They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway
They say there’s always magic in the air…
Every time I go to New York, it’s a whirlwind; it’s a blur. It’s colourful and intense and magical. It’s full of contrast.
I tend to relive unusual moments from previous visits in snatches — oh yes, there was the time on Broadway that Joan Rivers stepped on my sister’s foot and didn’t apologize…and the time I saw one of the stars of Knots Landing, David Selby, looking sad and alone in a New York restaurant, and the time we saw Oprah Winfrey entering Tiffany’s with her entourage (or was that just my imagination?)…
I remember my first Broadway show back in 1982. Ellen Burstyn starred in a one-woman show called 84 Charing Cross. I was bowled over by the rich and intricately decorated theatre (I think it was the Nederlander) and was held rapt for a few hours by her tour-de-force performance.
Since then, I flash back to Kathleen Turner lolling about on a bed in a silk dressing gown in Indiscretions, Tyne Daly belting it out in Gypsy, Twiggy and six-foot-six Tommy Tune dancing up a storm in in My One and Only, Paul Giamatti making his Broadway debut in Arcadia, the emotional power of Les Miserables, the pride in watching Canadian Brent Carver star in Kiss of the Spider Woman, the surprise of David Hyde Pierce in a role so unlike Niles in Frasier in Curtains, and the thrill of seeing hero Alan Alda playing in the urbane and witty play Art.
Somewhere in there I remember laughing at Lily Tomlin’s amazing characterizations in her one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Thirty years of Broadway shows do become a bit of a blur from this vantage point, but ah, what a beautiful blur!
This time I saw the musical Lady Day, featuring the incomparable Dee Dee Bridgewater as Billie Holiday, one of my favorite jazz singers.When I closed my eyes, I really thought I was listening to Lady Day herself.
My photo safari in New York City
Before I left for my recent trip to New York City, I made a shot list, and on it were several of my favorite places. In previous posts I’ve featured the Flatiron Building and Central Park, which were right at the top.
But I also wanted to shoot Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, Times Square, the Chrysler Building and the Grace Building, all places I had been before, but wanted to see again through my camera’s lens. But I doubted I’d have the time to shoot all of them since my visit was quite short.
Luckily I stumbled on a solution. I found out about a small group photo safari offered by a knowledgeable photographer. It was highly rated by Trip Advisor and so I signed up for it online. It was a three-hour tour of iconic places and buildings, many of which were on my list.
The morning of the safari, I met up with my group of seven at a breakfast spot across from Grand Central Terminal. I got there early, after figuring out my way on the subway with no problems. The first two people I saw with cameras were a lovely mother and daughter team from Birmingham, England.
Over coffee I learned that Sharon was treating Molly to a trip to New York to celebrate her 18th birthday. Sharon was enthusiastic about photography and just learning her new DSLR. Molly was on a point and shoot. They had arrived in New York City the day before and were still adjusting to the time change and the overwhelming sights and sounds.But they were gung ho to make the most of their week in the Big Apple.
Gradually the others arrived and then we met our fearless leader, Zim, and did a round of introductions. In addition to Molly and Sharon, on the tour were three Australians, one American living in Singapore and me, the token Canadian. Some of us had DSLRs, some point and shoots and some smart phones. Jack, a serious hobby photographer, told me this was his fourth photo safari during his three-week trip to New York. He was shooting with a wide angle 10-20mm lens that made me drool with envy.
But Zim did not discriminate. Her safari offered something for everyone — at all skill and experience levels — and we all left with wonderful images of New York City after the three hours, which just flew by.
Zim had a route that she followed to cover the major icons, but she left plenty of room for spontaneous shooting. As she led us, she walked ahead, but backwards, so she could talk to us.
Every so often she would stop and point and say: shoot this! We would snap away, and because the group was so small, she could easily do the rounds to comment on our composition and exposure etc. and make very helpful suggestions to improve our captures. One of the things I liked most about this photo safari was the immediate feedback you received and the easy tips that you could put into practice right away.
It was crazy busy on the streets of midtown Manhattan. A true New Yorker, Zim did not wait for lights to cross the street. She just charged ahead in the middle, followed by her merry band. At one point, as we all forced the oncoming traffic to stop for us (yikes, I hate jaywalking!), I waved to the fancy black sedan in thanks. Zim called out: “You didn’t just wave thanks to that car did you?” And I called back: “Sure I did, I’m Canadian!”
I’m definitely going to do another safari in New York (next time it’ll be Times Square at night) — and other places as well, where I can. I highly recommend the experience. I came back with so many images that I haven’t even begun to process. If you have any questions about this photo safari, please feel free to ask me in the comments.
I find street photography to be one of the most challenging types of photography to do well, but since people are endlessly fascinating to observe and wonder about, I can’t help wanting to try it when I travel.
Framing and composing the image and pressing the shutter at just the right time to tell an interesting story is not easy. Especially when the subjects are moving — since they often have no idea they are being photographed. So many times I miss the most interesting action or cut somebody’s head off or something…
And then there’s the question, black and white or colour? Fortunately, that decision doesn’t have to be made until afterward, in post-processing. I read a helpful interview with New York photographer James Maher, which helped me decide which of my images I would convert to black and white and which ones I would leave in colour.
These are just a few of my favorite candid images of people doing what they do in New York City….
Still on the Flatiron Building today in this the fifth part of my New York City series…You can scroll back to see the other four parts, if you wish. I feature shots of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline.
Because a lot of the joy of looking at the Flatiron Building is in the details, I wanted to show them to you closer up. This was taken with my 70-200 mm zoom, at 70mm. It has been cropped.
Before I cropped it, I took three different exposures into Photomatix and processed them as a High Dynamic Range (HDR) photograph, but with a natural look. Then I converted one to monochrome, leaving a hint of blue.
I may print this one, or one like it. Just curious, which version do you prefer?
Thanks so much for helping me out today — and I really appreciate all your kind and thoughtful comments on this series. I read and smile at every single one!
I would forgive you if you called me obsessed by the Flatiron Building in New York. Given how much time I spent trying to capture its lovely uniqueness from different angles, even on different days and at different times and with different lenses, I could not argue. (And no doubt I will do the same next time I’m in New York — trying yet again to capture its essence.)
This is the building I love — way more than the Empire State or the Chrysler or any of the other iconic buildings. The Flatiron says New York to me…
Completed in 1902, it’s shaped like an old fashioned cast iron clothes iron, thus the name. It sits on a triangular island-block formed by Fifth Avenue, Broadway and East 22nd Street.
It was designed by Chicago’s Daniel Burnham as a vertical Renaissance palazzo with Beaux-Arts styling. The bottom of its facade is limestone changing to glazed terra cotta from Staten Island.
Now I get one of the reasons I love it. It reminds me of a ship!
I also love the cast iron clock not far from it on Fifth Avenue. I set out to try to capture them in the same image. Not a terribly easy task, given that the best spot to stand was smack in the midst of crazy traffic. I didn’t try that.
(I hadn’t noticed the sign in the lower right of the first image until just now. “Have an idea. Make it happen.” Appropriate.)
The clock was installed in 1909. One of the most ornate of New York’s cast-iron street clocks, it’s composed of a rectangular, classically ornamented base, and fluted Ionic column. The two dials, marked by Roman numerals, are framed by wreaths of oak leaves and crowned by a cartouche. A masterpiece of cast-iron workmanship, it is beautifully designed, and a prominent sidewalk landmark.
Such old, historic and delicately intricate beauties make New York City endlessly fascinating to me and are why I return time after time.
I’ve been to New York City a few times before — 12 to be exact — but this was the first trip I had a good camera — and it was autumn in the city. That made for a great combination!
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I took hundreds of photographs. I plan to spread some of them out over a series of blog posts.
I’m starting with this image since Central Park is one of my favorite places in the world.
I wanted to see what it looked like from a great height in the fall with the trees leafed out in their beautiful colour, so I took the elevator up the 67 floors to the observation deck on the Top of the Rockefeller Plaza on a sunny perfect fall day.
What a vista!
In this photo, you’re looking north and you see the west side of the park and the buildings of the Upper West Side.
A few years ago, my mother and sister and I took a guided walking tour of Central Park, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Up until then, I simply had no idea what a massive accomplishment this park is and how unique it is.
Central Park was the first public landscaped park in all of the United States. In 1853, the state legislature first set aside land for a major public park. City commissioners spent $14 million for the land and the construction of the park, which extended from 59th Street to 106th Street, between Fifth and Eighth Avenues.
The designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were chosen in public competition in 1858. The park was developed over a span of 16 years.
(Olmsted is considered the father of landscape architecture and he went on to design Prospect Park in Brooklyn and many other North American parks, such as Boston’s Emerald Necklace, Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, Mount Royal in Montreal, and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Here are ten lessons for landscape design you can pick up from him.)
Central Park occupies 843 acres in Manhattan, 6% of its total acreage. You could fit 16 billion New York apartments in the park.
The park includes seven water bodies totaling 150 acres (some of which you can see above), 136 acres of woodlands and 250 acres of lawns. There are 58 miles of walking paths and 4.25 miles of bridle paths.
It also boasts more than 26,000 trees, 36 bridges and arches and nearly 9,000 benches.
It surprised me to learn that there are 215 species of birds in a 6.1-acre sanctuary, many rare to the area including the peregrine falcon.
The 25 million people that visit every year can also enjoy 26 ballfields; 30 tennis courts; 21 playgrounds; one carousel and two ice-skating rinks, one of which is converted into a swimming pool in the summer.
Stay tuned for more images inside the park…
Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,
the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back
from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere
except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle
of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This
I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn
flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting
from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.