Friday, February 22, 2008

Cabin Fever

(Since the snow here in New York is keeping me from enjoying the snow up in Vermont, I figured there was no better way to deal with the cabin fever than to turn the pages back almost 22 years to a summer weekend in Manhattan...)

November 1985

It was the Fourth of July, 1986. The Statue of Liberty had been unveiled from its years-long restoration under the largest free-standing scaffold ever built (above). The weather was beautiful the entire weekend. I watched the statue's re-dedication by President Reagan in an NYU dorm room and laughed as the law students I was with booed and hissed the introduction of Attorney General Ed Meese on the television. Then we went to the roof to watch the fireworks, which were set off from barges strung from the East River around the Battery to the the Hudson. We had a great view:

(click for larger image)

This was the first time I'd shot fireworks, and wish I had known more about the technical aspects back then. Although I did most everything right (tripod, bulb setting with a cable release, black card, bracketed exposures), I set the f-stop of my 50mm lens at 1.7, wide open, which let too much light in for the 3 to 5 second length of the exposures. The result is that while the color is nice, the detail is mushy. By the following year I knew better, when I shot these long exposures of The Zipper. Like the Zipper, the fireworks were made on Kodachrome 64.

The next day I headed north, to a part of Manhattan I'd only been through by car, up to the George Washington Bridge. I had long wanted to add the GWB to my list of the bridges I've walked across. I've crossed the East River on the Queensboro, the Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Bridge; my only other Hudson crossing was much further north, on the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie.

But more than a bridge crossing brought me here. Long before the George Washington arrived as a river crossing and, not incidentally, as a navigation aid, a small, pre-fabricated lighthouse warned river shipping and boaters of the hazards in that area. After the bridge went up, it was scheduled to be scrapped. But public affection and the related outcry, as well as a popular children's book, convinced officials to scrap their plans instead, and preserve the structure. Painted bright red, it, and its storybook, were known as:

The Little Red Lighthouse

and the great, gray...blimp?

Well, no. But there was a third attraction that day as well. The New York Daily News sponsored a blimp race down the Hudson River. Of course, this was silly enough for me to jump at in about a second, but no one else felt like schlepping up to the GWB, the starting line, which left me taking the A train to 175th Street by myself that fifth of July.

(click for larger image)

This was the scene looking south from the middle of the bridge a few minutes after the start. There were four blimps racing; I remember being a bit disappointed with how small they seemed, but the Hudson is a big river. I forget who won. I can't even remember where the finish line was.

These were all shot on Kodak Panatomic-X, a fine-grained 32 ISO film. Prints from this film have incredible contrast and detail, and the scans I'm showing here in no way do justice to its quality. These were scanned on the flatbed in my homemade glass negative holder. The first two aren't bad, but this one above needed lots of Newton's Rings removed. I wanted to join them as a pano, but none of my software could mesh them, and it would need extensive blending if it had worked. But I rather like the way the two full frames look as a single piece, something of a diptych.


Steve Rogg said...

We were south of you at Don's apartment, watching the big ship parade during the day then the fireworks on the ground at rivers' edge. Nate, Carol, Healey myself and I think Sherry was there you'll have to check with her. I do remember that the second walk up 44 floors was harder than the first walk up. Could it have anything to do with all that beer we consumed that day?

Sherry said...

I wasn't there. And you'll never prove it! In truth, I was with my Dad and family on a World Yacht boat celebrating his 65th birthday, so I have a perfectly plausible alibi.

But I'm liking the way this blog is finding its voice. And its legs. Go forth and scan, my spouse.

Sharon said...

Those shots looking south from the middle of the bridge look smashingly atmospheric; like the scene of a weird invasion from another century...