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Manhattan an Island in Focus introduction
Manhattan is a romance between the dreams of its people and their reality. As a photographer I try to capture those special visual moments when the dream becomes a real.
My earliest memory of the city is the immigrant’s introduction to the Promised Land. I was eight years old. My family had spent two weeks on the ship from Israel, and as we pulled into New York Harbor at night, everyone looked up at the Statue of Liberty and began to cry. I was to young to understand what was happening, but I cried too, and that emotion always returns when I see her.
I was trained as a painter and sculptor, but when I picked up a camera and shot that first roll of film, I experienced a sense of freedom, the freedom to leave the studio and make the world my subject. I moved to Manhattan in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have known that I would someday make this book. It is the ultimate challenge for a photographer, since Manhattan is probably the world’s most-photographed city.
Manhattan intrigues me so much that I can shoot nearly every day, waiting for that sudden instant when the sun’s rays rebound off a skyscraper or a bridge. For the last ten years I have watched the city’s seasons change, always finding a new design, a new symbol, or some new image that tells a story about the greatest city in the world.
The city has moods affected by the times of year and the times of day. In the winter, the sun sets below the Statue of Liberty, but by summertime it goes down above Central Park. Each day the light is different, as the sun takes up its new position. It may rise between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, for example, only three days a year, so I have to plan from one year to the next in order to be ready for particular shots.
The experience of photographing Manhattan is so overwhelming that time seems to stop. When the hostages were freed from Iran in 1981 and New York gave them a ticker-tape parade, I got a press pass and found a good vantage point on the ledge of high above Broadway. All of the sudden I could hear the roar of the crowd. The roar began to build, then far below the parade began to approach. I was mesmerized. The next thing that I knew I was hanging over the ledge, with my assistant holding my feet, firing away, photograph after photograph, until gradually the roar began to die down, and my assistant hauled me back inside. I took a deep breath. What had felt like a second was actually an hour going by.
The photographer uses the camera as a machine to strip away unnecessary information, simplify it so that the image can become a symbol. A friend once called me because there was a huge blaze on Thirty-fourth Street. I rushed down to the scene and found confusion- fire trucks, smoke, and firemen running with hoses. But in the camera the chaos became an image of man’s battle with the unknown.
The city sometimes shows its negative side. One morning I decided to photograph the sunrise from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. I had permission to climb the cables, and about four o’clock in the morning a steelworker, my assistant, and I had began the ascent. It was still pitch dark when we got to the top, but we could see a man on the outside cables, ready to jump. The man begged me not to take his picture and I didn’t, but after the steelworker went for help, the roadbed below was filled with television cameramen and photojournalists. Before rescue police could get to him, the man jumped, his body reappeared three hundred feet downstream, and they pulled him into a boat. My stomach was in knots and I called it quits for the day. That night I found out the man had miraculously survived. The next day we tried again. The sunrise was gorgeous.
One of the most exciting experiences I have is photographing the city from a helicopter. It’s like being Superman, swooping in and around the buildings, circling the Statue of Liberty. Just as the camera is a machine that I can use to extend my vision, the helicopter is another extension, giving me the ability to fly.
A lot of what I shoot comes to me in dreams. I wake up in the morning with a particular image in mind, like the one of the Statue of Liberty between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I knew somehow that the view had to exist, and I went out looking for what I had imagined until I found it. Other times I use two photographs to create an image. With “New York City on Ice,” the ice floes moving below the Brooklyn Bridge reminded me of clouds. By superimposing two images I came up with an unexpected scene of ice that seems to float in the sky.
I don’t expect you to see the way I see. But through the photographs in this book, you will see the way I feel. Enjoy the feelings, as I have, feel the romance for yourself, wherever you are. This book is as much about the way of seeing as it is about Manhattan.
Books By Jake Rajs