New York City

Took the boys on a nice trip to New York during Spring Break. They’re old enough now that navigating Penn Station isn’t a concern and they have the stamina to walk a couple miles before running out of gas.

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The first place we went was the John T. Brush Stairway and Polo Grounds location. Ever since I visited a couple years ago they’ve been asking for me to take them. I even warned them there wasn’t much to see but they insisted.

Turns out they were plenty happy just walking down the stairs and seeing the plaque. Seeing Yankee Stadium across the river and learning about Coogan’s Bluff was enough. They asked me to describe where the rest of the stadium was and they were predictably interested in where centerfield would’ve been. I was surprised and pleased at how much they enjoyed this.

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We then headed to Central Park for lunch. We had to take the subway and change trains at Yankee Stadium. I totally forgot about Opening Day and so we could have easily run into crowds had I scheduled this trip a day later. The boys though enjoyed seeing the stadium as well as the Polo Grounds location from the station.

They played on a playground by The Met before running through central park for a bit. It’s great. Walking on city streets is a recipe for complaining but give them the same distance in windy paths and rocks to climb on? They will happily run the entire distance.

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They ran all the way to the Museum of the City of New York. There was a nice Jackie Robinson show there that I thought they’d enjoy. It was indeed a nice little exhibit. Lots of photos of him hanging out in the Ebbets Field dugout and in action on the field. The more interesting part was all the magazines—Look and Ebony mostly— with articles featuring him even before he’d actually played in the Majors. I suppose I’d realized that him signing a contract was a big deal too but I didn’t realize the degree the national spotlight was on him even before 1947. The kids liked the photos and videos—especially the one og him playing with his own family.

There was also a nice room of Corduroy drawings where the kids sat and read books for a bit. I never read these books as a kid but it’s clear that mine have. And we went through the New York history rooms to get a quick primer on the history of the city. They’re not ready to go through slowly and read everything* but they’ll absorb what they can from even small exposures.

*Since I’ve already gone through these rooms I wasn’t too upset about going fast this time.

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Then we walked back to the subway and really got into tourist stuff. We got off at Grand Central and I made sure they looked up at. They were impressed. Then I took them outside and made them look up at the Chrysler Building. They were impressed again.

We then made a visit to the Morgan Library (post coming later) to see an exhibition on Tolkien before I refueled them with a sandwich and we made our way to out final stop of the day.

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When I previously visited the New York Public Library I had stuck my nose into the children’s room and texted them a photo of Winnie the Pooh. so I figured they’d like to see the real thing. The eldest acted all cool about it* but the youngest was enchanted. Lots of fun to see his face light up as soon as he recognized what he was looking at.

*Yes it’s kicking in already.

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Then we wandered back to Penn Station. The boys got to see the Empire State Building as well as Macy’s for a last couple of highlights. And we took the train back home. All told, a ten and half our day of mostly walking and train riding. they were very tired that night but also had more than a day’s worth of memories they enjoyed recounting.

Anna Atkins

After I went to MoMA I wandered downtown making my way overland to Penn Station. My route took me past the New York Public Library so I decided to duck inside and see Winnie the Pooh (and send a photo to my kids). I had no idea what the special exhibition was and was pleased to see it was photography-related.

Also, it was awesome.

I had not heard of Anna Atkins before so I was just interested in seeing a bunch of old cyanotypes. There’s something wonderful about the old photographic processes and the way the images emerge from the exposed, colored paper. So unlike anything we’re used to seeing today while also being simple and tactile.

My son made a cyanotype photogram in school this year and I love it. Just seeing the flowers and the shadows they leave on the paper captures so much of the wonder of photography and the way that real things are transformed by how they interact with light.

Anna Atkins is a master. The exhibition was a small gallery filled with prints and bound books of cyanotypes. All kinds of plants delicately arranged on the paper and printed so you can see both their shadows and translucency. They evoke pressed flowers but also have an elegance in how they abstract things to the simple single-color tonal range.

They’re wonderful to look at and see as scientific observations and recording where you can compare the plants and their structures. They’re also flat-out beautiful prints* which are perfect for something like seaweed which floats in water and plays with filtered light.

*Lots of good examples over at Hyperallergic.

One of my favorite exhibits in the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the one which shows the kelp forest and places the kelp between me and the sunlight so I can get a sense of how magical the light in the forests must be. It’s a difficult thing to capture well with a camera and many of these cyanotypes put my attempts to shame.

It’s not just the plant prints that are great though. Atkins used the cyanotype process as a way to print entire books. Text and title pages are all printed as blue prints. It’s a wonderful way to home-brew your own printing just in general and creates a book where everything feels incredibly consistent.

Yes, book. Many of these prints are bound into large volumes of prints. There’s a book of British seaweed. Another of British flowers. I found myself inspecting the bindings to try and figure out how the heck they were assembled since they can’t be bound signatures.

Some of the books are clearly assembled sheets with the edges sewn together. No edge or face trim has left them looking pretty ragged since the pages aren’t exactly the same size or aligned perfectly. Others though look like proper books with gilt edges and I really can’t see how the pages were assembled. It’s an impressive binding job that the exhibit doesn’t even call attention to.

The other exhibition space in the library is dedicated to contemporary works which are riffing on what Atkins did. So more photograms and cyanotypes and experiments in how the photo paper itself reacts to light. They’re fun to see but none of them match the originals.*

*Collector Daily has a decent write up.

I did however especially enjoy Alison Rossier’s exposed expired photo paper both in the simplicity of the work and how it shows the numerous different responses that paper can have to light.