All posts tagged: Photography

Streets of Goma


The Streets of Goma 5

Years ago, I wrote that seekers of all stripes—journalists, philosophers, scientists, mystics—are chasing the same elusive thing: something like truth, understanding, a fully integrated perspective, awakeness, untangling. We just ask questions in different contexts, modalities, and microcosms.

Whitney BrunoStreets of Goma

The Dictator’s Bedroom


“The bunker was the reality of totalitarianism, its hideous remnant and reminder. The beheaded, violated, mutilated ghosts of Nicaragua bore witness, every day, to what used to happen here, and must never happen again.”

 —Salman Rushdie, The Jaguar Smile

In the early hours of July 17, 1979, Anastasio Somoza snapped shut the last of his suitcases, preparing to leave. He took one last look at his newspaper; little things like pens, paper clips, and dust lay scattered around the desk, his daily mess. He’d expected this departure for days, yet he was still rushed; he was irritated and scared. In the bunker office, the stiff leather furniture and the leather-covered walls gleamed as the dim ceiling light flickered. Behind him, caught in the somber solitude of that late night of surrender, hung a large relief map of Nicaragua, the country he had “inherited” and ruled, and was now abandoning. The country whose people he had abused, tortured, waged war against. The country that was now aflame at his doorstep.

Julia PikeThe Dictator’s Bedroom

Scenes for Super Towers

Introduction by SCOTT GEIGERphotos by JAMES EWING

new york view

A couple years ago, on the verge of the global collapse, structural engineer Guy Nordenson did an interview with me for a literary monthly, The Believer. The magazine’s title quote ran, “The tall building, as a type, is exhausted.” You could no longer put together a tall office building or a mixed-use tower in a new way, Nordenson felt. World Trade Center Tower One or maybe the CCTV Building in Beijing, depending on your architectural orientation, closed out the skyscraper play, at least in terms of engineering and architectural innovation.

These last two years, though, exotic forces in global finance have conspired to construct in the Manhattan street grid a radically new tall building typology. The super towers, or “billionaires’ beanstalks,” as New York Magazine’s architecture critic Justin Davidson described them, are stacks of full-floor loft apartments (sometimes duplexes) rising into the blue. The forthcoming 111 West 57th Tower, featured on its architect’s website, shows the sheer building arising from a tiny claw hold in Manhattan.

To realize such super towers, their developers and architects have to delicately escort them through New York City municipal agencies and community boards. They must also sell the apartment units, often to prospective owners who do not live in New York City or even in the United States. Architectural renderings do this work. These are digital collages of one or more real photographs, upon which is imposed a scintillating computer-generated image produced from three-dimensional architectural design software. There are whole design agencies, like rendering pioneers DBOX, who specialize solely in the production of these very high-resolution illusions for use in real estate marketing.

Over the summer I learned that Brooklyn architectural photographer James Ewing has regular commissions to document the urban fabric surrounding Manhattan commercial developments. He sometimes even photographs the open airspace around future super towers. To make such images, Ewing accessed the terraces and mechanical rooms of neighboring high-rise towers, waiting long hours for the weather to clear, the daylight or the darkness to settle just so. After studying architectural renderings for a few years now, I’ve concluded that their appeal comes not from their dazzling subjects but from the everyday real upon which the proposed architecture trespasses.

Ewing shot the images below to serve as backgrounds to architectural renderings, which will tease out a counterlife to the city. A knowing consciousness animates the photographs, I feel. His views frame a cumulative, sculptural Manhattan. No sign of street life. Instead, this subjectivity sees a geometric landscape of facades and windowwalls—each building nothing so exotic or radical as the crystallization of market forces past. Especially dramatic to see is the form of the cumulative city juxtaposed to the Hudson and East Rivers at its edge. To the subjectivity within these images, super towers feel only inevitable, the next phase in New York City’s continuous and speculative growth under the sky.

—Scott Geiger

view of the empire state


high rises



Scott Geiger is the Architecture Editor for The Common.
Photographs by James Ewing.

Julia PikeScenes for Super Towers

Plugs: Thoughts on Cady Noland’s Stocks


“Hell, there are no rules here—we’re trying 
to accomplish something.”

                                     —thomas edison


there were seventeen witnesses for the first execution of a human being by electrocution. William Kemmler, a sometime peddler of produce and a heavy drinker, was sentenced to death on March 29, 1889, for killing his common-law wife, Matilda Ziegler, with a hatchet. There are few details about Kemmler or his life. Born in Philadelphia but raised in Buffalo, he was said to be slender, with brown hair tending toward black. We know his parents were alcoholic immigrants from Germany. He could speak both German and English but couldn’t read a word. We also know that his father was a butcher who died after a cut he received in a drunken brawl became infected. His mother died less accidentally from alcoholism.

Julia PikePlugs: Thoughts on Cady Noland’s Stocks

No Bad Things


C-MacKenzie, Pool Party 03, 2011

C-MacKenzie, Pool Party 03, 2011

C-MacKenzie (Chris MacKenzie) removes the background imagery from his photographs, creating uncanny visions of people in surreal blank settings. Although his figures often assume the pose of spectators, they gaze upon nothingness. In creating these images, C-MacKenzie draws on his background in motion picture editing and post production, in which mistakes are removed from an image and figures are pasted to scenery. He envisions his artistic process as “withholding information” from the viewer.  By negating the sense of place, C-MacKenzie creates an unknowable and mysterious world.

Julia PikeNo Bad Things




Not enough snow to stick, Mother says. A pissing thin layer of the saddest slick. Even the road made visible underneath. Used to be you could die in a winter, wander right off the road and dead in a field before you had your second thought, but these days everyone gets to their destination. Have you ever arrived in a springtime with your entire family intact?

Julia PikeStudies