The other permanent fixture of almost any constructed environment is advertising. New York has a particularly good share of places for advertising to go — from Times Square type digital displays, through lurid neon, to straightforward billboards.
Photography has an interesting relationship with advertising. Many of the greats made their living making pictures for advertisements. Ads are often driven by photography — even in the era of ubiquitous video a strong image can be the hook. These days of course, the two have collided on Instagram: photographers “collaborate” with brands rather than shoot advertising pictures for them, lending their personal credibility and reach to commercial aims. The photography and the photographer and the brand get entangled and difficult to separate: is the advert art, is the art advertising?
This particular billboard had been cleared recently, but the marks left behind painted a kind of skyline on to it, in front of the nearby buildings and very real skyline of midtown. The squat feeling brick buildings and sleek apartment buildings of the area seem somewhere more real than the towering skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, and the shadow reflects that.
The photo was taken from The Highline, a genuinely wonderful re-purposing of the meatpacking district’s industrial past, and a very pleasant way to walk through the city. As well as being a green space, it is home to a rotating variety of sculpture and installation art. Seeing the containers under the unintentional art of the empty billboard seemed like a fitting credit to the industry that is still very much present in Manhattan. And of course, there’s a flag. There is always a flag in America.