In 1983, French photographer Simon Chaput arrived in New York City for a weeklong trip, and ended up staying for nearly 35 years. From the 1980s to the 2010s, he worked closely with the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, helping them realize various projects around the world, from “The Umbrellas” (1984–1991) in California and Japan to “The Floating Piers” (2014–2016) in Italy. Along the way, in 1984, Chaput met the artist and sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who recognized Chaput’s love of photography—Chaput had been passionate about the medium since childhood, but had long stopped taking pictures—and encouraged him to get back into it. Chaput later channeled his admiration for the city and its chaotic energy into a long-term series of photographs entitled “New York,” which he began in 1996, that chronicled the developing built environment of Lower Manhattan.
Among the collection of striking black-and-white pictures are those of the twin towers. The geometric compositions exemplify Chaput’s inventive use of negative space and flair for unusual angling, and despite any familiarity with what’s being depicted, can prompt viewers to look twice. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we spoke with Chaput, who’s now based in Miami, about his fascination with the iconic skyscrapers and how his emotions around his images of them have evolved over time.
What initially drew you to the twin towers?
I moved to New York from a rural village in France, and had never seen such tall buildings. Every time I walked out of my apartment or down a street, or flew back to New York from a trip, I’d see the towers, and know that I was home. They became emblematic of New York for me, and represented the energy, the diverse people, the excitement, and all of the possibilities of the city. Like totems, in a way.
The buildings were already completed when I arrived, but nothing around them was. I’d go back to look at them regularly, and to see how the light was hitting the structures. I just thought their architecture was extraordinary. I was attracted to their appearance, as well as the way they interacted with the whole downtown scene.
How did you go about photographing them?
Capturing these images was a love letter to the buildings and the city for me. It was very important that I only photographed them on very sunny days with blue skies, because I didn’t want anything to look like a landscape. When the sky has no clouds, I can play with the image using filters, and turn [certain areas] black, dark gray, or whatever color I need. There’s not a cloud in the sky in any of these images, or in any of my work, actually, so everything just looks like sculptures.
Looking at the pictures after the attacks, how did your view of them change?
They definitely became closer to my heart than they were before. As an artist, I’m grateful that I was able to have time to shoot the towers in a unique way before they were destroyed. On a personal level, they make me appreciate being alive, because 9/11 was a sad day of loss and devastation for so many people.
I was in France when it happened. When I was finally able to fly back to New York, I looked for the towers from the window of the plane. That was a hard moment. Their absence made the horrific tragedy feel real, and made me question what was next for New York, and for humanity.
Several years passed before you were ready to revisit these images. When you finally displayed them, how did people respond?
Some people were immediately happy to admire the beauty of the towers, and to see the photographs as a way to honor those we lost that day. For others, it was too soon to be reminded of the emotional aspects of 9/11, as the towers had come to represent tragedy. We all heal in different ways, and at different paces.
I think it gets easier, with each passing year, for [more people] to have a positive response to my photographs, and to feel less sadness, and more reverence, for the buildings. I hope they convey the inherent strength and beauty of the towers, of New Yorkers, and of the spirit of the city.
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If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, better to be held in the warm focus of Steve McQueen’s gaze than one more narroSmall Axe, his enthralling new five-film anthology now streaming in the U.S. on Amazon Prime Video (and available in the U.K. on
This year has driven many of us to create a de facto home spa—steeping in long, leisurely baths for solace. One such batEkin Balcıoğlu, a Taos, New Mexico–based artist and the founder and editor-in-chief of Hamam, a new quarterly print publication about the culture of bathing that will release its second issue later this month. Hamam, while bursting with originality, has parallels to Wet magazine, the subversive, now-defunct cult classic founded in 1976 by Leonard Koren (who was the guest on Ep. 78 of our At a Distance podcast) that explored pleasure and play through a loosely water-themed lens.
In 2018, when writer Amitav Ghosh appeared at the Brooklyn Public Library to discuss his book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Joel Whitney, who manages arts and culture programs at the institution, took note. “I was surprised by Amitav’s main iClimate Reads book club, a yearlong digital initiative launched by Whitney’s department and the advocacy group Writers Rebel NYC earlier this fall, suggests otherwise, with climate-focused fiction titles including Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad, The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel, and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk on its roster. The club plans to tackle a handful of nonfiction books, too, such as The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming by the late Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, and Why We Swim—the focus of next month’s meeting—by swimmer and surfer Bonnie Tsui.
Sometimes—especially in moments of political strife, pandemics, hurricanes, or all of the above—a television plotline caWatch a train wend its way around the fjords and farms of the Norwegian countryside over the course of seven hours, or see a sweater get made, in the time of a typical work day, from A to Z (beginning with shearing a sheep’s wool), set to the tune of cheery foldogs frolicking on a beach, a meandering stroll among flowering cherry blossoms in Japan, and a sailing trip to Tobago, accompanied by the soothing sounds of waves lapping against a boat’s exterior. The format can arguably be traced to n1963 film “Sleep” consisted entirely of his lover, the poet and performance artist John Giorno, napping. Regardless of its subject matter
For those of us who are lucky enough to have a full plate right now, consider helping those who don’t. One avenue for alCoalition for the Homeless, forced to cancel its annual fall fundraising gala due to the pandemic, is launching the Artist Plate Project, a limited-edition collection of porcelain platters depicting works by 50 legendary artists, including Tauba Auerbach, Ep. 25 of our Time Sensitive podcast). The series will be available on the organization’s website beginning Nov. 16. Profits from the heirloom-worthy tableProspect, will go toward serving the 59,000 New Yorkers who currently live in shelters or who struggle to survive on streets andA recent study by Columbia University predicts that homelessness will increase by 40 to 45 percent within the next year due to Covid-19—making the coalition’
Durham, North Carolina–based journalist and filmmaker Saleem Reshamwala has been particularly productive of late: In addBecoming America anthology, he’s host of the TED podcast Pindrop and a mentor to emerging Asian and Asian-American filmmakers through a new fellowship program called The Sauce.