Vera Lutter Gramercy
Five Branches, Gramercy Park, New York: Spring 1997 (detail)

I photographed New York City’s Gramercy Park as an initial investigation into metropolitan landscapes and the idea of confined greenery. The project originated when the I was commissioned by patrons to create a body of work for the first Gramercy Park Art Fair—now the Armory Art Fair. I constructed my camera inside a hotel room across the street from the park, the same hotel room in which I would later exhibit the photographs I had made there during the art fair, playfully aligning the finished pieces within their creative context. The final body of work depicts an intimate conversation about the intersections of urban and natural life.

Since only those who reside immediately around the park may access it, my images provide a glimpse into the only private park in New York City, and it is due to the season in which the images were made that the viewer can peer through the bare branches of the trees and into the park itself. In these images it is the trees that rise above the buildings, and despite the enclosing wrought iron fences that surround them, they appear effervescent and unrestrained, becoming forms on which, the eye can rest. The branches provide visual respite from the confining geometry of the buildings and even begin to blend into the metropolitan landscape behind them, and in this sense, this Gramercy Park series acts as a foil for my succeeding body of work made in Cold Spring, NY, where I photographed the trees in their natural state of unrestricted growth.

Along with my Central Park series, which began only a year after I first photographed Gramercy Park, these two bodies of work show early examples of my experimentation with motion and light. Made primarily in the spring, the images capture newly appearing buds and nearly empty branches which form networks like capillaries across blackened skies. Some photographs focus on the performative movements of the trees in their adapted urban environment, blurring and contrasting the surrounding structures while others isolate natural forms against fields of black sky.

Both sunlight and exposure times play important roles in establishing the character of my images: in some the two variables allow for an abundance of detail in the bark and foliage of the trees as if they are growing into darkness; yet in others they yield only distinct silhouettes, giving the subjects a more suggestive presence of luminosity, which remains at the core of my practice.