Recent picture: a view from One World Trade Center

In one of those essays he called “mythologiques, Roland Barthes remarked of the Eiffel Tower that it’s both an object to be seen and a place from which to see. That struck me when I read it as incontestable, yet somehow surprising, far from obvious. Taken in its entirety, his essay imparts a distinction to the Eiffel Tower that remains unsurpassed. The Burj Khalifa, for example, undoubtedly dominates its landscape, yet hardly anyone, upon hearing its name, will immediately think of its image, much less the city in which it stands. But the dual quality of landmark and viewpoint that Barthes found in the Eiffel Tower also inheres in a number of other structures (which is obvious), among them the building in Lower Manhattan officially called One World Trade Center.

I recently began working in 1WTC, as a freelancer for Vanity Fair magazine, and like many of my Condé Nast colleagues I’ve been acknowledging its value as a vantage point by taking pictures through the windows. VF’s previous quarters, on the 22nd floor of a building in Times Square, originally offered rather impressive views, but over time these were mostly cut off as other skyscrapers rose around ours: the Ernst and Young building at 5 Times Square, for instance, and the Bank of America Tower, which rather spoiled the privileged view out the windows of the editors’ row. We’re now higher up, on the 41st floor, and we have fewer obstacles, and everything we can see from there is, for now, fresh. Whereas I often forgot at 4 Times Square that the Empire State Building was visible—though mostly from offices that weren’t normally accessible, such as those of editor-in-chief Graydon Carter—I can now see it out the window behind my desk, and I often look its way, imaginatively hoping to see King Kong clambering up its side or a dirigible mooring at the top.

Our views are fine, yes, but there are difficulties: dirty windows (though the occupants are new, the glass has been in place for some time now), and the reflection of fluorescent lights, and the distortion to parallel lines introduced by any typical smartphone lens. For the present image, I mostly resolved that last problem and created a high-dynamic-range composite of two exposures by using Lightroom and Photoshop.

Looking east-southeast from the new Vanity Fair offices, on the 41st floor of One World Trade Center. The Woolworth Building is near the left edge; the background includes one tower each of the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Looking east-southeast from the new Vanity Fair offices, on the 41st floor of One World Trade Center. The Woolworth Building is near the left edge; the background includes one tower each of the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The picture is also on Flickr.

P.S.: Someone must have long since observed that Roland Barthes is himself an Eiffel Tower of the intellectual landscape, as are other influential thinkers and writers.

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