I love the (relatively) new billboard on the High Line, which is part of the park’s great public art program. Joel Sternfeld selected Robert Adams’ black & white photograph of a highway in Nebraska, titled “Nebraska State Highway 2, Butte County” and it will remain on the billboard over the giant parking lot on 18th Street until the end of this month.
The High Line’s website explains that Adams made this image in 1978 “as part of a survey to discover how the grand landscapes of the western United States had been shaped, in ways both subtle and dramatic, by human development.” The empty road makes a strong contrast with our own “grand landscape” of Manhattan, towering majestically above Tenth Avenue where an endless stream of taxis, cars, motorcycles, trucks, bicycles, pedicabs, razors, and dudes on skateboards goes rolling by, day and night.
But I noticed something else when I looked at some photographs I took a few weeks ago: you can see the shadows of people walking along the High Line in the photograph. I have no idea if this was intentional, but Sternfeld understands better than anyone the way the sunlight dances on and around this park.
So there we are, walking along Robert Adams’ deserted Nebraska highway: yet another connection the High Line makes for us between the canyons of Manhattan and the prairies of the American west.
There was a beautiful, Sternfeldian sky above Manhattan this afternoon, and even though I had work to do I grabbed my camera and hit the High Line. There I found the striking Robert Adams billboard that just went up yesterday, which is part of a new outdoor photography exhibit that Joel Sternfeld is curating. You can read about it here, on the High Line’s website. The photo is called Nebraska State Highway 2, Box Butte County, and it conjures the prairie grasses that are in such wonderful abundance now (you can practically smell the cilantro of the prairie dropseed from the street below). It also puts a midwestern highway parallel to Tenth Avenue, which makes sense in a weird way when you consider that “cowboys” rode down these streets beginning in the 1840s.
The High Line is beautiful all the time, but on gray, rainy days, it has a particular magic. Sternfeld told Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, the great New York City conservationist, that he only shot photos on days when the sky was a neutral gray. “I wanted it to be clear in the pictures that if there was glory in the High Line, it wasn’t due to my skill as a photographer. By not borrowing beauty from the sky, the High Line itself is what is important in the picture.” You can read the whole interview here.
So today it was a Sternfeld sky over an Adams photograph. The High Line brings the prairie to Manhattan, and on a rare, rainy, August day, it was a treat to behold.