An Artist’s Take on an Institution

On and off for two years, Anne Day, bearing cameras, lights, lenses, stands and once even shovels, traveled from Salisbury to The New York Public Library. Her mission was to photograph, inside and out, the massive and ornate building on Fifth Avenue for a centennial edition of Henry Hope Reed and Francis Morrone’s book: “The New York Public Library: The Architecture and Decoration of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.” Her task was complicated by the fact that she had to shoot this public building with no people in sight. A pigeon, now and then. All right. But no people. And no snow, either.“This is an academic book that is meant to show the glory of the architecture — not the building as a cultural center in New York,” Day explained.So, with large-format film cameras, a couple of digital cameras, a number of lenses including a 17 mm tilt shift lens (to avoid distortion in wide angle shots), and aided, often, by helper Linda Brinkley, she would show up at 5 a.m., set up and shoot interiors until the doors opened for the public.Among those interiors is a view south of the South-North Gallery, with its marmoreal walls and floor, multiple arches and ornate ceiling, all caught in one splendid and perfect image.While the emphasis is, naturally, on the art and detail and soaring heights of this grand building, a few shots give us an idea of its urban setting. Through one arched window in the Bill Blass Catalog Room, Day photographed the Empire State Building. Because she shot for the interior arch surrounding the window, the view outside was over exposed and she had to burn the buildings back into view in Photoshop.“Most of the correction was for color balance and glare, things you cannot see with your eye. There’s nothing phony here.”But sometimes a good fix is in order. Day liked photographing the interior with the lights on. In a lovely shot of a library table, one of the bulbs in the four lamps there was out. She did not see it at the time. And to set up that shot again would have been costly. So she had an expert Photoshop a slice of light glowing from the bottom of one shade. For much of her time on this job, the exterior of the library was shrouded in canvas for cleaning. So the outside shots were not taken until last February. That meant shooting in the cold and in early light, rousing a homeless person once in a while from the library steps, timing shots between Fifth Avenue buses, sometimes photographing from the conference room of a hotel across the street, and, for one truly amazing panoramic image (made by stitching two shots together) of the library’s front, she and Brinkley had to shovel away some snow. Even then, she spent eight hours in her studio removing, pixel by pixel, little clumps of snow in the low, looped barrier along the front of the building.Now it’s done and she has a big collection of “critters” from the library that did not make it into the book: dolphins, birds, dogs, turtles, horses, a crocodile and bees. Go see for yourself. They are there in the walls and ceilings and corners of this majestic and sometimes quirky place.

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