How the photo was shot, and what it means.

Iwan Baan is always going somewhere. Over the last six years with camera and computer in tow, he has earned the privilege to travel from dense Caracas to abandoned western China to sprawling Los Angeles — all in a week’s work to photograph new buildings and the way people move in, through, and around them.

I’ve been on location with Iwan. He shoots instinctually, doesn’t belabor. From my vantage point, it looks like a breeze but of course you have to chalk it up to the exceptional eye he has for atmosphere and composition. He’s less interested in detail and more about context. It’s refreshing to see a photograph of a person descending a staircase rather than an overwrought detail in the hand railing. His images evoke a rich simplicity because his lens is focused on people in their places of domesticity, work, worship, and play.

Iwan is obsessed with the "shot from the copter" and when he flips open his iPad, we pause and shake our heads in disbelief. The Baan’s-eye-view both abstracts and deciphers by offering a framework of structure (political, social, functional) that cannot be grasped at street level. This cool distance can conjure the collective reality of an urban bustle or a divided community, and it shares an intimacy not detectable on the ground.

This past weekend Iwan flew in to NYC and planned to make his way to the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton—a new art space in Watermill by the Swiss duo Herzog and de Mueron. When Hurricane Sandy struck, like many visitors, he hustled to find a way out. On Wednesday, after two car rental queues and five hours of pleading, Iwan was in the driver’s seat when he got a call from a photo editor. "Are you in town? Can you track down a helicopter and take some aerial shots of Manhattan?"

His usual ride based in New Jersey was out of fuel, and so he reached out to a new friend, a pilot from Long Island who had been slated to take him over Watermill. Yes, he was available, cash up front. By early evening, our intrepid Baan (pronounced Bond) circled above around 7 p.m.—he shot the now infamous image chosen for this week’s New York magazine cover story. I asked him, “What was on your mind when you took this picture?”

Iwan replied, "As I looked at the glowing Goldman Sachs tower and the bright buildings surrounding this financial icon—I saw who has the power and how problematic that is for this country."

The editors of New York magazine described Iwan’s photo representing "a powerful city rendered powerless." Others see a city of those with power and those without. For me, Iwan’s photograph is Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem that will have many readings for years to come.

Below, images of other cities shot by Baan.

Caracas, Venezuela
Inner City Arts campus in Los Angeles
Yongding, China. Photo

This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.


 

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Maggie Gyllenhaal walks the mean streets of 1971 New York City in HBO's "The Deuce," created by David Simon.
    Life

    David Simon Does Not Miss the Sleaziness

    The creator of HBO’s “The Deuce” talks about the rebirth of Times Square, other cities he loves, and why bureaucrats can be TV heroes, too.

  2. Maps

    Mapping Where Europe's Population Is Moving, Aging, and Finding Work

    Younger people are fleeing rural areas, migrating northward, and having fewer children. Here’s how that’s changing the region.

  3. Equity

    Barcelona Mayor Calls for a Third Way to Solve Catalonia Crisis

    Ada Colau, a self-proclaimed “municipalist,” criticized threats from both Spanish nationalists and Catalonian independence seekers at CityLab Paris. She says city leaders are distinctly positioned to find compromise.

  4. Transportation

    If You Drive Less Than 10,000 Miles a Year, You Probably Shouldn't Own a Car

    Up to one-quarter of all U.S. drivers might be better off using ride-sharing services instead.

  5. Equity

    The Side Pittsburgh Doesn't Want You to See

    Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey has spent over twelve years documenting the lives of the people displaced so that the city can achieve its “cool” status.