In part 1, I talked about how a lot of the iconography surrounding the USA, and particularly New York, is so familiar to people all around the world that it almost becomes like a universal language. The Statue of Liberty is one such symbol.
The Statue of Liberty was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and constructed, largely in France, by Gustave Eiffel. It was presented to the United States as a gift from the French people in 1886. Since then she has stood on Liberty Island, in New York Harbour, raising her torch to the sky. I don’t want to get into the politics of talking about what the Statue of Liberty stands for, because while I have many views on the opinion, every single one of them is bound to provoke someone to write an angry comment below, and that’s not my aim here.
Instead, I want to talk about the statue itself. We’ve all seen it in pictures a hundred times before, but that does not compare to seeing it in person. I cannot even begin to imagine how those people sailing through the harbour, perhaps even on their first journey to the USA, must have felt when seeing this colossus before them. When you stand beneath it, head tilted to the sky, and look up at its awe-inspiring form, you find yourself wondering how those that built this creature of iron and copper must have felt watching it come together before their very eyes.
My attitude towards the Statue of Liberty is similar towards that of the many churches I have photographed throughout my short time as a photographer. In fact, as architectural work goes, I think my favourite subject is that of religious buildings – and yet I hold no religion. You might think that’s odd, and so do I. Over time, though, I’ve realised that I am fascinated by these buildings because they were constructed to be dedications to an ideal. The Statue of Liberty is no different. I might disagree with what it has come to represent now, but I cannot deny that I am inspired by the dedication of those that brought it into the world.
You will all recognise this skyline.
This past week I was in New York City. It’s an amazing place, and I loved every second of my time there. It’s a vast city that has many different aspects, and in this series of posts I want to explore but a handful of these through my photography.
I find myself thinking a lot about the concept of ‘belonging’, and how that relates to my life, and to my photography. Much of my work is about places in the world, and the thoughts and emotions that those places can bring along with them. Each little part of the world that I’ve explored, sometimes merely scratching the surface, and other times delving deeper, has its own meaning to me, and likely to many other people as well. New York is no different. Despite being a first-time visitor, and only being there for five days, I felt strangely at home the entire time.
I initially put this down to two things. The first is that New York is so prevalent in popular culture that we almost know it before ever setting foot on its streets. When I walked around the city I found myself recognising buildings, and street names. I’ve probably seen the yellow taxis a hundred times before. The apartment steps looked like they were straight out of Seinfeld. We’re so immersed in New York that it almost becomes a universal language – no matter what part of the world a person is from, or which language they speak, they will recognise the Manhattan Skyline, they will recognise the Empire State Building, and they will recognise the yellow taxi.
The second reason is that New York is one of the most metropolitan areas of America, and has a diverse range of cultures. Like London, this makes it easy for anyone and everyone to fit in, but New York is far bigger than London, magnifying the effect. Walking around the city, you find yourself talking to so many people, regardless of whether they were born in the city or have moved from elsewhere. That shows you that you, too, can fit in.
But these don’t explain the sensation of New York City. They contribute, yes, but they don’t do it justice. The city has an atmosphere that goes beyond its diversity and its sitcom-scene apartments. The city is massive – truly massive – and that gives it an inexplicable aura that no other place I have ever been has. The morning after I arrived, I woke up far too early and couldn’t get back to sleep. I went for breakfast in the hotel and then went out into Central Park. That was the first time I’d ever woken up in New York, but it felt like home.
I was able to capture one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a long time. To you, these pictures may just be shots of trees – with beautiful light, yes, but still only trees. To me, however, they will forever remind me of that morning.