To visit a specific city, click on it from the portfolio pull down menu. As city portfolios are finalized and edited, more will be added. Please sign up for the Straight Up Newsletter to the right to keep updated (sign-in box will disappear once you have registered). The images scrolling above are quick proofs from Europe in 2012. An account of that trip follows:
Traveling to nineteen European cities in thirty days–including a three day stopover in Venice for a wedding–isn’t necessarily an outlandish concept. Businessmen, backpackers, and Bond (as in James) do this all the time, right? It’s obviously a fast paced adventure, filled with overnight trains, a few planes, ferries as needed, and certainly doable if not entirely exhausting. What is unusual is my intention: I’m not attending business meetings, conferences, aimlessly wandering, or diligently chasing after and shooting some villain. I’m wandering with specific intent, and the only shots I’ll make are photographic in nature–specifically from a camera height of 10cm, looking straight up.
I’m jetting across the Atlantic from New York City to Barcelona—my first stop in Europe– slightly nervous that the previous week’s work schedule has given me zero time to actually plan a daily itinerary. I have a general sense of what cities to visit, but no idea what I’ll actually see upon arrival. The brilliant idea of spending the nine hour flight researching these cities, soon to be explored by foot, is denied by the transatlantic flight’s lack of internet. Failing to pack a guidebook or even a few maps, I’m relegated to the free onboard movies and an increasing sense of anxiety as I question my preparedness.
Averting my gaze from the disappearing landmass of home–the structured order of the countryside, its neighborhoods–and towards the beautiful abstract patterns of clouds spanning eastward, I ease into my seat and ponder the coming trip. An aerial view always lends more perspective to problems at hand. This is the crux: from an overview, it’s easy to see patterns, isolate areas, and generate broad encompassing ideas on most anything. My photography takes a different approach, assimilating patterns from the ground up, one image at a time. This viewpoint isn’t systematically explored or documented in detail, and the risk of not making the standard travelogue image weighs on me—seriously.
I’ve photographed several cities in the US from the straight up vantage point and the concept is fairly simple. The camera is perfectly leveled on a tripod with wide-angle lens close to the ground, and pointed skyward. At least one element aligns to the edge of the frame so that the image doesn’t feel tilted, and the images are finished in black and white to ensure strong colors aren’t overbearing. The resulting open spaces between buildings, lamp posts, street signs, trees, etc., create unique shapes. These shapes repeat, subtly change, and create a cadence of visual forms, familiar yet distinct for each city. Grouping these images together forms a type of language—a spatial fingerprint—that reflect the history, culture, economics, and needs of the city reflected in its built environment. Each city is photographed in this manner, and since this viewpoint is exactly the same, images within and between cities are easily compared. It’s a microcosm of the familiar skyline, accessible to anyone who stops, looks up, and takes note.
There is a luxury in stopping and looking up. Kids do it all the time—lying on the grass, looking to the sky and visualizing various shapes in the clouds. As adults, we don’t often have this time, and if we do, it’s rarely spent in grassy fields. Our time is in urban environments where we must travel from point A to point B, driving, taking a metro, walking quickly, staring straight ahead to avoid others, or looking down at our smartphones, papers or pavement.
I traveled (in this order) to Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Oslo, Stockholm, Malmö, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin, Zurich, Florence, Arezzo, Venice, Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. Other than sadly being rained out in Zurich, I photographed all the cities, made every train, ferry, and boat connection by an average of two minutes.
Unfortunately on the last day, I miscalculated and missed my return flight by five minutes. Without hesitation, I accepted the in-flight martini on my rebooked flight the next day (slight turbulence ensuring it was shaken properly). Despite the physical and mental exhaustion of the trip and timeline, I am exhilarated to share these images. Looking down once again from 10,000 meters, the often hidden-from-ground-level patterns are obvious. I hope my explorations through Europe from a fraction of my current height, looking straight up, are equally compelling.