When Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead designed Central Park in 1858, their “Greensward Plan” accommodated three types of visitors: pedestrians, horses with riders and carriages. By cleverly placing bridges and arches, visitors were able to move freely about the park without getting run over, by navigating the paths under and around the park’s drives and bridle paths.
While I highlighted some of my favorite bridges last year, I thought it was time to feature a few more. We’ll start on the east side of the park, head south, then up the west side and north.
This is one of my favorites, Trefoil Arch. It’s the only bridge with a different design on each side. This is the round side, facing west, covered in piles of ivy.
This is the Southwest Reservoir Bridge on a windy autumn day. It’s one of the cast iron bridges, with floral motifs on its spandrels.
There are 36 bridges and arches in the park. Each bridge is different and is designed for its location, often with ornate details and beautiful views. They fall into two classes: those made of brick, stone or rock, and cast-iron.
This is Glade Arch, near 78th and Fifth. It had to be completely renovated after a snowplow wiped out most of its balustrades in the 1980s.
Dalehead Arch, made of sandstone and brownstone.
Greyshot Arch has beautiful fleurs-de-lis on the balustrades.
This is Dipway Arch, almost petite as these bridges go. it’s granite on the outside with a red brick underpass, its original cast iron railings intact.
Here’s a real beauty, Riftstone Arch, one of the “natural” bridges (nothing in Central Park is natural, it’s all constructed and designed). It’s very wide; when you walk under it, the city seems to disappear.
This arch allows horses to pass under the drive as it exits at 72nd Street. That’s the famous Dakota apartment building just left of center in the distance, on Central Park West.
The lovely Eaglevale Bridge near 77th Street on the west side. It’s made of gneiss and was constructed in 1890.
This is Balcony Bridge, which has two little balconies on its east side for tired travelers to sit on its stone benches while enjoying a view of the Lake. You can see one of the balconies sticking out below.
Up near 103rd Street, we’re at Glen Span Bridge, with a stream running through it. Once made of wood, it was replaced with stone. It’s fantastic; every time I walk through, I wonder what’s keeping it from falling on my head. Its footpath leads to the North Woods.
And we’ll finish with one of the Park’s most secluded arches, the pretty Springbanks Arch, lost in the greenery of the North Woods.
If you’d like to see other Central Park bridges as pinholes, here’s a link to an earlier post.
When some people think of Manhattan, they think of Times Square or Central Park or the Theater District or the Financial District or some other popular spot. But near the very top of Manhattan Island is a beautiful little neighborhood called Hudson Heights.
Hudson Heights, also called Fort Tryon and Fort George, is the northernmost part of Washington Heights, a long stretch of the city between 155th Street and about 190th Street, bound by the Harlem River on the east and the Hudson River on the west. As you can see from the map below, the east side of Manhattan disappears above 142nd Street, as the Harlem River veers west in its quest to join up with the Hudson.
I live on the Upper East Side (bottom red X). As the crow flies, Hudson Heights is about 6 miles northwest (top red X). But if I walk across Central Park and catch the A train on Central Park West, I can be there in about 35 minutes.
Upper Manhattan has two gorgeous parks. Fort Tryon Park, which starts at 190th Street, is 67 acres and houses a branch of the Metropolitan Museum called the Cloisters, a building reconstructed from five French cloisters, exhibiting 3,000 medieval European artworks. Inwood Hill Park, at almost 200 acres, sits between 200th and 218th Street, making it the northernmost park in Manhattan. It has caves which were used by the Lenape Indians through the 17th century. It also contains the largest original forested land on the island and one of the only salt marshes. Both are high above the Hudson River with beautiful views in all directions.
In fact, the topography in Hudson Heights is so stark that the neighborhood is divided into The Hill and The Valley. Here we are on Bennett Avenue in the valley, looking up toward the hill. Look at the support under those apartment buildings!
If you want to get to the top of the hill, let’s hope you have a car, because if not, up the stairs you go. The highest natural point in Manhattan, 265 feet above sea level, is near the top of these stairs.
What’s not to love about the hill? Who wouldn’t like a spot perched on the river, looking at the beautiful George Washington Bridge?
Hudson Heights is a fairly new name for the area; it was once called Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson for its dense population of Germans and Austrians. Many of the buildings are Art Deco, completely preserved, with dramatic lobbies and original details.
Here’s where I’d like to live, hovering above the Hudson River, in this picturesque series of 1920s-era apartment buildings with their beautiful lead paned windows and Tudor design. So charming.
What’s not to love about a front entryway like this?
Just a few blocks further north is the entrance to Fort Tryon Park. In keeping with the rest of the area, it’s built on many levels, with stairs running up and down in all directions. I ate my lunch here, overlooking the water.
The Cloisters is a short walk away in the northern end of the Park. The building is peeking through the trees.
Everyone you walk, there seems to be another level. It’s like a big three-dimensional puzzle. Notice the street lamp high above the pathway.
This is the Henry Hudson Parkway, the highway that hugs Manhattan along the river. The structure on the right supports the overlook of the park built upon it. It’s possible to get all the way down to the water, but I don’t know where the path is.
A final view, looking south towards the Bridge. Just around the bend is the rest of Manhattan.
I love it up here. It feels so different from the rest of the city, with the wind blowing off the water, the beautiful old buildings and the dense trees creating a buffer between the land and the river. But if I hop on the super-speedy A train, in 20 minutes I’m smack on 59th Street and Central Park West, in the thick of things again. The best of both worlds.
Belvedere Castle is a charming little Gothic-style building in Central Park, perched on a rocky outcropping above Turtle Pond. It was built in 1869 as a landmark, without any real function. It eventually became a weather station, and now it’s a nature observatory.
I’ve always loved the Castle. What’s not to love about a castle? When I first started shooting pinhole photos, I shot it often, struggling with its squat profile, which didn’t lend itself to any foreboding or impressive castle pictures. Here’s a photo of the north side from across the pond. Because it’s built from the same Manhattan schist as it sits on, it seems to grow right out of the rock.
The castle is on the left; to the right is an open terrace and a large shelter, where I was once trapped by an unexpected thunder storm during a lackluster first date.
But I digress. Here’s a pinhole of the same view.
My first attempt was facing east from across the terrace, which made for a tough shot, with the open sky overexposing the edges of the building.
Next attempt was from the shelter. More trouble with over exposure, and do you see how stocky the castle looks? So un-castlelike.
Another shot from this side. You can see Turtle Pond to the left. But I’ve lost the tower. It looks like a lump.
Would a long shot from the terrace work? Boring, but the stones on the terrace sure look pretty. Still having problems with the bright sky.
Moving closer and further over helped a bit. Still too bright.
I’m not sure why we’re on such an angle here, but the exposure is improving.
Enough of this side, let’s try the tower side. Finally, the tower looks impressive, but the composition’s not that interesting and the mood is weak. Where’s the drama? Where’s the spooky fairy tale feel of a castle that I’m trying to capture? I know it’s in there.
I circled the castle for about a year, trying it from all sides and in all seasons. Eventually, as I began to understand the cameras and the light, I was able to figure out how to shoot more successfully. Getting closer and using the angles of the surrounding architecture made the photos more dramatic. Shooting on days with heavy cloud cover helped reduce the sky’s brightness.
My favorite part of the Castle, besides the parapets and the little flag that flutters from the turret, is the cast iron dragon over the entry door. You can’t see it here, so I’ll include a shot at the end.
And finally, my favorite castle shot, taken from the south. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair! That’s what I was looking for!
And to finish, the little dragon over the front door. Because every castle needs a dragon.
Something I’ve found helpful in my photography is returning to the same places over and over again.
When I photograph while traveling, I’m energized by new landscapes and subjects. At the same time, though, I’m mildly frustrated by what feels like the superficial nature of my pictures. I shoot whatever catches my eye and then move on, lacking the time to return to the same spots repeatedly to get to know them better. It’s like snorkeling along the surface without ever taking a dive, or like trying to take a portrait of a stranger. I can make a pretty image, but I don’t know if I’ve captured the true character of my subject, while I do know that with more time, I could find a real connection.
In Central Park, on the other hand, I can take my time. Bow Bridge, probably the most famous bridge in the park, is a favorite spot. I’ve spent years photographing it, in all its seasons and moods.
By coming back to Bow Bridge over and over again, I lose the pressure of trying to take one perfect picture and gain the luxury of time. I know when it will be crowded and when it will be empty, how its reflection will change, how far away I need to be to get the entire span of the bridge into the shot, when the morning sun will light up its eastern side and when the setting sun will leave it in shadow.
Revisiting a spot is like developing a friendship. I’ll start off a bit reserved, observing from a distance, but then a short while later I’m scrambling over rocks while hanging onto tree branches to get a closer look at a different angle.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve shot in Central Park so much that there’s nothing left to shoot, but of course that isn’t true.
If I think of Bow Bridge as a living thing, bright and cheerful one day, somber and dark another, crowded with boisterous tourists on a Sunday afternoon, empty and still at dawn, I realize that I could shoot it forever because it is ever changing.
A few years ago, it was my brother-in-law’s 50th birthday. In celebration, he invited a group of friends and family for a week of skiing in Zermatt, Switzerland.
This is the town of Zermatt, which has a beautiful rocky stream running through its center. That’s the Matterhorn, blazing white in the morning light.
I hadn’t skied in twenty years, but I wasn’t worried about that. I had a bigger question: how was I going to take a camera skiing with me? My Diana camera no less, loaded with film, with its thin plastic body held together by tape? Was this a dumb idea?
Why not give it a whirl? I wanted to take pictures from as high up on the slopes as possible, and tucked my camera into my jacket, the film side of the camera flat against my belly for warmth. Luckily my ski jacket had a tight closure along the bottom, so at least the camera wouldn’t fall out.
Here’s the Matterhorn. It was wild to ski past this iconic mountain. Look at the cloud hanging out just in front of it! The summit of the Matterhorn is 14,670 feet high and its four faces face the compass points. It’s one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps; more than 500 people have died trying to climb its slopes.
I wasn’t worried about my death, I was worried about the death of my camera if I fell over and squished it. Here’s another photo of the Matterhorn from a different angle.
As someone who grew up in Montreal and learned to ski as a child, where our instruction included how to ski safely over rippled sheets of ice, I’d never encountered powder before. This snow was like icing on a cake, thick, white vanilla frosting, rich and creamy, luxurious and lush. With no ice to skitter over, I was skiing in slow motion. Besides making me hungry for baked goods, this snow meant that falling over ended in a soft, pillowy landing. There was no rock-hard ice to smack down onto, just acres of sumptuous softness. My camera was safe!
This view is looking toward Gornergrat, the mountain to the northeast, where we skied on our first day.
The trouble with shooting landscapes like this is the lack of scale. Is that a pebble or a boulder? Still, I like the textures of the rocks and snow.
Here’s the cliff I didn’t fall over.
And the view of the valley, Zermatt with its snow-covered rooftops nestled below.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever go skiing in a place like this again, but it was good to know that as long as I was skiing on snow like this, my camera would live a long, adventurous life.
When I first got a cell phone way back when, I thought it was silly that the phone had a camera. What a lousy camera, I thought. How useless! Why would I want to shoot anything with a phone? Oh, how things change.
iPhone apps brought me back to photography. I was tired of my Diana cameras, tired of shooting pinholes, tired of setting up and tearing down my kitchen darkroom every time I wanted to print, unwilling to lug around a 35mm camera, and my little digital Pentax had died. I stopped shooting for a long time, frustrated, in a rut, unmotivated, irritable about it all. And then I discovered, eons after everyone else, the fun of apps. I started shooting again using Old Camera, Instagram and RetroCamera, shooting every day, and it yanked me out of my photographic funk. Now I’m back in my darkroom, and back to shooting with all kinds of cameras in all kinds of ways.
I especially like Old Camera, which is supposed to simulate platinum prints and other historic processes. I’m not sure it succeeds, but it gives my photos a bit of an old-fashioned air and because the phone isn’t a “serious” camera, there’s no inhibition; I shoot casually, playfully, constantly. I still travel and shoot with other cameras, but I like the toylike feeling of the phone. Here are a few favorite shots from our recent trip to the west coast.
Part of Vancouver’s Downtown skyline at dusk. What a pretty city.
My early morning walk along the sea wall on English Bay at low tide. Look at those giant trees! There’s a tiny runner on the lower right to show the scale.
I like the little piles of stones randomly arranged along the shoreline. This group looks like cormorants waiting for their dinner. After I took this picture, two river otters paddled by, chirping to one another.
After three days in Vancouver, we drove towards Seattle and hopped on the Edmonds Kingston ferry to the Olympic Peninsula.
Our first night was in Forks, in this sweet little cabin tucked into the trees.
The next day was my favorite, into the deep, dark rain forests. Well, okay, it was uncharacteristically sunny. Still, spooky and serene at the same time.
Based on these photos, I can’t wait to develop my film. Our second and last night on the Peninsula was at Lake Quinault. This was the sunset view at dinner.
Then it was off to Tacoma and Seattle, back to Vancouver, and home to New York.
I’d love to discover more apps, especially ones that imitate historic processes. Do you have any favorites?
I’ve posted many photos shot with Diana cameras on this blog. I realize, though, that many people don’t know what a Diana camera is, so I thought it might be helpful to discuss the cameras and why it’s challenging to shoot with them. Here’s one of my Diana cameras.
The Diana camera is a simple, basic all-plastic box camera: the body, the lens, everything is plastic. It takes medium format roll film (120 mm) and shoots 16 shots per roll in a square format of 4.2 cm. Its light controls are minimal, consisting of three exposures of sunny, partly cloudy and cloudy. Once the film is loaded, the camera needs to be taped up to prevent light leaks.
In the 1960s, the Diana was sold as a novelty camera for about 50 cents. In the 1970s, photography schools began to use them to teach creative vision. By removing the distraction of camera technology, the intention is that the photographer will focus on ideas instead. Today, the cameras are trendy, in production again and cost around $50.
Because the plastic lens is low quality, it creates an image circle, which results in strong vignetting, the corners of the image darkening. The lens can also create low contrast, blurred images, odd effects and inconsistent results. I own six Dianas and each is slightly different; no two shoot in the same way.
Well, that’s all well and good, but why shoot with something like this? What’s the point? What makes it interesting?
It’s true that distortions are caused by the lens. But I think of it differently. To me, the Diana can see things I can’t see. It captures a world with a dreamlike atmosphere, one of sensual shapes, ghostly images and unforeseeable effects.
Like a pinhole camera, a Diana shares the fundamental challenge of a camera that takes pictures in an unpredictable way. As opposed to a digital camera, which is designed to capture exactly how the eye sees, the Diana has a view of its own, one that I can influence but never completely control. Although I understand how the camera sees and use it in situations that I think will result in good shots, I never know if I’ve been successful until I develop the film. This lack of control, this mystery, is what I find so appealing. That’s what keeps me coming back.
I love pinhole photography because of the complete lack of technical gadgetry. I’m out shooting with a cardboard box, how much simpler can it get? When I started, I wanted to understand light, to be able to take a good look around, think about the level of sun, cloud, haze and reflection, and figure out the exposure time without using a light meter or other tools.
The learning curve was steep. Eventually I got the hang of it, but I also discovered that portions of the scene in front of me would vanish due to overexposure, resulting in a photo of a landscape that didn’t actually exist. I liked that!
Here’s what I mean. All of these photos were shot in Central Park, which of course is surrounded by buildings. This is the Lake, looking toward the skyscrapers beyond Central Park South. Really? It looks like upstate New York to me.
Here’s the Lake again, shooting north from the opposite shore. Such serenity! Look, a building has appeared… but only as a reflection.
Here’s a favorite, shot on top of Umpire Rock after a heavy rain. The buildings of Central Park South seem to have jumped into the puddle.
This photo is shot in the Ramble, one of the Park’s thickly wooded areas, but you wouldn’t think so, from these sparse tree trunks. All of the trees in the background disappeared. That’s the Gill, an artificial stream that feeds the Lake, frozen during the winter.
This next one is completely blasted out, and has taken everything with it — the lake, the opposite shore, the buildings — leaving this lone tree in its wake.
And to finish, the photo that showed me this phenomenon in the first place. We’re on the Lake again, and only one of the tall residential buildings on Central Park West has appeared, with the illustrious towered buildings surviving as mere reflections.