Sunday, March 27, 2011

bridging rivers and time

I've been taking advantage of this break to work on my photography. I was out last night photographing the High, Washington, and Alexander Hamilton Bridges from the pedestrian walkway in Manhattan which runs parallel to the the Harlem River Drive. It was cold and windy. It was my first time attempting these shots at night. Even though they didn't come out as I had hoped, I see the potential with more practice.

This morning I had planned to take shots of the High and Washington Bridges from the Bronx side of the river, but I went to bed too late last night and so, was in no mood to wake up before sunrise. I'll try again tomorrow.

Last year, I believe, a dear friend gave me a copy of London's Bridges: Crossing the Royal River knowing that I had developed this passion for spans. I admit that I've only browsed it thus far. Looking for something on which to focus my attention one evening last week, I picked it up from the bookshelf and began skimming the text. The book starts with a history of the Thames and how artists in the past have represented it. This reminded me of something. Like the Thames, the Harlem River has a history of painters and photographers who have ventured uptown to capture the waterway itself as well as the bridges that cross it. This artistic tradition, I don't think, is very well-known but it's there.

In Impressionist New York, this artistic interest in the Harlem River Valley is examined to a refreshing degree. The early 20th century seems to have been when most of the best known images of this area were created. Famous American artists, such as Childe Hassam, participated.

High Bridge, 1922

A few decades later, Edward Hopper painted the Macombs Dam Bridge, one of city's oldest.

Macomb's Dam Bridge, 1935

However, by far, it appears that Ernest Lawson casts the largest shadow. So far, I've found about 8 paintings of this area attributed to him. It's clear that he really felt a strong, personal connection to this part of the city.

Harlem River, c. 1911

Washington Bridge

High Bridge at Noon

It's helpful knowing that past artists found this stretch of New York's arteries to be inspiring too. It always hasn't been as marginalized as one might think.

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