New York New York by Richard Berenholtz, by James Tooley. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2014. 240 pp. $50 (hardcover).
A photograph Richard Berenholtz took on Fifth Avenue serves as a microcosm of his remarkable book New York New York. The worm’s-eye image features the sculpture of Atlas at Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral across the street, and the neighboring Olympic Tower (p. 51)—that is, a widely recognized work of art and a prominent church alongside a relatively inconspicuous Manhattan skyscraper.
Originally published in 2002, and reformatted in 2014 as a midsized book with several new images, New York New York is chock-full of Berenholtz’s multifaceted photographs of objects and scenes in the Big Apple. Berenholtz is a fourth-generation New Yorker and an architect turned professional photographer who has produced multiple books showcasing his photographs of the city, including one with an Art Deco theme. But New York New York is his best seller for good reasons.
“I love this city, from the smallest carving of an angel on a brownstone facade to the golden light reflecting off the glass wall of towering skyscrapers at sunrise, to the silhouetted miles of glittering skyline at dusk,” Berenholtz writes in his introduction, setting the tone for what is to come (p. 17). The book’s subjects range from an ornamental wrought iron railing at the Dakota apartment building (p. 141), to elaborately designed clocks on building exteriors that passers-by may overlook, to iconic structures such as the Empire State Building (pp. 29–31), to the Brooklyn Bridge (pp. 204–5)—conveying everything from minute details to massive monuments throughout the city.
Berenholtz devotes series of pages to images of celebrated structures and well-known places such as Grand Central Terminal and Central Park. Although these are common subjects for photographers and have been shot from every conceivable perspective, Berenholtz often manages to capture unique views of them. For example, his close-up photos of the Statue of Liberty—of her fingers, ears, and other body parts, right down to their rivets—are spectacular and unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere.
Among the many smaller structures in less-traveled settings captured in New York New York are the Bayard-Condict Building (pp. 138–39) on Bleecker Street, with its ornately sculpted parapet of angels and lion heads, and the quaint, flower-lined courtyard at Pomander Walk (p. 145), an Upper West Side apartment complex. One simple yet bold photo looks up at the Puck Building, a rich redbrick, seven-story structure on Lafayette Street with a dramatic, sage-green fire escape (pp. 132–33).
The book features several spectacular photos that include the patina-green Statue of Liberty set harmoniously against a purplish-pink night sky (pp. 25–26). Another photo captures a panorama of a fiery red sunset stretched over the Whitestone Bridge (pp. 193–97).
New York New York’s photography spans 1984 to 2013 and reveals many changes in the city. And this fourth edition of the book includes a number of new photos: of High Line Park (p. 123), a former railroad trestle transformed into a lavish green walkway in 2009; of the new Yankee Stadium (pp. 164–65); and of the twin skyscrapers of Time Warner Center (p. 180).
The starkest change to be found among the images is, of course, the loss of the Twin Towers. These once tallest buildings in the city still make cameo appearances in some pre-2001 photos in the latest edition. In later images, they have been replaced by One World Trade Center, the skyscraper that is the centerpiece of a series of new photographs.
The quality and range of the photographs in New York New York are further augmented by its thoughtful and creative layout. In addition to single-page photos and centerfolds, the book includes several gatefolds of two and four pages as well as grids of multiple images spread across one or two pages. One outstanding shot is a panoramic centerfold of the Manhattan Bridge illuminated at dusk, with the Woolworth Building, Twin Towers, and the rest of Lower Manhattan’s pre-2001 skyline as backdrop (pp. 198–99).
As an architectural photographer, Berenholtz takes close-ups that provide great insights into the intimate characteristics of buildings—many of which are high above street level, such as the neo-Gothic spire of the 57-story Woolworth Building (p. 191) and the intricate terra-cotta design at the top floors of the 23-story 90 West Street building (p. 212). The crowns of several buildings are juxtaposed in grids of two to four vertical photos, such as those of the Bryant Park Hotel, Ansonia Hotel, Flatiron Building, and Citicorp Center that are laid out across two pages (pp. 188–89). And Berenholtz often takes us indoors to see the details of treasures such as the Art Deco lobby of the Chrysler Building (pp. 36–37), the spiral ramp and glass ceiling of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (p. 93), and the 19th century-style barroom at McSorley's Old Ale House (p. 121).
Berenholtz loves New York, and he is explicit about his recognition of and appreciation for the fact that it is a wholly man-made value. “When I walk this city, I delight in looking skyward,” he writes. “Admiring the view from below, I marvel at the sheer scale and expression of what mankind has chosen to create” (p. 17). His admiration of this great city is underscored by certain subjects he chose not to represent in his book. It includes no images of New York’s dilapidated buildings, graffiti-marred walls, or crumbled streets. Berenholtz includes only the kinds of grand images mentioned above and those of well-maintained brownstones (p. 142), beautiful subway mosaics (pp. 156–57), and the brightly lighted streets of Times Square (pp. 116–17). Thematically, Berenholtz’s approach is to showcase what is great and distinctive about the city, as evidenced by his bringing many lesser-known yet interesting buildings, works of art, and places to the fore. His is a romanticized vision of New York, of what the city is at its best, and of what the city as a whole should be.
As he writes:
I hope the photographs in this book will inspire both long-time residents as well as first-time visitors to look more closely at New York and to discover places and details they may have overlooked or taken for granted. We are never too young or too old to be surprised, and New York, if nothing else, is a city full of surprises. (p. 17)
Many people apparently share Berenholtz’s vision. More than 133,000 copies of New York New York’s collective editions have sold, making it one of the best-selling books of its kind. Pick up a copy. You’ll be delighted.