Superheroes and window washers aside, most New Yorkers don't spend much time leaning off rooftops 50 stories above the ground. But the view straight down is fairly spectacular.
It's a side of the city most people never see in quite this way, which is one of the reasons Navid Baraty's series of photos ended up on the walls of the Bowling Green subway station as part of the MTA’s Arts for Transit program.
Baraty found the inspiration for the photos 6,000 miles away, while having lunch in a skyscraper in Tokyo. "I looked straight down and saw an amazing geometric pattern on the Tokyo street scene," he says. "I realized that the scene really said a lot about the character of Japan. The order and geometry of the perfectly parallel lines, precise angles and thoughtful proportion were a reflection of the society’s meticulous attention to detail and artistic presentation. I wanted to continue the series when I moved to New York City."
As he dangled over the edges of building rooftops, Baraty felt like he was seeing the heart of the city. "After seeing countless skyline photos of New York, I found that the real life of the city can best be captured by pointing the lens straight down from high above," he says.
"You feel the energy and flow of the city—the constant stream of yellow taxis lining the avenues, the waves of pedestrians hurriedly crossing at the change of traffic signals, little figures disappearing into the subway stations, the chorus of honking horns and sirens."
At Bowling Green in Manhattan, a station that 25,000 people pass through every day, the exhibit’s getting attention. "People will stop in their tracks and take a closer look—there is a lot of detail in these photos, and the angle of looking downward takes a second to come into sharp focus," says Lester Burg, who manages the Arts for Transit program.
The station is one of four major stops throughout the city where the MTA hangs large-scale photos as part of the Lightbox Project. "We try to find work that will hold the viewer’s interest over repeated viewings, and which has something to say about the neighborhood, the area or the people who use the station," Burg says. "In this location, we try to show a part of New York not often seen."