Descent into Insanity

A decent into insanity is a journey through a series of closed doors.

Each one unravelling more mind-chaos than the one before,

fragmenting and multiplying, paths with too many choices,

no same person can hold on to them all.

Worse still are the mirror shards, fractal facets, reflecting mosaic faces,

each one an individual but smeared and mingled in a confused sea of identity.

Who can survive such a storm intact?

Freedom Tunnel

I went exploring the so called Freedom Tunnel under Riverside Park in Manhattan one Saturday in June. This is named after the graffiti artist Chris “Freedom” Pape who used its walls as a canvas for some of his famous work. The tunnel is officially off limits nowadays. Being there amounts to trespassing since the land is owned by Amtrak and is also an active railway line. So of course I wasn’t there, and while I wasn’t there I managed (not) to get some shots of the decor inside the tunnel.

What makes it special in a way is that every 20-50 meters or so there is a skylight, or opening, in the roof.

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And the graffiti artists mostly placed their pieces to take advantage of the spotlighting effect. This leaves you, as a photographer, with a choice; do you expose for the light or for the shadow, or try some HDR effect. Personally I like dark negative spaces with strong colorful foreground elements:

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Apparently, many years ago during the 1980’s, the tunnel was an unofficial shelter to tribes of homeless people who felt safer below ground than on the often violent streets of New York City. They have gone now, and no traces of their brief existence remain, save the graffiti. Even that has been in part removed and subsequently painted over.

One hazard, should one choose to ignore advice and explore the passages, is the occasional train or Amtrak maintenance crew. You are pretty exposed when these guys come down the tunnel, despite the ample space each side of the tracks. Luckily, near the start there are some corrugated iron ‘features’ that serve as shelter, provided the crews are travelling northbound.

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Going further down the tunnel you get a sense of isolation that is rare in Manhattan. Though there are sounds from the street and park above because the skylights also allow sounds to filter down. Sometimes it does seem like the tunnel in inhabited, but somehow this did not seem at all creepy, though I would not want to be down here after dark.

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Be very careful before taking a shot like this – check well in advance for any train noises, and ensure nothing is coming. This shot gives a perspective on the geometry of the tunnel. You see it is about 5 meters high and maybe 20 meters wide. There are two tracks – presumably one Northbound and one Southbound. I was not sure what the middle rail was for. It doesn’t look like an electric rail since there were no insulators, but I wouldn’t recommend testing that theory out.

A view I particularly like is straight down the tunnel at a place with graffitti on each side:

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In summary, an interesting couple of hours (taking into account the time spent biking there from midtown and then finding the entrance (hint – it’s to the side of the 125th Street exit of the Henry Hudson Parkway)). Lots of photo opportunities and, if I’d had the time, I would have explored further to see if I could find any original Freedom graffiti works.

The Spirit of Water

Lukas and I spent half a day in Killin in a workshop with Dave Hunt, in which I learned that the sun does not always need to be shining to do photography. In fact, diffuse light is sometimes a distinct advantage. The other thing I learned is that capturing fast moving water can be fun, despite my dislike of cliche long exposure milky water images. I vowed never to do anything like that!

On a drizzly day in Scotland in a town that features a series of small cascading waterfalls as it’s main attraction it’s not too hard to see how that vow was broken. There are two ways to take pictures. One is to have a plan beforehand and the other is to engage in post-hoc rationalization.

At that particular moment I had no clear idea what I wanted to do. So I just looked through the viewfinder at the water. Then I started to imagine many strange creatures floating below me. Just like looking upwards and imagining shapes in the clouds (not possible on that particular day since the sky was a uniform grey). And then I thought about a simple project focussed on capturing these ‘water sprites’ as I saw them.

Water Sprite 4

Although I had a tripod with me, I was trying to make do with handheld as much as possible. And I had no Neutral Density filter anyway, so multi-second exposures were out of the question (note to self: get at least one ND filter before doing this again). So the challenge was to use as low a shutter speed as possible (image stabilized lenses help enormously here). In fact, I think it worked better since a tripod and ND filter would have probably led me to useing multi second exposures. Having an exposure round 1/4 to 1/10 second gave the shapes a coherence and structure that would otherwise be lost with longer shutter speeds.

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Further upstream we see them (the sprites) leaping over the rocks like salmon returning to their spawning grounds. You can see that it is a laboured course and the effort required to gain higher ground is energey sapping.

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As more and more attempt the journey then at least some of them make it to their final destination where they blossom into phantasmic glory and reveal their true form.

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Before they finally spawn and die amongst the still, calmer waters of the upstream rock pools.

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