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A new look at New York City

Brigid Mangano | Monday, November 21, 2011

New York City is one of the most iconic metropolitan cities in the United States. Destinations such as Time Square, Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, Ground Zero and St. Patrick’s Cathedral have been photographed ad infinitum. In “Over Under Sideways Down: 15 Shots Snapped in New York City,” Louis MacKenzie, Chair of the  Department of Music and Associate Professor of French, eschews the Big Apple’s monumental buildings and universally recognizable sites. With his discerning eye for playful juxtapositions of light and shadow, Mackenzie finds beauty in everything from fire escapes and traffic lights to graffiti and subway stations.

On display at the Gallery at the Foundry through Dec. 30, the exhibition invites visitors to join Mackenzie as he meanders throughout New York City. Ever since his childhood, Mackenzie has enjoyed riding the New York subway to nowhere in particular, exiting at randomly chosen stops and exploring unfamiliar neighborhoods. This has not only allowed Mackenzie to develop an expert knowledge of the city’s railway routes, but also has exposed him to aspects of city life that often pass unnoticed by tourists and native New Yorkers alike.

Mackenzie’s perceptiveness and attention to detail came through in “From the High Line,” a photograph taken from New York City’s newest public park, which was built atop an inoperative freight track elevated above traffic in Manhattan’s West Side. Mackenzie was there when the High Line officially opened on June 9, 2009. His photograph depicts a faded brick building with arched windows and zigzagging fire escapes. The most striking thing about the photo is the shadow of the ladder rungs falling upon the façade, which creates an attractive pattern of parallel lines that complement the strong diagonals of the fire escape.     

Fire escapes also make an appearance in “Mott Street,” but here the effect is totally different. In this photograph, the viewer is arrested not by patterns of light and shadow, but rather by the building’s brilliant colors. The brick exterior was painted bright red, while the ornate window trim was brushed by an eye-catching banana yellow and the fire escapes an attractive turquois-green. In addition, the windowpanes reflect the blue of the sky, making it easy to forget that the panes are actually transparent. Mackenzie’s tight framing of this shot (neither the street level nor the roof are visible) prevent anything from distracting the viewer from this explosion of vibrant color.

Color is also a central component of “Franklin Street,” a photograph of a subway entrance with a cyan blue building as its backdrop, and “Elizabeth Street,” a photograph of a graffiti-covered brick wall. In the latter, the graffiti artist paints a tree in autumn and an inverted cityscape whose buildings are as tilted as the Tower of Pisa. Viewers will feel an urge to twist their heads sideways in order to get a better look at the painted skyline.  

For anyone who loves New York City or who hopes to visit this cultural capital someday, “Over Under Sideways Down” offers a unique opportunity to see New York through the eyes of a talented photographer and lifelong Big Apple enthusiast.