Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Day of Three Boroughs: Or, Saturday (Part 1)

So, as is perhaps now readily apparent, I like to do stuff. Preferably cool stuff. And, as I’ve learned, doing cool stuff will sometimes take you beyond the island Manhattan and into the four other boroughs of New York. Yes, kittens, this past Saturday your very own Miss Manhattan was mostly not in Manhattan at all, but rather in *gasp* Brooklyn and Staten Island.

See? Overpass. They weren't kidding.
First, to Brooklyn for the New York Photo Festival, which entailed an extended train ride on the F. After about an hour, I arrived in the neighborhood Dumbo, short for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” And with that name, it does not disappoint. There are parts on the edge of Dumbo where you literally look up and see only bridge. The parts I like best of Dumbo are the old, historic ones—there’s an open space walled in with brick and iron bars that was once a tobacco market, along with the remnants of old, cinnamon-colored brick factories that have been turned into performance spaces, art galleries and apartment buildings. One of my favorite spaces was the Smack Mellon gallery, which featured a blank white wall on one side, with rugged, exposed brick and piping on the other. I’ve always liked my buildings a little grungy.

Awesome old Tobacco Warehouse used for the exhibition
But then there were the parts of it that I did not find as enjoyable. Dumbo is one of them newfangled, up and coming neighborhoods, so it’s still kind of in that phase where it’s really into itself. A friendly map near the neighborhood’s entrance pointed out all of the popular points of interest in the area. I hate maps like that because they only ever make me think, “Really? That’s all you got?” when in reality there could be much cooler stuff lurking around that they don’t want you to know about for whatever reason. While some of the cool old factory buildings hang off in the distance like the high school rebels smoking cigarettes behind the bleachers, there are shiny, spiffy new buildings toward the neighborhood’s center, all made of pristine concrete, chrome and glass. These buildings feel like snobby, nouveau riche cheerleaders—I didn’t like them at all.

Building preference aside, my real goal there was to see what was cooking at the New York Photo Festival. In 2008, the festival was founded by Daniel Power, the mastermind behind art book publisher powerHouse Books and Frank Evers, who also founded artist management agency INSTITUTE. It was created in order to succeed prestigious European festivals that create “an international atmosphere of inspiring visual installations, professional and aficionado fellowship and camaraderie, and news-worthy staged presentations, awards ceremonies, and symposia.” The festival is also meant to showcase what the future of contemporary photography might look like, displaying the work of many up-and-coming photographers, some of whom are still college undergraduates.

What’s really nice about the festival is that it’s not set up as a typical booth-and-vendor fair outdoors. Instead, when you purchase your festival ticket you’re given a map of all of the NYPH venues around Dumbo with a listing of what appears at each one. Then, you find the venue, see the exhibition, and move on to the next venue. Lather, rinse, repeat in a supremely awesome scavenger hunt-esque way. I started at the aforementioned tobacco warehouse then moved forward, down streets named after dead presidents (Washington, Jay, Adams, etc.).

My favorite exhibition was from China, entitled “Capturing Xiang Sha Wan,” part of which included photographers following camel herders in Malaysia. It was wonderful how they were able to make something so exotic by New York standards (I mean, we have a lot of things here but camels are not one of them…as far as I know) seem completely relatable. I also never thought I would think of a camel as beautiful, but these photographers proved me wrong.

After exploring the festival and Dumbo a bit more, I made the track back to my apartment in Manhattan. By this time it was early evening and though I happily sat on the couch and did nothing the night before, I was not inclined to do it again...

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