I've just returned from a couple of weeks in the US with my wife where we went to New York and San Francisco. This was prompted by our daughter studying at the University of California at Berkeley for this semester: the opportunity to go out there to see her was too good to miss. We stopped for a few days in New York, first of all, to play tourist and see friends, and then went on to San Francisco/Berkeley afterwards.
This is the first of a small set of postcards from a trip. And this one is purely for fun!
In New York, we stayed in an Airbnb in the East Village. A short walk away was St Mark's Place, where the two adjoining buildings pictured on the front cover of Led Zeppelin's album “Physical Graffiti" are located. So, of course, I had to make a trip to photograph them.
When I first saw the cover of Physical Graffiti many years ago, at the time of its release, I remember an impression of a grim tenement, with the characteristic New York fire escapes down the front. It made me think of the miserable time that poor immigrants must have had on arriving in Manhattan a hundred years previously. It also gave a naive context to my teenage self of Lou Reed's drug addict who follows his man "up to a brownstone, up three flights of stairs": this image, is, of course, incorrect, not least because the East Village was never like it is "up to Lexington one two five".
Seeing the buildings in real life, though, gives a completely different view. The area is now chichi, hipster and upmarket. St Mark's Place is a very smart street where you can walk along feeling completely safe, with some lovely cafes and restaurants. In fact, we went for a really excellent North African late lunch at a small restaurant just opposite the Physical Graffiti buildings (being neither hipster nor chichi ourselves, we felt that we were like a pair of ill-fitting parents in a place full of bright young things). The Guardian, no less, suggests this may even be New York’s coolest street. A very small apartment in the Physical Graffiti buildings costs up to $1.3M these days, unsurprisingly miles away from where the poor immigrant now might fetch up nowadays.
The picture here is my attempt at recreating the Physical Graffiti cover from the building as it exists at the moment. The original cover was a tour-de-force of pre-digital compositing. As recounted elsewhere, to fit the front cover of an album, which was a square format, one of the floors had to be removed (it's a five-story building, but only four stories can be accommodated in a square format). The neighbouring buildings are also inconsistent with the details of the two buildings concerned, so the edges of the picture had to be altered to make them consistent with the old buildings.
Producing this picture was in no way a digital tour de force, but it was an interesting Photoshop exercise anyhow. The picture is actually a composite of two images, one for the bottom half, one for the top. The building itself didn't fit my 24 mm lens very well, so I took two overlapping pictures to stitch together. There was also a motorbike and a car parked in front of the building, which had to be removed. I took out one floor, as in the original image, and cloned in extra edges of the buildings. I converted it to monochrome and gave it a slight toning to resemble the original, as well as using a curve to bring down the shadows and flatten the highlights.
In the original picture, John Bonham is sitting on the left-hand steps holding a black dog. This is supposed to be a reference back to "Black dog" on Led Zepplin IV. Well, not having a black dog with us, I thought I needed a different reference. Since a later album is "In Through the Out Door", I thought people who entered the building in one of my shots, used for the lower half, made a good forward-looking reference.
When I get a chance, I'll have a think about what to put into the windows: I think there might be some figures I can find to put in :-)