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Fulton Street & Gold Street looking Southeast across DeLury Plaza from Ann Street     © 2008 Richard Howe


NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT is a large-scale photographic survey of everyday life on Manhattan’s great public commons — its streets and sidewalks — from Whitehall and South Street at the foot of the island on up to where Broadway recrosses Ninth Avenue at its very top, and from the FDR Drive on the East River to the West Side Highway on the Hudson.

Conceived and executed on a scale commensurate with the city itself, NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT’s  eleven thousand plus digital panoramas catch Manhattan’s elusive, ephemeral, and often exhilarating sense of life in the interplay of people, traffic, and architecture on the island’s eleven thousand plus street corners.

NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT was photographed in the long summer season — March through November — of 2006, a moment in the city's history now remembered as the pinnacle of the 30-year boom that began to unravel the following year and collapsed altogether in 2008.

Shot, processed, and catalogued digitally from start to finish, NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT is simultaneously an archive for scholars and researchers, a resource for businesses, residents, and visitors, and a feast for the eyes for lovers of New York everywhere.

NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT is currently available for viewing in the 44 HTML galleries on this site (scroll down or click here to go directly to the galleries).

Enhancements are planned that will make NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT fully searchable by both location and content, and will also provide a map-based user interface. Both a downloadable version and a monograph with an accompanying disk are also planned.




Lexington Avenue & 49th Street, Northeast Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe



Richard Howe’s NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT is a fabulous achievement, unabashedly grand in conception and scope, a 21st century counterpart to Atget’s Paris of a hundred years ago. Created for digital distribution, this perfectly realized, visionary project is both a sublime research tool and an astonishingly accessible portrait of the city, capturing a fleeting moment in eleven thousand images of its ever-changing subject. — And the images are gorgeous!

Vincent Virga, author of  Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History
of the United States
  (Knopf, 1997) and Cartographia:
Mapping Civilizations
  (Little, Brown, 2007)




Gay Street & Waverly Place, Northwest Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe<



The richness of NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT pleases in many ways. It’s a visual feast: the panoramas of mundane views we ordinarily hardly notice shock with their rich colors and bold compositions. Data provokes thought and the work is a sociological feast as well, giving the attentive viewer countless items of fact and close observation to think with about city life and structure and about urban variety. And as a visual data base it will be useful for a very long time as a resource for anyone who wants to know how it looked here and there and everywhere in Manhattan’s least known as well as its best known neighborhoods.

Howard S. Becker, sociologist and author of many books, including
Telling About Society (University of Chicago Press, 2007) and
Art Worlds (University of California Press, 2008[1982])




Eldridge Street & Division Street, Northwest Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe


ABOUT MANHATTAN'S STREET CORNERS

There are nearly 11,500 street corners on the island of Manhattan — the exact number is a matter of definition and sometimes even a matter of judgment — not counting the corners of streets that are permanently closed to traffic, staircase streets, medians, traffic islands, on/off ramps, and corners within parks. To date, the NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT galleries include over 98% of this total; the remainder (omitting only those corners where for security reasons photography is not permitted) will b e available within the next few months.

Manhattan’s street corners are ubiquitous: with nearly 500 street corners per square mile throughout most of the island, scarcely anywhere in Manhattan is more than a two minute walk from the nearest street corner.

Manhattan’s 500+ miles of streets and sidewalks constitute the largest single category of land-use on the island. They are joined by their 3,300+ intersections into a single great public commons — nearly five times the size of Central Park — representing 30% of the island’s total area and 50% of its public space.

Because commerce in Manhattan tends to run north-south along the avenues, while the east-west streets are more residential, almost any errand leads to at least one street corner. As a result, Manhattan’s street corners are its village squares, the public places where daily life and commerce meet face-to-face to transact the myriad exchanges of the urban process.

Some Manhattan street corners rarely see people or traffic; some are completely dominated by both; most are in between. More often than not, NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT shows us people crossing the street or waiting to cross, shopping, or just hanging out — yet sometimes we can almost see the palpable stillness of a deserted corner.

Manhattan’s street corners, their people and buildings, demographics and architecture, shops and signage — even their sounds and smells — tell us again and again not only where we are but also who we are and where we come from. At the intersection of 400 years of history and 170 languages and cultures, Manhattan’s street corners are the living vernacular of the city’s restless genius.


(For a more extended essay on NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT click here.)




Broadway & Canal Street, Northeast Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe



If you imagine an ordinary moment
at an intersection in New York City,
and there is a pause because there is a streetlight,
and some people are stopped and others in motion,
and some cars are stopped and others in motion;
if you were to put that into film terms as a “freeze frame”
and hold everything for a second,
you would realize
that there’s a universe there of totally disparate intentions,
everybody going about his or her business
in the silence of their own minds,
with everybody else
and the street
and the time of day
and the architecture
and the quality of the light
and the nature of the weather
as a kind of background or field for the individual consciousness
and the drama that it is making for itself at that moment,
and you think about that,
that’s what happens in the city,
in that somehow the city can embrace and accept and accommodate
all that disparate intention,
at one and the same time,
not only on that corner,
but on thousands of corners . . . .

E.L.Doctorow, introducing Ric Burns’ New York: A Documentary




Elizabeth Street & Spring Street, Northeast Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe



What you might first notice from flipping through these galleries is how comfortingly pedestrian the streets of New York really look: here are old women shopping, bunches of teenagers coming home from school, block after block of undistinguished buildings. There is little Times Square razzle-dazzle in evidence, this is a city of people going about daily life. But then you come across a photograph of something like the vacant building at the corner of  Spring and Elizabeth streets that served as a spectacular showcase for graffiti artists and realize that in New York the mundane is pretty wonderful.

Sara Kramer, Managing Editor, New York Review Books, in A Different Stripe:
Notes from New York Review Books Classics,
April 7, 2008.




Amsterdam (Tenth) Avenue & 104th Street, Northwest Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe



Warning: once you start clicking through the images, it’s hard to stop! This is a great record of Manhattan’s streetscapes and vernacular storefront designs.

Devin Colman, President, Recent Past Preservation Network


GALLERIES
To open a gallery, click on its title below.


Bennett Avenue turns to meet Broadway, Southeast Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe



Richard Howe’s photographs of Manhattan street corners capture the many identities of a multi-faceted city. The sequences of images read like a film where we are peering into the lives of the people who define the city’s character. This is a poignant way to distinguish New York, presented in a fashion that pays great respect to the aesthetics of photography. The New-York Historical Society looks forward to including these works in our collections.

Marilyn S. Kushner, Ph.D., Curator & Department Head,
Prints, Photographs, & Architectural Collections,
The New-York Historical Society



Eighth Avenue & 59th Street (Columbus Circle), Northeast Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe



Monumental and nothing less than astonishing, the more than 11,000 photographs of Richard Howe’s NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT will serve scholars and delight viewers for many years to come. If only the commissioners who implemented the 1811 grid plan for Manhattan's streets were alive to see it!

Suzanne Wasserman, Ph.D., Director, The Gotham Center
for New York City History / CUNY Graduate Center



Pitt Street & Rivington Street, Northwest Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe


 PUBLICATIONS & EXHIBITIONS

In July, 2010, the NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT website was selected by Columbia University's Avery Architecture and Fine Arts Library for archival inclusion in its permanent collection under its new Web Resources Collection program, assisted by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to collect and preserve Internet resources of high research value.

A selection of prints from NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT was exhibited in November, 2009, in the St John's University (Queens) Art Department's mezzanine exhibition space, in conjunction with a lecture on the project by Richard Howe in the University Art Gallery on November 3, 2009. Selections of prints from NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT were also exhibited in the East Village MCC's 7th & Second Gallery in November, 2007; and a further selection was exhibited there in February, 2008.

Selections from NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT were featured in The Sunday New York Times, City Section, Sunday, November 30, 2008, to accompany an essay, "Cornerville," by the writer Joseph O'Neill, author of the Pen/Faulkner Award winning novel Netherland.   

NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT was featured on the New York Review Books' blog, A Different Stripe, on April 7, 2008.

In 2007, four 12" x 36" prints from NEW YORK IN PLAIN SIGHT were acquired by the Library of Congress for its permanent collection through a gift of Nancy Glanville Jewell. The acquisition was featured with three of the prints in the Fall, 2007, issue of the Library's Madison Council Bulletin.



Mill Lane & Stone Street, Northwest Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe



. . .  how paradoxical it is to seek in reality for the pictures that are stored in one’s memory, which must inevitably lose the charm that comes to them from memory itself and from their not being apprehended by the senses  . . .  The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

Marcel Proust:  Swann's Way   



Twelfth Avenue & 134th Street, Southwest Corner     © 2008 Richard Howe



 LINKS

City Lore
Forgotten NY
Gotham Center for New York City History
The International Visual Sociology Association
The Library of Congress American Memory Collection
The Municipal Art Society of New York
The New-York Historical Society
The New York City Municipal Archives
The New York Public Library Digital Gallery
Place Matters
The Recent Past Preservation Network
The Vernacular Architecture Forum

THANKS TO
Ben Benedetti, Joan & Robert Benedetti, William M. Hoffman, Kathy Jungjohann, Alan Kusinitz, Becket Logan,
Carl Morse, Darragh Park, Geoffrey Rogers, Moshe Shokeid, Vincent Virga, and Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig
for their unflagging encouragement and support for the Manhattan Street Corners project.

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All images copyright © 2008 by Richard Howe