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Archive for March, 2010

Day 83: Event Horizon

My heightened sense of observation paid off for me on back-to-back days.  It was another nice day in New York City, so I made my way down to the area around Madison Square Park because it offers so much fodder for photography.  I was taking pictures of the Met Life Tower from 24th Street between Park and Madison when I noticed something on the roof of the building.  It first appeared to be a person, but I quickly realized it was a statue when the figure lacked movement.

This was a mystery that I needed to solve.  I did some research online but came up empty.  A couple days later, I randomly stumbled upon my answer from a Tweet that linked to a blog post written by a NYC-based film location scouting describing a new art exhibit in the area of Madison Square Park (you can read the full post here).

The statue I photographed was part of an art exhibition called “Event Horizon” that was created by an English sculptor named Antony Gormley.  The exhibition is serving as his United States public art debut, after a 25+ year career that has garnered worldwide acclaim.  The 59-year-old artist almost always uses the human body as his subject, with his own body used in many works as the basis for metal casts.

The official description of the exhibition is the following: “In Event Horizon, thirty-one life-size body forms of the artist cast in iron and fiberglass will inhabit the pathways and sidewalks of historic Madison Square Park, as well as the rooftops of the many architectural treasures that populate New York’s vibrant Flatiron District.”  The exhibition, which made its debut in London in 2007, can be seen in New York City from March 26 through August 15, 2010.

Like many artists of his ilk, Antony Gormley describes the purpose of his art exhibition in very pretentious terms.  But he did have a very pragmatic and practical view as well: “The ambition is to make people visually aware of their own surroundings and the skyline above their heads.”

Event Horizon Close-up

Antony Gormley's "Event Horizon" Art Exhibition

"Event Horizon" From a Distance

"Event Horizon" From a Distance

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I’ve learned a lot more during the first 80+ days of the challenge than I ever expected.  One of the most valuable lessons has been to both observe and appreciate my surroundings (each and every day).  This heightened and highly trained power of observation resulted in today’s photo – a photo that will inevitably emit emotion.

I spotted some ‘graffiti’ on my way to work and was shocked to see the subject matter (especially in Midtown Manhattan).  The message read loud and clear: 9-11-01 : ) HA HA HA.  To my greater surprise, I saw the same tag a second time on the same street (31st between Madison and Park).

As I’ve done with nearly all of my photos, I did some research online to see what I could dig up.  I didn’t find a definitive explanation about the message (beyond the obvious), but did find that this same tag has been photographed in Tokyo and Los Angeles.  So, the story behind this tag remains a mystery of global curiosity.

Graffiti Tag

Graffiti Found on Muni Parking Meter

Graffiti Tag

Graffiti Found on Exterior of Building along 31st Street

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Do you remember Pepsi’s Super Bowl ad this year?  No?

That’s because Pepsi opted not to buy advertising during the big game for the first time in 23 years.  For comparison’s sake, Pepsi spent a whopping $33 million advertising its brands during last year’s game.  The company made a decision to drop the Super Bowl ads in favor of a cause marketing campaign called the Pepsi Refresh Project.  Wikipedia defines cause marketing as any type of marketing involving the cooperative efforts of a “for profit” business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit.

Today’s photo is of a massive billboard on the corner of 7th Avenue and West 33rd Street (across the street from Madison Square Garden / Penn Station) that promotes the Pepsi Refresh Project, a campaign will award more than $20 million in 2010 to move communities forward.  Pepsi will fund projects that make a difference in six categories: Health, Arts & Culture, Food & Shelter, The Planet, Neighborhoods and Education.

Organizations can apply for these grants and Pepsi allows the public to decide who wins by voting online for the most refreshing idea that will move our communities forward.  The campaign also has a social media marketing component with a dedicated Facebook page and Twitter account (search for #PepsiRefresh).

Pepsi Billboard

Billboard Promoting the Pepsi Refresh Project

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The 365 Day Challenge can be, well, more challenging on the weekends in the suburbs.  Please see evidence of my struggles on day 73 when I took a photo of a creek.  Yes, a creek.

I travel to the next town over every Sunday morning to compete play in an indoor soccer league.  We have a great time playing, but our 0-9 record speaks to our season’s success.  The indoor facility is located in Florida, NY, which just so happens to be the birthplace of William H. Seward who was featured in the blog on day 78.  Florida is a village located in southern Orange County that was founded way back in 1760.  In addition to being the hometown of Seward, Florida is known for its vast onion fields (it calls itself Onion Capital of the World) due to the abundance of black dirt that is native to the area.

Today’s photo is of the Randallville Mill, a four-story, six-by-four bay frame building in a local rural vernacular style.  Records show that many local commodities were milled at the site: wood, wool and flour, as well as millwork for home furniture.  Jesse Randall, the property’s namesake, then decided to enter the piano business in the middle of the 19th century after learning the trade during his time as an apprentice for a piano manufacturer in New York City.  The mill continued to produce pianos through his retirement in 1870.

Other than an extensive restoration in the 1990s, the mill has had very few additions or alterations since it was first constructed. Although said to be a sound structure, the building leans significantly to the right.  The mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Randallville Mill

Randallville Mill in Florida, NY

Alternate View of Randallville Mill

Alternate View of Randallville Mill

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When deciding to relocate back to New York last year, Courtney and I weighed the pluses and minuses of making such drastic life change.  The plus that carried the most weight for us was the opportunity to be closer to family and to reconnect with old friends.  We had the good fortune of heading to New Paltz on day 79 to catch up with a number of Courtney’s old teammates from her college soccer days.

After returning from our shared study abroad experience in London, Courtney and I spent a lot of time in New Paltz since she attended the SUNY school.  It’s a great college town that is incredibly liberal, which gives students and locals the freedom to express themselves in a variety of ways.  One glaring example is the alternative style of dress that becomes readily apparent as you make your way down Main Street.

I mention the dress because it played a role in our night on the town.  We were invited to take part in the 2010 Ugly Outfit New Paltz Pub Crawl – an evening of drinking at the fine establishments that line the main drag of the town.  It’s important to note that Courtney and I were notified late about the “ugly outfit” rule, so we started off on the wrong foot by breaking rule #3 of the crawl: “Your outfit must be ‘ugly’.”  And to be quite honest, the liberal dress throughout the town really negated the intended shock value of the blazer and Hawaiian shirt clad crowd.

The motley crew posing for a photo at Snugs

The motley crew posing for a photo at Snugs

I was very impressed with the organized nature of the event, which included 12 main rules that governed the night.  The agenda was fairly grueling, however, and included visits to eight different drinking holes: (1) Gilded Otter, (2) Snugs, (3) Bacchus, (4) Cabaloosa, (5) Oasis, (6) McGillicuddy’s, (7) Murphy’s and (8) P&G’s.  Each bar had a specific drinking activity associated with it, ranging from a house brewed beer and shot at the Gilded Otter to a “bomber” of Budweiser at Snugs to a beer with a number in the name at Bacchus.

We had a great time reconnecting with some old friends and meeting some new people as well.  It was the first time we had been back to New Paltz since relocation, so many memories came flooding back.  It’s a town that offers a wide array of activities by day or night, so I’m sure we’ll revisit it in the near future because it offers great photographic fodder for the blog.

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I went back to the well and paid another visit to Madison Square Park on Day 78.  The park offers a number of different subjects to be featured during my challenge – boasting quite a collection of statues and monuments recognizing contributors to American history, including Chester A. Arthur (21st President of the United States), William Jenkins Worth (United States general during the Mexican-American War) and William H. Seward (US politician).  Today, I chose to capture a photo of the statue of Seward.

Describing Seward (1801-1872) as merely a US politician, though, is a huge understatement.  His political resume is impressive – 12th Governor of New York, United States Senator and the United States Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson – but doesn’t tell the whole story of the man.  He was born in Florida, New York, on May 16, 1801, which just so happens to be the next town over from where I grew up in Orange County.  For local readers of the blog, you’ll recognize the name Seward because his father, Samuel Seward, was the founder of the S. S. Seward Institute, which is currently a secondary school in the Florida Union Free School District.

Seward, a 5-6” slight of build ginger, was a classically trained lawyer, having graduated with the highest honors from Union College in 1820; he was admitted to the New York State Bar the very next year.  He moved to upstate Auburn, NY and spent the next several years practicing law and starting a family with Frances Adeline Miller (they had five children together).  He began his political career in 1830, serving as a state senator.  He was then named the Whig party candidate for Governor of New York in 1834 – an unsuccessful bid in a tight race with incumbent Democrat William Marcy.  He again challenged Marcy in 1836 and won an even tighter election; he was narrowly re-elected to a second two-year term in 1840.

William H. Seward

Statue of William H. Seward in Madison Square Park

Seward became a staunch opponent of slavery in the 1830s and vehemently opposed the expansion of slavery.  He acknowledged that slavery was technically legal under the constitution, but believed that it was morally wrong – he famously remarked in 1850 that “there is a higher law than the Constitution”.

Seward was on track to gain the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 1860, but got himself in trouble with a couple of political blunders that resulted in a failed bid.  His lesser-known rival was a man named Abraham Lincoln who was seen as a safer choice when compared to the more radical, outspoken Seward.  Lincoln, of course, went on to win the election, but recognized the intelligence of Seward and quickly appointed him to the position of Secretary of State in his cabinet.  Interestingly, there was a failed assassination attempt on Seward the same night Lincoln was assassinated.  Seward was viciously attacked in his home after Lewis Powell, an associate of John Wilkes Booth, gained entry after telling a servant that he was there to deliver medicine to the Secretary of State who was recovering from a recent near-fatal carriage accident.  Ironically, it is believed that Seward’s jaw splint from injuries suffered in the earlier accident protected him enough from Powell’s knife attack to spare his life.

It took Seward several months to recover from his injuries, but he continued his political career as Secretary of State under new President Andrew Johnson.  What’s believed to be his most famous political achievement happened under Johnson – the successful acquisition of Alaska from Russia.  The most incredible part of the deal was the price he negotiated for the territory…$7.2 million (or approximately 2 cents per acre).  He retired as Secretary of State after Ulysses S. Grant took office as president and spent the remaining years of his life both writing and travelling the world.  He died on October 10, 1872 at the age of 71 and is buried in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.

Met Life Tower in Background

William H. Seward Statue with Met Life Tower in Background

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The weather has been pretty amazing this week in New York.  I took advantage of the warmer temperatures and walked down to Madison Square Park (see Day 28).  The park was expectedly packed full of your usual cast of characters – street vendors, people eating their lunch, tourists and a painter.

After blogging about the fact that I cross paths with thousands of people a day on Day 71, Harry Stiff left a comment encouraging me to “approach a new person every day and put them on the blog to introduce them to the world.”  Harry clearly has an interest in my demise (perhaps he made one of his 12-pack wagers with Hank) because I’m asking for trouble by randomly approaching strangers in New York City.

But I saw a fairly safe opportunity and decided to approach the aforementioned artist.  I thought it would be rude to take a photo of him painting the scene in front of us without his permission, so I asked him if I could capture him at work.  He hesitantly obliged my request and then did something I didn’t expect…he thanked me for asking permission.  I snapped three or four photos and then bothered him again – this time it was for a business card.

Steven Cosentino

Steven Cosentino painting a scene in Madison Square Park

So, this is now my opportunity to “introduce him to the world.”  The artist is a man named Steven Cosentino who was born in New York City, the place where he continues to call home.  According to his website, he “studied at the Art Students League with Rudolf Baranik and went on to teach at the League in the early 1990s.”  His murals can be found in homes and restaurants around the country, including a 40×14’ image on the wall of the Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex restaurant in Clermont, FL.

Cosentino has also produced a great deal of ‘socially conscious work’ in his life as an artist.  His largest and most well known mural is a piece called ‘Human Being’ that was produced on a rooftop of a building that had previously housed the Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services Corporation (a non-profit agency that helped hundreds of homeless adults in Midtown Manhattan).  Consentino was intimately aware of the organization because he shared space in the building, a space that served as his studio.

The building was owned and operated by St. Agnes Church who ultimately displaced the homeless adults when they sold to a developer of a multi-million dollar high rise apartment project.  His mural was a statement about the willing displacement of the homeless (without any care for their well-being) in exchange for the all-mighty buck.  This statement was enhanced by his use of discarded clothing from the shelter – rather than paint – to create the work of art.

The 65×35’ mural of a homeless man was quickly noticed by people who worked in offices that overlooked the 6-story building.  The artwork garnered enough attention for it to be featured in the New York Times and other major media publications.  This media attention helped him tell the story of the displacement of homeless adults in New York City.  Unfortunately, the mural only lasted a couple months before it was removed by the church.  The image and impact on the social movement, however, continue to live on through the work of Cosentino.

'Human Being' by Steven Cosentino

'Human Being' by Steven Cosentino

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