•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gotham 2: The Blackwell's Island Bridge


Photographer's Diary: I debated for too long over the posting of this and the previous photo, an act of vanity hardly warranted by the unimportance of the endeavor. I plead guilty to having an unrelenting attraction to, even a morbid fascination with this bridge, the way it plunges headlong into the heart of Manhattan, the way it dwarfs the large apartment houses whose windows face onto the minute details of its tracery, the way it has outlasted the horse & wagon, streetcar world for which it was built and now unceasingly dumps twelve lanes of cars, trucks, buses, taxies, bicycles, and deafened pedestrains into the busiest part of the great city. In 1903 when work on it began, few could have imagined what demands future generations would put on the Blackwell's Island Bridge or how it would have to be repurposed. I suppose I'm also intrigued knowing that in 1900, before my grandparents were married, they lived inexpensively a few blocks from here. However, as a child, before I knew any of that, I recall seeing it on trips down the FDR Drive and being impressed by its looming greatness.

Why do I shilly-shally now at posting this photo? I suppose first it's because no photo can communicate all of those feelings, and though I've carefully studied the cityscape and set the angle and edges of my shot to maximize the bridge's impact, the photo seems a bit plain, the obvious shot.

Furthermore, it seems to have little of the "fall of the leaf" quality that I've elsewhere said is essential to a good photo. Of course, how can any photo of the city not capture the transient moment? A new building, not yet fully enclosed, rises in the background. Where are the window washers or masons whose rig is parked off a balcony near where a building is bandaged. What happened there? What has taken two identical, white, service trucks to stop on the bridge's lower deck just now? Is work underway there too? Does the freight train of clouds passing over the city follow an earlier storm, or do they portend one to come?

Maybe it's also that the philosophy of this blog is not so much to photograph interesting things, as to compose light into interesting photographs. And yet I've carefully come here late in the day and waited until the sun setting behind the Hudson River penetrated the valleys between New York's towers, cast long shadows on facing walls, and bounced around off windows in ways that help to open up space and lead the eye.

And so I've debated with myself for two days. In the end, I guess, I've posted this in spite of reservations because I have to, because I'm captive to this relic of old Gotham that still, a hundred years after its completion, seems to dominate where all around it everything else has given way to change.