Art Deco In The Sky

The Chrysler Building

The Chrysler Building-New York City

Ground Breaking-September 19, 1928

Formally Opened-May 27, 1930

Number Of Floors-77

Officially the World’s Tallest Building for a period of 11 months when surpassed by the Empire State Building.

Currently stands as number 101 in the world

I had an awful realization recently.  I was thinking of subjects I have not written about here yet in the four plus years since I began writing here. For someone who comes from New York City it is a rather shameful realization as well.  Though they have popped up a few times in photos, I have not actually written about my love for skyscrapers which of course dominate the skyline of Manhattan.  From my earliest days coming into the city from the confines of the suburbs where I grew up these towering marvels fascinated me.

I remember a favorite ‘toy’ I had at one point- a building set which allowed one to build their own versions of skyscrapers and bridges, using replicas of steel girders, supports, and facades. It probably goes a long way into understanding why I have always been fascinated by both, and I remember experimenting with varying heights and shapes of the skyscrapers in particular. Last year I even got a Lego set of some of the landmark Manhattan towers and spent a rather enjoyable afternoon ‘building’ them which is something I hadn’t done since childhood.

I also remember a book I checked out from the library several times. A school class  had published a book that gave a child’s perspective on the start to finish of building a skyscraper and all the materials and methods used.  The building they chose was what became the Exxon Building on 6th Avenue in Manhattan. It is now sneeringly referred to as one of the XYZ buildings along with two neighboring buildings due to their rather bland and generic facades. It makes no matter to me however and whenever I walk by it these days, I still nod my head at the building in recognition of that book.

There are a number of beloved skyscrapers in full view practically anywhere you are in New York City- The Woolworth, the Empire State, Citigroup Center, and the Freedom Tower are just a handful of the buildings that continue to amaze people to when they see them for the first time.  And of course we still remember and miss the World Trade Center to this day for its dominating presence it held on the skyline. The one I now call my favorite is as you may have guessed, The Chrysler Building. Manhattan is defined by the skyscrapers, and new ones continue to be built even now. The reason why is fairly obvious but in case you did not know, the following exchange from  the TV adaptation of  P.G. Wodehouse’s wonderful Jeeves and Wooster stories might help.  Upon seeing the tall buildings of Manhattan for the first time (circa late 1920’s- 1930’s) the lovable but dimwitted Bertie Wooster questions Jeeves, his trusty valet/manservant/gentleman’s personal gentleman about them-

Bertie Wooster: Now, Jeeves, why do you think they built all these tall buildings?

Jeeves: Well, sir, it was partly because of the restricted size of Manhattan Island and partly because the island is solid granite and therefore capable of supporting such structures.

Bertie Wooster: Nothing to do with having got the plans sideways, then.

Jeeves: No, sir.

Bertie Wooster: That’s what Barmy told me.

Jeeves: You will pardon me for saying so, sir, but Mr. Fotheringay-Phipps is not noted for his architectural expertise.

When I realized that I wanted to write this post, I knew I wanted to spend some time taking photos of the Chrysler Building. A big part of the reason why I like it so much now is because of those Jeeves and Wooster stories. The books and short stories were driven by a hilarious assortment of characters. The TV series of the 1990’s made great use of vintage paraphernalia for the interior scenes, replete with 1920’s-30’s appropriate fashions, art, furniture, even vintage cocktail shakers. Or to put it more appropriately, they were very much inspired by  art deco. When it comes to art deco and skyscrapers, The Chrysler Building will always remain as the shining example. Thanks to the show, I have come to really appreciate art deco as well.

The Chrysler Building is not dark and foreboding like some medieval  cathedral. Far from it. The automotive touches provide a sense of whimsy-hubcaps and radiator inspired gargoyles.  Eagles soaring high above the street. Down below the lobby and doors have that classic old school New York vibe.   But most impressively in the shining concentric crown, windows and spire at the top which scream art deco.   If you really think about the era it was built, The Chrysler Building represents so much promise and ingenuity. A new way of providing ornamentation and design to a building. It is not garish at all. It shimmers and shines in the sun. Before being somewhat crowded out by neighboring buildings not designed with similar creativity it must have glistened like a diamond ring. Years later it remains dignified, classy and refined.

Though I am not much of a jazz aficionado, one does have to recognize the great practitioners of the form.  I knew I needed music that represented those same feelings of dignity and class The Chrysler Building exudes. I did not have to go too far into my limited jazz catalog to find In A Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington & John Coltrane. It is a work of singular beauty and elegance. While listening to it again I started inevitably drifting into a sentimental mood of my own life. While looking at the photos I took history also started creeping into my mind in fleeting segments. I recognized that I was fighting a battle between sentimentality and imagination.

You see, all the things I have mentioned here-my own youth, art deco, architecture, and yes, even the Jeeves and Wooster stories all have a passage of time over them,  a faint sentimentality of the past. We recognize that we are in ‘the now’ and cannot set the clock back 80 years. Once we get to that realization, sentimentality goes away and imagination enters instead. We imagine what it was like hearing music by Duke Ellington and others at a  Prohibition era nightclub. We imagine being trapped in an imbroglio of romantic entanglements like the Jeeves and Wooster stories. We imagine seeing The Chrysler Building rising in the skyline while being constructed.

The good thing is that we HAVE these sorts of things still in our life as markers. We can read the old stories, listen to the music. And on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, we can still gaze up at The Chrysler Building, 86 years since it was completed and know that it is still there for all of us to think about however we choose.

Be sure to see a few more photos below

In A Sentimental Mood-Written By Duke Ellington

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Monochrome Mondays

 

Here we are again, and yet again, I have to admit that I don’t have much time to discuss the photo for today, but there will be in a day or so. For you see, for the first time, I am cross-promoting my posts. Let me explain…

I am currently working on a new music themed post built around a New York landmark. I just have to work in some time to take a few more photos and do a little tidying of the writing. I did go on Friday to take a few photos of this particular landmark. A few of them may work their way into the post, but I wanted to take them in the clear light of a sunny day, and it was almost dark by the time I made my way over there. As soon as I have that sort of day to take the photos, I will publish the post. In the meantime, while there I could not resist taking a few monochrome shots. It seems to lend itself to the history of this particular landmark, like an old black and white newsreel or an image from a coffee table type of book. So what better way to build up some suspense for this forthcoming music post than to give you a teaser of what is to come! Now I posted this photo on Instagram the other day, asking if anyone knew what landmark site this is. One person correctly answered. So I’ll do the same thing here and ask anyone who saw the IG post to keep it to themselves for now.

Thanks and stay tuned for the followup in a few days!

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Monochrome Mondays

One aspect of monochrome I have not touched base on too much is the effect of shadow or silhouette. When you think about it in photography you can take a photo with no adornment whatsoever. Just see something and click it. Or maybe there is a cool reflection or a beautiful sunrise or sunset to make it appear a bit more interesting. But sometimes, a simple shadow can be a really satisfying element to capture, and it happened to me in a flurry of activity the other day.

It has actually been a great, but very hectic last month. Once the Holiday season was over we had in succession-our 10th Wedding Anniversary, my mom’s 80th Birthday, and just the other day, my wife’s 40th birthday. My own 50th birthday lurks ahead in the summer. So there has been much celebrating, laughter and fun. But also slightly hectic in the planning of it all or in the going about from here to there on cold winter days. The other day was no different, and I was in a different neighborhood picking up some stuff in celebration of Jennifer’s 40th. It was late afternoon on a brutally cold day. I wasn’t really planning on taking photos, nor did I have a lot of time, but while crossing the street, I saw the shadow of a water tower set against the clean wall of another building. It was that late afternoon ‘golden hour’ time when light is especially pleasing, but the combination of cold and not having time made me decide to just take the photo in black and white. Some of you will recall I did a post last year about my love of water towers, so I always have my eye out for interesting photos of them. I loved the end result of the waning sunlight cast against one of my favorite urban subject matters.

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

Monochrome Mondays

These days I typically carry my camera with me almost every day. Does that mean I’m a real photographer? I suppose it might. But even though I have it with me, I don’t always actually take photos every day. Lets face it, most days schlepping to work is a grind and you often fall in the trap of not looking at your surroundings much on your way from home to work and back again. When you only have one route to take between the two places as I typically do this becomes an even easier trap to fall into. Save for a great sunset or interesting cloud patterns, there is not a lot to see in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I work. It is a nice area, but there is little in the way of interest that I have come across.

And the above photo is not even particularly interesting, but I like symmetrical patterns. One day last week as I got off the subway I realized I was at the back end of the train for a change. And that is all it took to see a view I hadn’t quite noticed before. When the doors to the train opened instead of instinctively turning left to go down the stairs, I glanced to the right. I saw some skyscrapers in Manhattan off in the distance, I saw the grayness of the day, but mostly I saw the lamp posts on the platform. I took just a few moments to take a quick photo or two to get the angle right, then made some final adjustments and took this one. I like how the lights appear to  descend down into the middle of the photo, even though I was standing on level ground. Just proof that there really are photo opportunities out there in even something as mundane as your commute to work.

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Monochrome Mondays

Sadly I do not have much time today to write about today’s photo. But sometimes a photo doesn’t really need much explanation after all. I took this on Friday night after work. I had a long and frustrating work week and headed out for a few ‘beverages’. Of course I brought my camera along and it was while passing Queensbridge Park I thought, hmm it is a nice clear night, maybe I can take a photo or two.

There is a promenade right along the river with stunning Manhattan views as well as the Queensborough 59th Street Bridge. For once I refrained from taking a bridge photo! For once I saw this bare tree set against the skyline I thought it might look interesting. And that is what you are looking at now!

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In The Garden

In The Garden

Well after a few weeks off I am ready to dive back into some new music related posts for all of you. During my little break I thought about the origins of this space, about what made me want to combine my own photographs with music in the first place. I was also thinking about how in some ways I slipped away from ‘owning’ this idea of mine recently.  I can now see  how ideas evolve and grow over passage of time. As my photography continues to evolve, so too does my writing.  The things I write today are quite different from what I wrote over four years ago at the start. Sometimes though things can unintentionally go off course. I realized during my break that I had always intended this place to be so much more than just writing about a song. I wanted it to be a creative space, linking words, music, and imagery all together as one. Finding connections between them all. In this coming year I plan to get back to that and I have some ideas for making this happen.

Another thing I realized is that sometimes I hear a new song and know exactly what I want to do with it.  More often than not however, I might know a song for years but do not feel like I have the right photo that pairs up with it in a satisfactory way…because I have not actually taken it yet. Once I find the right one though it reminds me of why I started writing in the first place. Why I wanted to ‘create’.  I can listen to a song and nod my head in agreement with the story or sentiments of the song. I can look at a photo and remember the moment I took it.  When I first started this all off I chose a song by Ralph McTell for my first post.  As I recall the origins of this blog I thought a return to his music might be a good idea. And an idea formed  when I looked back on some photos I took of a butterfly last summer.

The older I get I sometimes think about why things are the way they are in the world. Why is so much of the money and power in the hands of such few? Why does  poverty, starvation, and war still exist? I have no answers myself, but  I wonder if the answer actually lies in us not understanding HOW we  think as individuals. Not what we think…but how we think. Some people are incredibly savvy and quick witted with solutions and answers ready instantly, their brains hard-wired to assess and respond. Others need time to develop those answers because their brains are wired a little differently. The thoughts might be there but the words do not form so readily.  Others still may not be able to answer yet that does not, or should never be perceived as not understanding. In many ways, they might be the wisest of all. That is what Ralph McTell’s classic song Michael In The Garden is about. Perceptions and awareness heightened in the mind of a young boy most likely with autism of some type.

The brilliance of the song is in placing not just a mental wall between Michael but also a physical wall between the adults in the building that inhabit his world. They spend their days making judgments ‘in their wisdom’ while Michael sits in the garden observing things that no one else does. The lyrics take you inside both worlds, but it is the realization that Michael sees so much, hears so much…feels so much that pulls you into the song. How they call his name inside the building but he does not respond. Instead he hears each leaf as it falls. I might sit and enjoy listening to the wind in the trees with a cup of coffee on an autumn day, but to have the ability, the patience to listen to the sound of a single leaf falling would be an astounding feat. But that is part of Michael’s world, along with observing the broken wings of a butterfly dying.

Last summer not long before going out for the day, my wife pointed out a single butterfly darting between the flowers on our window boxes on the balcony. It was so beautiful to see that I grabbed my camera and took photos through the glass on the balcony door so as not to disturb my new friend. There was stillness. There was motion. There was beauty in the butterfly’s movements and flight.

When I looked at these photos again the words of Ralph’s song came into my head. I thought about how the appearance of a lone butterfly on a warm summer day made such an impression on me. How watching it for a scant few moments (even through the lens of the camera) elicited such a response. I thought how so much of my life is spent ‘inside the building’ struggling to organize and verbalize the words in my head. Fighting against those that by virtue of being quicker on the draw are perceived as being smarter, successful and more in control. Worrying about so much beyond my control that is actually rather silly when you really stop and think. The last verse of the song really drives that point home. Even when I think about those worries, about bills and work and other realities, it would be nice to see what Michael sees in the garden-

“Oh Michael sees all
Behind the high walls
Surrounding his kingdom
Whilst we in our wisdom
Still trapped in the spider’s web
Far from the flow and ebb
Of life in the garden
But Michael has pardoned
us for he sees
That really he’s free
And there’s nothing to mend
For his wings are not broken”

 

*A note on the version of the song I used. In a career of over 50 years writing, releasing albums and performing great songs, Michael In The Garden stands as one of his very best and most popular. As such there are many recorded versions out there. I chose this live version from my favorite album of Ralph’s. Why? Because it is honest and real. There is an ever so slight ‘off’ note on the guitar. There is also a lot of emotion to his voice that makes this version more special to me.

Michael In The Garden-Written By Ralph McTell

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Monochrome Mondays

The Fog

Fog. Foggy Morning. In From The Fog…

I  have wanted to capture a photo in dense fog for quite some time. Call it bad luck on my part or maybe an unwillingness to jump out of bed early in the morning when it is most likely to be at its peak, but after 16 years or so of taking photography more seriously, it really has not happened with the desired results yet. But the other morning it did. I had a little more time walking to work on Friday morning. When that happens I like to deviate from the shorter walk to the subway. Walking along the river only adds about 5 minutes or so, but I tend to leave it for the walk home. In any case, as soon as I reached the pathway I noticed sheets of fog rising from the East River and at times making Manhattan on the other side disappear.

As I was walking south towards the subway, I pulled out the camera even though there was a slight drizzle. I tried a color photo at first, but it did not seem to really capture the mood. I switched to monochrome.  Once the 59th Street Bridge came into view I hoped the fog would continue drifting in the same way because I sensed a really good photo forming in my mind. You can imagine that the bridge dominates the view from that pathway, and it takes a few minutes to get to the vantage point I took the photo above from. I took another photo, hoping the movement of the fog would stay in place and not dissipate so the structure of the bridge and nearby buildings were visible.

Then it happened. Out of the corner of my left eye, I saw the Roosevelt Island Tramway come into view. Instinctively the idea formed in a flash because there was a large concentration of fog near the bridge tower, where the tram would be passing in a scant few moments. I looked ahead briefly and saw there was a point where the pathway jutted out on the river. I knew this would give me a better panorama of the river and bridge. I just had to get there. It almost didn’t happen because in my excitement, I very nearly took a spill on a patch of ice I had not seen. Undaunted, I gripped the camera tightly and ran with my eye on the Tramway’s movement, hoping it would not move too far ahead. It all happened so fast, but in a few moments I deemed my position to be good enough. My settings were satisfactory since I had adjusted them earlier. I planted my feet firmly and pressed the shutter, knowing I had to be quick…and then a bird swooped down as if on cue balancing the middle portion of the photo out.

It was one of those moments when I was really excited by what had happened. The buzz of having an idea formulate so quickly and to have it come out the way I wanted is a great feeling for a photographer. Let me know what you think!

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