Photo-impressions: American urban architecture and street lights

Music and architecture are connected. When I hear some genres of music I think of architecture, cityscapes and streetscapes.

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin makes me think of New York in the 1920s and 1930s. The opening clarinet rising to a high note conjures up a picture of the Chrysler Building. My viewpoint rises from street level right up to the top of the building, with the 1930s Manhattan skyline visible beyond. I feel I have a connection with the New York of that time as my father lived there from around 1929 to 1931.

A Kind of Blue, the album by Miles Davis, also gives me strong visual associations with Manhattan in the 1950s. The album was recorded in 1959 in New York. When I hear it I can see a yellow cab making its way uptown by mostly empty warehouses.

Does my mental association come from a magical quality of the music to capture the essence of time and place, or is it just that I know it was recorded in New York at around this time? I think it could be a bit of both.

Another group that for me capture the atmosphere of New York is Weather Report. They recorded in the 1970s and 80s and that’s the era I think of. I was in New York in summer 1981, around 50 years after my father was there. When I listen to Weather Report, I can see yellow cabs, the subway, the Twin Towers, the streets and highways.

There is a quality of nostalgia, like the films of Elliott Bristow, with whom I worked when I was in New York. There’s a frustration with taking photos today. The USA of today is quite different from the one we have in our minds from times past.

The Best Of Weather Report album cover

The cover of the album ‘The Best of Weather Report’ has a remarkable photograph that completely echoes the images in my mind. It looks to me like it was taken on the West Side Highway at a traffic intersection. It must be looking west, as it appears to be a dusk sky.

On a visit to New York and Philadelphia, I took photos in a similar style to the Weather Report album cover. I’ve always found street lighting to be an important part of the cityscape and very visually interesting, especially at nightfall when the lights start to glow against the dusk sky.

These photos are not going to win any photography prizes. I don’t take photos to win prizes or to make money. I take photos to capture my mental impressions and make them visible to others.

All photos taken on the Canon 550D digital SLR camera with the Tamron 16-300mm zoom lens.

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Photo Essay: Silhouetted Scenes at Dusk

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Wellington Grove off the A6 in south Stockport, silhouetted rooftops and street lamp at dusk

I love the effect of dusk light, when street lights, buildings are cast into shadow and appear silhouetted against the sky.

In the urban landscape of northern England, many of these buildings remind us of the past. Modern elements such as cars and fashions are excluded. We can only imagine what is in the black areas, it could be from the present or from our memories of the past. The sky is full of atmosphere, enhancing the nostalgic effect.

In this photo, taken from bus stop near where we live, a 50s style street lamp appears on the left, whilst the rooftops slope down from the corner of the picture. The chimney stacks look mostly as they did 100 years ago, except that there is no smoke.

Aerials are pointed north towards Winter Hill. Cables stretched over the street carry phone and internet communications. In a few minutes time the pink sky will have turned dark.

When photographing for silhouettes, it may be necessary to reduce the exposure compensation to minus one or possibly two. Here, there was an area of sky in the centre of the picture, so it wasn’t necessary. If the are had been dark, the camera would have tried to lighten the picture.

Silhouetted shapes generally look better when sharp, and so a narrower aperture will be better. This photo was taken at aperture f11, shutter speed 125th of a second, ISO800.

Atmospheric sky with street lamp and telegraph pole, Cheadle Heath, Stockport

The light in this photo was especially atmospheric, with dark clouds above and bright sunlight peeping below the clouds behind the house.

Even in the age of satellites, wireless hotspots and fiber-optic cables, 19th century telegraph poles continue in use. The street lamp almost looks as if it has already switched on, but it’s just a trick of the light.

This photo is taken in Cheadle Heath, on Kensington Road, near where I grew up as a child.

Stockport Edgeley spire of St Matthews church silhouetted against a rainy sky

This is the view from Platform 4 at Stockport’s Edgeley Station. I took the photo of the spire of St Matthew’s church, Edgeley after a heavy shower.

The spire of St Georges Church south Stockport silhouetted against a dusk sky

When silhouetted against the dusk sky, the spire of St George’s Church, Heaviley, Stockport looks exactly the same as when it was completed, in 1897. The angle emphasises the flying buttresses at the base of the spire. At the very top, the weather cock faces to the west. The spire is 238 feet high.

The tower of Birkenhead town hall silhouetted at dusk

Birkenhead Town Hall ahs a distinctive shape with a dome at the top. Nearby are the rooftops of the houses on Hamilton Square, and there is a flag, though it’s impossible to make out what flag is is. A visually fascinating element of the clock tower is the clock face, lit from behind. The time is 6.20pm.

Capture details: 1/125s f5.6 ISO800, 31 Dec 2005, 18:11:26.

Liverpool Municipal Buildings and the Unity Building silhouetted at dusk, seen from St John's Gardens

The view from St Johns Gardens, Liverpool faces towards the west and often the skyline is silhouetted. Here the tower of the Municipal Buildings on Dale Street points up into the dusk sky. On the right, a modern element is introduced.

It’s the Unity Building, the prestigious residential building, completed 2007. In the middle one of the high level lights illuminating the entrance to the Kingsway Tunnel.

Manchester Holy Name Church, Oxford Road seen against a dusk sky with tree branches

Manchester’s Holy Name church is seen here through trees and silhouetted against a reddish-purple dusk sky. The tree branches look like lace. The outline of the church is similar to a French cathedral.

I added a black border to enhance the silhouetted effect. It recaptures the excitement of viewing Kodachrome transparencies against the light. On the reverse side it was possible to see the imprint of shapes in the picture, caused by unevenness of the emulsion. This photo was taken on a digital camera, probably the Nikon Coolpix 990, on 22 March 2003.

It is impossible to take this view now. University buildings were constructed on the car park behind the trees.

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