Lynn Saville – Fine Art Photographer

– Hello and welcome to
the i3 Lecture Series hosted by the Masters
in Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts. We are thrilled to have
photographer Lynn Saville as tonight’s guest speaker. Lynn is best known for her photographs of cities at twilight and dawn. Currently her work is on view
in the Public Art Installation at Grand Central Terminal,
commissioned by the MTA. She is the author of three monographs, Dark City: Urban America
at Night, Damiani 2015, and I believe you brought
some copies of that book in case anybody’s interested. Night Shift, Random House/Monacelli, 2009, and Acquainted with the
Night, Rizzolli, 1997. Awards include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the New York State
Council for the Arts. A Premio in Scanno, Italy,
Festival of Photography and first place in the
architectural category Women and Photography International. Her photographs are in
the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, International Center of Photography, ICP, National Portrait Gallery, London, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston, among many others. So please help me welcome Lynn Saville to our lecture series. (applause) – Tonight I want to talk about
it’s actually four books now. The last one came up pretty quickly, it’s called Lost Series from
the Lost Series, New York. It’s a very little book
compared to the others, but I’m proud of it anyway. Okay, so I’m gonna talk about the development of my photography, starting with the black and white series, which culminated in the first book, Acquainted with the Night. And feel free, my husband
contributed to the book by choosing poetry to go
along with the pictures. It’s not a photo and
a poem, it’s kind of a meditation of the night
created by the text and words and the pictures. My first recollection of appreciating the mysteries of the night was looking out the window of my bedroom as a child in North Carolina. We had a backyard and a
lot of trees behind it. The feeling of the one single porch light looking out into the
yard gave me a sense of a mystery that wasn’t
there during the daytime. I really appreciated
that feeling and it kinda stayed with me; it still stays with me. As something special and very different from how life is during the day. Another special aspect of growing up was that we spent our
summers in northern Vermont. It was very rural, and I
loved the simple shapes created by farms and barns. This particular place, the owner said, “Would you like me to turn the
lights on inside the barn?” And I said, “yes,” and it really made all the difference in the world because it suddenly
became a place that seemed full of memory and where you
could sort of have dreams. Also I just like the
very simple shape of it and the kind of ultra
basic architecture of it. I first encountered New
York City as a child when my family traveled there, here, to board the ship that
would take us to Europe. This mysterious and enchanting
place I was passing through. The city I did return to
as a graduate student, a photography came to
life for me at twilight when the streets and buildings seemed to dream their own dreams. This is a picture of
the Staten Island ferry. When I took it, it reminded
me of being five years old and on that ship going across the ocean because it was very dark, of course, and all you could see is the horizon and the water, on the ocean
you could just see the stars and then this boat comes
along and it’s so stunningly human and alive, it
really caught my heart. So when I happened to see the same thing on the Staten Island ferry, I was happy that I was able to
catch it with my camera. Because I had the camera ready, not knowing that that’s
what I was gonna see, but it just happened to be in my hand and set at the right shutter speed. So I was grateful for the
training I had as a student where they said to always be ready. So these are some pictures
I took at that time period. I’m influenced by several artists, one of whom is Hopper and also
I like Degas, and Hitchcock. I mean I feel that this window reminded me of Hitchcock and Hopper. It’s partly because of the weighted glass in the bottom pane sorta
gave it this unreal quality. I just really loved
being able to see the sky and the shapes coming into the window from across the street. What appealed to me about Degas was his, this is a monoprint, and
I really like the way there’s sort of like a
grain to the highlights and the shadows from the
print process that he used. And I really like that kind
of light the artist drew. And so when I first saw
his work I sorta created my technique to go with that
look in the final image. I mean I did that with film of course, and film and printing in the dark room. So it wasn’t that I used
a rough surface paper, but I really like the feeling of the grain kinda etching the shape, it having a certain amount of detail in the highlight and the shadow. So I would always think about that when deciding how long
to expose the negative and how to process the film
and how to make the print. It was often a real push/pull
between the highlights and the shadows and the contrast. I remember one time I
took a picture to Duggal, for some reason, I don’t know why, but they were supposed to print it and somebody shouted,
“Oh, it’s a night picture, “make it high contrast.” And I said, “No, no, no!” Because I was kinda,
some contrast I wanted, but not just out and out contrast. Kinda like an internal contrast. A lot of times I go to places
where there are no people and I think it’s because there’s so much sorta chaos in my brain
during the day that going out, it seemed this sort of pure just shape, shape light
and shadow appeals to me and gives me a sense of peace. And I also like looking at it
and trying to take a picture. So I’m often finding, looking for places where there are very few people. And I’m also sometimes scared, but I mean I remember kinda
running and stopping, just ’cause I didn’t, it
was so dark and foggy that I didn’t know if there was
anyone lurking in the shadows. But it sorta added to the
appeal of being there. A lot of time it’s sort
of funny that I have a couple of weather-related
pictures tonight. I never really thought
about taking a picture of Rockefeller Center until this one day. I was out and it was really really nasty, you know, kinda sleet
and fog and it was just the kind of night you would
get soaking wet in a second. And I took a picture because it suddenly appeared to me like
this hot iceberg or something. It was so highly lit that,
and I thought it was so kinda macho but it was
also very beautiful. I’d really seen it like that. Of course, it’s not just natural light, it’s a lot of, lighting designers have put together the light
to make it look that way, but it was enhanced by the weather. This is kind of an homage
to Berenice Abbott. I love that picture of
hers, just looking down from the Empire State Building,
I think into New York. And it just looks so electric. I look at that picture
and I think electricity. And so I kind of
intentionally went up there with my tripod and equipment,
aiming to see if I could make a picture that
looked like electricity. It was actually very
hard to take any picture because it all looked the same. It just looked like a lot of lights. Beautiful, but just no
edge, no shape or anything. So, luckily I had several lenses with me and I was able to kind
of isolate certain areas and it was only weeks later that I decided I liked this picture. You know how sometimes you
have to give it some time? And I realized that yeah
there was something. Anyway, one of my
absolutely favorite places in the whole city is the sculpture garden at the Metropolitan Museum. And this is, I think I’ve
taken two or three pictures that are sort of favorites
of mine up there. What struck me about this was
suddenly it felt like a muse. This guest on the shez sculpture. I just used a 35 millimeter
lens and I really appreciated the way
she seemed to be bigger than the buildings and the
tiny little moon there. So it’s been kind of a
special photo for me. In this picture, I
disregarded for years because I was very keen on having
every single picture be clear with a tripod and in
this case I had the tripod, but this person started walking and I thought it looked so great and so I just had to
keep running after her. And there wasn’t enough
time to put down the tripod because she was in the right spot. So I just took the picture and I thought, “Oh no, it was blurry.” But then later I realized
it gave it animation. This is 5th Avenue near
the Museum of Modern Art, and many of the places I go
to, I have repeatedly gone to over the years I’ve been in New York. And I’ve really seen them change so much. For example, there are tall buildings behind this church spire, so this picture couldn’t be taken right now. But it’s still okay, they can change it. Or I should say we can change it. Another one of my absolute
favorite photographers is Andres Cortes, and I felt that his pictures had a sort of lyricism to them. This is actually right in front of where we live at 116th Street, and I really appreciated
the way the park looked. Back in that time I was very
scared to go into a park, I thought I’d be killed
or raped instantly. Well, not instantly, but I didn’t think it was gonna be a good
idea to go in there. So I just never would set foot
even two feet into a park, and then finally one day, well
the city got a little safer. And also a friend of mine
told me how to go into a park. And it was really helpful,
kind of, to choose the time, the place, the route, and make sure that you sort of know where people are and don’t tune out,
don’t go in la-la-land. So, knock on wood, so far I’ve been okay. But parks are really
quite striking at night. I put this one in as the last one from Acquainted with the Night
because as Jaime mentioned I have this public art
show in Grand Central, so I’m sort of very fond
of Grand Central right now. But I’ll get to that at the
end of the presentation. After this series I had some shows and very proud of the book,
and I felt like I had taken so many pictures
and I really thought I’d always be just a strictly
black and white photographer. But I needed to do something different, and so I’d try just about anything. I tried the circus and
I tried color slides, just tried anything. And what sort of clicked with me, pardon the photo pun, was the color. And so, I started working in color and it was a huge departure for me. It was like suddenly
a whole ‘nother thing. So this picture really
dates almost the same time as some of the black and white ones. It was very close. And I don’t know if many
of you remember when the business folks in the city decided to renovate Times Square. It was huge, it was really, really big. And it meant that they took over, this is literally 42nd
Street between 7th and 8th. It was absolutely empty and scary. There was prostitution,
all kinds of muggers, pickpockets, you know you really felt like you were taking your
life in your own hands just walking to 42nd Street. And a friend of mine
and I decided to try to take some pictures there and so, I was taking a picture of the boarded up, all the store fronts on 42nd. And suddenly someone walked
in front of the camera. First I sort of cursed under my breath, and I realized they
made the picture better. And this has become a sub-theme for me, which has developed into
more a main theme recently, how a figure could enhance
the sense of the picture. Smith and 9th Street is a place where I love this subway station. And it’s actually where
I made the final decision to switch to color because I went there with black and white and color. And it was interesting
that I was able to take a reasonable picture in color. I’ve put in a couple of
pictures from other countries. This is in France. I had a funny experience because, Phil and I were going to Paris. I didn’t put any French
black and white pictures in, or Venice, but those were
some that I like a lot. So we’ve been going over
to Europe a few times, and I was taking pictures and then, when I had the color I was thinking color. We were on the airplane and I said, “I wonder what Paris is
gonna look like in color.” And he said, “Honey,
it’s always in color.” I literally was thinking black and white. I just saw that city in black and white. Anyway, I really love
van Gogh, I’m not alone. I just felt that he pulled
the stops out with the color. He just let it sing. And I really appreciated that. I don’t know how many
of you ever go to Arles, this is a cafe in Arles, well of course they’re very proud of van Gogh. And they actually had
this cafe is still there, so you could literally almost
take this picture there because the way they had it set up. I just really love the,
I guess that’s what got me really started in
color was the man-made, or human color being warm. And it’s complement being the daylight, even in the evening,
more so in the evening. So that the blue and the warm and the cool I find very haunting. This is from Night Shift. And part of my introduction
to this second book I said, “Gradually I began
to explore the more ambiguous “transitional zones of the
city apart from its icons. “I started to see and photograph
such places in color.” So I went more, I never made a rule… Wait, why is that in there? I never made a rule that I
couldn’t photograph icons, I just felt drawn more
to the edges of town, especially as the industry
was fading from it, the city. It was the beginning of gentrification, but there were a lot of artists. It just seemed kinda interesting
as it was less industrial. And the colors were fascinating. This was taken with
motion sensitive light, and so it took me a long time, I had to keep waiting
for the lights to circle. Because if I just moved a little bit it would start all over again. Here somebody walked through
the picture on the edge, and I found that interesting. This picture, this is that
warehouse that has now become West Elm and is quite
gentrified now, it’s all fancy. But it was lit like this briefly for maybe just two weeks or something, I think it was somebody’s art project. But it reminded me of the Curacao. I just love his work, I saw it as a child. So I felt really inspired by anything that looked that graphic and
mysterious, kind of surreal. Many times the things wouldn’t
be there the next night. I wanted to go back and
take this picture again and it wasn’t available, they
had filled up that garage with stuff and it just
didn’t have the same feeling. I wanted to come back
with a bigger camera. This is what’s now the
Saint Anne’s Theater. And this is snow. I felt kinda really drawn to
this particular old warehouse because it, I think it’s
partly because I grew up in North Carolina and we had
a lot of tobacco warehouses and factories right around
the school and in town. This type of architecture was everywhere and to see it still here in New York kind of held as a temple of the past. I found fascinating, I
was kind of disappointed when they filled it up with the theater, though I’m sure people enjoy the theater. It just looked really nice as a relic of another era, like the Roman forum. And Ken is in the audience. We went photographing,
thinking it was gonna be very misty and romantic and beautiful. And we got there and it was a
night sorta like this outside. But it was fun to have
you to take a picture of. I think you have a good
picture of the bridge. That’s the George Washington Bridge. I see some of the urban
architecture as an exoskeleton. Love these shapes and
colors, the palette of it. This is Fish House Road, does
anybody know where that is? It’s in New Jersey. It’s the Hackensack River? And a couple of my students were standing on the left and right and I thought they looked more
interesting in the picture than not in the picture,
so, again I had the figures. One of the things that appeals to me about taking pictures like this is that sometimes everything looks
almost like black and white, but then if you shine some
light, either from a car or a torch or something,
it adds dimension. People describe that
in the mountains, too. Like if it’s really dark you can’t see, but if you shine the light
you have a path of color. Otherwise it just looks
kind of monochromatic. I was with a class and everybody was busy and didn’t seem to want me to talk, so I just started to
take a picture of myself and all of a sudden this young woman walked into her house
and I was really close, I mean it looks far,
but it’s a wide angle. And I was surprised how perfect
she looked walking in there. Liechtenstein, on top of
the Metropolitan Museum. I snuck a little, tiny tripod, and was trying really hard to get the house with nobody in it. And this guy made it so much better, and so did the little people on the side. But I sat there for a long time, I took a whole roll of film I think. And I don’t know what I thought I was, I mean I guess I thought
it would look better empty. But it really didn’t. So I called that ghosting. Sometimes I look around on the internet to get ideas of places to go. I’d never wanted to go to Long Island City or see the Pepsi sign, I
didn’t have any interest. And I didn’t know where to go one night, so I said, “okay, just go there.” And I felt that it was lucky
because they happened to be digging up the whole area. So it looked like a farm that suddenly this sign came out of. And it was really special to me. Normally I wouldn’t have
cared to photograph the sign. I was over there a couple of nights ago, and it’s really so different now, ’cause they’ve moved
it right in front of a, well they’ve built a lot of
buildings and they moved it. It’s still a pretty iconic sign. And I’m glad it’s there, but I was happy I had that opportunity to kind of suddenly smell earth like a farm and
see the Pepsi sign in the city. This was a self-assignment
to try for symmetry. And I though the city was teasing me because I had everything lined up, but then there was just one light on. So that threw it off. It also resonates because as a kid, when we went to Europe
we’d go to the Alhambra and all these kinds of places. And I just really appreciated the arches and the classic architecture. So it’s kinda fun to see where you still see that in New York. From the tram. The publisher humored
me and let me put this as the last picture in the book because it felt like I was
driving on to something next. Another road trip. So the third book is Dark City, and I’ll just read a
short thing from there. I can’t memorize things too well. I became intrigued by an urban
cycle of growth and decay, whose symbols of renewal included
the ladder and the broom. Although my photographs have frequently captured unpopulated urban
scenes at twilight and dawn, a single, sometimes ghosted
figure has occasionally emphasized solitary lost-ness of the place and I began introducing
such figures into my work. Though my work is not
consciously documentary, I often seek out somewhat desolate scenes and sometimes it appears
as if I am followed by the wrecking ball as once
abandoned areas are gentrified. So, in a sense, my photographs
do constitute a record of the city in it’s unraveling
and being sewn up again. This is probably the only occasion, well maybe there’s one in the last book, but this is one of the few times I actually asked for
permission to get into a place and this is the construction site where they were making
the Brooklyn Bridge Park. I was in a panic because
I only had an hour. This young woman was doing me a favor and I had to work fast. So I had all this bigger equipment, and I couldn’t even take the time. I just had to use the easiest equipment, and I was glad I did because
it was just so interesting. The reason I asked for the
permission to get in there is that tree, I had
coveted it from a distance, and at every angle had it cut off by one of those warehouses. So I just said, “okay,
the tree looks perfect, “now’s the time,” and I got
permission and went over there. And I really appreciate,
kinda like the Pepsi sign, I like to see the dirt. Just the feeling, it’s no so much I am crazy about construction sites, but I like the feeling of
the earth being turned. Because I really spent a
lot of time in Manhattan and the boroughs and I
don’t get out into the rural landscape where
you see a lot of earth. So I find it really exciting
when you do see earth and weeds and plants that
aren’t just all groomed. My original concept before
you get involved in a project and it kinda takes its own path. And the original idea
was to call it vacancy and I didn’t say, “I’m
gonna go shoot vacancy,” but that’s just what I was seeing, and it was really interesting visually seeing all these empty stores
back around 2006 and seven, when the economy was not doing too well. Even on Madison Avenue
many, many stores were empty so you could see right into the interior and it had no products,
no signage, nothing. No rugs, and it was quite fascinating. Then I thought it was kind of a sad topic. I was kinda worried about it. But I kept going anyway,
I couldn’t help it. I noticed that there
were optimistic signs, that you would actually see a ladder, they were fixing it up
or they were painting it. What interested me here was
that my back is to the Hudson and this is up 125th Street and so all these lights, the ones
on the right are reflected from Jersey, and then the other
lights are from the street. So there was no actual light in it, but it was creating such
an abstract pattern. So I found the colors interesting. And also this project helped me see a new kind of architecture that I’d never really paid any attention to. It’s kinda more contemporary architecture. I usually don’t really care to, I mean I don’t mind it’s there, I just would never think
of taking a picture. And light sources, I really
love Dan Flavin, lighting. Some of the light masters
I really appreciate. James Turrell. So to see actual bulbs like
that as part of the way the space is configured
I find fascinating. And then these kind of original
minded real estate people who actually have a
portable sign that says, “Space for Rent,” looks
like neon, it is neon. And it’s kinda funny because
I don’t know if you all paid attention in that time period, but there were so many empty stores that half a block could be black
almost, it was very dark. So to have the neon sign it
was like added excitement, so people would actually
look at the building or look at the block. This was only a few
blocks from Times Square. Anyway, I thought it
was pretty interesting that it was the lighted sign. And, of course, technically
it is a bit challenging to photograph a dark
space with neon in it, and I worked on it. The rain helped. And this was actually
the very first picture I took for this project. And it’s very close to the Met Breuer. I was just really excited to see the glow from inside the building
and the simple almost abstract shapes of the
front of the building. I have always admired
from afar Walker Evans, but I never thought a
head-on picture would be something I would be
interested in taking. But with this picture, maybe
understand what he was, how he kinda respected the
simple shapes of a place. Not that all of his pictures are head-on. This was an accidental double exposure. In this book I went to
different American cities. This is in Columbus, Ohio. And this is in Columbus, Ohio. I wasn’t gonna go to malls,
but this particular mall I just happened to be at, and it gave me a appreciation for that kind of place with all of the signage removed and the sort of almost looked like fake stars. It seemed like a piece from the past. Cleveland, seemed like a dream. The banner, the city was
dreaming, dreaming to create. This is in Santa Monica, made
me think of Julius Shulman. But I didn’t have the model, the models. I really appreciate the way you can see through the building, though. In Bushwick, they put pink
light on these warehouses to appeal to the young students. And I think it worked. Red hook. Although there’s not a
figure, I felt that the light it caused the place to
seem more interesting and mysterious than it would’ve
without the light on. This is in Ohio. This is in Dumbo. The light is coming from the bridge, and that’s why it has that shape. It’s very noisy as the subway goes across, but visually it’s quite appealingly quiet. I decided to include this
picture of a mannequin because it seemed like
the figure had landed from some other, from a
spaceship or something. I just felt that it made
it feel like a empty place, even though the figure was there. This is a kind of renewal area very close to where we live,
near Columbia University. Every day it looked a little different. It was easy to get there
because it was so close, so I’d pass by there often. Portland, Maine. I guess it’s a little
different from the others because it’s not empty, but it felt empty. Though the figure helped. This is Gowanus. Newburgh, I’m gonna
show you another picture taken from the same place
at the end of the slideshow. I really appreciated this place. Sometimes when I go to another city I’ll drive around with
someone, I’ll hire somebody or ask a friend who’ll just go around. We went all over Newburgh and
I just loved this one corner, and then I said, “let’s try “all the different corners in this area.” But it was just this one
corner that really got me. I think it’s ’cause the barn
seems to be levitating kind of. And it’s funny because somebody said, “Well, why don’t you see what it is?” And it’s kinda like I
don’t even wanna know. I just really like the way it looks and it reminds me of that early barn picture I took in black and white. Just the very, very
simple shape and probably, honestly what happened
is maybe this was a farm, and then this was a warehouse on the left. And little by little the city is sort of coming out to the farm. And that whoever owns
it just still kept it. Whatever the reason, I like
the contrast in architecture and the way the light is portraying it. And this is Houston. I find it interesting when
you have a major metropolis and very close by are warehouses. I mean I know it’s obvious
that people had industry, but it’s such a different
kind of architecture and the lines are so clear, like where one neighborhood
stops and the next begins. I would say this attracted me because of the way the
light fell on the building. And the color. This was about a week before
they destroyed this building. And I think this was
like a few steps before that J.C. Penny that I showed
you in the mall in Columbus. Because they had just been serving food and then they moved out, and
then they took the signage off and I caught it right when
they still had the light on. I guess I was just lucky
because of the awning. I wouldn’t have taken the picture without the light on the awning. But then instantly, next day it was gone. And then the awning was gone
and then the building was gone. So it’s crazy to see how
this city dismantles itself. This is, of course, The High Line. I said before I really
like around the Pepsi sign and these rural areas
that are in the city. When The High Line first opened, that’s what excited me about it. I don’t know about everybody else, but I really loved seeing those weeds and the way they lighted
it so beautifully. So that’s what I was thinking when I took this picture of those weeds and then this little kid ran in. She made the picture way better, because the ones I had
without her weren’t as good. I didn’t know her, she
just ran in and ran out. And that was it, one shot. I still really appreciate the
way that park is developed and how carefully they lighted it. Some lighting designers I know told me that when you see different colored lights like this it’s because why? The age of the bulbs. But I had a really clear
view out a window of a hotel. – [Audience Member] Is that Houston? – [Lynn] Yeah, Houston, did you ever go? It was relief from the
chaos of the photo fest to take a picture out my window. The fog helped. I really try to avoid my own shadow, but I couldn’t get the picture without my shadow being in there. Who knew I had a long neck? (laughter) It’s funny how so many people take selfies and like their own shadow and stuff. I’m just kind of shy about it. So the last couple from this book. This is a billboard, I took this it was the firs time I
ever used a high ISO. We took one of those cheap
buses to Washington, D.C., I think it was a Lizard, and we had to ’cause the Amtrak was out. I saw the billboard and I said, “I gotta get a picture
of that coming back.” But the windows were tinted, it was dawn. I had to set my camera,
my Nikon at that time on ISO 7000 or something
to get this picture. And pray, ’cause I was
sitting there waiting with my velvet to keep the reflection. It took some work, this
was a very fast ISO for when I took this picture. So I had to work on the noise. I guess the reason it
connected to the project was it was not only the
vacancy of these places, but the billboard was even vacant. And it gave me a sense
of the eastern seaboard that you often do see from the trains or you see from the car
and it too is changing. They’ve demolished a
lot of that landscape, that industrial landscape. This is the last picture from this book. I think they humored me on this one, too. I call it Meadow Lambs, and it’s, I took it from a train and it was just such a special place with the fog and I just really liked the kind of Japanese quality of that landscape. Actually I’m gonna go out on a boat trip, in the Hackensack they
have a river keepers. I don’t know if any of
you have ever done that, but you can take a tour,
and it’s like taking a boat into an estuary, it’s
gonna be good I think. Okay, on to the last book, my new book. It’s very different from
the other books in that it, usually I work for years and
then pull together a project and look for a publisher. But in this case, Chris Graves Project, he’s a young entrepreneurial publisher, decided to do a series of
books very quickly on cities. And he said, “Lynn, do
you wanna do New York?” I said yes, and he hit me at a good time, because I had more time
than I sometimes have. It was around Thanksgiving,
so there was no real time to shoot the whole book or anything. So, he said pull together
things you haven’t published, that you’d like to put
together in the book. And then somebody else,
Lois Connor did Beijing. Laura Mcbee did Calcutta. She wanted to call it Cool-catta. We were saying, “where’s that?” We have Omaha, Seattle, it’s
a really cool series of books. There are ten of ’em, and they all had to be turned in at New Years. We were asked at the beginning of December and we had a month. Wow is that thunder? – [Audience] Yeah.
– [Lynn] Ooh, okay. Anyway, so I said yes. I also, a little bit before that, I had been invited, as Jaime mentioned, to do a commission for
the MTA Arts for Transit. They asked me to photograph the Revealed Facade, it’s called. The Revealed Western Facade
of Grand Central Terminal. You’re not supposed to say station. You all probably saw it, right? They demolished a whole block of the city right in the heart of the city, which made Grand Central visible from it’s own glory, all by itself. It felt like a town
square, people would stop and put down their bags and
get out their cell phones the minute they got to Madison Avenue if they were heading toward Grand Central and hadn’t seen this before. So it was really exciting
that I was asked to do this. So they demolished this whole block and dug down deep into the earth and at one point I saw five, what do you call them,
bulldozers or something. Huge piece of equipment
all together in that space and they were practically a ballet. One actually held the other up when it was coming down an incline, it started to list a little bit and he went and pushed this friend. I mean it was really amazing, but it’s also kinda really sad that this building’s gonna be bigger than the Empire State Building, or as big, very tall. It’s already up at like seven floors, so you can’t see any of this anymore. I’m honored that they gave me the project and the result is there’s light boxes, eight of them, in the basement, in the Food Concourse of Grand Central. They’ll be there for three years. If you wanna know how to
see it, you should ask me, because it’s hard to
find, very hard to find. Okay, so I had permission to
go into different buildings. And this is a little different
from my usual art project because I usually just
shoot from the street or do my own thing, but
this was an assignment. So it’s more documentary in nature, but I found it really compelling. So I would ask buildings
for access to windows. This window actually, it actually opened, which the first one, I had to
shoot through a lot of glass. Of course, I had velvet, but you know, I had to be very careful. They didn’t have any
view without the glass. So I just put in a few into this book. This is from Madison, and this view is no longer available either, because my back was to the new construction and it used to be that you could get this gorgeous
reflection of the Chrysler in the windows, but now
it’s just the building. I mean the building may
be special too, but. A nod toward my people,
are the mannequins. And here’s how the installation looks, except there are tables and chairs. That’s one side, and
that’s the other side. And they’re huge, they all
had to be cropped vertical. That’s the way it is with the light boxes. They’re about 50 by 60 inches. Here are some pictures from Lost. Smith and 9th Street. So I think I have three pictures I like of Smith and 9th Street. Practically from the same spot. One’s in black and
white, I didn’t show you. And does this look familiar? My friend Ken let me borrow his Sony and we went up into the ferris wheel. What was special for me, which
may be case for many of you who have tried the mirror-less cameras is that now I could use a higher ISO and get a very clear picture of people because it’s sharp and you could
use a faster shutter speed. It’s a big, big, big difference from using film at lower ISOs. This was my homage to Stephen Shore. I’d just seen his show, it
was out in Industry City. It’s still kind of raw, if any of you are looking for raw places. My old haunt, Dumbo. Hudson Yards, that’s pretty
crazy, you ever go there? It’s amazing. One of my favorite places
in Central Park, Bow Bridge. Sometimes the color is a surprise, like sometimes it just
really looks yellow. The whole thing, it
looked like a platinum, sort of yellowish-platinum print when I turned the corner past
the trees and I saw this. It was really tough to print
because I didn’t believe it. I kept saying, “No, it really was.” I feel like I need a color meter so I can prove to myself, yes. I guess I could do that other ways, right? Take your class. So here’s some of my students at Bethesda. I think Ken recognizes about
three or four pictures, right? If not more. The last two, I’m really
fond of elevated subways. This is at 125th Street. And then here’s one
that’s not in any book, but I put it in because I went back and tried to find some
more corners in Newburgh. And it had changed, it was
only maybe six or eight months and the building now had tenants. It was a warehouse and now it has tenants. And the other light is off that was on the corner on the right. My friend, Jill, kindly
went and stood there. So, that’s all folks. (applause) Thank you. – [Audience Member] You
mentioned a couple of times in the course of your talk. You mention a couple of times
during the course of your talk this interest in earth
and bushes and grass and sort of nature-bound things. And I wondered if maybe
you had an interest in doing a book, maybe
out in a rural setting? – Maybe, it’s actually
an interesting question. Did you all hear? Actually, yes, because
sometimes I have studio visitors and somebody made a
comment about that barn, my early black and white barn picture that made me remember how
much I liked being there. So maybe we oughta get out
of town a little more often. But I mean it’s something
that’s actually been on my mind in terms of
the city as it’s become more and more sort of
paved and built and stuff, that there’s just very few
places where you just have some sort of wild grass growing and stuff. I kind of like that. So I guess I will have
to go a little further. Maybe I should go way out of town though, because those barn shapes I
think are really beautiful. I think the Beshers did
wonderful, wonderful work, and I wouldn’t do it that way, but the idea of sort of
looking for rural shapes, American architecture in the countryside. It could be interesting. And also I feel that there’s only so much you can do with industrial spaces. I’m ready to put them aside for now, and maybe do less of that and more of some other kind of shape. – [Audience Member] Maybe you
could speak a little bit about conceptualizing a book project? For instance, I know that
the last book you showed us was an invitation from Chris Graves, but where did the title come
from and how did you sequence the images, or how
do you make your editing and sequencing choices for a book? – That’s a good question. Honestly I keep meaning to
ask him why he calls it Lost, but because the other people’s pictures, it’s not really about the past, so much. So I don’t know the answer
to why he calls it Lost. I think it was very exciting
that he picked different cities and some of them are famous
cities like New York, and Boston and others are smaller cities. So I thought that was very nice. As far as each of my
books have come together in a more organic way I would say. Like the first book,
Acquainted with the Night, I didn’t think about it as a book, I really don’t start doing a project thinking about it as a book. I start a project, just
go out and take pictures and then suddenly think I want
to do something with this. And so I usually figure
out some way to sequence. Like the first book, I made a whole lot of five by seven black and white pictures. And Phil and I went up to a hotel that had two double beds and white comforters, and we locked the door and just put all the pictures all around so we could go round and round and
we didn’t even care. It could be India, it could be 5th Avenue, it could be Vermont, like the
sequence had nothing to do with the location and then
the poetry that Phil chose had its own dialogue with that. In other words, I went to any place. It was really about the
night, purely the night. Then the second book,
well that was Rizzoli, and they were happy with the way I did it, they didn’t argue with it. The second publisher, I showed
them a lot of color pictures, but I had like three from Paris and all of them were from New York except like one or two, and they said, “Let’s just do greater New York area.” And also they’re kinda known for New York, more New York-oriented books. So it sorta was a match. If I had said no, you must
have the French pictures they might not’ve minded, but it really conceptually made sense after the fact. And then the third book, as I said I started as like a vacancy, as the idea of these empty stores, but then I wanted to
make it a little broader, because I noticed that
there were whole areas that seemed more vacant. I felt that it made the project stronger to have not called it Vacancy, because I always think of
that with like a motel. And instead make it sort of
about the feeling of vacancy. Then, this book, I really
looked deeply into my files, because I literally only had a few weeks. And so I really, really edited. I wanted to include some of Grand Central, but I didn’t want the whole
book to be Grand Central. So I just kept picking pictures
that looked good visually, but that didn’t have a location theme as precise as the other books. Does that make sense? I mean, starting out with
four or five pictures of Grand Central already
puts it into sort of a iconic space, so that all
of the pictures somehow have a little bit of reference
to the center of town, as opposed to the edge. So it was kinda refreshing,
it was also way smaller. This little book and very precisely, you know there’s no page numbers. He designed this, so it’s a
very, very different experience putting together the book and
seeing it than the other ones. And it was kind of nice
doing one so quickly. – [Audience Member] I’m intrigued by your going around while we’re sleeping. – Oh, okay. – [Audience Member]
It’s sort of interesting to imagine you out there. Do you feel safer now? And how long, how much time
do you spend in each location? – I guess I do feel safer, but every once in a while I
get the heebie jeebies. I once, I don’t know where,
like jury duty or something. I met this woman who
was a cop and she said, “Oh, things are really dangerous at dawn. “A lot of bad things happen at dawn.” So I don’t feel as safe as I used to. Years ago I was mugged at gunpoint, but I wasn’t taking pictures, I was just kinda like in my own head and this guy was sitting on a stoop and he came up and like, scary, lucky. He got some money, but he didn’t get me. Ever since then, if you came up behind me at noon in Times Square, I would turn around and look at you. I’m very aware and cautious now. I don’t go into that
lovely space of fantasy that I would prefer to go into. But I can’t just wander
around like a dreamer. When I said it’s safer,
I think if any of you want to go out into a park, you should really bring a few people. Also, keep an eye on each other, because, not that something’s
probably gonna happen, but people get lost and wander
around and you don’t know. So I think it’s really good to turn around and look and see and
maybe bring a flashlight. I know it sounds crazy. Or make sure your cell phone does. Like at Bethesda Fountain,
it’s literally pitch black. You can’t even see that
there’s a step to go down. It’s really, really, really
dark when it’s night. Underneath the Terrace Bridge
it’s beautifully lighted, but when you get toward the
fountain it’s really dark. So I would say you really should buddy-up if you want to try this,
and don’t go to the more remote parks, such as Fort Tryon Park has a lot of trees and I think some kids hang out there and stuff,
but they might be fine. It’s just that you should
really bring at least one or two people so that you have company. – [Audience Member] Bring large people. – Also, I don’t flaunt the camera. Though my big, scary friend
carries his Lyko like, he’s not afraid ’cause he knows people probably are afraid of him. I usually hide it, I
put it under the coat, my jacket, I bring a special jacket that I can hide it under or I
actually collapse the tripod. I don’t go around like an
obviously-taking-a-picture person. If there’s such a word. What else? So I do go out more, and
you know what’s strange? Like if you take the subway at four a.m., it’s full, sometimes you can’t even sit. They have them so spaced
out, you know timed, that literally you might
not be able to sit down because there’s so many people on it. And there’s plenty of
construction workers and stuff, it’s just a whole
different group of people. Actually, I just wanted to
add about off-beat times, is that some of Hopper’s
most famous paintings, you know Early Sunday Morning? There’s like nobody there. It’s like, don’t you think if
you went out on 7th Avenue, like near NYU that
there’d be somebody out? So he must’ve really made a practice out of going out at early times, and certainly the light is beautiful. And also, one thing I didn’t
really emphasize in this talk is that I like the feel the
city’s my own sometimes. So when I go out alone and
find these empty places, what’s appealing is that
it’s just kinda mine. And I really like that, you
can just see it really clearly, you don’t have to deal
with the other people. It’s just really kind
of different than it is when there’s just tons of people. Because, you know, we’re
all looking at each other. But it’s also fun to see the figures. – [Audience Member] You started the talk by talking about the emptiness of the city and the special relationship,
contemplative relationship that you have with it. But I also feel like
you’ve started warming up to human figures more and more. But in a kind of elliptical
way, not directly, except for the very last picture, when you said, “I asked my
friend to go and stand there.” And one of my favorite photographers, in terms of nighttime
photographers is Brassai. – Yes, love Brassai.
– [Audience Member] You know, I was wondering if either you tried that, and that was one of things you threw out when you were trying things,
you mentioned you tried just about everything you could think of. Did you ever try a
portraiture project at night? – At night?
I’m not against it. I really am not, I think I might try. Do you work in black and
white or color or both? – [Audience Member] Both, both. But my first love is black and white. – Yeah, well I think
it’s definitely appealing in both at night. It’s such a treat, I
don’t know how many of you really learned in film,
but we really used to have to make up our minds ahead of time. You had a roll of film in your camera and you didn’t typically have
two rolls, I mean two cameras. So, some people went back and forth, but usually people were
kind of distinctly, it’s another word, distinctively, they were either one or the other. And so, it’s a luxury to be
able to switch back and forth. – [Audience Member]
Thank you so much, Lynn. – Thank you all. (applause)

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