Photographer Joel Sternfeld gave a lecture on Wednesday night titled What the High Line Meant and Means to Me. Currently there is still a half-mile section of the structure that has not been turned into a public park, because ownership of the property is still in limbo. The organization Friends of the High Line have been running a series of programs to draw public awareness to their cause, ultimately attempting to gain control of the section so it is not lost to developers. To further support this cause, Sternfeld showed a slide presentation spanning from his childhood in Belle Harbor, Queens to his most recent work, detailing his poetic love affair with the urban environment and the motivation behind his work. Most significantly, his 2001 book Walking the High Line, shot over a year (2000-2001) on the then undeveloped, overgrown rail structure that snakes above the west side of Manhattan. The book also includes a brief history of the High Line itself written by Adam Gopnik, which details the sites progression from a freight train track to its abandonment and its current resurrection as a public park.
Known as an early adopter of color photography, in his lecture Sternfeld showed how critical seasonality and light is to his photos, none of which could be documented without color. Instead of the over saturated images the contemporary eye is used to seeing, he relies on his own studied knowledge of color theory to compose each image. His palette is rooted in the Bauhaus concept of balancing color density, which is one of the most identifying elements of his landscapes and portraits.
Standing next to a large screen at the 14th Street entrance to the park Sternfeld went through his High Line images, explaining the process of the project he so lovingly undertook. Relying on neutral skies to showcase the beauty of time passing through the seasons, capturing everything from a blooming patch of grape hyacinth amid tall grass to a tiny Christmas tree that sat in a patch of cleared snow. The composition of all the images in Walking the High Line centers on a ‘path’ he followed along the abandoned railway, evidence of a forgotten journey that had been overshadowed by grasses and trees, but could still be traced by less dense patches of flora, or even different types of grass running parallel to the barely visible rails. Sternfeld mused about his childhood in Queens at a time when undeveloped lots were common, where children had the freedom to explore spaces that were unaffected by development, and even pointed out a woman in the crowd that had been his prom date in high school, nodding in agreement. To Sternfeld, the High Line is an extraordinary example of how the urban environment co-exists with both nature and time, moving and shifting along together.
Up-coming programs include gardening workshops, stargazing with the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York and screenings of movies (Some Like it Hot and Strangers on a Train are on the calendar for next two Fridays- both train themed movies). Most of the programs are free and open to the public. A full schedule can be found here.