Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
For tourists in Midtown looking for the True Spirit of Christmas, photographer Chris Maggio knows just where to go.
Every December, Manhattan fills up with families and tourists looking for unforgettable holiday decorations. There are the window scenes at Macy's Herald Square, the giant tree in Rockefeller Center, and Winter Village in Bryant Park.
But for those who are no longer wide-eyed at the sight of these places after too many visits, Chris Maggio knows just where to go: parking garages.
The New York-based photographer has a keen eye for small delights in the most mundane places. His timely new series, “Parking Under The Mistletoe,” debuted at Ben’s Books in Brooklyn last weekend. While he’s not the first to take on the idea (Andy Spade published his own holiday parking garage shots in 2014), Maggio brings a distinct style all of his projects, capturing something that feels crude, sweet, funny, and unsettling all at once. “Parking Under The Mistletoe” is no different.
CityLab caught up with Maggio recently to learn the nuances of this particular genre of holiday cheer.
When did you first decide to start shooting these decorated parking garages?
I have a real knack for settling into ideas at the exact wrong time. It was something I really wanted to do last year, but I only started to mobilize as everything was coming down around the New Year. As a kid coming into the city from Long Island via the Midtown Tunnel, the first landmark my family would always encounter would be a parking garage. We’d often come in around the holidays for a special meal and a half-priced Broadway show, and even then I remember thinking about how extraneous, but funny, the Christmas decor of these otherwise austere rooms was.
Was there a particular scene that made you realize you had a series on your hands?
If you walk around Midtown a bunch, this is a series that’s already pretty apparent, even before you start collecting. Most of the garages have gaping entrances, and from the street you can usually see at least a little Christmas tree slouched near the cashier booth.
What are the most common decorations you’ve come across?
You're always going to come across a big, thick cement column with gold tinsel bunched at the bottom. That and stockings duct-taped to the wall with the cardboard they were packed in still attached.
How about the most unique?
The most unique are the handmade ones. There was one garage in Midtown East where the manager had made these weird chandeliers out of solo cups, LEDs, and a ton of hot glue.
How do the workers seem to respond to these decorations?
It’s an even mix between indifference and pride. Most of them think it’s cool to chat about for a few. There’s definitely satisfaction in doing it well, even if a lot of folks cop to just doing it for the tips.
Are they participating in the arrangement of these decorations or is it all coming from management?
It depends, though I think a lot of the managers use the opportunity to show off their creative vision for a facility that’s otherwise obligated to be stark and empty.
Did you notice any response to the decorations from customers?
I think it helps put people in the holiday spirit and maybe pulls a few more bucks out of their pocket and into the tip jar. I was mostly out shooting late during the week, so I saw a lot of gregarious groups of businessmen around Grand Central sway into the garages to pick up their cars after a long night at the bar—they didn’t seem unimpressed.
Which garage did it best this year?
Hands down it’s gotta be the garage underneath the Continental Towers on 79th Street. It was difficult to photograph the breadth of it, but the manager there built a little Christmas village next to where they park the SUVs. It’s got a tiny Alpine ski slope and everything. Adjacent to that is a compact model of the city—complete with a miniature version of the building that houses the garage.