Sea Level: Five Boroughs at Water’s Edge


The panoramas for an exhibition at the Center for Architecture at the Seaport were shot from a fishing boat on the morning of July 9, 2015. A timer attached to a DSLR camera triggered the shutter every five seconds, rendering over 1300 frames for each side of the river, roughly a third of which were selected and assembled in Photoshop by Jeremy Gillam.

No automated software exists that can reliably stitch the pieces of a 'parallel motion' or 'route panorama.’ Compositing our primary subject, the shoreline, was straight-forward -- the foreground was easily identified, trimmed, and aligned. But handling everything beyond that required editing and erasure, particularly in areas dense with high-rise buildings. The angle of view of a camera lens widens, capturing a larger expanse of what sits in the background than in the foreground. As the point-of-view moves, elements shift both in relation to the shoreline and to one another: for instance, a single building might appear numerous times, traveling across the distant horizon of sequential frames. The stitching process is labor-intensive and, admittedly, somewhat arbitrary.

We are accustomed to the idea that photographs are not necessarily ‘true,’ but this gets complicated when pictures function as maps and as integral features in navigation and mapping applications. How are the pictures made that we use to orient ourselves? What are their limitations? What do they leave out, what do they leave in, and what underlying assumptions determine those choices?

These are important and serious questions, but what fascinated me most through this process were more fundamental aspects of perception. The way of seeing that we simply and routinely experience as motion eludes computational imaging--what we see as we move through time and space, along a river, a road, a world, cannot be reduced to a ‘true’ static image. This all seems absolutely appropriate given our undertaking; to render a trip on a moving river, along rising shorelines in an attempt to grasp something of a city that is itself an evolving collage, a most extraordinary composite of parts, places, times, and lives.


Commissioned by the Center for Architecture; team led by Cynthia Kracauer, writing by Robert Sullivan, design by Andrew Berman Architecture, graphic design by Perrin Studio, post-production by Jeremy Gillam, installation and support Berit Hopf and Katie Mullen.