A photographer’s holiday in New York City

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 4, 2007

When my husband turned 40, his sister and I joined forces in giving him a present that we knew he would really like: a photography-trip to a city of choice, with childcare included. Read: his sister would take care of our son at home, and I would buy him a ticket for two to a city where he would like to take pictures, and he could spend all day making pictures without me moaning that I want to move on. He chose New York City (which implied that since I think it is crazy to fly across the Atlantic for 3 days, the citytrip turned into a one-week holiday).

We are not quite new to NYC, since we lived there for six months in 2004… nevertheless, given that we worked too much then, I am sure there is still loads for us to see. What do you think we should not miss? And what are the hidden gems of NYC that we are unlikely to find in a travel guide, or the places of special interest for photographers? With doubled thanks!

{ 50 comments }

1

anon 04.04.07 at 7:56 pm

The sculptures at 14th st station on the A,C,E, and L trains.

2

Seymour Paine 04.04.07 at 8:06 pm

Wall and Broad Streets from the steps of Federal Hall at 8:45AM M-F: see the real surging throngs as they march off to wage capitalist wars. It’s quite an amazing sight

Riverside Park, SoHo (cast iron buildings), Canal Street (Chinese, crowds); China town in general, Central Park.

3

otto 04.04.07 at 8:07 pm

It’s not quite a secret, but can I recommend the Lower East Side Tenement Museum as a great piece of New York history? It will also offer a good photo or two.

4

Shelby 04.04.07 at 8:09 pm

The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. The grounds of the Cloisters. Brooklyn Bridge, if the cops don’t stop you.

5

airth10 04.04.07 at 8:17 pm

I recommend the top of Rockefeller Centre, the observation deck 70 stories up. From there you get a great view of the Empire State Building.

6

Ciarán 04.04.07 at 8:19 pm

Two definite photographic highlights: first thing in the morning take the subway to high street Brooklyn (I think it’s the A or the C line), find the pedestrian walkway for the Brooklyn bridge and walk into Manhattan. Second, take the Staten Island Ferry there and back from Battery Park. Best done at sunset as the lights come on. Trying to take clear photos at dusk on a boat will keep the husband very busy indeed…

7

Roland 04.04.07 at 8:26 pm

I (the husband) might add that I like street photography so I like Seymour Paine’s first suggestion on Wall and Broad Streets. Sebastião Salgado has a beautiful picture in his migrations book of the morning rush in Bombay station (India, 1995). I was thinking of trying to make such a picture in the Columbus circle subway station. And of course strolling around in SoHo, Tribeca, and the East Village.

8

kirk adler malone 04.04.07 at 8:55 pm

The Cloisters way uptown (featured in the opening sequence of the movie, The Warriors, for those who don’t know it).

9

Seymour Paine 04.04.07 at 9:27 pm

Wall and Broad street from the steps of Federal Hall at 8:45AM M-F: see the real surging throngs as they march off to wage capitalist wars. It’s quite an amazing site.

Riverside Park, SoHo (cast iron buildings), Canal Street (Chinese, crowds); China town in general, Central Park.

10

James 04.04.07 at 9:29 pm

Waterfront NY is interesting and oddly neglected. The Jamaica Bay wildlife area under the planes headed to Kennedy is an uncanny spot; the beaches Rockaway and Coney Island are interesting. Looking back at Manhattan from other islands is fun.

The view from the bridges is always fun (both the Brooklyn and Queensborough bridges, in particular).

The ponds of Staten Island are rarely visited.

Staying closer to the center of things, it’s surprisingly easy to miss the Central Park flower garden or the Shakespeared garden. If your trip is coming up soon, you may arrive at a fine time for those destinations.

11

Uncle Kvetch 04.04.07 at 10:10 pm

The Upper West Side in the 70s and 80s has some of the most photogenic residential blocks in the whole city: big gorgeous brownstones with bay windows, that sort of thing. Maybe someone who spends more time up there than I do can recommend some specific blocks to target.

Park Slope in Brooklyn has some similarly gracious streetscapes, especially the blocks just off Prospect Park.

12

astrongmaybe 04.04.07 at 10:54 pm

Agree with James on the waterfronts. There’s a path between the East river and FDR Drive which is spectacular, running all the way down from the Triboro bridges to the UN and beyond, past Gracie Mansion, with views of old industrial areas (amazing number of power plants over there) and the contemporary stuff that is fast replacing it. You thread between the waterfront and Upper E. Side swank. You can get the M116 bus across town to 1st Ave and walk it from there.

Nice “Manhattan” shots to be had at the C. Park reservoir – beautiful views across the water to those huge pre-war Gothic apartment buildings (ones on C. Park West, mostly famously seen in “Ghostbusters”) – go to 5th Ave, 90s and walk into the park to get to the reservoir.

If you have the time, the train ride that goes up the Hudson Valley is very beautiful – even the parts that run through Harlem and the Bronx have fantastic views

13

eweininger 04.04.07 at 11:52 pm

I second everyone saying walk the Brooklyn bridge, especially at night. Much visual drama and melodrama.

14

Jon Mandle 04.04.07 at 11:59 pm

My wife suggests DUMBO – “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass” – looking at Manhattan from Brooklyn. Take the F-train to York St. and walk toward the water. The Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park (next to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge) has some great old buildings with spectacular views of the city.

15

novakant 04.05.07 at 12:54 am

I can highly recommend the Frick Collection ;)

16

md 20/400 04.05.07 at 1:05 am

If you’re looking to take photos in the subway, this page covers the regulations. The nycsubway site in general has more than most people want to know about the system.

17

a diddy 04.05.07 at 1:11 am

Pizza!

18

Jay C 04.05.07 at 1:16 am

For photography opportunities (especially if you are coming in the Spring) – go up to the roof garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (assuming it is open, of course!) – it is an unusual vantage point, as the Met roof is just at treetop level, and you can get great shots of the ranks of buildings surrounding Central Park.

19

bloix 04.05.07 at 1:32 am

Someday i am going to do a series of smokestacks of NY. There are some very interesting industrial landscapes, mostly in Brooklyn.

Also, I second #6 – You can walk across the Brooklyn Bridge- the bridge is spectacularly photogenic. (Among others, David Hockney made a magnificent image of the bridge that you might be able to find online.) You can get the classic lower Manhattan skyline that you’ve seen in dozens of movies from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights.

20

Brad Kerr 04.05.07 at 1:56 am

At, I believe, 53rd and 6th in Manhattan, there is a certain halal food cart that is open 24 hours a day and is, for some reason, wildly popular. (I’m a vegetarian, so I can’t comment on the quality of the food.) Late at night, there’s almost always a very, very long line of rowdy teenagers and cabbies in search of lamb and rice. The space is pretty well lit then, and it might make for an interesting picture.

Hasidic Williamsburg is a trip on Friday evenings. I’ve never been to Brooklyn’s other frum neighborhoods at that time, but I imagine that they’re equally impressive.

You ought to go to Astroland at Coney Island, as this may be its last year in business.

21

Mary 04.05.07 at 2:07 am

The art gallery area in Chelsea is good. Nice contrast of new slick street level galleries next to body shops and gas stations and big trucks in the streets.

And Harlem. Some beautiful old buildings and some beautiful dilapidated areas, depending on how you define beautiful.

I second Chinatown. It’s bigger and more crowded than ever. Plus good food for lunch.

Street art? Check out this website for locations: http://www.bluejake.com/archives.php.

Also this guy does a good job of searching out quirky spots (along with the usual). http://newyorkdailyphoto.blogspot.com/

Me, I’m walking every street in Manhattan and photographing as I go, and I can tell you it’s the rare street where there’s nothing good to photograph. http://newyorkphotoblog.blogspot.com/

22

Randy Paul 04.05.07 at 2:27 am

Get out of Manhattan and make several stops on the 7 line: Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights (where I live), Corona and Flushing showcase New York’s ethnic diversity like nothing else. You’ll be transported to Ireland, Colombia, the Phillipines, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, China and Korea.

If Governors Island has reopened (it was open last summer), you’ll get great views of Manhattan. Historic Richmondtown on Staten island is fascinating.

23

cjb 04.05.07 at 2:33 am

Long Island City is a favorite venue for many photographers – lots of old industrial buildings, many of which sport fabulous graffiti.
Also you can catch the Noguchi museum and Socrates Sculpture Garden from there, and PS 1 (MoMA’s contemporary art “wing”).

24

joejoejoe 04.05.07 at 3:09 am

Coney Island. No better people watching in the entire city. You can also walk down the boardwalk to Brighton Beach and pretend you are in Odessa and not Brooklyn. Be sure to catch kids from around the world getting crazy at the Dance Dance Revolution machine in one of the arcades. And, of course, the Wonder Wheel and Cyclone.

25

James 04.05.07 at 4:11 am

I want to repeat my mention of the Queensborough bridge (aka the 59th Sgtreet Bridge). Everyone knows about the spectacular view from the Brooklyn Bridge, but the foot and bike path across the Queensborough bridge has a grittier, more modern charm. After walking across it you can proceed on foot through Queens plaza to the Long Island City destinations others have mentioned.

26

eszter 04.05.07 at 4:20 am

Since you’ll also have to eat, here are two pastry shops worth visiting: the Hungarian Pastry Shop at the southwest corner of 111th and Amsterdam plus Bouchon at Columbus Circle (in the mall building, second or third floor).

When your husband is done, he should upload his pictures to Flickr and add some of them to the Guess Where NYC group.

I second the idea of seeing the sculptures at the Union Square subway station.

27

J Edgar 04.05.07 at 4:51 am

Take a double-decker tour bus and get on the top, open level. Even if you don’t get a lot of great pictures, the vantage point will help identify places to get off and do some shooting (except you probably won’t get a top level seat on the next tour bus).

28

Ryan Miller 04.05.07 at 5:34 am

Tropes all, but I will strongly second the Brooklyn Bridge, Cloisters, and Frick suggestions. They’re all famous for a reason…

29

astrongmaybe 04.05.07 at 9:37 am

Disagree on the Cloisters. The building is absurd – old European churches and cloisters dug up, crated over and cobbled together. Disneyland for NY Times readers. The park is nice, but if you walk 10 minutes north to Inwood Hill Park, you have similar views in a wilder and more interesting setting, overlooking the Bronx as well as the Hudson.

30

icestar 04.05.07 at 12:53 pm

Whenever you walk down a street in New York, look up. Quite often the ground floor of a beautiful building will be occupied by a hideously designed storefront. Above it you may see stunning decorative details.

31

paul 04.05.07 at 1:54 pm

For some idea of the city’s diversity, walk out Grand St from the lower west to the East River. There are also some remarkable promenades and parks on the river from Houston St south. (You can almost but not quite circumnavigate manhattan at water’s edge, depending on your definitions and your audacity.)

32

Richard 04.05.07 at 2:19 pm

59th st bridge also has the advantage of the cable car, which swoops you up over 1st ave on the way to Roosevelt island; worth it just for the trip, great shooting possibilities from an unusual spot. Then there’s the abandoned asylum on the south end of Roosevelt island, and the barge traffic, and generally being nearer and more separated from Manhattan than you are on the other side of the Brooklyn bridge. Finally, near there, at 70th and York, there’s the hospital for special surgery built right over the highway, on the edge of the island.
Also, if you can get a good vantage, the road system coming off the George Washington Bridge, where it joins the Cross Bronx Expressway, is an astonishing clash of Manhattan schist outcroppings and corkscrewing service roads: it looks like a bubble-chamber diagram rendered in highways.
Don’t forget the little red lighthouse, at the of the GWB, either. It sounds quaint, but it’s actually just odd.

33

Luis Villa 04.05.07 at 2:57 pm

If you hit the aforementioned Hungarian Pastry Shop, the husband can hit St. John the Divine, which is a block away (112th and Amsterdam). Not spectacularly photogenic as cathedrals go, but if he’s a cathedral junkie as some photogs are, it is a must-see.

34

Jimmyo 04.05.07 at 3:13 pm

If you like street scenes, go to Main Street in Flushing, Queens any day of the week but especially on a weekend. It teems. For immigrant neighborhoods, take the 7 train and pretty much get off randomly.

35

anon 04.05.07 at 3:27 pm

Eszter, the Otterness sculptures are not at Union Square.

36

Jim Brown 04.05.07 at 3:31 pm

Check out Chumley’s. It’s an old speakeasy and used to be a hangout for Hemingway and others. Decent fish and chips and good beer too. It’s difficult to find, but a cab driver should be able to get you there:

http://nymag.com/listings/bar/chumleys/

37

seth edenbaum 04.05.07 at 3:42 pm

The Otterness sculptures are at 8th Ave.
They’re mentioned in comment #1

My picks
The 7 train: any stop in Queens.
Brighton Beach.

38

bklynbaby 04.05.07 at 4:39 pm

Bedford-Stuyvesant and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn are two of the most beautiful nabes in the whole city and not to be missed. Prospect Park, near the Audobon Center, is also gorgeous. Frankly I think you could spend a lifetime taking pictures of the Navy Yard and surrounds as well.

39

A lifelong NuYawka 04.05.07 at 5:03 pm

The walk way on the George Washington Bridge provides a stunning vista of the Hudson River (as well as stunning architectural pics). Take pics in 4 directions. The NJ side, the city side, upriver and down river. The sun setting over the Jersey ridgeline is always spectacular. Cross the bridge into NJ and go down River road for many skyline photo ops at sunset. The park on JFK Boulevard East provides a great clifftop view of Manhattan. It is directly across the Hudson from the Intrepid Museum.

40

Randolph Fritz 04.05.07 at 5:07 pm

If possible, go in fall, spring, or winter; the winter is not that cold, and some of the iconic images of the city are snowy ones. The summer, though very green, is also miserably hot and humid.

Do some night photography of the lights of the city, if at all inclined. Some of the best views of the lights of Manhattan are from New Jersey, on the west bank of the Hudson. Rent a car and drive through the Lincoln Tunnel. There are good views of the skyline from the Stevens Campus in Hoboken ("Frank Sinatra Drive", would you believe?) North along the Hudson, there are also good views from Union City, North Bergen, West New York, and Guttenberg; you might even try River Road in Edgewater. In the city itself, the Rockefeller Center plaza at night is very beautiful, but also very well photographed.

In the daytime, there are some breathtaking views along Riverside Drive in the 125th-160th street area. The World Trade Center site is an interesting place, though I’m not sure about photographic opportunities there–beware of Homeland Security.

If your husband is more interested in people than buildings, try Central Park on a spring or fall day, the club districts (they keep moving) on summer nights, or skaters in the Rockefeller Center and Wollman ice rinks in winter. Fifth Avenue from 42nd to about 92nd is also a good place, just about any time of year; Central Park South (59th Street) around Fifth Ave. is, literally, a Ritzy district, and you can see the city’s rich and fashionable out during good weather.

For work in the city itself, a small luggage cart can be useful–it is often easier to take subways in Manhattan than drive. Need I mention that street crime is distressingly common in NYC, and many thieves recognize valuable photographic equipment? Travel together, if at all possible.

41

James 04.05.07 at 5:21 pm

If we’re mentioning bars, I’ll plug the “Top of the Tower” at the Beekman Tower Hotel, for the view. It’s along what might be an interesting walk from the UN north to the 59th street bridge, which gives an opportunity to duck into Beekman and Sutton Places, and from there to get close to still more interesting waterfront views.

42

Emma 04.05.07 at 5:36 pm

I want to second what #30 says: LOOK UP. Becautiful architectural details everywhere. Also, I understand you probably already plan for this, but if you go in the spring, Central Park is a must. Get up into the Rambles and go to Shakespeare Garden.

43

rea 04.05.07 at 5:53 pm

The Flatiron Building, of course . . .

44

brad kerr 04.05.07 at 6:31 pm

If you’re here during the summer, you might want to check out the ticket line for Shakespeare in the Park. I mean the one on Lafayette, in front of Joes Pub, where folks wait all night for tickets. It’s urban camping!

45

Laura 04.05.07 at 7:47 pm

The heather gardens in Fort Tryon Park. When you’re up there, check out a real dead saint, Mother Cabrini. She’s covered in wax and lying in a glass altar. She’s down the block from the Cloisters. On the way there, visit Jacob Javitts playground for photographs of the most diverse toddlers you’ll ever see. Someone else said the 7 train. Yeah, do that. Mott Street in Chinatown. Tiffany’s. Walk along the GW Bridge or the Brooklyn Bridge. Wall Street at lunch time. The steps of the Met.

46

Ingrid Robeyns 04.05.07 at 7:56 pm

hi folks, thanks for all the advice – it’s clear we need more than a week but that’s all we have (this time). In fact, we’re leaving next Monday, I guess that counts as the Spring season.

Eszter, I’ve never had Hungarian pastry, so will check it out.

a diddy at #17: Pizza??? Perhaps once, but I think there are way too many interesting good and weird cafes and restaurants in NYC to eat Pizza.
I think my role in this trip will be to watch the thieves, read the subway map, and do some investigating in what the good restaurants are (Zagat’s?). And I will just enjoy being there, of course.

47

Mysterious Traveler 04.05.07 at 9:54 pm

Brooklyn
Botanical
Gardens.

48

Jay C 04.07.07 at 12:23 am

Re: # 36

Jim, Ingrid & anyone else who might want to check out the classic Chumley’s in Greenwich Village: better call first: they have had a bit of structural difficulty and might not be open.

49

cjb 04.07.07 at 1:44 am

The Hungarian is really awful, of late. I have to meet students there frequently and would rather go to Starbucks, which is very sad, considering how awful Starbucks is. Absolutely not worth a visit, sorry Eszter.

50

Valuethinker 04.08.07 at 4:37 pm

– Brooklyn Heights – the walkway (s of the Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO) overlooks lower Manhattan and is the best promenade in NYC

– Lower East Side for the old houses (Tenement Museum is to die for, but you *must book ahead*)

– Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn is supposed to be very interesting, but do keep your eyes open, it was historically not a nice neighbourhood (down Bushwick way particularly)

– take the Circle Ferry — it circumnavigates the whole island, with an expert commentary, and it gives you a real feel for Manhattan that nothing else will, especially the top of the Island. I think it leaves from Pier 36?

Some of the angles as you go around Wall Street on the East River side are fantastic

– view from the Rainbow Room at the Rockefeller Center is great. Second it on the Beekman.

– I think Americans think the Cloisters is neat, Europeans have a lot of that sort of thing at home so one may not be as impressed– it’s a bit of a pastiche

– there is a photographer’s website, something like Undiscovered (or Unknown) Neighbourhoods of New York, which is great

– Lexington is a trip up architectural history: you have Lever House, you have the Seagram Building, you have the Citicorp Building, I think you have the new Bloomberg office

Early in the morning is a great time (sorry, but true) as the traffic isn’t so bad, and the light is fantastic (as is sunset, but at sunset it’s harder to get the clear views and the air is hazy from the day’s pollution). Occupational hazard of being a photographer.

Central Park Reservoir is really nice, especially if you don’t remember Marathon Man too well.

We were told the Blockhouse (NE Central Park) was a ‘be careful’ area, but we saw ordinary looking people walking up there in daytime, so it’s probably OK.

Don’t know where you are staying, but recommend the Kimberly Hotel (suite Hotel, 50th on the east side)- -clean and comfortable (too few lifts, but otherwise good).

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