Monday, June 20, 2016

Roosevelt Island

For the last few weeks, I've been riding my bicycle around Astoria to explore new territory I would never make it to on foot. I've been living here for almost two years and there is still so much I haven't seen.

On June 6th, and again this past Friday, the 17th, I traveled on two wheels to Roosevelt Island. The tiny island sits on the East River underneath the 59th St. Bridge that connects Queens and Manhattan. I'd come across the bridge to the island off Vernon Boulevard some months ago but hadn't the urge to explore until now. The island feels like a tiny European town: it is shockingly well maintained and clean, and has its own inclusive community with schools, churches, and a hospital. Most of the buildings are residential, and I recently learned that Cornell houses many of its doctors and scientists there as well. I was most surprised by the number of green spaces the island maintains; little parks and gardens are dotted all along on both the East and West sides.

The most impressive space, however, is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at the south tip of the island. The architecture is completely constructed with white granite, and there was a palpable sense of calm in the area.

After my first trip, I'd heard about the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital, also on the South tip, and I knew I needed to see it this time. The Gothic Revival structure was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. in the 1850's and opened to the public in 1956. Renwick also designed Grace Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral in NY and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. After spending so much time around ruined structures in Greece, the shell of the tiny hospital somehow felt familiar to me.

While it seems I've covered all the ground on the island, I'm sure I will be traveling there again soon to experience that sense of calm this quirky little strip of land brings me.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Revisiting Herbert List

Prior to my trip to Greece, I found unexpected inspiration at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the form of a print by Herbert List. I made a post about it here, mentioning that I found myself pouring over a monograph I'd checked out from the library [at my college]. Recently, I've obtained my own copy of The Essential Herbert List: Photographs 1930-1972, and I'm reliving my past inspiration. His work makes me feel as though transported to another place and time, a mark of the best travel photography.

The introduction by Bruce Weber and the following two pieces of analysis by Ulrich Pohlmann and GΓΌnter Metken that I've read so far have my mind buzzing. I have always highly valued the history of photography knowledge that I've retained, and reading about some of the most influential masters brought up in relation to Herbert List's work, as well as mention of photo movements, feels like waking up: Henri Cartier-Bresson's decisive moments; Rene Magritte's pictorial mysteries; Breton, Cocteau, and Man Ray, the Paris Surrealists. Bruce Weber mentioned a Swiss cultural journal called Du that published List's work several times, and I'm working on finding a copy.

Through this reading I've also been introduced to a few new artists whose work I plan to investigate: Florence Henri (New Vision, mirrors), Otto Steinert (subjective photography), Edmund Kesting (Ruins: "Untitled (montage)" & "Dresden, 1945"), and George Hoyningen-Huene (fashion photography).

Man and Dog, Portofino, 1936
House and Statue of Kleopatra, Delos, 1937

Further investigations and findings on the work of Herbert List and Jaques Henri Lartigue, writings on photography, photo criticism, and personal travel journals to come.