EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
Editorial & artistic architectural photography from New York
Article for arcspace.com
We move from part to whole and back again, and in that dance of comprehension, in that amazing circle of understanding, we come alive to meaning, to value, and to vision: the very circle of understanding guides our way, weaving together the pieces, healing the fractures, mending the torn and tortured fragments, lighting the way ahead – this extraordinary movement from part to whole and back again, with healing the hallmark of each and every step, and grace the tender reward.”
- Ken Wilber, ‘The Eye of Spirit : An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad’
The following article describes a selection of images from the project ‘Integral Lens’ by arcspace Editor of The Camera, Pygmalion Karatzas, from his 5-month journey to the United States, focuses on editorial and artistic architectural photography from New York.
During the three week stay, approximately 30 examples of modern and contemporary architecture were selected. Each day a few of them were visited for commercial style photo-shoots and, in parallel, the areas near them were explored with long exposure photography and time-lapse videography. In this manner, both the fast-paced editorial approach and the slow artistic experimentation and exploration were incorporated. Some captures emphasised the subject matter while others the formalistic elements within the frame. Different points of view were used to suggest the pluralistic worldview and at the same time an emphasis was given to minimalist and uncluttered compositions that serve as a unifying underscore. In locations that are visited and photographed daily by thousands of people, the challenge of creating something unique and memorable lies in giving enough time, being patient, thoroughly exploring the space, but also in the post-processing choices in the digital darkroom. Discussions, meetings and photo-walks with related professionals that took place during the visit also fed into the on-going process.
Some of the recently completed projects in the city include the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center by Weiss/Manfredi architects, the Whitney Museum of American Art by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Fulton Center by Grimshaw Architects, West Concourse PATH Station by Santiago Calatrava, National September 11 Memorial and Museum by Snohetta and Davis Brody Bond, Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park by Weiss/Manfredi and Thomas Baslsey.
The photo-shoots required a heightened coordinations of multiple faculties: managing of time and resources, continuous adaptation to new conditions, logistical issues of accessibility and permissions, 15-20 thousand steps of walking with heavy gear per day, to name a few. From the hundreds of images per building, the initial selection narrowed them down to 30-40 and from those about 15-20 images were selected for post-processing. A natural high dynamic range editing reveals both highlights and shadows of the raw file which then is further processed in selective areas within the frame to add presence, depth and complementary lighting. The final images are then sequenced to narrate the project from context to frontal portraits to details, from exterior to interior, from daytime to dusk, with people and movement or unobstructed.
Images are grouped in series progressing in scale from the micro to the macro and alternate between representational and expressionistic, with some of them intentionally blurring the distinctions.
‘Nortigo’ is an exercise in shifting points of view as a gesture to reveal new and interesting information, compositions and feelings from spaces designed to form tangible connections between above and below.
We then move to iconographic renderings of buildings and structures set out as portraits: standing alone, dominating the scene, seducing with their forms. The term ‘Boomeritis’ is a reference to the pathology of the Baby Boomer generation characterised by pluralism infected with narcissism.
The next two series (‘future memories’ and ‘prana’) are genuine efforts to portray the tour de force of contemporary American architecture. Photography as the motivation to explore and experience architecture. Public buildings are a point of attraction for every city and are treated as such. The number of buildings to visit was greater than the available time, and of those visited, a small sample is presented here. The eye of the photographer edits the eye of the architect. Beyond the internal discourses of architectural theory, these examples of high-end architecture illustrate the sincere efforts of thousands of people to manifest the Beautiful, the Good and the True. They learn from the past but they look to the future.
With the series ‘Empire State of Mind’ the scale is broadened to scenes from urban and suburban parts of the visited locations, in search of the iconic and the genius loci. Images presenting characteristic, unique, and beautiful features of landmark places, unapologetic of their strong presence, inviting us to connect – be it for a reason, for a season or for a lifetime.
‘Cities and memory’ continues on the same scale, yet focuses on the more intimate spots of our urban living. A memorial, a park, a transit station, a pier, a canal. Mundane places in which our daily memories are formed and the “soft city” of illusion, myth, aspiration and nightmare becomes as real as the “hard city” of materials, infrastructures, and networks.
At the end, when we put aside all the analyses and pause from all the search, we find what they refer in Zen as “the beginner’s mind”, a fresh look as if we just witnessed the wonders of this world. When all is said and done, comes a peaceful feeling of completion and the shear joy of being. When we momentarily drop all we know and the anxiety of the unknown, we can rest in “one taste”, in the unifying consciousness that we are part of the Kosmos and vice versa. In the integral lexicon, ‘AQAL’ means an “all quadrant, all level matrix of reality”, and points to the cross-cultural fact that all humans share first-, second-, and third-person perspectives (the interior and exterior dimensions of the individual and the collective), and that all humans wake, dream, and sleep (a spectrum of consciousness from gross, to subtle, to causal states). We all live in “AQAL space” and ultimately such is our viewing.
From this photographic journey, various aspects of architectural photography were identified. It is not meant to serve as a complete list but instead as an illustration of the multiplicity of the genre. They cover the 4 quadrants of the integral mapping which correspond to the photographer’s consciousness (interior-individual), the photographic product (exterior-individual), the photographic culture (interior-collective), and the photographic systems (exterior-collective). Representational and expressionistic architectural photography is thus explored further documenting a comprehensive spectrum of the relationships between iconography and the built environment.
The images presented here are part of the 2015-2016 Artist Scholarship from the Fulbright Foundation Greece with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville being the affiliated institution. During a five-month period 12 American cities were visited to photograph their contemporary architecture and cityscapes. The selection for this article focuses on New York.