In my journeys investigating hidden hydrology I stumble upon some interesting side projects that fit nicely as a complement to the idea of buried creeks and lost rivers. While the main thrust of the project is on these lost rivers, the parallel of the unseen in terms of infrastructure systems led me to the work of photographer Stanley Greenberg. A short interview as part of Urban Omnibus series Unseen Machine entitled Stanley Greenberg: City as Organism, Only Some of it Visible piqued my interest.
The interview, which is from 2010, discusses some origins of Greenberg getting into photography, as well as the way of looking at the city in new ways.
“I think the city is a huge organism, only some of it visible, and we inhabit it, change it, get changed by it. But there is so much of it that I don’t know. I have mental maps of some neighborhoods; others I still need to explore. There are New Yorkers who never leave their home neighborhood. I try to get out and see as much as I can; walking, on my bicycle, in the subway. And I am always reading about the city, present and past. I suppose I treat it more like a tourist would, always looking for new things and hidden old things. I’ve learned to look for different kinds of subtle landmarks; where are the water tunnel shafts, for example, and how they affect a particular landscape. Or how different eras are marked by manhole covers, lampposts, width of the streets, other urban artifacts. I’m a birder, so I’ve trained myself to look at details. But it’s the same with the city; you always need to be looking. I think it’s important not to take it for granted. That’s what I try to do with my pictures; convince you that it’s worth your time to look at the city, maybe in a way you hadn’t before.”
The concepts of infrastructure also is juxtaposed with discussions of access and security of these system.
Greenberg mentions that he had good access at the time, but that the ideas have changed: “I’m saddened that so many of the places I photographed for the first two books have been removed from the public’s eye. I still think that when there’s more public access, places are safer, for a number of reasons. Neighborhoods, for example, are always safer when more people are outside and active. You can’t possibly police all sensitive locations, and you have to have the public take ownership of its property seriously. I haven’t trespassed (much) to get pictures, since my equipment doesn’t allow for it — and in most of my projects, I haven’t needed to. But I support the idea that sometimes the public’s right to know trumps rules of access.”
There I also learned of the books Invisible New York: The Hidden Infrastructure of the City and Waterworks: A Photographic Journey through New York’s Hidden Water System, both of which seemed to fit the theme nicely.
For you BLDGBLOG fans, Geoff did a profile in 2006 here worth checking out, and a bit more of Greenberg’s work is available on his website, for instance, some shots in the ‘Infrastructure’ category below:
The photographs are, as you can see, typically black and white, and tend to focus on the architectonic, which is perhaps more about the subject than the photography itself. One interesting photo is from Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, taken in 1993 before the eventual design competition and ongoing multi-phase redevelopment into Fresh Kills Park
Greenberg mentions: “I photographed Fresh Kills landfill for the book (though the pictures were not included) and then again as a commission just before the design competition started. Some places are transformed while using their history in an interesting (and often more subtle) way. Others become simulacra of what was there before, and are much weaker because of it.”
There’s also some interesting recent work on Button Agreement (a project that includes walks of Manhattan, water tunnels in NYC, and explorations of water and cities) which incorporates some earlier work on Water Log, which looks at “Water infrastructure: water supply, aqueducts, dams and dam removals, canals, locks, and other related structures and sites”
Again, the content is diverse, but includes some color photography, and delves a bit into . The photo below is from work on the “Lake Superior, Part 1″ and is captioned: “Storm Sewer (and trout stream, Duluth, Minnesota” connecting squarely to hidden hydrology.
The more subtle, comes in the form of walks (with some simple hand-sketched route maps included) following infrastructure systems, such as “City Water Tunnel No. 3 Ventilation Towers”, which has multiple shots of towers woven through the city, highlighting the subterranean path by pointing out features that would probably go unnoticed by the average urban dweller.
And closer to my neck of the woods, the photographs of the Elwha Dam removal on the Olympic Peninsula, “Elwha River, 2010-2014″ are great, showing some evolving imagery of areas as the dams were decommissioned.
Lots more exploration here, but the concept of hidden hydrology has orbits that transect the infrastructural is embodied in Greenberg’s photography. By looking deeper at cities and the subsurface elements, we can provide a beautiful connection (often even just the mundane becoming visible) to these lost, buried, hidden, yet still vital systems.