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05.25.2010
Here Is New York
Architectural League's photo corps capture changing city
Necking and Needlepoint on the High Line.
Harriet Andronikidis

Taking a snapshot of New York’s past decade of development is no easy feat, as the Architectural League learned after setting out to capture the cumulative impact of sundry megaprojects and rezonings, name-brand condominiums and newly-seeded parks, and a real estate landscape reeling from the recession.


The dynamic facades of Jean Nouvel's 100 Eleventh Avenue (left) and Frank Gehry's IAC headquarters.
Katherine Demetriou Sidelsky
 
 

In fact, it took nearly 100 photographers, six months, and more than 4,500 images to get a grip on the five boroughs. This visual inventory was amassed by volunteer architects and designers dubbed the New New York Photography Corps, who canvassed every corner of the city in an homage to Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York photo essay of the 1930s. Their group portrait, pared to 1,000 photographs, is on view through June 26 as the centerpiece of the League’s exhibition, The City We Imagined/The City We Made: New New York 2001–2010, installed in a pop-up space at 250 Hudson Street.

“They decided this would be a WPA-type project, offering architects who are underemployed a chance to stay involved, look at the city, look at the changes, and use a skill that probably everybody has—and that’s taking pictures,” said Erica Stoller, director of Esto, the architectural photo agency that advised on the project.

After the League summoned interested participants, Esto photographers conferred with the corps, then took part in marathon review sessions to winnow the images down, a process Stoller acknowledges was somewhat unscientific. “A picture has to be full of information, it has to be clear, and it has to look good, too,” she said. “But what I found curious was that we could have sat down with the same group of people and chosen all different images.”

For their part, photographers were obliged to ruthlessly edit their submissions. “I shot more than I ever thought I would—hundreds of pictures,” said Sara Moss, an architectural designer at AECOM who devoted her after-work hours to exploring Lower Manhattan, Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, and the Far West Village. The project, she added, proved a refreshing counterpoint to her day job working on the Second Avenue subway: “It reminded me of the big picture.”

Along with the photographs, the show includes a timeline of development milestones since 2001 and video interviews with notable New York figures. “The third section of the exhibition is a bit more critical,” said Gregory Wessner, digital programs and exhibitions director at the League. “We asked 14 different New Yorkers, from a variety of community, civic, and preservation groups, the same eight questions.” The exhibit also offers opportunities for viewers to comment on all the development, making for an appropriately open-ended urban portrait.

View a slideshow of New New York phtos on the A|N Blog.

Jeff Byles