New York City is usually thought of as a grey industrial city, but its many parks infuse a dash of green into a New Yorker’s life. The parks provide us with a social space to meet new people, catch up with old friends, play sports, go for a run, listen to live music or watch live theater. The parks can also be a haven from our busy city lives allowing us a moment of solitude to be alone with nature, suntan, take a nap, read a book or simply breathe some fresh air.
Over the last four years I have studied the intersection between nature and Manhattan through the parks of New York City. This series of photographs was taken between 2006-2010 in parks all over Manhattan. I chose to focus on parks only in Manhattan because I wanted to illustrate the amazing green spaces in the city, proving that one does not even have to venture out of Manhattan to feel at one with nature. Central Park is New York’s oldest and largest landscaped park, and when you walk through it, it is easy to forget that you are still in the city. Non-endemic trees and plants were brought into the park by Olmstead and Vaux in the mid 19th Century to create the park, with little thought to environmental concerns. New York’s newest park, The Highline, was built on a dilapidated out-of-use elevated railroad track. This park, unlike Central Park, embraces the city around it and is designed to interact with the architecture and landscape of the city. Many might think of Central Park as the more “natural” park, but The Highline was actually landscaped with plants and wildflowers that naturally grow in the area, and uses solar panels to power the lights in the park. The Highline makes no pretense of being a natural landscape, but it is in fact greener, in the eco-friendly sense, than Central Park. This juxtaposition of new and old, landscaped and endemic nature, made me question what is Natural Manhattan?
This photo essay explores the idea of authenticity in nature. By mixing delicate details and larger landscapes I question the idea of what is real nature and why is it important to have in urban environments. Many of the images from the essay at first glance do not appear to have been taken in Manhattan, but upon closer inspection details such as skyscrapers and lampposts identify the images as uniquely New York. I was inspired by the William Blake quote, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the street.” There is a tranquility and beauty that can be found only in nature and is not usually found in the heart of the city. The photos show the balance of nature and New York: in a vast landscape of trees thousands of people congregate with a backdrop of skyscrapers, and birds nest and find their home in landscaped nature. These images are meant not only to make the viewer question our use and relationship to nature in Manhattan, but also the very meaning of what nature is in the City. These images show the intersection of grey and green, man and nature, manufactured and authentic—they are Natural Manhattan.