Storms

 

Storms-New York City

One thing I have noticed about my photography, or photography in general is that it sometimes grabs you in different ways at different times. Even as the taker of the photograph that happens to me. Case in point is this photograph shown above. I took it a few weeks ago on a rather warm Saturday evening. I decided I was a little restless and decided to head out for a long walk and a few drinks and dinner at the end of it. When I left our apartment, it was bright and sunny out. The Kwanzan Cherry trees were just starting to bloom and as they are my favorite of the flowering cherries, I found a cluster of them and took some photos along the way.

Not long after however, I noticed that the sky was looking a little ominous. Not quite ready to pour down, but you could tell it was coming at some point. Which is ironic since instead of high-tailing it to the nearest drinking and eating establishment, I instead went down to Long Island City here in Queens, out to a particular pier that has some stunning Manhattan views. I wanted to go because it is slightly north of the usual perspective I take this view from. Photography is all about subtle changes after all. I walked down a long empty street to the end.

The clouds were really closing in, covering up what was a bright and sunny day just moments before. Weather makes for some of the best photos so I pressed on. I was interrupted momentarily by a happy group of people looking to get their photo taken. There is something about having a camera and camera bag with you…people instinctively ask you to take their group photo and invariably comment, well with that camera you must be a pro. If only they knew lol! Of course it is flattering and after snapping a few of the happy revelers, I set to work.

This particular pier has a west facing view of the Manhattan skyline, but also unobstructed views north and south. At first I focused north, then south. You could still sense the weather about to happen, but the west view did not look too inviting on the photography side at first. But then it happened. As I looked west again the sky opened up. No rain, just big sky. Really big sky with all sorts of color hues and patterns. Post storm sunsets are amazing, but this was a different kind of amazing. It had a blueish hue to it, with hints of color coming in from beyond the clouds. Because the scene was over the water, there was some reflections happening too. It proved the point of always carrying the camera with me. I have missed these moments before, and camera phones don’t always capture the depth of the scene.

In any case, I was happy with the result later on when I returned home and saw the photos on my laptop. Right away this photo leaped to the top of the heap. I did post it on social media and people liked it. But I quickly moved on like you do. Except that today I made it my screen saver on my work computer, which also led me to posting it on Twitter and the FB page for this blog. This entire post was prompted by a conversation with my friend Trudy on Twitter. Trudy writes an awesome lifestyle blog called Rendezvous En New York. Want to know all the cool stuff happening in New York? Let Trudy be your guide. Trudy unknowingly proved my point that things grab you in different ways at different times, and it gave me the idea to use said photo, and write this little post about it.

Ah, but what about the music you ask? Well I started thinking of songs about storms, and weather. Ok…Stormy Weather was the obvious front runner, but when have I ever been musically obvious! I thought instead of an instrumental track by Bruce Cockburn. I’ve written about Bruce here before. Suffice it to say if you are unfamiliar with his work, he has been a stunning songwriter for almost 50 years now. He is also an inventive and creative guitarist. His work has gone through phases, as anyone who has been around that long would, but I’d argue that the last 20 or so years have been his finest. His album The Charity Of Night was released in 1997. On it was this instrumental track-Mistress Of Storms. Thinking about this photo, and the movement of the sky, and my own interactions with the weather that day the song seemed a perfect match. The song has that ebb and flow with the only instruments being Bruce’s guitar and the vibraphone as counterpoint.

With a few exceptions, I have always relied on lyrics to pan out the ideas I present on the photography side here, but this is one of those times when I feel the music by itself says so much. I hope you enjoy both. As a side note, I’ll just mention that I will be in Paris and London for the next two weeks so it will be a little quiet here, but I’m sure I will have lots of inspiration to keep these posts coming!

Mistress Of Storms-Written By Bruce Cockburn

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Signs

Utica, NY Sign

The older I get the more I find my mind goes backwards and forwards through time. Why wouldn’t it when you realize that things that were once staples of my youth became abandoned, ridiculed and made redundant. Regarded both as old fashioned and old ways of thinking. Yet now many are celebrated as being cool and relevant again. In music this has happened with the re-emergence of vinyl records and recording in analog instead of digital. Believe it or not, I was at a record show a few weeks ago and in some places the long forgotten cassette tape is making a resurgence! If 8-tracks make a similar return then the cycle will truly be complete.

Other recent trends that have slowly been coming back are things like typewriters, film photography, real corks in wine bottles, Atari video games, even quality non- disposable pens. What makes these comebacks satisfying for me is that it is not purely nostalgia driven. After years away from these things, I think people realized that they do prefer the tactile feel of a real pen in their hands for example. Some companies are realizing that the value of documents typed on a single sheet and stored in a physical filing cabinet is safer than being stored on a server digitally. Others are realizing that there is a benefit in this fast paced world of slowing down just a little bit…say the length of time it takes for a Polaroid photo to develop, another product making a comeback.   Some of these trends are more of a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario-new pressings of vinyl records that come with a digital download link or classic video games you can play on your smartphone. The key to all of these elements is the feeling that maybe there was a rush to push these things to redundancy a bit too quickly for things newer and flashier. The throes of technology can be alluring, but in honesty, they are not always the only way.

Long Island City, NY Sign

Another trend that I especially appreciate making a comeback are old building signs painted directly on the exteriors. Before newer, lighter, and cheaper methods took over, that is how billboards and company signs were done. There were no neon flashing signs or waving inflatable characters waving at you from the roadside, bombarding you with messages. Instead there was a building with its business name emblazoned on the front. Or for advertising purposes, the ad was painted directly on the side of the building. Often now when I come across these types of signs or billboards I take a photo. The photography is more for preservation sake and not creative. I just like what I am seeing and want to keep a record of  it because I have always liked these sorts of signs.

A number of years ago before I took up photography seriously I noticed one such old advertisement on a building near Lincoln Center in New York. Another building adjacent had been knocked down, which revealed a great old advertisement for a now forgotten brand of bread. The ad was in great shape, no doubt shielded from the weather by the now torn down building. But it did not last, as another building soon started going up, and before long the advertisement was covered up again. I’m kicking myself now for not taking a photo to preserve it, but who knows, perhaps the newer building will meet a similar fate and the same ad will see the light of day once again.

And I think that notion is exactly why I love those old signs so much. Just like with old vinyl or dusty typewriters, or old camera gear in a thrift store, they manage to hang on, year after year. Of course that is a testament to the way things were made back then, but also to the sensibility for what was important. Old billboards for Coca Cola had the same purpose as ads for Coke do now-to sell product. But somehow those painted billboards seem way less in your face than the flashy celebrity driven ads do now. Ads today are driven by market research, target audiences and data mining done from sites you click online. The old ads were trying to stand above the crowd too of course with slogans and characters pushing the product. But because they were in the pages of a magazine, or painted high above the street on a city building, they don’t come across the same way thinking about them now. Rather than being ‘in your face’ it was more the idea of ‘try it’ and tell all your friends.

Putnam, Connecticut Sign

Additionally, there were other signs that are just company names, and though they may have been defunct for years now, the signs still survive. You can usually pinpoint their age by telltale signs like fonts, design, and color patterns. It has been nice to see this trend coming back on some level today with new businesses painting murals on their buildings, or just using the side of a building as a blank canvas to advertise what a particular company does. I go back to that realization that tactile and audio elements have already come back. So why shouldn’t having the side of a building be the advertisement rather than a billboard? With a billboard you have to pay for the ad, the cost of the billboard itself, with the knowledge that it will only be up for a certain amount of time. With a painting there is an element of being permanent, of quality and confidence in a brand. Like those other things we have discarded that are coming back, perhaps we will get back to that idea again someday.

For the musical side of this post I wanted to feature someone that has that same sort of old school meets new school vibe. Music with one hand firmly based in the past, but musically in the present. In the 1990’s I came across the country band BR549 (the name came from a sketch on Hee Haw). Right away I was hooked by their infectious mix of original songs and classic country songs. Most sounded straight out of a 1953 honky tonk bar though the subject matter was pure rock and roll. None more so than my favorite song of theirs- ‘Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts). It ties in well with what this post is about-things going back and forth in time. Ramona might have punk rock roots still in her, but she is more interested in the older country roots. Its the musical version of the examples from above. Living in the present, but having appreciation for the ‘realness’ of the past. Just like vinyl records, Polaroid cameras, typewriters, pens and old signs on older buildings. Below in the gallery are a few from my archives of old sign taken in several locations.

Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts)-Written By Chuck Mead

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Spring-The Return

Spring-The Return

Hello again good people! After 6 weeks or so of not thinking about writing, 6 weeks of not thinking about blogs, or worrying that for the past year maybe I was thinking about both too much I feel I am ready to start back up again. Before I get into that I wanted to mention that I really appreciated the support I received after my last post announcing the break. It meant a lot to have people tell me in comments or in private that they appreciated my words and photography. I realize I may have scared a few people into thinking I was going silent for good. Writing these words now is the proof that I have not. Thank you to all of you who reached out. I’m still working things out on the personal level, but it feels right to be doing this again now.

I did spend some time thinking if I wanted to do a rethink of this space along the lines of changing the theme and color scheme again. I ended the last post with the realization that I needed to find out what has been missing for me in putting these words to the computer. To find the ways to feed creativity again. This is a tentative step back today, and I am unsure what and where it will lead me. But I realized something important during this break. In lamenting the state of blogging today, I forgot the crucial part. Being myself. At its peak I was heeding the advice of others-writing often to build an audience. Writing shorter posts so as not to lose an audience. Tagging, doing weekly features, trying to copy what more successful bloggers did.

Don’t get me wrong-that does work and I will no doubt fall back into it again on some level. But not at the loss of being myself. So if I don’t reach a goal of a post a week I am not going to stress it. If I write something that takes longer than 3 minutes to read, I don’t care if that is a blogging no-no. If I publish on a Friday or a Tuesday night at 11:47 PM I will no longer worry about the consequences or loss of potential readership since that is also frowned upon. I started thinking back to the reasons why I started this in the first place-to meld my love for music and photography together, hopefully in a unique way. And that is precisely where we will start off again this time for this return. For those of you who have been long time readers you can skip the next paragraph if you so choose.

Hello-my name is Robert Doyle, an almost 50 year dude currently living in Queens, New York City. For over four years I have been writing Soundtrack Of A Photograph, a unique space ‘Where Music Meets Photography’. I do this by thinking about the key ingredients of each. Music expresses joy, sorrow, exuberance. It makes us want to sing, to dance, to feel the flow, to go with the groove. Photography expresses many of the same emotions, but often we feel trapped by the boundaries of the photo. Photography freezes a time and a place forever in silence. Be it a wedding photo or an artistic monochrome one, the physical movement is trapped. The notion behind this blog from day one has been finding the right musical match for particular photos. Thawing it from the freeze, releasing it from the trap. Movies typically rely on music for pivotal moments. My idea was to give a still photograph a sense of motion-of flow and groove just like with a movie. A soundtrack to the photograph. And so this is where we will start this off again.

‘Dance in the joy that is yours and mine in spring returning’

It was perhaps inevitable that I would start this back up again in the Spring. The season is all about renewal and brightness after all. Trees you walk past everyday that have been bare since November are suddenly bursting with color. On cue with the early sunrise, birdsong becomes more noticeable and incessant.  Grass and flowers suddenly abound and we feel the energy in the fragrant air. Inevitably my mind also goes towards songs that are filled with this sort of imagery. One of the things I want to work on in this return is to feature more artists I have not previously written about. And how except for one of my Christmas themed posts I have not written about the sublime Maddy Prior I cannot understand!

Maddy has been one of the leading figures on the British folk scene since the late 1960’s.  She has recorded numerous solo albums, two memorable albums with June Tabor, but especially as lead singer for the folk-rock group Steeleye Span. Despite several early personnel changes, Steeleye went on to have some decent commercial success in the 1970’s and are still going strong today. In 1993 during a hiatus from the group Maddy recorded the first of a series of albums with a general theme, usually with a song cycle. This first album was simply called ‘Year’ and was well received. The album starts off with a short song called Snowdrops/Birth which sums up the welcoming of spring we all feel the need for.

As to the photograph, I took this last week on an unseasonably chilly, gray morning. But the vibrancy of colors is what mattered to me the most. In posting this on Instagram a few days ago I mentioned that I purposely chose to take the photo a little out of focus, to get a sense of movement. In the days since I realized that the story this photo was telling me was about coming out of the darkness of winter, of color gradually fading in once again. I also realized that it was telling me to get these words flowing again…to feel that my ‘step is bright in sunshine’ once again. It feels good to be back. Until next time!

Snowdrops/Birth-Written By Maddy Prior

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The Voice Within

 

For the first time in a long while I honestly had doubts about whether I wanted to publish this post. You see, in my life I have constantly lived with doubts of one kind or another. I suppose we all do. It is a natural thing of course and my doubts are not new. But in this case I worried about expressing myself so deeply and personally. True, I have gotten personal here before but this time feels different. More on that in a moment though.

I have been noticing a gradual slowdown in the blogging world in the last year or so. Friends who I have followed for a long time have disappeared from the scene. Some have just lost interest or cannot write due to time factors, new jobs, or family issues. Others don’t seem to reciprocate as much as they used to. What was once a vibrant community seems to be more individualistic lately. I can’t tell you the last time I had a meaningful string of comments about something I wrote. I think eventually that weighs on you and you begin wondering why you try so hard.

I hear what you are thinking-well Robert, that means you aren’t writing like you used to and people are losing interest in you and your blog. Maybe you need to trim down your posts even more than they are now. Maybe you should do this…maybe you should do that. That might very well be true but it wasn’t that long ago when that did not seem to matter. It was exciting and my WordPress Reader would be constantly open on my desktop anxiously waiting for new posts from talented people expressing their views on art, music, travel, science, poetry and fiction. Everyone doing their own thing as part of a big community.  I hear you  saying to me again…Maybe you should find some new bloggers to follow to keep that feeling going. It is still a big community and maybe you need to get yourself out there again. Which also might be true.

Last year around the time of my fourth anniversary of blogging, I spent some time going back through old posts. Looking at projects started with full intention of returning to again some day-Photo Shuffle, Fictional works, Research driven posts. They all seem to have gone by the wayside. Maybe they were mostly ‘one-offs’, ideas that seemed great at the time but not so great now. Monochrome Mondays has been maybe the strongest idea out of all. It was born out of a time of some writers/ideas block when I wanted to stay in the game every week, without necessarily writing about music. For awhile I was doing both types fairly consistently, but it seems lately that there are more Monochrome Mondays posts then music ones, and that was never how I wanted it. I’m writing this now after purposely deciding  for the first time in months to not even bother posting a Monochrome Mondays yesterday. Not for lack of photos, but because I realized I really needed to get this post you are reading out.

Now to get back to that more ‘personal’ thing I mentioned at the start. For a few months now I have been going to see a therapist. The specific reasons why I will not reveal, suffice it to say they are NOT for reasons of depression, trauma, or abuse. But the result is me going backwards and forwards in time, connecting the dots in my life that I never knew were related before. Seeing threads that were scattered in random directions joined together.  It isn’t always an easy realization, and a few times I have left a session and thought ‘god dammit’ why didn’t I ever see that before. It can be a little unnerving, yet after some time can also feel satisfying in its own way.

I have said right from the start that one of the reasons I have enjoyed expressing myself here is that writing unleashed a lot of the jumble in my head. Random thoughts, random people, places, and objects that I took a photograph of that relate to a song which is about other random people, places, and objects. It is very much like some of my therapy sessions now in fact. So much so that I realized that for now I am going to temporarily give myself the space to rectify the two. Despite everything I said about my view on the state of the blogging community, I will not, cannot stop when there is always a new song, a new photograph to take. Last year I changed the slogan for this blog to ‘Where Music Meets Photography’. A simple idea that should have come to me years before perhaps. But it is still an idea worth exploring to me. That means something to me. And which is why I will not be stopping anytime soon. The photography side will always be there too, for that is what came first as a creative outlet. But it was the melding of ideas that brought me here.  For the time being new posts might be a little few and far between (and that is going to include Monochrome Mondays for now at least). But there will be more I promise you.

The reason why it will go on can maybe best be described in the lyrics to the song for this post. I urge you to listen to the clip (never mind the early 1980’s fashions!). I think I just need to ‘go back to school’ and find what has been missing for me. I wrote this post not out of anger and resentment. I  need to work on me and find that creative space again for everything to fall in place again. I am determined that it will! See you all soon!

The Voice-Written By Justin Hayward

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Monochrome Mondays

Well I’m  not surprised at all that March is doing its typical dance of the lion and the lamb. Teasing with mild weather that prompts switching the winter jacket out to something lighter and less bulky. Tempting you with leaving the hat, gloves and scarf at home. Days growing ever longer allowing more sunlight into your day when…BAM! It all comes crashing back to reality. Well in truth it has not been so bad so far, but after a nor’easter the last few days, yesterday was the first day I ventured out for a walk in the afternoon once the sun did actually come out. There was even a beautiful sunset last night too. You can see a few I took of it on my Instagram account which I invite you to give me a follow.

In any event, it was nice after essentially being cooped up for a few days to get out for a bit and feel the late afternoon sun beaming down on me. I went for a few minutes to a nearby park. Despite March being such a tease, the signs of nicer weather are there. Buds are forming on trees, the grass seems slightly greener than it did 2 weeks ago, and in certain places, the occasional crocus might be coming out of its winter hibernation. For me though, one thing I seem to notice is that the sky seems different. Hard to put my finger on exactly why that is and maybe its just me…but a March sky seems to be different than a February one. Which for me means that spring is closer to being here.

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Monochrome Mondays

Along with mentioning how much I love transportation (trains, ships, trucks, planes)  and being by the water (ocean, rivers, lakes) have I ever mentioned how much I like a good pier? And by pier I mean a working one. Sure there might be some pleasure or excursion boats berthed there, but I can see those anywhere. I want to see rust buckets of fishing trawlers like in this photo. Paint fading from the bow, lines of rope and fishing nets in various states of disrepair. A tiny wheelhouse with a questionable looking life preserver mounted to the side and a radar beacon, antenna and lights on the roof. A surly looking guy in a cap and sweater smoking a cigarette glaring at you for taking a photo of his work.

On the pier itself you are likely to find gas tanks and hoses while the air smells of diesel. Remnants of thick ropes fraying at their ends. Seagulls are constantly swooping about, resting occasionally on the pylons as they wait for their next meal. Sometimes I’ll be lucky enough to catch them offloading a trawler, and the catch will be hauled on to the refrigerated trucks, or to a nearby facility. I guess some of this is just a fascination of watching how things are done, be it construction workers on a building site, or a short order cook making an omelette. There is something fascinating in it. But I think hanging out at a pier and just breathing it all in, (and yes that includes the funky fish smells likely to pervade) is different. The fishing industry has changed of course, and not necessarily for the better. But these older trawlers that still ply their trade and go out most every day feel connected to the past. The mega-trawlers have taken much of this away, so like many things these days, when you get a chance to soak in a scene that seems out of the past, I think I instinctively gravitate towards shooting a photo of it.

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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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