Friday, January 4, 2013

Another View from the Empire State Building

 Cambridge, January 4, 2013

The skyscraper gave the city another vantage point.  And photography, coming out of its infancy at about the same time, gave us a whole new medium to look at it.  During the construction of the Empire State Building, Lewis Hine made number of extraordinary photographs, pointing his lens not at the building but at the workers.  In Hine's photos, the city acquires a new dimension.  We see the hand on the wrench tightening a single nut in the steel structure and we can look at Manhattan as a gigantic collection of moments like that.  Hine--he described his own work as "Social Photography"--wants us to see another city before it disappears from our consciousness, the city of individual workers perilously balancing at the edge of a girder as they literally go about build it.

To the right, the Chrysler building has just been finished.  Behind, the East River, Welfare Island (Roosevelt is only the governor of New York at the time) and the Queensboro Bridge connecting Manhattan and Queens.  Farther back you can see Hell Gate Bridge, but with the crash of 1929, construction of the Triborough Bridge stopped as soon as it began.  And the grid of Manhattan appears at a moment of transition, where the horizontal, homogeneous fabric is giving way to a new, vertical city.

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