In 2004, Iranian-Canadian photographer Sam Javanrouh went back to Tehran, his hometown, for a photo shoot. Here, he shows us Tehran's Eskan towers framing a glimpse of the Alborz Mountains. "Brings back so many memories," says Javanrouh.
I'm not a New York person, but this view of the Savoy Plaza and other Midtown towers has got to be one of the most gorgeous cityscapes anywhere, ever. It was shot in Central Park in 1933 by architectural photographer Samuel Gottscho. Today, the view from the same spot would be dominated by tall glass office boxes; the Savoy and many of the other old towers have been demolished.
Gottscho worked as a traveling lace and fabric salesman for 23 years before he could work with his camera full time. He specialized in pictures of houses and gardens, but also branched out into nature photography.
A new novel by E.L. Doctorow uses a heavily photoshopped version of this picture on the cover.
I'm sure there are more than two stories that can be linked to this street corner in Washington, D.C., but I see two in the photo.
The first one is a tale of two gas stations: The year is 1925, cars have only been on the road for a few years, but already here we see a derelict gas station, rundown, boarded up, the gas pump already removed. The parked car may or may not be a junker, but it's not much of an advertisement for the carwash service. But look across the street, at the far right edge of the picture. You may want to enlarge the photo to see full detail. (Or ask me to send you the very high-resolution original photo, 2.6 MB file.) That's a brand spanking new Standard Oil Co. gas station, the original category killer--so Story #1 is about how Mr. Rockefeller probably put this guy out of business and blighted this corner of my hometown.
Story #2 is about the corner itself. It's 2nd Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, which is stunning to those of us who feel they know Washington. Mass Ave is one of the businest streets in the city, and the intersection is in the heart of downtown, about four blocks from Union Station. In 1925, there wasn't even a line painted down the middle of Mass Ave. Furthermore, based on the trees and their shadows, we can deduce that the picture was taken in late afternoon or early evening--rush hour. Perhaps it was Sunday, but still--the wide-open emptiness is not consistent with our notions of a major downtown artery. This scene feels like a small town, or the edge of a city, not the center of the nation's capital, just eight blocks from the U.S. Capitol building.
What's there today? Nothing. Grass and a couple of curving walkways--I think the local term is pocket park. It's an unusual park, however, built on the air rights above the I-395 freeway as it dives underground just north of Massachusetts Avenue. Rumor has it that behind this park, they're planning to build offices and even stores and apartments, all on the I-395 air rights. This is said to be the biggest construction project in Washington right now that hasn't been suspended--maybe it hasn't been suspended, but it's not yet what they call shovel-ready.
And for what it's worth, the Standard Oil station isn't there any more either; that corner is occupied by a medium-sized brick office building that serves as Washington headquarters for a business association.
When the Custom House tower opened in 1913, tthe zoning code for the city of Boston limited building height to 125 feet. Because the Custom House was a federal installation, it could flat-out ignore the restriction; this tower is 496 feet high, making it the tallest building in Boston until 1964. The exterior is essentially unchanged to this day, though the interior has been drastically redesigned. It's now a time-share condo complex operated by Marriott.
Underneath the tower is a large Doric temple built in 1847, an imposintg structure that housed the warehouses and regional financial offices of the customs service. Most of the federall government's income in those days came from import levies, so in port cities such as Boston, custom houses were typically the nicest buildings in town.
In this picture, the clocks at the top of the tower have no hands. This is probably because repairs were being attempted; the wooden minute hand was so big and heavy--22 feet long--that the clock mechanism struggled to push it up from the 6 toward the 12, often failing. Until the hands were replaced with plastic a few years ago, the clocks rarely kept good time.
Obviously, this picture was taken on a Monday. The scene is the tenement backyard at Park Avenue and 107th Street in New York, probably in the year 1900.
Setting up these clotheslines was not a trivial task, especially on the higher floors. A man would come around calling out "I climb poles!" and for about 25 cents he'd climb up and run the rope out over the pulleys. He also sold rope and pulleys, but if you'd planned ahead and bought them from the hardware store, you could save a few cents.
Notice the train track at the bottom of the photo--I'm guessing the whites were whiter at the far end of the block. Just on the other side of the tracks is the building where baseball player Lou Gehrig grew up, a few years after this picture was taken.
I suggest viewing this image as large as possible, so you can peep into the windows.
A few days ago, the photo-science geniuses from Rochester Institute of Technology conducted their annual Big Shot, an experiment in painting with light. A scene is chosen--this year, the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The public is invited to participate by bringing handheld light sources, such as flashlights or candles. Streetlights, security lights, and other nearby high-tech sources of illumination are extinguished, so when night approaches, the scene gets darker and darker.
Inside lights are switched on to make the building glow in the dark. Then the crowd is arranged so that all the handheld lights paint the scene. This year, about 800 people participated, and after a 20-second exposure, the big shot came out pretty as a picture.
That's the Washington Monument in the background, leaning to the left because of distortion caused by the wide-open lens.
This is Stockholm after midnight last June, during one of the white nights near the summer solstice. The tower in the foreground is part of the Old Town, which dates back to the thirteenth century. The cranes in the background are building the part of town that will date back to the twenty-first century.
Photographer Trey Ratcliff is known for his high-dynamic-range techniques, which pump up the drama in his pictures, producing weirdly wonderful, or just plain weird, results.
The idea is that when shooting a scene that is partly bright and partly shadowed, a camera can properly expose the picture to show color and detail in the bright areas or in the dark areas, but not both at the same time. Ratcliff shoots the same scene over and over with different exposure settings; he then uses fancy software to blend together parts of the image from all the different shots.
Our eyes naturally have a much wider dynamic range than any camera, so in theory Ratcliff's pictures should be more natural-looking than regular photos. In practice, they look less natural--often interesting, sometimes beautiful, but almost always somehow artificial and extreme. I have mixed feelings about his work; here, for example, the sky looks spooky or fake to me, but overall, it's really, really pretty.
In 1979, the developers of Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois, near Chicago, went bankrupt. More than a hundred merchants abandoned the mall overnight, including the big three anchor tenants, Sears, Penney's, and Montgomery Ward. The trees and ivy in the planters in center court were left to overgrow. The parking lot was left to . . . things went so far south in the parking lot that the town of Harvey built a police substation in the middle of it. You can still go inside the mall, if the spirit moves you--ever since people busted the doors and broke the plywood that was supposed to board things up, the place has been wide open for decades. It has been reported that the food court and much of the rest of the territory is controlled by packs of dogs. When cinematographers need a location for the next dystopic blockbuster, they can check out Dixie Square Mall.
And we're going to have to get used to this, because as the housing bust now spreads to commercial properties in suburbs all over America, Dixie Square Mall is a harbinger. Welcome to the twenty-first century. Already, the phenomenon has atrracted its own historical website--deadmallsdotcom--and a small army of documentary photographers. This photo is by Brian Ulrich.
Our friend Carol Stack has just returned from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She took this picture on the road leading down into town, and very soon, we hope, she'll leave her jet lag behind and find time to prepare a few notes to share with us about the image and her experiences.
Also, because several Good Morning folks are known to have spent time in Ethiopia, I'm putting out a call for pictures and stories. Thanks in advance.
Fitzrovia is the London neighborhood that once surrounded the Fitzroy tavern, a long-gone, between-the-wars watering hole. Plenty of pubs remain, however, and for generations now, Fitzrovia might be best characterized as the part of town where famous writers and musicians go to drink: the long list is known to include George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, Rimbaud, Verlaine, and more recently, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, and the fictional heroes of Saul Bellow.
Looking southward down Manhattan from the top of 30 Rock, toward the Empire State Building and beyond. That's the Verrazano Narrows Bridge near the top of the photo, connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Last week, the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn was named a Superfund site, meaning that umpteen million dollars will be poured into cleaning up its pollution. Gowanus water has been sludged with grease and foul-smelling nastiness for a long, long time--so long, in fact, that hardly any new buildings have been constructed in the neighborhood since the nineteenth century.
This painting was recently submitted to the New York Times by an anonymous artist, in response to a call for works remembering the canal and its neighborhood. In this scene, the neighborhood looks bright and vibrant. "The artist's eye can find something special in this unlikely place," noted one New Yorker. "But if you've been there, you know it by the smell."
"And the noise!" observed another. "Lots of old Italian men screaming words of torment and threat into the night, muttering something about busting someone’s head off with a baseball bat."
"This reminds me of the old joke," said a third. "Guy asks, 'What's the quickest way to the Gowanus?' The answer is: 'Borrow five hundred dollars from Dominic and don't pay him back.'"
Last week, a new condo tower opened in Philadelphia near Rittenhouse Square; its penthouse has already been sold, for $12.5 million. This picture was snapped by a glazier who was hired by the new owners to redo some of the windows.
This is only a small part of the view that $12.5 million buys. The penthouse occupies one entire floor of the new building, and its views are 360 degrees. What you see here is the view looking to the east: the art deco Medical Arts Building across the street, the vaguely Moorish Drake tower near the righthand edge of the photo, with the new glass quonset-hut-canopy of the Kimmel Center behind it.
In the distance is New Jersey, on the far side of the Delaware River.
By all accounts, the new condos are pretty nice. Each one occupies an entire floor, with elevators that are basically private for each resident. In the elevators are buttons you can push to operate the fully automated underground garage; your car will be whisked up from its underground spot and placed gently near the street-level exit, all ready for you to slide behind the wheel and venture forth into the city.
As the latest entry in an irregular series on places I've never been and know next to nothing about, consider this image of Moroni, capital of Comoros, an island nation in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique.
About 60,000 people live on the volcanic islands of the Comoro archipelago. Although the country is among the poorest on earth, armies have fought ferociously to control it, leading to twenty coups or attempted coups since the end of French colonial rule in the 1970s. Beginning in 2002, however, elections have produced governments that are said to be "more or less" stable.
Comoros is characterized by stunning volcanic scenery and spectacular, uncrowded beaches. But outside of Moroni there are no roads or tourist facilities. Government promotional literature recommends a visit only for visitors with "independent means."
Two subtle murals on rowhouse endwalls at 22nd and Walnut streets in Philadelphia recover in shadow and reflection a long-gone church that once occupied the site that is now is a gas station.
Artist Michael Webb painted every brick on the two murals, which adorn plain stucco walls that had long been covered with graffiti. St. James Church dated back to 1870, which is the era rendered in the murals' architectural details.
Sunoco commissioned the murals in 1999, hoping to put an end to the gas station's graffiti problems. The plan worked.
Two years ago, when they demolished the old South Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River, it was in such bad shape, I'm told, that chunks of its concrete were falling onto the expressway that passes underneath.
A week from Monday, this new South Street Bridge is scheduled to open, restoring a direct route from our neighborhood to the University of Pennsylvania across the river. The little flag near the right edge of the picture is flying over Penn's football stadium.
Looks like there's still a little work to be finished up in this next week. But they say they'll cut the ribbon right on schedule.
Sam Javanrouh's caption for his nighttime skyline shot was indeed a reference to election results--but not to the mid-term elections at the center of the media universe here in the U.S.
Javanrouh was unhappy about last week's mayoral election in Canada's largest city, Toronto, where a "right-wing intolerant redneck" named Rob Ford trounced former deputy premier of Ontario George Smitherman. Ford ran openly homophobic ads against Smitherman, who is openly gay. He also promised to cut taxes and stop spending and etc.
The CN tower is dark in this photo, not its usually well-lit self, but that's just a coincidence, not an example of early budget-slashing. Must be Obama's fault.
Today and tomorrow our focus is on beautiful Chicago, in scenes captured by the Polish photographer Krzycho. Here, a few blocks north of downtown, the morning sun is coming up over Lake Michigan, behind the skyscrapers, which seem quite artfully arranged.
Krzycho lives and shoots in Chicago but comes originally from Zamość in southeastern Poland. Clearly, he (or she?) is smitten by the windy city.
This weekend, the mayor and his guys in suits cut the ribbon reopening the South Street Bridge across the Schuylkill River, after two years of demolition and reconstruction.
For the first few hours, the bridge was only open to foot traffic. So this group of students from the University of Pennsylvania set up card tables in the middle of the roadway and played bridge on the bridge.
Soon after the ribbon-cutting, a small parade marched past the card players, led by the West Powellton Steppers and drum team. Behind them was a ten-foot-tall papier mâché puppet bearing a sign that said "Share the Road." Bringing up the rear--and putting an end to the brief and glorious era of bridge on the bridge--was the first motor vehicle to cross the new span, a Philly CarShare hybrid Prius.
A couple of weeks ago, before the new bridge opened, I snuck out onto it while the workmen were at lunch. When I looked upstream along the Schuylkill, I saw railroad tracks cutting straight through to Center City and beyond, past all those skyscrapers ssoaking up the sun.
You don't see all that many pictures featuring slush. The slush featured here is in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, but I think the takeaway is that Slovenian slush and American slush are kinda hard to tell apart.
The guidebooks say that Nepal is a "quirky" place, where people use thousand-year-old statues to hold up their clotheslines. The guidebooks are right.
As this photo suggests, Nepalis use a confection of spit and wistfulness to hold up their electrical grid. It works about as well as you'd guess. In the capital city of three million people there is not a single functioning traffic light.
After spending four days knocking about in Kathmandu and another week trudging very slowly through the Himalayan foothills, I filled up my camera with curiosities and have of course become an expert on all things Nepalese. I've got stuff to share in upcoming G'mornin's. But the world has gone on spinning, so Kathmandu cannot always take priority. Glad to be back, hope everybody's well, look forward to hearing everybody's news.
WWBD? (What would Buddha do, in his tattoo studio?)
Most Nepalis are Hindu, but we're told that their understanding of Hinduism is expansive enough to include the Buddha and his spiritual ways. Up and down the streets of Kathmandu are ornate, pagoda-style Hindu temples, little curbside chapels associated with one or several deities, modest "resting places" for the spirits of the departed, and big, bold Buddhist stupas like this one.
It is against the law to kill a cow, and cows do wander around town, especially out near the airport. But Nepalis have other cowlike animals--water buffalo and yak--that provide them with meat, milk, fiber, leather, and, um, horsepower, thus facilitating the religious exclusion of cows from these sorts of roles. Buffalo and yak look well-fed; the religiously venerated cows appear to be starving.
A substantial number of Nepali men, especially among the many who ride motorcycles, show a certain veneration for Western-style leather jackets, presumably made of cow leather. The tattoos, body piercings, and dreadlocks, however, are for tourists.
In 1917, guy by the name of Jug Reynolds was trying to make a living doing this sort of thing–standing on his hands on top of a chair on top of two tables on top of the cornice at the edge of the roof of Lansburgh's furniture store at 9th Street and F Street NW in Washington, D.C.
Note that Jug's helper out there on the roof had a cigarette in his mouth. All in a day's work.
The domed building in the background is the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
There's a lot going on up on the rooftops around Kathmandu–clotheslines and gardens and solar water heaters and stovepipes and a lot of other stuff beyond my understanding.
This scene was in Bhaktapur, capital city of one of the three ancient kingdoms of the Kathmandu valley, about half an hour's drive from Kathmandu proper. Americans might understand Bhaktapur as a sort of Nepalese Williamsburg, where old buildings and crafts and cultural traditions are consciously preserved and displayed for tourists. No cars are permitted in town. However, Bhaktapur is about a thousand years older than Williamsburg, and it was no colonial outpost; for hundreds of years, it was the political and religious center of a wealthy royal court, with palaces and temples on a grand scale.
In the late eighteenth century, Bhaktapur lost out to an even wealthier kingdom in Kathmandu, and today the 30,000 townspeople get by on tourism and pottery-making; the pottery specialty seems to be wide, low bowls designed for culturing yogurt. An art school in Bhaktapur teaches ancient Buddhist thenka painting, and a paper factory follows traditional paper-making technology utilizing the inner bark of the lokta bush.
Below, in one of Bakhtapur's central squares, a woman walks past a Hindu temple guarded by a god with a mustache.
Old houses in Prague, as seen through a screen set up around a construction site across the street. The construction in progress is actually restoration work, so that the street can recover its bygone character.
Recently, Newsweek magazine singled out the three rustiest, dying-est dying rust belt cities in America; coming in at number three, behind Detroit and Flint, Michigan, was Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Grand Rapids–hometown of President Gerald Ford, corporate headquarters of Amway, hub of western Michigan's peach orchards and blueberry farms–didn't take that kind of ranking sitting down. Thousands of city residents stood up and took to the streets, lip-synching Don McLean's anthem all over town, producing the anti–rusty-dying video shown below.
Roger Ebert dubbed it the greatest music video ever. And Newsweek apologized, even going so far as to declare the published rustiness ranking to be methodologically flawed.
The picture above is Tranquilitea, a mosaic by Grand Rapids artist Peggy Kerwan made from thousands of tea bags. The bright colors are from tags and paper wrappers on the tea bags; the subtler shadings are from the translucent tea bags themselves.
Glenwood Green Acres sits hard by the railroad tracks in north Philadelphia, on a strip of land where abandoned warehouses burned down in 1984. Ninety-six families in the neighborhood till plots in this community garden; some of them work at it full time, selling their produce or giving it to the hungry.
Their crops include: collard greens, peppers, eggplant, squash, string beans, okra, blackberries, cotton, and tobacco. The southern character of what is grown reflects the southern roots of many people in the north Philly neighborhoods surrounding Glenwood. People like to grow what they grew up growing.
Room to garden in is hard to come by in most of Philadelphia, where row houses line the streets with little or no yard space. There are community gardens all over town–an estimated 400 active ones–but most are tiny, typically occupying just a few hundred square feet in a vacant lot that the gardeners don't own and can't protect from development.
Glenwood is huge by comparison: 3.5 acres. And it's owned by a citywide land trust and operated by a neighborhood organization. The garden is deeded as public green space forever.
The number of vacant lots in the city is thought to be well over 30,000, and most of them are derelict. But after twenty years of struggling to purchase and protect land for Philadelphia's community gardens, the trust now owns just 22 parcels totaling less than 10 acres.
Meanwhile, for what it's worth, in my little one-pot garden, I have a golf-ball-sized tomato, plus 4 flowers on the plant and more buds than I can count. I'm so optimistic I'm not fit to be around.
Soccer is popular in Nepal, even if the fields are more dirt than grass, and this year the national team, known as the Ghorkalis, is on a roll. Last week, Nepal notched two victories, 2-0 and then 5-0, in 2014 World Cup qualifying matches against East Timor. The Ghorkalis have a new coach, Graham Roberts, an Englishman who played for Tottenham and Chelsea, mostly on defense, and won six caps for England.
Meanwhile, in league play, defending champions Nepal Police Club holds a comfortable lead in the Martyrs Memorial Red Bull Division A, though Yeti Air Himalayan Sherpas Club is not out of the running.
The field shown here is in the suburbs of Kathmandu, at the base of the hill topped by the Monkey Temple.