The view from Above
From Urban TImes
Navid Baraty is no ordinary photographer. Inspired by the geometric patterns and noticeable attention to detail ofTokyo’s streets as seen from a skyscraper, he decided to take his work to greater heights — literally. Baraty’s Intersection series is the result of ascending to the heights of skyscrapers in NYC and Tokyo and leaning over the edge to get the perfect shot. His style is unique in the sense that most urban photography takes place at thestreet level, while Baraty has created his own vertigo-inducing style.
I had the opportunity to discuss via email with Navid what inspires his work and what he plans to do next.
Ash Blankenship: What originally inspired you to take up photography as a profession?
Navid Baraty: My interest in photography began in a class in Junior High where we walked around the playground taking photos and then developed our photographs in the school darkroom. I went on to get my degree in electrical engineering and worked as an engineer for about three years before deciding to switch gears and pursue my artistic passion. In my three years of working as an engineer, I dreaded every day of work and always found myself shooting in my spare time. I felt so much happier and creative when I was behind the lens. I decided to get more serious with my work, started doing editorial assignments for publications and eventually made the leap to becoming a professional photographer.
AB: What inspired your work on the Intersection series?
NB: The idea for my Intersection series first came to me after lunch one afternoon in 2009 in a Tokyo skyscraper. I looked down at the street below and noticed an amazing scene of geometric patterns dotted with umbrella-wielding pedestrians. I really couldn’t believe how geometric it all looked from above. It was almost as if someone designed the Tokyo street with my vantage point in mind. I realized that all the perfectly parallel lines, precise angles and thoughtful proportions were really a reflection of Japanese culture and its meticulous attention to detail and artistic presentation.
When I moved to NYC in 2010, I wanted to continue this series and see what New York looked like from above. Everyone walks around Manhattan looking up at the city, but very few get to look down. When you watch NYC from above, you really get a sense of the energy and flow of the city–the constant stream of yellow taxis lining the avenues, the waves of pedestrians hurriedly crossing at the change of traffic signals, little figures disappearing into the subway stations, the chorus of honking horns and sirens. It’s all so rhythmic.
AB: Can you explain the process for photographing the Intersection series?
NB: There’s been lots of wild speculation as to how I create these photos. Some people think I have a side job as a helicopter pilot or window washer. One website assumed I was walking around Manhattan with a camera attached to a kite. Some have even called me Spiderman. I actually just take all of these from building rooftops and lean over the edge. A lot of times I have to very securely wrap the camera strap around my arms and extend my arms way over the edge to get the overhead angle that I’m looking for. I’m never concerned for my own personal safety, but do have a huge fear of dropping my camera or a lens over the edge.
AB: The Intersection series is of New York City and Tokyo. Do you have plans to extend the series to other cities?
NB: Absolutely! I’d love to do the series in as many cities as possible. I’m also revisiting some of the locations that I’ve shot in NYC and doing the series at night. The feeling of a city changes completely from day to night. I’ve realized, however, that not every city makes for equally interesting Intersection shots. If there’s a void of tall skyscrapers, as I found when I visited Paris a couple months back, the shots just don’t have the same dramatic effect.
AB: What advice can you offer to amateur urban photographers?
NB: Experiment with different angles and perspectives. Take lots of photos. Never stop shooting and take your camera with you everywhere. While patience and persistence are keys to great photos, so much of photography really is about being in the right place at the right time. You want to be sure you have your camera when that happens.
Baraty’s Intersection series has been featured in National Geographic, The Daily Mail (UK), News.com.au and other publications. He was the grand prize winner of the California Academy of Sciences Photo Competition in 2011 and received honorable mentions by both PLANET Magazine (2010) and the International Photography Awards (IPA 2011).
All photographs courtesy of Navid Baraty.