Q & A: ‘New York: A Photographer’s City’

Laura van Straaten and John Farley |
Marla Hamburg Kennedy
Preface by Elisabeth Sussman
Publisher: Rizzoli New York
Publication Date: Spring 2011

Marla Hamburg Kennedy is a dealer, author, consultant, adviser for and collector of 20th and 21st century art with an emphasis on contemporary photography. Her latest book, “New York: A Photographer’s City,” is a collection of images taken almost exclusively after 9/11.

The last 10 years have been a time when photographers, like all New Yorkers, have been forced to come to terms with, and reimagine, New York in a new way. And, this new era too is one in which photographers that in the 20th century may have been pointing their cameras upward at the city’s great skyscrapers and vertical symbols of power have instead begun to view New York through a horizontal lens.

Q: There are a million photo books about New York, why’d you want to do another one and why now?

A: This is about photographers from all over the world looking at New York in a new way.  9/11 essentially coincided with the turn of a new century, a new eon. These collected works are meant to give a really fresh vision of New York with fresh post 9/11 eyes.  Not every single photo was taken afterwards, but most are.  And this is definitely not a 20th century black and white, vertical Manhattan view — New York as verticalness.  Elisabeth Sussman, who wrote the introduction, curated a famous show called “City of Ambition” at the Whitney.  This book is not about New York as the city of ambition.  I was going to call the book “Horizontal New York.”

Q: That makes me think I’m going to get a good look at a lot of New Yorkers in their beds!

A: Yes! (laughing)…As I looked at more and more pictures, I saw that so many artists are photographing not just the landmarks but way outside Manhattan, in all five boroughs.

Q: So is it that you’ve curated a less exoticized, touristic view of the city then —  more from the point of view of the people who live here?

A: Well, I think that a lot of work for a long time was about New York as an international city, a commercial city — again, a vertical city both literally and figuratively. The sky scrapers became symbolic of the aggressive, commercial, ambitious bent of the city.  And while that is certainly in play in New York today and in the book to some extent, this is a look at the city without all that mythologizing.   It’s how artists see it today.

Q: What role does new technology play with these works you’ve chosen?

A: This assemblage is concurrent with digital really taking over photography – there has just been a total paradigm shift in how photographs get made.  With all these different techniques and tools, it’s not about reportage any more. It’s not about documenting. There’s room for fiction.  It’s about fine artists using these digital techniques to offer their fine artist vision and viewpoints of New York.

Chi Peng's "The Day After Tomorrow." Photo courtesy of Rizzoli New York.

Q: As someone who bikes all around the city, I especially love the collection of abandoned bikes.

A: Those are by photographer John Glassie, who lives in the East Village and has a whole book called Bicycles Locked to Poles, from 2005.  It’s precisely the opposite of what you’d see in a 20th century collection about New York, the centerpiece of which might be a gorgeous photo of the empire state building.

John Glassie's "Bicycle #31," "Bicycle #77" and "Bicycle #34." Photos courtesy of Rizzoli New York.


Q: I didn’t see the poetry in all these broken-off bikes, chained to posts throughout the city and sort of melting into the pavement, until I saw them here, in this collection.

A: Exactly.

MetroFocus Editor in Chief Laura van Straaten conducted this interview, which has been edited and condensed. She originally met Marla Kennedy while both were living in Los Angeles in the early 1990s.


MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.


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