Between Then and Again: Peter Funch’s “42nd and Vanderbilt”

Peter Funch, 2012.07.03 09:09:07 / 2012.07.17 09:09:43

Peter Funch, 2012.07.03 09:09:07 / 2012.07.17 09:09:43

What to make of this collection of images taken over nine years at the same intersection in New York City, comparing individuals (separated from the crowd) walking by on different days?

In his New York Times review, Teju Cole’s reference to Walker Evans is helpful, but his famous and groundbreaking subway portraits are much more surreptitious. Evans wasn’t as interested in the ritual or the remembering of a particular yet insignificant intersection of time and space but rather sought the truth that photography alone seemed to be able to conjure: the unguarded, unrehearsed version of a person that emerges within the presumed anonymity of public spaces in large cities.

Likely Funch wants us to be impressed by the discipline of nine years going at something, and the unique fruits of that particular labor, and for the most part I’d say we are. Time, that much of it, gives the project weight and a lens through which to look at difference, perhaps the best way to recognize (and predict) patterns.1 But as with any project, “42nd and Vanderbilt”2 is also very much the result of curation. How many shots didn’t make the cut? How many days did his commuters not turn the right corner? These images, and the moments they point to, are no longer unremarkable or transitory, as a natural consequence of their choosing. In this light, Douglas Coupland’s mention of Warhol makes sense, given his exploration of (the paradoxes of) unedited phenomenon.

To my eye, it seems Funch is trying to paint the routines and mundane patterns of everyday life here in the most flattering light possible. Unlike Coupland, I’m not as preoccupied with the limited wardrobes these images betray. Nor am I as struck by the “remembering” the project evokes for Cole, perhaps because New York is not my home.

Rather, these images, despite their careful curation, composition, and exposure, function in a much more abstract and less personal or sentimental way for me. The isolation of these subjects in terms of framing, focus, and lighting, within a context (a street corner in New York!) that is anything but isolated, pushes my attention more to the blurry bits in the background where others (often partially) enter the frame. Those stories, and the potential intersections and geometry they represent (through happenstance or otherwise), pique my interest as much as the day to day differences and similarities Funch seeks to reveal.


  1. Though it is worth noting intervals between photos of a given subject, at least for those I’ve been able to see online, typically span days or weeks not years. Perhaps the full collection goes further. As well, likely for practical reasons, most if not all exposures occur between May and August. ↩︎
  2. I haven’t done the research to discover if there is a significance to this particular intersection, other than its proximity to Grand Central Station, and therefore the increased chance of spotting commuters coming and going. ↩︎

“The Superhero Factory: An Unauthorized Corporate History of Marvel Comics” by Paul Morton

Paul Morton, reviewing Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story:

Howe notes that the first issue of Fantastic Four, while it did not resemble any superhero comics, did resemble the horror comics Lee produced with Kirby and Steve Ditko. A fear of the uncanny and of what it can do to the human body would inform a new line of heroes, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Spider-Man. These heroes were as self-loathing as they were self-confident and it’s tempting to imagine these artists hunched over their boards informing their heroes with their own bitterness and insecurities.

A Brief History of Film Exhibition Courtesy of John Belton

How we experience moving images, including today’s streaming services, and the impact it has had on modes of film production and film style is fascinating and always evolving. But, as Randall Stross points out, many film scholars and historians, including history John Belton (who knows more about the history of film exhibition than most), want to make a distinction between what constitutes a cinematic experience and mere movie watching.

Memory, Reason, Imagination

Great conversation here discussing how the Library of Congress, the largest library on the planet, is encouraging folks to use their digital resources and data sets in innovative ways as part of a general rethinking of the cultural role of libraries today. 

I was particularly struck by Kate Zwaard’s thoughts on how the notion of ephemerality is changing in the age of Instagram, mobile, and cloud computing:

I think the other thing about the ephemerality of the material as far as the young people think about what they create. It think actually they don’t think about it as ephemeral. They actually trust the world to keep it. So they don’t think about their photos as disposable but they don’t think about storage. They’ve actually abstracted that, right? That’s someone else’s problem. And to me that’s actually very good. I think reconstructing an archive from someone’s cloud services is very possible.

Early Site Design (1997 – 2002)

Below is a sample of designs for this website from very early on. Back then, html was primitive and javascript was in its infancy compared to modern web standards and tools. That said, as has been suggested more eloquently elsewhere, much was accomplished in the face of these limitations. There was a real sense of possibility and experimentation resulting in a wide range of styles and layouts, which gradually became more generic and predictable as major template-based CMS platforms (e.g., WordPress, Squarespace, etc.) grew in popularity.

Apps Amuck

Chuck Jones, Duck Amuck, 1953

Chuck Jones, Duck Amuck, 1953

With WWDC 2016 upon us and its expected focus on the much-anticipated third-party Siri API, I’d like to reflect on how Apple has been preparing native app developers for a world where the experience of a given application service or brand is multifaceted, continuous across platforms, extensible, and, ironically, as a consequence of increasing reach, also at risk of being fragmented, subsumed, and erased.

Last year while attending WWDC, I had the good fortune to participate in the inaugural Layers conference, which was introduced as a design-oriented complement to the generally developer-focused WWDC “main event” of the week. The conference size, the diversity of its events, the approachability of its speakers, the range of topics covered, and the engagement level of the audience all came together to make Layers a truly inspiring and memorable experience. One presentation from last year in particular has stuck with me as I’ve thought through the changes we are seeing in the way we interact with services and brands on our iPhones.

Neven Mrgan spoke about some of his favorite things, and, loosely, the sometimes unexpected goodness that comes from sharing what you love. Chuck Jones’ seminal Duck Amuck cartoon was one of the beloved things Mrgan shared (@ around 20:00), a rare treasure which I agree is both wildly entertaining and endures as required reading for anyone interested in the art and craft of animation, filmmaking, or storytelling and visual art in general. But what caught my attention that day was Mrgan’s off-handed comment about the sequence near the end of the cartoon where the frame literally begins to close in on poor Daffy, collapsing from all directions. He joked the image reminded him of his time designing responsive web applications.

The analogy was spot on and, as I thought about it more, seemed appropriate not only to web app design but equally reflective if perhaps in a more abstract way of the fundamental changes native mobile apps have witnessed in recent years, especially in light of Apple’s announcements that very week, which included: app “thinning” and targeting application assets for different devices, Siri Proactive and app deep linking, and multitasking and split-screen window management in both OS X and iOS. Through the lens of Duck Amuck, Apple’s announcements could be seen as the latest in a series of operating system enhancements (cf. iOS 8’s share sheets and extensions framework, notification center widgets) designed to deconstruct what it means to be — and what it means to experience — a modern, mobile (iOS) application.

Instagram “Peek” on iPhone 6S running iOS 9

Instagram “Peek” on iPhone 6S running iOS 9

The trend continued with the hardward-specific “peek and pop” feature enabled by 3D Touch announced later in the year as a feature exclusive to the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. So it wasn’t surprising that many industry commentators began to question the long-term fate of native apps. And given recent investments in messaging and chat bots, major platform players, especially those who have been laggards in mobile, appear anxious to speed the demise of the standalone app (store), instead encouraging companies to deliver their services on their respective “aggregator apps” or “portals” as Ben Evans astutely describes them, such as Facebook Messenger, Microsoft Skype, Kik, Slack, and the most successful to date, WeChat. Even Amazon’s Echo requires a companion mobile app to manage third-party aggregated services through so-called “skills”.

In parallel, responsive web design emerged to address the proliferation of devices accessing the world wide web today, and effectively, with limitations, provide native app-like experience to web apps when accessed by mobile devices. Rather than developing and serving mobile-specific sites (remember WAP?) for mobile devices, the responsive web is built on the idea that a site should be fluid in nature and able to gracefully adapt its content and services to accommodate the way in which that content is accessed and used.

As with responsive web design, native apps will continue to evolve with greater adaptability based on device type and screen size (including no screen at all) and, by extension, their respective interaction models. Traditional graphical UIs will co-exist with conversational voice and text options. The challenge will be how best to maintain context across these interaction models and move users as seamlessly as possible between them when necessary. And users, for their part, should prove equally adaptable as long as expectations are clearly communicated, transitions are consistent and predictable, and transactions are fast, accurate, and add value.