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Invisible New York

, 112 pages

53 b&w illus.

November 1998



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Invisible New York

The Hidden Infrastructure of the City

Invisible New York is a photographic exploration of the hidden and often abandoned infrastructure of New York City. Inaccessible and unknown to most New Yorkers, the structures and machinery captured in Stanley Greenberg's luminous black-and-white prints deliver the essential services that a city's inhabitants usually take for granted. Many of these vast and imposing facilities have in recent decades been neglected or fallen into disuse. Others remain intact and in continuous use. Greenberg's dark and poetic images document how a city works, its technological evolution since the 19th century, and the toll that deterioration and years of deferred maintenance can take on the soul of a city.

With a 4 x 5 monorail view camera and using only available light, Greenberg photographed sites in all five of New York's boroughs, many now permanently sealed in the interests of national security. Among the invisible places recorded are the massive valve chambers in the water tunnels 300 feet underground and other features of New York's extraordinary water system; the anchorages of the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Verrazano Narrows bridges; the dry dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; the derelict power station at Floyd Bennett Field; the elegant, turn-of-the-century steam turbine in Brooklyn's Pratt Institute; crumbling ruins on Ellis Island and Roosevelt Island; hidden sections of Grand Central Station and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine; the West Side rail yards in Manhattan; the secret Nike missile silos in the Bronx; one of the last remaining manual switch rooms in the New York subway system; the faded grandeur of the City Hall Subway Station, its bronze chandeliers and leaded glass ceilings still largely undamaged; and the vast Brooklyn Army Terminal, once the world's largest warehouse.

Greenberg's photographs of this hidden city uncover long-forgotten engineering feats, magnificent examples of skilled craftsmanship, and fascinating clues about New York's industrial past, as well as reveal the increasing aesthetic apathy of today's builders. His images chronicle both the beauty and the banal necessity of this rich legacy, threatened by public ignorance and bureaucratic indifference. Invisible New York offers a unique perspective on one of the world's great cities and alerts us to the hidden sites and essential facilities found in all cities which are slowly and secretly decaying or disappearing.

Stanley Greenberg worked in New York City government for seven years before becoming a full-time photographer. He has received grants from the Graham Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. His work has been exhibited at Columbia University and Cooper Union, and is held in several public collections, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His work was installed in the New York City subway system in 1997 and 1998.

"This stately and haunting collection of large-format black-and-white photographs reveals the city's hidden—and, in many places, crumbling or decrepit—infrastructure: a vault beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, once rented to a wine merchant for champagne storage; weed-encrusted Nike missile silos adjoining Potter's Field, on Hart Island; the massive remains of the West Side piers, rotting into the Hudson. Alongside these images, even the newly functional attic space above the ceiling in Grand Central Terminal (where the bulbs inside the constellations get changed) and the nuclear-blast-resistant water tunnel still under construction beneath the Bronx take on an Ozymandian melancholy."

"An old missile silo serves as a graveyard; dams and disused waterworks maintain a stolid silence; corroded railyard shelters sag dangerously; powerful cables anchor the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Verazzano Narrows bridges; and the unglamorous roof of Grand Central Terminal juts resentfully up at the brick buildings in this airspace in some of the 53 elegantly composed b&w photos in Invisible New York.."

"Through haunting black-and-white photos of 53 little-seen spots in and around New York City, many of which are closed off to the public because of security concerns, [Greenberg] offers a moody, sometimes wistful take on the mechanical and natural guts of the city."

"Artful... Greenberg takes us into the city's infrastructure: a subway station too short for today's trains; a catwalk high in Grand Central Terminal; the massive underground anchorages of the Manhattan and Verrazano-Narrows bridges; collapsing West Side piers; the Lunatic Asylum in ruins on Roosevelt Island. Most images reveal hidden workings, and some of these unseen places are charged with a dire message: You can live on the city's surface only if you take care of its guts."

"When most people, including New Yorkers, think about New York, they think only of its outer parts—skyscrapers, bright lights, monuments, parks. Photographer Stanley Greenberg has here shown us what lies at the base of the amazing city, in a stunning series of 53 black-and-white photographs of water tunnels, dams, docks, catwalks, power stations, turbines, gatehouses and the massive anchorage of suspension bridges... His book is a record of both the functioning and the vanishing underpinnings of the city, the flip side of picture postcards—coherent, visually magnificent and awesome in its scale. More than anything, you come away with a sense of how small you are next to the huge cooperative vision that built the metropolis."

"Combining the luminous clarity of Charles Sheeler with a Piranesian nose for ruins, photographer Stanley Greenberg has been documenting the forgotten, often ravaged, grandeur of New York's urban infrastructure for several years."

"Stanley Greenberg has been photographing New York's hidden infrastructure for... years. The result is a haunting film noir of the corroded, undermaintained machinery—bridge supports, turbines, water valves—that still does its best to make the city tick."

"The most intense images of Stanley Greenberg's historical record are, for many, the ones we may least wish to see. These are the photographs of the ruins of our technological past. Such places, once busy but now dead and empty, lie scattered around almost every American city of any age. We refuse to acknowledge them and their existence slips beneath our vision... Greenberg leads us to these sites and makes us look at the documents of the forced march of technology; his photographs raise necessary questions not only about technological obsolescence, but also about civic responsibility and corporate culpability—the agents that conspired to create these places."

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