Time & Tide, Seaport Museum

The Waterfront in Film, 1903-2011
Curated by James Sander for the Seaport Museum
January 26 – December 31, 2012

One of the most essential qualities of the New York waterfront is also one of its most contradictory.

More so even than the rest of the city, the waterfront is a place of constant transformation, where changing forms of transportation and commerce – and, in recent decades, a profound shift from industry to recreational and residential use – have all but remade the urban landscape.

Yet by its very nature, the water is one of the city’s few truly elemental places, an environment defined in large part by the abiding character of the water itself – the lapping of waves, the glints of sunlight, the unbroken expanses of cloud and sky.

It is this paradoxical mix of constancy and change — a place “standing yet hurried,” as Walt Whitman put it a century and a half ago – that underlies the concept for Time & Tide. Through the simultaneous projection of documentary films from the early 20th century to today, the installation at once presents crucial historic moments in the evolution of the New York waterfront, while seeking to evoking a place where time itself, as Whitman suggests, “avails not.”

Center screen
Manhattan (excerpts). 1921. Directed by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand. Music by Cinematic Orchestra.
The Twenty-Four Dollar Island (excerpts). 1927. Directed by Robert J. Flaherty. Music by Donald Sosin.
Under the Brooklyn Bridge (excerpts). Robert Fitzdale and Arthur Gold.
Bridges-Go-Round. 1958. Directed by Shirley Clarke. Music by Louis and Bebe Barron. 1953. Directed by Rudy Burckhardt. Piano score by

Left screen
Splitting Image. 2011. Created by Alex Villar.
In his video, Villar presents two simultaneous paths from Wall Street in Manhattan to India Street in Brooklyn, by way of the new East River ferry service. On the right, a daily commuter sits within the ferry cabin, gazing onto today’s redeveloped waterfront of parks, highways, and housing developments. On the left, an “alternative” traveler makes the same journey precariously perched on the vessel’s exterior, glimpsing remnants of the waterfront’s industrial past.

Right screen
Sky Scrapers of New York City, from North River. Thomas A. Edison, May 20th, 1903. Cameraman: James Blair Smith.
Panorama, water front and Brooklyn Bridge from East River. Thomas A. Edison, May 20th, 1903. Cameraman: Edwin S. Porter.
Panorama, Blackwell’s Island. Thomas A. Edison, May 20th, 1903. Cameraman: Edwin S. Porter.

12 Fulton Street
New York, NY 10038

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