While cities form the backdrop to our lives and dreams, we hardly ever credit them as a factor in our personal development. As part of the flow of routine, our paths become established and the city becomes mentally dotted with places that mark the events of our lives. “At this corner, this happened. This used to be that. I never noticed this until … Remember when we did that, over there?” A city’s unique, innate character is based on how it flows; and at the junctions of such flows – at a city’s public spaces – it creates opportunities for meeting and interacting with others.
Stephanie Braconnier asks:How has a city helped you to fall in love?
Alex Fradkin answers:
This is a compelling question because, one way or another, I tend to think about the emotion of love as part of a visceral response to the power of place. When wandering through the architectural canyons of where I live in New York City I am continually struck by the emotional extremes of this architectural environment; one that is home to such a wide diversity of people, cultures, and the extremes of the human condition, all living on such a compact island.
As an architect-turned-photographer I am frequently fascinated by how people dwell, how they inhabit space, and how they affect this space in turn. I have lived in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and New York City, each metropolis having its own unique character and sense of place. Love and/or passion are emotions that drive me and my curiosity or desire to explore with my camera. I am continually surprised, provoked, and intrigued when revisiting the same locales over and over or when discovering somewhere new within the urban environment.
Each corner, public space, or street; each private space is the repository of so many memories and histories that remain largely unknown to the casual passer-by. For the more curious and those who are familiar with a place’s history, the urban landscape is a “loaded landscape” of multi-faceted events. Be they historic, comic, tragic, or mundane – events have happened over and over in each and every one of these spaces.
In contemplating my “love” for the density of the urban environment, I find it interesting that my photographic response is one that depicts loneliness and isolation. Solitary monoliths, singled out in an opaque mist or night sky, alone and immutable; the usually thriving metropolis of lower Manhattan blacked out in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as part of the “Dark Monoliths” series. Deserted streets and immutable monoliths rendered lifeless. Post-apocalyptic environments devoid of the usual human vitality that fills the streets with the reassuring presence of others. There is an interesting contradiction of how I feel about a place and how I respond to it artistically.
I find the city to be a place that brings out the best and worst in each of us, a place of extremes that reside so closely side by side. A place where there is both the need and desire for companionship, and the deep stresses of so many people, packed into a relatively small space. A place of love, hate, inspiration, dreams, disappointment, fear, inspiration, stress, belonging, and sense of place among so many other strong emotions. The city is a place where I feel I am most in the present while surrounded and enveloped by so much layered history and memories – a place where I feel very much alive.
All photos, incl. the header image, Alex Fradkin