I’m not aware of another city that has our quotidian relationship with handball courts. Anyone familiar with New York City’s park system recognizes these walls with unattended indifference. Should the walls, on the other hand, appear unused and mysteriously erect and their purpose unclear, it takes only a quick query to a local to learn that they’re for handball. Like eating pizza while walking or scaffold pull-ups, handball is a not infrequently-occurring phenomenon here in New York.
A stroll on either side of the Gowanus Canal, or more likely criss-crossing the few east-west bridges from Smith or Bond Street to Second Avenue or Nevins Street, reveals a more diverse area than one might think. There are several new residential builds on the east banks, so-called luxury buildings with ample parking and common areas for their residents; handfuls of older houses, mostly two- or three-story residential buildings, some single-family, some like the vinyl-sided homes one might see in Williamsburg but perhaps not as tidy; some storefronts and light commercial properties converted or adapted into restaurants, bars, or possibly-fugitive living spaces. There are also the industrial properties that have largely defined the area, less for the landscape they create than for their contribution to the frighteningly toxic sediment in the canal bed.
And yet, at certain times of day, it appears nearly bucolic, run down in the familiar way of obselescence and a kind of attending nostalgia.
I grabbed this image while my wife and I were driving east across town to the Manhattan Bridge. The location is the corner of Lafayette and Walker Streets in Chinatown. My wife was driving and I was making nearly-random exposures from the passenger seat. I don’t frequently shoot this way but have had some luck in the past and thought I’d give it a try.
I was pleased with this one, not least because it presents a pedestrian on Walker St., but also because the Vietnamese store behind her features the anomalous “records” on its awning among its many delights and sundry items. And I’m always happy to see a store that sells records.
It was over 90° when I made this exposure on the east side of Carroll Gardens. The street you see (click the image for a larger version) is a single-block one way, situated between Smith and Court Streets, whose terminal streets are one ways in opposite directions. That is, the only entry to this short street is a right turn from the direction of Smith St., and the sole exit is a right turn in the direction of Smith St.
There are other such streets in the area, but they usually stretch among longer blocks and look very much like their neighboring streets: same kinds of brownstones, mostly, same types of trees, cars parallel parked for the full lengths of the blocks. The street above, however, differs from its surroundings in two essential ways. First, its narrowness prohibits on-street parking and the buildings lack garages, so there is little, if any, car traffic. The street is thus a near-perfect place to play. Except that: second, there are no trees and therefore no shade. This latter distinction was felt acutely on the day I walked by.
Practically speaking, none of these details occurred to me when I took the picture. What did I have my eye on? My eye was on the game at the middle of the block which I had photographed from the opposite end of the street not long before. It was only while editing this photo that I noticed the boy with the placard and unseasonable Sherlock Holmes hat. And so he emerged as the image’s walker.