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Photos of 'Nowhere' Adorn High School Construction Site

By Mary Johnson | September 16, 2011 8:43am
Photographer Matthew Jensen's exhibit
Photographer Matthew Jensen's exhibit "Nowhere in Manhattan" is now on display on the walls of a construction site that will soon become the new building for the High School of Art and Design.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MIDTOWN EAST — The construction site that will become the new High School of Art and Design building next fall has long been something people hustle past as they walk along East 57th Street between Second and Third avenues.

But on Thursday morning, people were instead stopping and staring because the black wooden walls enclosing the site are now home to an exhibition of photographs by Matthew Jensen.

The exhibit is called “Nowhere in Manhattan,” and it focuses on highlighting unknown enclaves in what Jensen calls one of the most identifiable cities in the world. The photos, which Jensen said are deliberately simple in their composition, include pictures of broken trees, abandoned homes, wooded shorelines and even a waterfall. All were taken in various spots around Manhattan. 

“The whole project is really about what location does to a landscape photo,” said Jensen, whose work also appears on billboards in Lower Manhattan. “The photographs on display give us a glimpse into Manhattan’s few remaining ‘nowheres.’”

Locations are not listed next to his photographs, nor is Jensen willing to give away specific information about where he found each scene. He wants his photographs, which he calls “propaganda” for green spaces in Manhattan, to inspire people to explore.

When Jensen first got the idea to display his photographs at the construction site, he approached The World-Wide Group, the developer behind the project, for permission.

The firm was interested, but felt that the project had to involve the students at the High School of Art and Design in some meaningful way, said Julia Hodgson, director of development for The World-Wide Group.

So in the spring, Jensen enlisted the help of a class of photography students who were then juniors and now seniors at the school.

Jensen presented them with about 150 of his photographs and asked them to choose their favorites. Their selections now compose the entire exhibition.

“He made us guess what part of the world it was,” said Ndoumbe Fall, 17, a senior who was part of the photo selection process.

Fall said the students threw out all kinds of crazy, off-the-wall locations before Jensen revealed that all of the photographs were taken in Manhattan.

“And everyone was like, ‘Whoa,’” said Fall, who hopes to become a fashion photographer focused on Western-style clothing that fits in with Islamic culture.

Christina McQueen, another senior, was impressed by Jensen’s exploring.

“He actually took the time to search for these places,” said McQueen, 17. “And not many people would do that.”

McQueen prefers candid photographs to posed ones in her own work. In Jensen’s photos, she found a similar appreciation for realism.

“He didn’t try to alter anything. He just took it as it was,” McQueen said. “I liked that.”

As Jensen was mounting the photographs on the construction site walls this week, he said multiple people stopped to thank him for helping beautify the site.

When the new building is completed next year, it will house the High School of Art and Design, as well as a Whole Foods and the P.S. 59 elementary school, said Hodgson, of The World-Wide Group.

Until then, she added, Jensen’s photos will have a place to hang.