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In 1626 Peter Minuit buys the island Manhattan for 24 dollars from “the Indians”.
But the transaction is a falsehood; the sellers do not own the property.

They do not even live there. They are just visiting.

R. Koolhaas, Delirious New York (1978)


Rationalizing his doubts over the cost of the apartment,

Laing signed a ninety-nine year lease and moved into his one-thousandth share of the cliff face.

J. G. Ballard, High Rise (1975)


Paradigm for the exploitation of congestion, the first idea of Manhattan, retrospectively defined Manhattanism, was imposed in 1811 by the formulation of The Manhattan Grid. The work of DeWitt, Morris and Rutherford, the grid aimed at regulating the growing building exploitation of the island. Through its “houses with straight sides and right angles” yet to be built, the rigid insatiable design – consisting of 12 avenues in a straight line and 155 streets and 2028 rectangular blocks rarely interrupted by green space or other topographical solutions – followed maximum functionality for the smallest space and maximum economic yield. The prearranged rectangles that make up the blocks were a model that could be adapted to any other American city, a matrix intended for hectic vertical and horizontal development, joints of ever replaceable building blocks. Manhattan is as we have always imagined it: “a utopian Europe, the product of compression and density”, a furious synthesis of efficiency, agglomeration of buildings that can always expand and absorb crisis, where the new rectangle immediately overlaps the old, for “the Grid defines a new balance between control and decontrol in which the city can be at the same time ordered and fluid, a metropolis of rigid chaos”. Glassy verticalization of movement, Manhattan is constantly submitting its forms to a perpetual present, to an obstinate self-multiplication where faster and faster verses sing a landscape devoted to the discipline of a blink[1]. “Whatever happens, it will have to happen somewhere within the 2028 blocks of the Grid”[2].


Toujours Paris s’écrie et gronde… Ever denser, more compressed and more controlled, an over-managed monad “from which it is impossible to escape”. Paris is surprising for its high rate of loneliness, for its coded isolation. The first known aerial photograph experiments were started by Nadar in 1858, during the embellissement stratégique planned by Baron Haussmann, composed of those boulevards grafted onto the heart of the French capital. Aspiring to record one million square meters, the famous Nadar ballon dreamed of “lever le plan général de l’empire […] en 80 journées de travail”[3]. The armed eye of the photographer could probably realize and reinforce the desire for a quick and clear layout, an omni-comprehensive map marked by huge avenues – just as the Manhattan straight lines – as an attempt to arrange the flow of every passer-by, setting the fixed segment in. “Urbanism acts on the natural functions of the crowd, and since it assures their needs in any condition whatsoever, in a single gesture it disperses and maintains that crowd, protecting and spreading it at the same time”[4]. Like Manhattan and Paris, each laboratory of disciplinary urbanism dreams of a general and omnivorous visibility, a panoptic vision experimented yesterday by the pioneers of photography, and today from Google Earth. Every topos is now potentially controllable, since the permanent record optimizes the time of capture.

Waiting for other retroactive manifestos, far from that approximate grid laid out on the screens of every computer, we venture to the top of high rises, but we can’t comprehend the whole city, we can’t orient ourselves and identify the old structure. The aerial photomontage defuses the urban material to portray the ghosts of the functionalist mirage, their restless skeletons, the crowd of houses and towers, the animality of taxicabs stopped along the path, the metropolitan mass that is both dispersed and sheltered, solitary and compressed, barbaric and restrained. In deformation, the image scrapes the grid-palimpsest and forces the observer onto a different kind of journey: it is a document of disorder, of the opacity generated from the utopia of the analytic space, of man’s congestion in his ranks.


[Manhattan and Paris, 2010-2013 / digital color photos].


This project was exposed in Milano, Roma, Reggio Emilia, L’Aquila, London and Paris.

It won the Fotografia Europea Off, the Concours Urban Photo, the Off Site Art, the Visioni Urbane contest and it has been selected at Saatchi Gallery On Screen, ParisUrbain 2014, Festival della Creatività, East London Photography Festival, Aracne Contest and Leica Talent Italia.

[1] A. Bonazzi, Noir surrealismo e città, p. 130.

[2]  R. Koolhaas, Delirious New York, A retroactive Manifesto for New York, The Monacelli Press, New York (1978) 1994, pp. 17-21.

[3] Andraud, Une dernière annexe au Palais de l’Industrie, Librairie Guillaumin et Cie, Paris 1855, p. 100.

[4] A. Cavalletti, Classe, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 2009, p. 32 [my translation].

ROUX ESPINOSO                                                    APPREZZA IL MATERIALE E IL TEMPO…


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