Monday, June 1, 2015

LOWERING OUR GAZE: 2014 Sidewalk Photographs

William Van Alen, Chrysler Building, 1928-1930, Manhattan, NYC

New York is a city of skyscrapers and tall buildings, particularly in Manhattan. Most of the time, as I and others walk its sidewalks, we direct our gaze upward. After all, there is so much to see on a typical Manhattan building. However, from below, we would be hard-pressed to get as clear a view as this (above) of that iconic, seven-sectioned stainless steel crown of the Chrysler Building.

Still, even with lower buildings, our eyes are often seduced by a visual array of sculpted cornices, pilasters, arcuated openings, fluted columns and historiated capitals and lintels. 

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for lowering our gaze, and not merely to make sure we don't stumble over a bit of uneven pavement.  A different sort of visual seduction happens at eye-level and below.  Rarely is it thoughtfully planned or consciously designed.  That "seduction" may involve a person navigating or engaging the city in some manner, but more often it involves some fragment or trace of that engagement--its human author long gone.

This selection of twenty-one photographs, taken last year as I walked New York, gradually brings down our gaze to discover a more base visual seduction--an unplanned aesthetic of spontaneity, surprise and serendipity, right at our feet.

Mahatma Lintel, Manhattan, Lower East Side, NYC

Adam on Lafayette, Lafayette Street, Manhattan, NoHo, NYC

Cappuccino/Tattoo, St. Marks Place, Manhattan, East Village, NYC

Cappuccino &... (you name it: Car Wash, Laundromat, etc.) has long been a staple of our Northwestern states, which just makes this combination in New York all the more curious.  Fun City Tattoo is the City's oldest tattoo parlor, dating back to 1976, but this curious merging of services dates to its move to 94 St. Marks Place in 1991.

Angels Moved, The Hub, East 149th Street, The Bronx, NYC

In Memory of Mom, East 4th St., East Village, Manhattan, NYC

Mono Mono, East 4th Street, East Village, Manhattan, NYC

5 Women, Doorway, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

Brownstone Stoops, West 84th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC

These stoops must date from the later 19th century, after Riverside Drive was designed (just to its west) and the Broadway IRT brought public transportation uptown a few blocks to the east. Only then could New York accommodate the new residential population that expanded and settled into the Upper West Side.

Slush, 96th & Madison Avenue, Manhattan, NYC

Chrome Columns, 3rd Avenue, East Village, Manhattan, NYC

Mist on 5th, 103rd & 5th Avenue, Manhattan, NYC

La Virgen y Los Potros, 117th Street, East Harlem, Manhattan, NYC

This detail of the shrine of the Virgen del Carmen Protogenos was first set up in honor of Italian-American soldiers, since Italians from Salerno first settled this section after 1878. Later on, following WWI, Latin American and Puerto Rican immigration began to transform "Italian Harlem" into "Spanish Harlem." Through all of this, our Virgin has held her ground; only now she chiefly serves a Latino community.

Her main statue (not visible here) is enclosed in glass and is protected by a broad canopy. Besides this secondary statue, the Virgin has accumulated at least six sports trophies, gifts placed over time in appreciation of her benevolence. But they also seem to be expanding her realm and protecting her.

Doll Shrine, East Village, Manhattan, NYC

Homeless Stump, Wooster Street, SoHo, Manhattan, NYC

Kilroy on Alexander 1, Alexander Avenue, The Bronx, NYC

Kilroy on Alexander 2, Alexander Avenue, The Bronx, NYC

This little man, standing before the steps to a Bronx brownstone, I am sure is not intended to represent Kilroy, that ubiquitous balding fellow made popular by American Armed Forces during WWII. Yet, both he and Kilroy are cartoon figures with long noses, and people tend to do double-takes before discovering either of them. Thus, I associated this little fellow with "Kilroy was here," the sentence that always accompanies the older cartoon figure.

Bowtie on 10th 1, 22nd Street & 10th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

Bowtie on 10th 2, 22nd Street & 10th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

Curb Your Ego, 16th Street at 10th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

I'm not sure how many people see this sticker, curling down the curb at several intersections, or how many people register its message. Yet, it is a clever three-word pun on the admonishment we often see: "curb your dog." 

Given that this is New York City, I would argue that big egos--those in need of curbing--outnumber the city's 600,000 pet dogs. However, the largest concentration of big egos is in Wall Street, not in Chelsea.  Let's hope the artist responsible for this sticker also placed some on the curbsides at the bottom of Manhattan!

Oldsmobile, 3rd Avenue, The Bronx, NYC

New Year's Eve, 86th St & Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, NYC

On the last day of 2014, New Year's Eve, I saw this mask on the street as I was carrying groceries home from the 86th Street Fairway--a perfect final discovery for this post of sidewalk photos. Luckily, I was wearing my cargo pants, which have a pocket solely dedicated to carry my small camera. 

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