Two of my very favorite things in the world are engineering (in a general sense, although I'm also very fond of engineers) and New York City. So when I saw the oversized book titled New York Rises, you know I was all over that.
It's a book of photographs taken by a man named Eugene de Salignac, who was not a famous or artiste photographer, but who worked for the New York City Department of Bridges during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Culled from a collection of twenty thousand eight-by-ten-inch glass negatives that had been sitting around in the basement of New York's Municipal Archives, this is a collection of photos of bridge-building, building building (the Municipal Building, to be exact), city inspectors doing their measuring and inspecting work, accident scenes, and city residents and workers during the Depression.
It's fantastic, absolutely fantastic. The photograph of men just starting excavation for a subway on Delancey Street was taken in 1908; in 2009, can you imagine starting a major subway building job with three or four guys just digging a big hole on the side of the street? And to give you an idea of the mettle of the man we're dealing with here, consider that some of his shots taken from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge were taken when he was 72 years old:
"One year from reluctant retirement, he climbed to the top of the tower holding an eight-by-ten-inch glass-plate camera and at least six sheets of glass. He probably had an assistant to help him with the equipment, which must have weighed about fifty pounds, but he still had to climb the towers himself. There is only one way to get to the top of those towers: to walk up the two-foot-wide cable from the roadway to the tower, 380 feet above the river." (p. 18.)
Get this book. It can be read in an hour, and it will leave you thinking about the beauty of building things for days.