Bond Street & 64th Street, Southwest Corner

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bailing the ocean ….

A few years ago now the composer John Corigliano told me that in projects as big as this one there comes a time after the initial bursts of enthusiasm have worn off when it all begins to seem like bailing the ocean: no matter how much you work at it every day, nor how consistently, you don't seem to be making any dent in it at all.

And then, eventually, all of a sudden, almost, you're at or near the end, and it's finished.

At the time he said this, I'd processed and catalogued fewer than 1,500 of the images that constitute New York in Plain Sight and with nearly 10,000 to go had already reached the point he was describing, that is, the point of feeling like I was bailing the ocean.

Queensborough Bridge Exit & 61st Street, Southwest Corner)

And then, several years later, this past February, it was done, or very nearly so, and this has its own difficulties.

One of them is simply the "very nearly" part — I still have about 200 corners to shoot or reshoot, scattered more or less randomly all over the island of Manhattan, and I just haven't gotten myself together to go out for however many days it will take and get them done. (I did earlier this spring get about 200 "errors & omissions" done, the ones that were bunched together: little streets or squares that I'd missed, mostly.)

And then there's a certain amount of clean-up: only yesterday I noticed for the first time, that I'd missed a typo in the Tenth (Amsterdam) Avenue captions, so that a long stretch of captions referred to "Amersterdam" Avenue. And there have been others like that, too.

I really need to go through the whole thing, just proof reading and correcting.

And then there's a huge amount of work to get the whole thing moved onto a flexible content management system with a much friendlier and more flexible user interface.

To say nothing of the ongoing effort to introduce the project to all sorts of people and institutions who might be interested in it, or whom I wish would be interested in it.

All this, together with a nagging sense that I should do the whole thing all over again, and do it better, and more consistently (from a photographic point of view).

Which brings me around to the "then & now" sub-project of the last few weeks: it's a kind of pilot for doing it again, trying this and that, but with much greater consistency, especially in field of view of the images.

It's also showing me a little of the potential for having a time series, even with only two data points, 2006 and 2010, though of course more would be better.

And also that a four year interval is maybe too long: it would be "nice" — wouldn't so many things be "nice"! — to have it done annually, or quarterly, or monthly (annually is probably good enough).

And the "then & now" work is a kind of escape or procrastination vis-á-vis the task of getting out there and getting those last 200 pictures taken.

How hard can it be? Only two hundred, how much is that after 11,289? Nothing, relatively speaking, but 200 all the same. Still, already the "then & now" set has reached 361 images of Tenth Avenue, nearly twice as many as the remaining errors and omissions, so what's the big deal?

Well, part of "the big deal" is that I need a break from it, and the "then & now" sub-project is way of taking that break without feeling like I've altogether abandoned the main project.

Another part of "the big deal" is a nagging suspicion that the whole project is just too esoteric, if not actually eccentric, too far outside the various pales of art and documentary that, I must admit, I tried so carefully to stay outside of ….

Or maybe, the nagging voice pipes up at this point, the pictures just aren't good enough. "Shut up!" is all I can say to that one.

This has been a sort of whiny post, which I'm posting mainly because it documents in its way another aspect of the project, of projects generally, especially big projects, that I don't want to leave undocumented: namely the ups and downs of doing them.

I guess the last few days, especially, and especially perhaps because of the hot and humid weather here — might as well blame the weather — have been more among the downs than the ups.

Another friend of mine, at the time an executive at IBM, used to say to me: "Richard, your problem is that you think you know what's going to happen, and you don't." Well, I don't know if that's specifically my problem, or a problem that we all have, but even so, it's a problem that I'll admit to sharing with lots of other people.

More importantly, though, I think, is the hope implicit in what she said.

So, it's Sunday, it's early, not even 7 AM, let's have another cup of coffee, get on with this and that (I'm getting towards the end of processing the 73rd Street — 110th Street "then & now" images from last Monday), and see what if anything unexpected the day brings.

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