The Urban Lens: Harlan Erskine explores an eerie Midtown after midnight in 2008

December 9, 2016

6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment Brooklyn resident Harlan Erskine highlights the Midtown lobbies and streets past midnight, during the Great Recession. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

Though Midtown is now booming with larger-than-life skyscrapers and blockbuster condos along the likes of Billionaires’ Row, 9 years ago at the peak of the Great Recession, it was a much different story. In 2008, Brooklyn photographer Harlan Erskine took to the city after dark and documented the ghost town that was Midtown. While New Yorkers are today used to seeing bustling crowds spilling into the streets at all hours, Harlan’s photographs depict the polar opposite: empty office lobbies, streets and sidewalks.

How long have you lived in New York?
I grew up on the Upper West Side and moved south to Miami, FL for university. In 2007, I moved back for grad school and lived Williamsburg while I attended SVA. Now I live in Ditmas Park and have been there for over five years.

Tell us about this series? What makes it special?
“Midtown Past Midnight” is a series that explores thresholds of power. I began working on the images as the economy slowly descended into the economic collapse. Many of these entrances were gateways to the offices and trading floors of financial titans. Some skyscrapers were filled with innocent workers unprepared for what was underway. Other buildings were packed with Bear Sterns and other investors who helped create the catastrophe. In each case, the entrance became a symbol of architectural communication.

What about some of your other projects? What are some of the other subjects you like to photograph?
I’ve always been taken by the built environment and the architecture of space. My grandfather was an architect and I think there is a little of his sensibility in me. I love the history of cities; walking around New York there is a profound sense of the people and culture. The choices made by a community—what to keep and what is destroyed—tell a story.

What else are you working on?
I have a few ongoing projects I’m working on, including a meditation on play violence I made as my thesis project at SVA that I have continued to work on. I have a few projects that I’m not ready to share. Some because they are still in their infant stages, and one project I can’t wait to share later, which has to do with the architecture and history of New York.

Instagram: @harlanerskine

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Location: Midtown

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