Bond Street & 64th Street, Southwest Corner

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What I’m about here, insofar as I know and can say what it is at this point ….

An astute reader of this blog (Howie Becker) wrote to me this afternoon to suggest that personal reminiscences such as the handful I put into the previous post weren’t helpful from a sociological point of view which is oriented instead towards collective, shared meanings and that I should stay focussed on what we can see (rather than remember) and whose meanings might be more or less the same for lots of people.

Well of course he’s right about that. (And so nice to have readers — especially readers who respond thoughtfully, critically — thanks, Howie!)

No doubt I should have been a lot more explicit about what I'm up to here, and could have been, too, without in any way running the risk of getting my fingers caught in the conceptual Vegematic (or Cuisinart, if you prefer something more upscale). So here goes:

What I was up to — besides, I suppose, a certain amount of undisciplined self-indulgence — in mentioning those things was to get across (if only to myself) the simple and perhaps trivial fact that we, each of us, bring to what we see and hear (and no doubt touch, taste, smell, and feel as well) very specific memories of our personal experience and that constitute no small part of what hermeneuticists might call our “pre-understanding” of what we’re looking at, hearing, experiencing, either “live” or via a recording medium like photography.

And that’s not so much of a hazard when it’s easily recognized as something like “99th Street where my friend so-and-so lived for many years” but could be more so in more subtle ways such as having watched the stretch of the avenue under and near the High Line go from being something pretty grubby to something very chic.

Am I not seeing what’s there to be seen because I’m looking at it through the filters or lenses of my more general — and yes, much more widely shared — memory of it, or am I not seeing the residuals of that former condition because my eye is so absorbed in what’s new?

And — if this is not too lame — I want this blog, at least in this phase, to record, albeit necessarily selectively, a good chunk of what actually passes through my mind as I’m going ahead with the work of looking, including, I fear, a certain amount of what’s merely personal and, I’m even more afraid, an even greater amount of what’s inane, not to say downright stupid.

This is because, with memories of several decades of working on and managing big software projects in a variety of engineering contexts, and memories of lots of ongoing disputes as to how to do them (the “software development methodologies” struggle), I want to convey here, at least a little, how the work actually gets done, or at least how I actually get it done, including all, or a representative selection of, the “stuff” that I do when I'm doing something that gets left out when I retrospectively try to understand how I did what I did.

Because, I think, the connection between how we actually get something done, and what we think we’re doing when we do it, and especially what we think we were doing after we’ve finished doing it, is, if not altogether tenuous, then at least a lot looser than we’d like to imagine, and, by leaving in as much as possible the “junk” activity (mental or otherwise) in the description of the process the door gets left open for later coming to a different understanding of what was happening than would be possible (probably) if that stuff were left out.

Of course looking at that would be another project altogether — or would it?

In any event, here’s the program for the next five or six weeks, as I see it as of now:

A “walk” up Tenth Avenue, starting at 13th Street and ending at Broadway/218th Street.

the walk divided into segments defined by the major cross streets, so, e.g., 13th to 23rd, 24th to 34th, 35th to 42nd and so on. So, typically, 10-15 blocks or 40-60 corners more or less.

Probably only about 20 corners a day, if that — I have to try this out to see what works — so two or three days for each segment. This totals up to five or six weeks, maybe a little more.

Each corner/photograph looked at in the first place just for whatever seems — to my eye — most prominent, salient, visually.

As Becker suggested, looking at the objects in the photographs and their various attributes (e.g., color, condition) as signs or indicators of something else, e.g., kinds of change, neighborhood demographics, etc., that are otherwise less visible or not visible at all.

Probably some elementary counting and enumeration: on this corner: residential building (and private or public housing?); business (and generally of what kind); vacant lot; something under construction (or demolition); how many people actually on the corner (not “in the wings”, I think); and doing what (walking, waiting to cross, talking, hanging out, etc.). — I'll keep all this in a spreadsheet and (probably) report the contents only selectively on the blog (but we'll see).

Please note that this second pass is meant to be just that, a second pass, with possibly many more passes through the set to follow. (All the good methods, whatever the field, are, I think, iterative.)

It’s a pest to put in all the pictures and I’ll soon overrun my space allotment if I do, so I’ll put in only a selection, and leave it up to the reader to keep two windows open, one for the blog, the other for New York in Plain Sight, Tenth Avenue (which is in two parts):

Part One: 13th Street — 110th Street

Part Two: 111th Street — Broadway/218th Street

And if the approach outlined above turns out to be going nowhere fast, I’ll bail out and try something else as soon as I wake up to that fact. (But I think it will go somewhere, just not sure where yet.)

So tomorrow — or possibly Tuesday, as tomorrow is pretty jammed up with other things: you know, life its own self — the first 20 or so corners of Tenth Avenue, a little closer look, starting at 13th Street.

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