Thursday, July 8, 2010

Model New York

When Randy Hage added his photos to the Vanishing New York flickr pool, I thought I was looking at regular storefronts in the city. Then I read the captions. The images are, in fact, photos of 1/12th scale models of New York storefronts, all of them built with incredible detail and care by Mr. Hage.

They got me thinking--about the false-fronted Potemkin village the city is becoming, and about how, someday, the New York we know will live only in memory and photographs--and in these miniatures by Randy Hage. Maybe when we are very old, he will let us play dolls in his ever-expanding mini city. Until then, I emailed the artist to ask him some questions about his remarkable work, and he was kind enough to answer.

photo: Randy Hage, flickr

Can you tell us about this project and why you’ve decided to recreate New York City’s storefronts?

This project is an extension of my occupation as a scale model maker for the television and film industry. I had always planned to create some models of NYC storefronts but until recently did not have the time or the opportunity to follow a fine arts path.

Since the late ‘90s I’ve been making twice yearly visits to New York to take photos of the architecture as reference for my work. My regular visits have given me a unique vantage point for tracking the changes that have been occurring. I think it is similar to the dramatic changes that a grandparent might observe in a situation where they only see their grandchildren once or twice a year. The observed changes are obvious and pronounced. It became very evident to me that the visual character of the city at street level was being lost.

I remember one instance in particular that prompted me to seriously focus on this project. I was on my way to revisit a Brooklyn donut shop that I had photographed a year earlier. I thought that I was in the right location but could not find it. I did a GPS location check on my iPhone and realized that I was standing right in front of it. The storefront was gone. It had been replaced by a generic, forgettable façade.

photo: Randy Hage, flickr

Which storefronts have you done and how did you select them?

So far, I’ve done Vesuvio Bakery (Birdbath) located in SoHo and Donuts Coffee Shop, Nick’s Luncheonette, and a sandwich shop all located in Brooklyn.

Donuts Coffee Shop became the first piece I did in this series. Each piece is one of a kind, fabricated from scratch. I work to recreate the subjects down to the smallest detail, trying to avoid any visual clues that might unmask the illusion of reality that is created.

When I first started this series, my work was inspired and driven by the iconic visual elements of the structures and by my desire to document them before they were gone. My reasons for pursuing this project have changed as time has passed. Now it is more about honoring and remembering what was/is behind the façade…the people and the soul of the city.

photo: Randy Hage, flickr

Your work feels like a memorial to the vanishing city. Do you see it that way?

Our feelings of stability and our mental foundations are dramatically affected when change removes or destroys familiar elements in our lives. Death, divorce, or disaster all shake our certainty of what the future might bring. I believe that the loss of a familiar or loved neighborhood icon can affect us in similar ways. Most certainly it affects those who are displaced by greed-driven gentrification that often follows urban renewal. In many ways, a storefront business can become an integral part of our definition of home and life. We love these places and feel a deep sense of loss when they are gone. I know I was very broken up when I found out that Joe. Jr’s in the Village had been forced to close. It was like losing an old friend.

Change is constant, sometimes beneficial, and many times necessary, but I think the intense and rapid nature of what is happening in New York is hard for people to emotionally accommodate and embrace.

photo: Randy Hage, flickr

Which storefronts do you want to do next?

Composition, color and character all contribute to the selection of a subject. I try to choose subjects that will intrigue and excite the viewer. I love hand-painted signs, layers of old chipping paint, and the odd changes and additions that are made over time. When I visit NY, I spend 6-8 hours a day walking the streets taking photographs. Most of the time I simply choose subjects that please my eyes or tickle my brain.

I’m thinking about doing Ideal Hosiery next, but I have a mental queue of about 30 projects all vying for next in line.

photo: Randy Hage, flickr

What is your ultimate goal for these models? Will they be on display for people to see up close and in person?

When I have finished a few more, I would love to mount a gallery exhibition. People have enjoyed the online photos, but there is no substitute for seeing the pieces in person.

See all of Randy Hage's storefronts on flickr

Read more about:
Donuts Coffee
Joe Jr's
Ideal Hosiery


Melanie said...

Are you an oldie when you remember these places and ate in them as a regular thing??

Bowery Boogie said...

wow, that is unbelievable!

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Excellent interview - thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hage's work is incredible. I was lucky enough to have had the privilege of viewing these small-scale models for myself and they are amazing. There is so much detail that Mr. Hage puts into ever nook and cranny. And seeing the model compared to an actual picture of the building recreated is unbelievable. Mr. Hage's work is truly a wonderful site to behold.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i would love to see them in real life. i hope he does get a gallery show for his work.

Anonymous said...

works of art.
have a show.
we'll all go.
well i bet a lot of us will.
thanks for showing these.

Unknown said...

Stunning work! Thank you. Did you take any pics of Danny's Candy Store on 7th Ave. in Bklyn before it disappeared for a nondiscript sushi restaurant? It only exists in our minds but would love to see that facade recreated by such a talented artist.