Charles Hagen / Andy Grundberg
Why do we look at photographs, or any images? Why do we like to have them around? Pictures resonate with possible meaning, allow us to create webs of information, emotions, memories. Photographs, as a particular kind of picture, can describe the world in dense detail even as they open fabrics of expression.
Andy Grundberg and I have been friends for many years. What brought us together in the 1970s was a shared interest in photographs and the ways they provide understanding and beauty. Andy and I wrote extensively about photography, then coming into its own as a branch of the art world.
Alongside our work as writers Andy and I were avid photographers. The photo here, from 1977, is one of Andy’s earliest works. The scene is of a section of Manhattan that has long since been built over: the sliver of lower Manhattan, on the west side, that later served as the foundation of Battery Park City.
But when Andy made this picture the area had not yet been developed. Much of the site was covered in sand, forming a makeshift urban beach. Artists and dancers would present performances on the site; downtown residents would come out at the end of the day and play volleyball as the sun set over the Hudson. Andy’s photo offers other meanings as well: the distant cluster of bathers suggests a flock of birds about to take flight.
This photograph serves various functions for me. It evokes a time and place in my own history; soon after the photo was made I moved to New York from Rochester and sublet a loft on Duane Street, a few blocks north. The photograph bears witness to an earlier New York, and points ahead to a painful future chapter of the city’s history: when the picture was taken the matching towers of the World Trade Center were still standing.
But the photo also testifies to my long and continuing friendship with Andy. When he gave me the print several years ago I was delighted. It now hangs in our loft, reminding me of an important place and time in my life.
“The Collector” is an ongoing series in which I ask people to talk about a painting or a drawing they own. See other installments here.
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