Christopher Thomas: New York at Dawn

The Plaza Hotel (Christopher Thomas/Prestel)

For two years in 2008 to 2009, German advertising photographer Christopher Thomas spent protracted periods of time in New York. He routinely rose before dawn, headed out with a tripod mounted large format camera and photographed the city in a dim, emergent light – without its inhabitants.

Bow Bridge, Central Park (Christopher Thomas/Prestel)

In his pictures New York’s world of infrastructure, streets, buildings, bodies of water and monuments are strangely silent. The city of people is out of sight. This is a record of things seen by an insomniac flaneur[1] with a recording device – although this project is clearly rigorous and planned and not derived from happen-stance.

Brooklyn Bridge (Christopher Thomas/Prestel)

The photographer made around eighty pictures with a Linhof Technika 4/5[2] loaded with Polaroid 55[3] positive/negative black and white peel apart 4 x 5 inch film. Both stand for a high point in the development of analogue landscape and architectural photography: the large format, technical folding camera and an accompanying film of choice which produced a richly toned negative and positive at the same time. The pictures were printed at large format (1016mm x 1422mm) on Arches cold pressed Rag Paper for an exhibition, a limited edition of prints and for a book.[4]

Terminal, Central Railway of New Jersey (Christopher Thomas/Prestel)

The portfolio of pictures underscores the particular way of being-in-the-world that is manifested through constructed things and the sense of temporality inherent in aggregations of built things. Although human presence is not literal, it is implied as if an aura.

Grand Central Terminal (Christopher Thomas/Prestel)

Some may find these pictures to be touched with elegy and romance, but such reminders of Pictorialism[5] are present as a result of the chosen photographic medium only, although of course that is intentional. In the end, what particularises Thomas’ work is the depiction of a kind of densely urban constructed ground that reveals the presence of an historicised architectonic not just in the individual buildings, but in urban form itself.

Pier at Riverside Park (Christopher Thomas/Prestel)


[1] French for “stroller”. Associated with the literary figures Baudelaire, Simmel and Walter Benjamin.

[4] While New York Sleeps (Prestel, 2009)

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