Bond Street & 64th Street, Southwest Corner

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Project journal entry for April 1, 2006

Although I had been making notes about the project since April, 2005, long before it even became clear to me what the project was, I didn't start keeping a proper project journal until almost two weeks after I'd actually begun taking the photographs.

The first project photographs were made on March 10, 2006; the first journal entry is dated March 22.

By March 31, I had photographed 647 corners, most of them in six big shoots, which on the one hand seemed like a lot to me, but on the other hand, given the magnitude of the project, seemed like not all that much at all.

The journal entry for April 1 is the first one in which I took a look back and tried to get a sense of how the project was going.

Reviewing the corners photographs to date, but especially yesterday's: here's the only real remaining question: what is the right balance between the corner per se and the street context to either side? I.e., what's the right field of view, or in technical terms,what's the right focal length for any given corner-to-corner distance?

And a related question: to what extent do the pictures want to stand on their own, even in a documentary sense, and to what extent do they or can they or should they rely on the context of the other pictures?

Or, differently again: what is the primary intent, documentary-wise, to show the street corner per se or to show the street corner as a focal point of the immediate neighborhood?

Or does there have to be a consistent answer to these questions?

In one sense, or at least in some sense, it is obvious that I'm only asking these questions because I'm not altogether happy with what I've got so far. Most of the pictures are OK, I think, but some are too wide-angle and others not nearly wide-angle enough.

First Avenue & 9th Street, Northwest Corner

Possible solutions: shoot everything at the focal length that is most right on average, say 35mm. This will get the narrow street intersections a little too close in and the wide avenue intersections too far away.

Then there is the intermediate solution, which is to restrict the range to, say, 28mm–70mm, or even 28mm–60mm (?), and judge each one as it comes along.

I ended doing something like that as I went along yesterday (and on prior days too, only more so yesterday).

I'm inclined to go with the 28mm–70mm solution (and occasionally 90mm?), but across the whole range, i.e., framing each one as it comes along. This will slow it down, of course.

Note: with 20,000 corners [I was still under the mistaken idea that there were 17,000 corners, and so was using 20,000 for "math-in-my-head" calculations] every additional second adds 5.6 hours or, effectively, two shooting days, or three to four calendar days, to the project.

[ . . . ]

I think that the acuteness I feel in the questions I was just asking has a lot to do with the 1 x 3 format that I've settled on, which may simply be too restrictive in many cases. Of course, I do like it, and like it a lot, and it's always an option. But not a universal, an all times and all places solution.

Through four years, 11,000 corners, and some tens of thousands of frames, these questions continued to bug me, and still do. Sometimes, when I'm feeling discouraged — believe me, it happens — I wonder if it made any sense to keep going with the project before I had solid answers to them, and to some of the other, "larger" questions of purpose and intent as well.

There's that famous Ansel Adam's line about there being nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy concept. (I kept wanting to write, "a dull concept.")

On the other hand, I felt then, and still do, overall, that the best way to find answers to these and related questions was to go ahead and do the work and see if some answers don't begin to emerge out of the doing of it, together with some reflection on the results.

Somewhat to my surprise, I've found that now that I can see 98%+ of the whole thing I'm mostly happy with the results, and at the same time I find myself wanting to do it all over again — next year, if possible — and to do a number of things differently (though not really all that differently).

More on that soon.

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