Many people know the feeling. You’re high up in the air, standing on top of a building or cliff and, even if you don’t want to, you’re compelled to look down at the drop before you. The wind is in your face and ears. Faint sounds travel up from the ground far below. Then suddenly you feel woozy, as if you’re going to topple over at any moment. It’s a relief to step back from the edge and be sure of the surface beneath your feet again. Unless that is, you’re Navid Baraty, a photographer who doesn’t take photos of the New York skyline so much as from up in the rooftops of this famous city. And he shows no fear, either!
To take these incredible shots of the intersections around Chelsea and Midtown New York, Baraty didn’t just look over the edge, he leaned over it – hovering over the abyss, with arms outstretched if necessary. What’s more, falling wasn’t his biggest fear. “I just lean over as much as I feel comfortable doing,” says the photographer. “My concern mainly is dropping my camera. I have it strapped around my arms pretty well in case it slips, [and] hopefully it won’t fall.”
Not so very long ago, you would have had to climb a mountain to get a view equivalent to this in terms of height. And even then, it’s unlikely that you would have been able to see such a straight vertical drop to the ground. Such a perspective on the world around us isn’t exactly natural – especially in our built environments – so perhaps it’s no wonder it makes us queasy at times. Still, it does give us a unique way of looking at part of a city we might (or might not) otherwise know well.
“Watching a city from above can reveal so much about its character,” Baraty explains. “I think that the pace of New York City is best seen from high above: the constant flow of taxis, the merging of traffic, the waves of pedestrians crossing at the change of traffic lights, and the sounds of honking horns and sirens.” It’s a sense of ceaseless bustle he’s certainly captured in these incredible photographs.
Looking down at scenes of people milling around buildings may remind some observers of ants, but the aerial view of this particular busy intersection makes us think more of a computer motherboard – albeit a very noisy and fast moving set of circuits! We can’t help but wonder where all those people are off to, and what they might think if they knew there was a lens in the sky pointed right at them. The way the scene below is reflected in the plate glass falling away from us is amazing here, too. It’s a near perfect mirror image!
Now this really is a vertigo inducing shot. Not only can we see straight down to the street below, but also off to the side, where the traffic shrinks to the size of colorful dust specks. As a measure of how truly far up we are, some of those tiny little white rectangles we can see towards the bottom right of the picture look like trucks or buses!
From great heights to, well, slightly less lofty elevations. In this photograph, we can see more clearly the yellow taxicabs New York is famous for, not to mention other little details – like people. Don’t feel too comforted by being closer to the ground, though. Even short falls can be deadly, especially if you land on your head! On a more positive note, we wonder if those cars are actually stopped at that crossing, or if they’re just frozen in time by the snap of the camera’s shutter.
Here’s an interesting shot. Look closely and you can see the cars from the street below reflected in the window of the building more immediately beneath us. And they look bigger! The real cars, on the other hand, appear tiny and so very far away. You certainly wouldn’t want to take a tumble from up here! And yet, surprisingly, people have survived falls from such great heights. In 2008, for example, a window cleaner in New York City lived to tell the tale after falling 47 stories! Not something we’d recommend trying to replicate, but incredible nevertheless.
These cars certainly look like they’re lined up in a nice and orderly fashion. You’ll probably notice, too, that a large proportion of them are yellow. Taxicabs are one of the easiest ways of getting around the densely populated sprawl that is NYC, and are recommended over driving, especially for visitors. Unless, of course, you can’t get one to stop, in which case the subway is probably a better bet! From up here, don’t the cabs look like little yellow pills? We could probably use one or two of them to calm our nerves!
Once again, we’re a bit closer to street level in this picture. It seems like quite a busy intersection over there on the left with all the people crossing. Meanwhile, over on the right (look closely!) it looks like someone is attempting to make a solo trip to the other side. Jaywalking in Manhattan is more common than people might suspect and, as long as some basic rules are followed, can also be relatively safe. Safer than leaning over tall buildings to take photos of pedestrians? We know which we’d sooner do!
Like a yo-yo, we’ve bounced back up to a great height once again. From up here, we can see a rooftop capped with some greenery (as well as what look like a few patches of vegetation further down). Growing flowers, fruit and vegetables is encouraged in New York City, with an increasing number of people taking to urban farming and the cultivation of rooftop gardens. For some, it might be a way to make a little money by selling their produce; for others, it simply brings a bit of nature into a busy city environment. Yet, whatever the reasons behind such green-fingered activity, from where we’re sat it looks like a good idea!
The intersections of this part of town certainly look like they’re bustling, even from up here. As photographer Baraty says, “Midtown is very busy and hectic during the day. There’s so much traffic and so many people and so much going on that you really see a lot from above. I like that aspect of it.” Us, too!
We’re getting a little more used to the virtual vertigo now. This is a good thing, of course, as it’s nice to be able to appreciate these photographs for the interesting slices of life they depict. “You get such a different perspective from above that you just don’t see on the street level,” says Baraty. “When you’re on the street it feels so chaotic and hectic, [and] there are people everywhere. When you’re above you feel so detached from everything and you can reflect on how the city flows.”
It certainly has been fun having a bird’s eye view – or in this case, a photographer-on-a-roof’s eye view – of this hectic but always fascinating city. Perhaps now that we’re done, you’d like to go back and spot a few details that we missed in these captivating pictures. They’re definitely worth the time it takes to peruse them.
Thank you to Navid Baraty for sharing his images with us. According to the photographer, he plans to take pictures from rooftops all over New York, and we look forward to seeing his next project.