Sunday, August 6, 2017

Discovering a plucky bit of contrast amidst the towers of Lower Manhattan

...from a photographer's notebook
Oculus, World Trade Center looking east
There’s something about the constantly changing Manhattan skyline that keeps me so energized when out with the cameras (read: all the time).

Often, it is the old giving way to the new, always the classic and the modern cheek by jowl that inspire. But what really excites is when the old, the classic – literally – holds its ground and can cheekily say to the soaring modern, “I’m here to stay. Get used to it, big shiny neighbor!”

Here’s one example of the latter that really got the juices flowing on my last visit, as the contrast was so striking. Using mild telephoto to compress perspective, I was shooting Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus transportation center at the World Trade Center, looking east toward Broadway and was struck by the contrast between the soaring white ribs and the plucky looking red-roofed tower atop the eight story late nineteenth century building facing Broadway.

Now, you might say Calatrava’s ribbed and soaring design is likely to contrast with any modern neighboring Lower Manhattan architectural statement; but in this case, the contrast between the plucky old and the boldly new, including the colors in the late afternoon sunshine of this first day of summer, really excited me as I composed my shot through the 28-80mm L-Series lens on my new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV D-SLR.

So, what’s your story, plucky little brown and red tower?
As this was my first visit to this side of the WTC, I did not at the time know the significance of said plucky red and brown tower. But I do now. It’s the Corbin Building, whose construction was completed in 1889, and which was pretty down on its heels as New York’s MTA began construction of the neighboring Fulton Center as a means of unifying Lower Manhattan’s jumble of Subway lines and their separate stations.

The Corbin Building was named for banker Austin Corbin, who had earlier acquired the Long Island Railroad, generally acknowledged as the key to Long Island’s growth and development.

Those who ride the LIRR into Manhattan may recall a once-upon-a-time monument to railroading called Penn Station. Well, at least those of a certain age. The original turn of the twentieth century station rose majestically on Seventh Avenue at 33rd Street and made arriving or departing midtown, well, almost as grand an experience as the New York Central’s Grand Central Terminal, further uptown and a few blocks to the east.

Unlike the sad demise of Penn Station's original incarnation, in the case of Mr. Corbin’s building, nestled amidst all the new soaring structures downtown, preservationists have reason to smile (even if in a smaller context). They succeeded in getting the MTA not to demolish the building but, through a painstaking excavation process in building the Fulton Center, to protect its integrity and to then even engage in cleaning and preserving it.

Of course, the transit folks got bang for their buck, as escalators now  connect Fulton Center to the Dey Street Passageway, leading to the rest of the downtown subway lines, as well as the PATH trains to New Jersey in the WTC’s Oculus…via the basement of the attractively restored Corbin Building, which is now being developed as inviting commercial space.

So, win-win. And a rather nice story to learn about as I edited my shots from that June afternoon in Lower Manhattan. I hope it might enhance your enjoyment of the photo.

Contrasts in Lower Manhattan is available in archival gallery prints in a variety of sizes and media, including metallic.

And, yes, my new acquaintance with the Corbin Building means it moves to top of list on my next Lower Manhattan explorations.

©2017 Steve Ember

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