As with my previous post, this also consists of images culled from the past nine years, only these photographs feature encounters on the sidewalk or immediately contiguous to it. My selections focus on the personal and the unusual. I avoid such ubiquitous sidewalk denizens as food trucks & carts, or vendors of scarves, wallets jewelry and knick-knacks.
Below are 56 photographs which I divide into six categories: Parking, Messages, Visual Enticements, Engaging the Pedestrian, Doing One’s Thing, and Miscellany.
Although “brown”is the long-standing nickname for the UPS, I chose Marrone sul Marciapiede as a better-sounding caption title than its English version: Brown on the Sidewalk. However, this first image is also a misdirection, because this first category, Parking, is not about parking cars.
After all, in America, we rarely do what this UPS truck in Milan has done. We don’t park on our sidewalks. However, Americans do “park” their bodies on sidewalks, especially the many homeless in search of a place to rest. This activity is the actual focus of my first topic.
Bundled up and pressed against a hard, stainless steel corner, ignored by almost all who hurry past, this woman brought to mind a Charles Baudelaire poem, Les Petites Vieilles (The Little Old Ladies) from his Fleurs du Mal. My caption is part of the line that, translated, admonishes us so: “Let us love them! They still have souls.”
There is a poetic justice in this barefooted man, his shoes as a pillow, supinely stretched–perpendicularly!–across a lower Broadway sidewalk. He asserts his presence, his significance, by refusing to melt into the edge of the building. His gesture assumes privilege. The sidewalk is his as much as anyone’s. “I’m sleepin’ here,” he says, much like the jaywalking Ratso Rizzo (from Midnight Cowboy) tells the cabbie, “I’m walkin’ here.”
Until March of this year, the southwest corner of East 86th Street was Joe Rutko’s “parking” spot. Sadly, five months has passed since I last saw him and talked to him there.
Allow me to introduce Joe, for his story is not unusual. After High School (Clarkstown North, Rockwell County, NY), he briefly went to West Point, then enlisted in the Army and served (11 Bravo, 2nd Division, 7th Infantry) from 1996 to 2001. His overseas service was all in South Korea, and so was non-combat. After his discharge from service, he had his first epileptic attack at age 26 and also had taken on a decent job in housing construction until he lost that in the housing crisis in 2011. A problematic marriage ended in divorce with a son left in the care of his wife’s mother. No income, no house, and child support soon left him homeless. With vagrancy a crime in his county, he was given a bus ticket to New York City. His first night in Bellevue (30th Street Men’s Shelter) left him robbed and nearly beaten to death, and so he took to the relative safety of the street and sidewalk.
On nights when he collected enough money ($38-40), Joe would sleep in one of two hostels in Lower Manhattan (even though a 2010 law has made hostels illegal in the city). On most other nights, Joe would ride the #6 subway train, sitting up so as not to be arrested. Having no residence left him ineligible for food stamps, and he claimed to receive nothing from the government or the VA.
Now Joe has disappeared. Such is the tragedy of being homeless. As Ian Frazier wrote in a New Yorker article, “the homeless remind me of the ghostly streaks on photos of the city from long ago, where the camera’s slow shutter speed could capture only a person’s blurry passing.”
Chalk once served as the major vehicle for sidewalk messages (or for impromptu sidewalk games like hopscotch). But now the stencil, a more-permanent medium, has become as common. The range of messages has also expanded, whether informative, quixotic, political (as above), or admonitory (as the next one below).
Madam President is one of several different messages advocating the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. It was promoted by a couple from Williamsburg, Molly Smith and Brandon Litman, in response to the presidential primaries “when Hillary was faced with a barrage of backlash, conspiracy theories and vitriol by Republicans and Bernie Bros alike.”
A harsh way of saying, “watch where you are going and don’t get run over.”
The street artist, Hans Honschar, piques our interest with this quotation from Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In this passage, Didion recalls being on the Upper East Side and, to quote the eight words preceding what Honschar wrote, “I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense so peculiar…”
Honschar’s sidewalk messages are a paean to New York, a city which captured this Floridian’s heart. To quote him: “I love New York and I love New Yorkers….there are probably two billion people right now who are just dying to get here. New York is almost a drug. It amplifies you.”
One might think that this stenciled warning is a permanent part of the International Center of Photography’s new (since June 2016) building at 250 Bowery, since we have pretty much accepted the fact that cameras and video cams are ubiquitous in today’s world. But, then, the first exhibition in the new galleries was titled Public, Private, Secret, which strongly suggests that the exhibit began right here, on the sidewalk, in front of the museum entry doors.
This is Library Way, the two sidewalks of East 41st Street between Park Avenue and 5th Avenue. Embedded there are 96 bronze plaques, each with a quotation from literature. The Grand Central Partnership, New York Public Library and the New Yorker magazine formed the quotation-selection committee, and that is because 41st Street connects Grand Central Station to the main branch of the New York Public Library.
The designer of the plaques is Gregg LeFevre, an installation artist and photographer who has cast over 120 site-specific works, each of which is meant to represent some connection to the place where they are located. This particular plaque offers the pedestrian the first two stanzas of William Butler Yeats’ poem, When You Are Old. Here are the final lines of stanza two:
“But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face.”
For transcriptions of these many plaques, but not their images, open this link.
This is a different set of Gregg LeFevre’s plaques, embedded in the sidewalk around 101 Park Avenue, which was where the Architects’ Building of 1913 once rose in Manhattan’s Murray Hill Neighborhood. After the Architects’ Building was razed in 1979 and replaced by a 49-floor skyscraper in 1982, the Grand Central Partnership and the owner of the new building (Peter Kalikow) decided to recognize the many famous architect-designed buildings that graced this part of the city. This plaque, of course, is the Pan Am Building (1960-1963 by Emery Roth & Sons, Pietro Belluschi and Walter Gropius) with the Glory of Commerce (1914 by Jules-Félix Coutan) rising in front of it.
This is one of twenty-five plaques commemorating historical events as related to Union Square. This plaque depicts what was called “The Great Sumter Rally” which took place on April 20, 1861. This rally followed the April 13 capture of Fort Sumter by Confederate troops and it demonstrated the enormous support for the Union at the beginning of the American Civil War.
A discarded piece of fabric pressed into the sidewalk here resembles a human leg ending in a pointed toe. It reminds me of certain passages in the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci in which he suggests that certain stains on walls can become the inspiration from which artists can visualize “various landscapes” or “battles and figures in action.”
These flowers, many tagged with the names and ages of the student victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, Florida) are the remains of some memorial event. This photograph was taken on March 23, 2018. The building, 23-29 Washington Place (now named the Brown Building, but originally the Asch Building), was the site of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.
The flowers are fresh. March 23, 2018 is two days before the 107th anniversary of that infamous fire, which took place on March 25, 1911. Clearly, some event memorialized the deaths of 17 High School students from Florida as well as the deaths of 146 garment workers in New York over a century earlier.
Liberty Tower, also once known as the Sinclair Oil Building, was built in 1909-1910 and designed by the well-known Chicago architect, Henry Ives Cobb. Flanking its entrance are these delightful terracotta alligators, attempting to scale the colonettes. New York buildings are full of such visual delights, if only we keep exercising our peripheral vision (and keep our eyes off our cel phones).
Another easy-to-miss bit of architectural sculpture is this Art Deco frieze of stylized flowers on a parapet wall of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, designed in 1937-1939 by James Gamble Rogers.
Above a tire-repair shop on Morris Avenue and East 139th Street are two sculptural portrait busts of Ismael, on the left (who works in the shop) and Monxo, on the right (who lives two blocks to the east). These sculptures are the work of the Bronx artist, John Ahearn, and they flank one of the windows of his studio.
This section of wall, at the corner of Houston Street and Bowery, is known as the Bowery Mural Wall. It was first tagged by Keith Haring and Juan Dubose in 1982, and it now is curated so that a new mural rotates on it every four-to-six months. This mural is by the British artist, Banksy. It is a political protest piece, critical of the Turkish Government for imprisoning a journalist, Zehra Doğan, for simply sharing a watercolor of a bombed Turkish town on social media. Doğan is pictured behind bars, which also serve to record the number of days she has been incarcerated.
Taken on a freezing winter day, this detail of an elaborate 19th-century German street lamp known as the Lombard Lamp shows a resting Putto and, most likely, a dead, frozen pigeon nestled next to the cherub. The lamp was a gift from the city of Hamburg to New York, dedicated in 1979.
Certain neighborhoods of Queens (as well as the Bronx) reveal a proliferation of fencing and gates made out of ornamental stainless steel. The reason for the clustering of this decoration in specific areas is most likely a combination of good salesmanship by the metal fabricators, ethnic preferences within a neighborhood, and–no doubt–an incentive to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’
ENGAGING THE PEDESTRIAN
As Shavna Patel writes in a 2013 article in The Atlantic, “street writing has been around for decades…and there are about 30 literary street artists in North America and the number is growing.” This particular poet was offering passers-by ‘Free Poetry’ in the late Fall of 2017. As to that number of 30, I’d be surprised if New York City didn’t have at least that many literary street artists.
Those who prefer to simply hear a few familiar poems rather than receive an original poem written expressively for them should make their way down to the Ruth Wittenberg Triangle, where this Poetry Jukebox was installed on October 23, 2018.
Press a button. Hear a poem.
The Jukebox offers a selection of twenty poems. Among the poets are Edna St. Vincent Millay, James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, Amiri Baraka, Hart Crane, Jane Jacobs, and Frank O’Hara. This project was started in Czechoslovakia with the purpose of enlivening public spaces with inspirational texts read by local poets.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy (2012), New York City and AT&T teamed up to better serve and accommodate all New Yorkers, in particular with regard to power grid failures. The result is this Solar Charging Station. Here is a map locating these AT&T Solar Charging Stations in all five Boroughs.
Three dancers advertising for CHICAGO in Father Duffy Square. This was in May of 2013. The musical is still playing today at the Ambassador Theatre (its third venue in the City) and is the second-longest running show in Broadway history after The Phantom of the Opera. Here is the official video [1:32], featuring the opening song of the musical, All That Jazz.
For the past two years, Pastor Gregory Fryer of the Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church has been providing sidewalk spiritual help and prayers to all comers on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This is his opportunity to meet new neighbors and help anyone, no matter which belief. The church also offers a Saturday lunch program called Meals on Heels in which parishoner volunteers prepare and deliver meals to the neighborhood elderly and sick.
Given the heat of this July, I would encourage Pastor Gregory to offer his Carnegie Hill and Yorkville neighbors a glass of lemonade along with the prayer! Just sayin’.
Various groups–indigenous Americans and many others–are fighting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Energy Transfer Partners, a Texas-based developer behind the Dakota Access pipeline project and KXL. Indigenous Americans, in particular, make a strong case that the Dakota Access Pipeline violates Article II of the Fort Laramie Treaty, which guarantees the “undisturbed use and occupation” of reservation lands–lands which happen to surround the proposed location of the pipeline.
It has also been argued that the Keystone XL Pipeline would be an “environmental disaster…[and] would push global warming beyond the point of no return.” Nevertheless, President Trump is trying to circumvent recent court rulings against the pipeline and get Keystone XL approved.
DOING ONE’S THING
Artist Philippe Wahlstrom first put this symbolic painting of 9/11 on this piece of Broadway sidewalk soon after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers. He returns to repaint it as needed, which is what he was doing earlier this year when I happened to walk by. We see ground zero with the twin towers still erect–grey ghosts–then as skeletal forms, tilting over. Radiating from that center are symbols of various religions, of peace and of the many souls of the trapped victims (depicted as teardrop forms with circular heads) shooting heavenwards.
Artist Samuel Mark uses New York City MTA subway maps as the support (or surface) on which he paints. Much of his work is inspired by Pop Art and comic book heroes.
Several years ago, I encountered artist Steven Cosentino painting the High Line, en plein air, in a deft, representational style that also revealed a great eye for the nuances of color.
Street artist Mark Roggemann begins his paintings by squeezing pigment onto paper or whatever other form of support he has available. Then he attacks the work with his fingers, completing a painting of the size seen above in less than ten minutes. He might then clean his hands on a fresh piece of paper which will serve as the base for his next (or future) painting.
Only in New York is one likely to hear Bach Suites issuing from somewhere ahead as one walks down the High Line. And then you see the source, a gentleman cellist in full tuxedo and bow tie. His name is Erik Robert Jacobson. If you are familiar with the local classical music scene, the name may cause you a moment’s hesitation: surely the cellist of the Brooklyn Rider Quartet, a cellist member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, and the conductor of The Knights would not dare drag his 1745 Genova cello up here!
Right you are. THAT person is Eric Jacobsen. THIS person is Erik Jacobson, also of Brooklyn, but with an ‘o’ instead of an ‘e’ in his last name and his first name ending in a ‘k,’ not an ‘e.’ Reporter Colin Mixson cleared up the confusion in an article two years ago.