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One Pic Every 100 Steps on the Island | DesignNotes by Michael Surtees

One Pic Every 100 Steps on the Island

One Pic Every 100 steps (Hudson River to East River via 34th Street-42nd Street)

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one pic every 100 steps map

It’s been a long time since I’ve had more than a couple days off so I was really excited to take advantage of the great NYC weather this weekend. For a while now I been inspired by a photo idea that my friend Jody tried a couple months ago. After having some free time b/c her car broke down she decided to explore the area taking a photo every 60 steps. You can see her results at http://tinyurl.com/66h57f. Using that idea as a launching point, I wondered how I could capture a bit of the island I live on in an unexpected way. Thinking back to my New York City Colour Study and the constraints that I put on that, I thought it might be interesting to do the opposite of looking up. The sidewalks in Manhattan are incredibly unique every couple of feet. The wear and tear that goes on creates a fascinating pattern in the concrete. If I were to only take images of the ground I was curious to see the flowing patterns afterwards when all the images were put together.

Once I had the idea of just shooting the ground I had to figure out where I would go, and what the exact number of steps it would be. Another concept I’ve been thinking about are peoples travel roots. Whether it’s someone walking their dog or how someone gets to work these patterns when documented create interesting paths. As for a land mass I wanted to document a route that would be kind of interesting to see from above. What better plot then to go from one side of Manhattan to the other – west to east, Hudson River to the East River. I also choose a couple pretty well know streets, I wanted to see from a ground level some of the intertwining politics of the city. What buildings made it on to 34th street – where did 42nd st lead to? So on a sunny Sunday morning I found out. All that was left to decide was the number of steps. I didn’t want to do sixty b/c it had already been done, and on the map the distance looked a bit too long for a shot every sixty steps. I ended up on an easy number of 100, fifty steps per foot. Seemed to make sense.

I’ve read how people get caught up in the anonymity of walking on the sidewalks here, basically there’s so many people that you just get sucked into the mass. That wasn’t necessarily the case when I started walking and stop, shoot and move on. There were a lot of people wondering what the hell I was doing. Over the journey there were girls that followed me, tourists shaking their head, police officers keeping a close eye and of course others that looked right through me. After a while I was able to ignore some of the distractions but it wasn’t something that I was expecting. I also had to learn how to walk in a manner where I would get behind some slow people. Otherwise I would be going in front/behind them for a couple blocks as I would take a picture move a head and then stop again through an endless cycle.

The sidewalk never failed to give me something unique to capture. It wasn’t the cleanest canvas but with some cropping and choice compositions it wasn’t hard to find a great mark in concrete. If there was one minor surprise, it was that I didn’t end up shooting too many images of the street. Once I got back in front of my computer I measured the distance which ended up being five miles. It seemed like a quick five miles to be honest. The other interesting stat worth noting was I ended up taking 102 images. That’s interesting when I consider I took an image every 100 steps over a five mile distance. As I mentioned before I was curious to see how all the images would look together as I stitched them above. To me it looks like an abstract image of the ground that you would see from inside an airplane. Looking at the images via a monitor I don’t think is the best way to experience this set. If I were to blow up the scale to three or four times the size of a billboard the effect would be quite intense. You can see the entire set of images at http://tinyurl.com/5uzcad Walking home I was really happy not to need to count to a hundred in my head. I liked the results and I may try it again with a different routes. As a general discovery of different narratives via constrained rules I’m enjoy the discovery so far.

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  • http://www.iamtheweather.com seanaes

    this is really wonderful. it fits nicely with the sky photographs. teasing the interestingness out of the expansiveness above and the relentless concrete below is really well done.

  • mxaxm

    So beautiful!

  • http://www.kimfromdallas.com kim

    This is such a great idea, and what a nice outcome. I'll be looking at my walk to work in a different way now, for sure!

  • http://designnotes.info/ michaelsurtees

    cool to hear