evolved from an untouched technique to a sought-after artistry; all I needed was a push and a reason to dive in. Design school did just that.
One of the biggest factors that drew me to the post-secondary program I’m in now was the opportunity of travel. Not just travel for the sake of tourism, but travel with the goal of education and inspiration. Being able to tie design thinking into a broader understanding and appreciation of global cultures and communications will be a large part of my future as a designer, and I plan to take any chance I can get to see more of the world as my journey continues. I started writing to keep track of my progression through design school, and taking photographs has become a valuable counterpart to my documented adventure. My recent trip to New York City with a group of fellow design students was a perfect example of why I love every aspect of my program: not only did I get a chance to visit a city I had never been to before, I was able to use the inspiration I found there towards creating a photo journal (which consequently also ended up being used as a project for my Visual Design class). The images I captured tell the tale of my adventure and a few of my favourite things to see in New York.
A Walk Through New York City
New York is a very tangible place that is directly characteristic of the people who embody it. Everything about the city is man-made, and proudly so; from the giant skyscrapers in the financial district to the gentle hills of Central Park, each area is a shining example of mankind’s capabilities and the figurative American Dream. The best way to experience its iconic landscape and the diversity it holds is simply to walk; my favourite part of visiting a new city is aimlessly wandering its streets in search of nothing in particular. Armed with my camera, my warmest winter clothes and ideas for photos spinning through my head, I roamed the streets of Gotham in search of scenes to represent my first experience with the legendary city. Here’s a few of the things I found.
Before I left for NYC, I asked my friend Taylor where the best view of the city was. He gave me his recommendation, and it became the first thing on my “must-see in New York” list. Dumbo Pier is a small park on the edge of Brooklyn that has a phenomenal view of the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan skyline.
After I had walked across the bridge and ambled aimlessly around Brooklyn for a little while, I made my way to the pier to take in the picturesque view. Maybe it was the fact that it was early January and about -15, but the lookout was almost completely deserted on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Instead of hoards of sightseers, what I found was unexpected: there was a little shed structure made of iron framework and coloured glass that seemed strangely yet beautifully out of place out there next to the water, contrasting the otherwise subdued hues of the surrounding landscape’s colour palette.
The High Line
The Meatpacking District of Manhattan’s Lower West Side carries with it an inherent feeling of consistency and stability. The area is rich with cultural history and personality, yet it has been under constant threat of amalgamation with modern industry and lifestyle since the 1960s. In recent years, however, the district has been granted Historical District status, and has since been steadily transforming from a vacant-feeling manufacturing sector to a high-end urban locale.
I was really excited to see the new development called the High Line, a public park that runs through Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. I had heard designer Paula Scher speak about her rebrand of the area, and it was interesting to see how such a foregone neighbourhood could be turned into a desirable, upscale part of town.
The park is a mile and a half long, raised about twenty feet above street level, and is lined with plants and benches. It offers a unique little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the Manhattan streets below, a rarity in such a densely packed metropolis. While walking through, I noticed some steam blowing out of a nearby vent, and asked a fellow wanderer to stand in it so I could take a photo. The result was a neat sfumato effect in which only his vague silhouette is visible against the dense, whitewashed steam.
The Flatiron District
Manhattan’s Flatiron District is named so after the famous Flatiron Building, one of New York’s first and most iconic skyscrapers. Built in 1902, the structure was designed in a shape very different to that of traditional skyscrapers; because of its diagonally intersecting bordering streets of Broadway and 5th Avenue, the building is shaped like a giant triangular clothing iron, hence its name.
Across the street is Madison Square Park, another nice little pocket of calmness. While in the area, I had the opportunity to visit Pentagram, a world-renowned design studio with offices in New York, San Francisco, London and Berlin. The home of an array of top-tier designers including Paula Scher and Abbott Miller, it was really cool to be in the environment of such a creative powerhouse and get an in-depth look at the work they do.
The site of one of New York City’s most painful memories is also one of its most moving places. At a tactile level, the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan is a beautiful juxtaposition of rough, cracked tree bark with smooth, polished granite and stone. Much like the contrasting textures found throughout the area, the jagged and horrific memory of the falling of the World Trade Center towers is a dark and unforgettable piece of a city that is so inherently filled with light and energy.
Grand Central Station
Another place I really wanted to see in person was Grand Central Station. The iconic main room has been portrayed in countless New York movies, its daily visitors marvelling at the wide arches and intricate ceiling. Despite its grandiose presence, or perhaps because of it, one can forget that Grand Central is indeed a fully functioning and very active train station; commuters fill the lobby and halls with a hurried buzz, eager to catch the next train.
No trip to New York is complete without a stroll through the city’s biggest urban park escape, the massive 843 acre oasis of Central Park. The ground level of the park was deliberately carved below the street level of the rest of the city, and the effect is instantly apparent: just a few steps in, the noise of the street fades to the soothing sound of chirping birds, flowing water and friendly hellos between passers by.
Easily one of the most chaotic and overwhelming places in New York City, Times Square seems to exist as its own organism, with millions of individual parts coming together to create one giant, flashing, thriving being. So many images, logos, people and noise clash to form a bigger picture of an environment that is completely void of serenity. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly an experience unlike any other.
Times Square was surreal for me to see because of its abnormal nature during my visit. The picture of Times Square in most people’s minds is packed with people and activity, a literal symbol of the energy of New York. My first experience, however, was during one of the coldest nights of the year. The second photo below, taken from the top of the Red Stairs around 11PM on a Wednesday, illustrates the famous intersection of 7th Avenue and Broadway as visibly desolate, with few people braving the frigid winds for an evening in what is normally one of New York’s most trafficked areas.
There are certain touristy things that are worth doing once when a city is visited for the first time. In New York City, scaling the Rockefeller Center to its famous summit is certainly worth the hassle. As breathtaking as the view from the Top of the Rock is, however, the view from the bottom’s not so bad either. A building that has become symbolic of New York, the Rockefeller Center is flanked by the Rockefeller Center Plaza, covering a total of 22 acres of prime 5th Avenue real estate.
70 storeys up, the view from the uppermost level of the Rockefeller Center is nothing short of amazing, and virtually unparalleled in the rest of New York. A 360° panorama of the city displays many of its famous landmarks, the most prominent of which being the Empire State Building because of its close proximity just a handful of blocks away.
I can’t believe it took me this long to finally visit one of America’s greatest cities. The sights, sounds, food and familiarity I experienced in New York were an excellent jumping point into a place that I know I’ll be visiting again. Hopefully next time it’ll be a little warmer.