Five Tourist Photographs Inadvertently Capturing Images of Aubriana Franco
Lexington, July 17. The rooftops are melting. Across the city, patio furniture and pigeon coops are being swallowed up by sticky tar. At 42 Street, the great chrome scales atop the Chrysler Building slough off and flop onto the pavement. This photo, taken by Mrs. Lorraine Carpenter of Fridley, Minnesota, who feels that the picture pretty much sums up her family’s entire quote-unquote vacation, shows a panicked flock of Swiss tourists attempting to flee up Lexington as another slice of the crown comes hurtling down. Many of the Swiss tourists are stuck in the softened asphalt and unable to get away; a couple of them turn back to snap pictures of the debris as it falls toward them. Keeping to a patch of shade on the east side of the avenue is Aubriana Franco, peering at a cell phone, a plastic frozen drink cup in her left hand. She is scrolling through the numbers in her address book, deleting several of them as she goes, and thinking, halfheartedly, I really need to get out of this town. Whenever this photo comes up in a slide show back in Fridley, Mrs. Carpenter remembers feeling sweaty and depressed and old, and her husband makes jokes about tourists taking pictures of other tourists.
Battery Park, September 24. One of a series of photos of squirrels in Battery Park taken by Mr. Anders Bertelsen of Ballerup, Denmark. It’s not as if Mr. Bertelsen hasn’t seen squirrels before. They have squirrels in Ballerup. Granted, the squirrels in New York are bigger, and grayer, and rather more swaggeringly self-important, precisely the way one would expect them to be, but none of that explains why Mr. Bertelsen feels compelled to take so many pictures of them. To begin to understand this compulsion one would need to examine the series as a whole. Looked at across their dozens of iterations, viewed for the subtle variations from one to another—the shifting angles of the tails, the enigmatic rodent facial expressions, the various permutations of whisker positioning—the photos begin to reveal a passion and an emotional fragility that belie their apparent preoccupation with pure technique. In this respect they are not unlike Degas’s paintings of ballerinas. The effect is further highlighted when the pictures are compared against Mr. Bertelsen’s indifferent and ill-framed photographs of skyscrapers and crowds, or the bleak, nearly despairing images of mimes dressed as Statues of Liberty, which immediately precede the squirrel series.
In this photo and in three more following it, Mr. Bertelsen has—probably inadvertently—captured, in the upper right-hand corner, a woman’s foot clad in a high-heel shoe that is the same dusky red color of the squirrels back home: a witty, if unintended, touch. The shoe is one of a pair that Aubriana used to wear when she and Tanya and Cestine would go out in Chelsea on Saturday nights. They usually went to gay clubs because the music was good and you could dance without getting felt up the whole time. Cestine always wore shoes she couldn’t walk in and they’d end up taking cabs just to go a block or two crosstown from the subway station to the club. Riding back to the Bronx before dawn Cestine would take her shoes off on the train and put her feet up on one of the seats and sing, and Tanya would usually fall asleep. Aubriana’s red shoes were near-perfect for going out because they were sexy but comfortable enough for dancing. She is wearing the shoes to work today because they make her feel better. She is at Battery Park on her lunch break, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Times Square, October 19. A crowd of teenagers stands quietly on a traffic island, facing west. Photo by Steven Cork of Mesa, Arizona. Mr. Cork is leading his family from their hotel room to the subway station, en route to Central Park to look at the foliage, which he pronounces “fo-lage,” when he spots a black-clad woman with a clipboard and a headset raising her arm like a symphony conductor and signaling to a group of quietly standing kids, who all start cheering wildly, waving signs and jumping up and down, directing the clamor toward a huge third-story window in one of the buildings, behind which Mr. Cork can see the silhouettes of TV cameras. After about 15 seconds the “conductor” gives another signal and the teenagers go quiet again. The whole thing is just too funny. This photo depicts the acne-flecked mob in repose, as Mr. Cork waits for them to start with the orchestrated cheering again. Crossing in front of the crowd is Aubriana, who is shouting into her phone Listen to me, please, just shut up for once and listen to me. Just out of frame to the left, Mr. Cork’s wife Diane has noticed how certain people seem to keep disappearing from amidst the general throng, and, in contravention of what she’s pretty sure are the laws of physics, reappearing split seconds later in completely different parts of the square. Behind the camera, Mr. Cork is hooting with amusement, telling his wife and daughter to just wait a minute, he has to get a picture of these kids. Mr. Cork’s daughter, coincidentally also named Aubriana, is out of frame to the right, and could just die of embarrassment.
Rockefeller Center, December 20. Bottom portion of the Rock Center Christmas tree, by Simon Loach, age 7, of Norwich, England. This is the biggest tree Simon has ever seen, and he doesn’t know how to get it all in one picture. He likes the lights, and the colorful flags whipping about and clinking against the flagpoles. He likes the people swirling around together on the ice below. Out of view, his mother and father are arguing genially about who will take Simon skating and who will stay with his sister Emily, who is too little to do anything. At the edge of the frame, standing at the railing above the sunken ice rink, are Aubriana Franco and her daughter Janine. Janine is three, and her cheeks are pink in the cold, and she is entranced with everything. Aubriana is holding her hand.
38th/Seventh, February 9. They are drilling for time on Seventh Avenue. Time runs deep beneath the surface of the city in fast-moving streams, in ancient creeks and rivulets sealed under layers of history and sediment. It is a tremendously valuable commodity: there is never enough time. Here on Seventh Avenue prospectors have put up towering black derricks and churning greasy pumps to pull the product from the ground. But someone has made a terrible miscalculation: the drills have hit transit. A whistling torrent of subway has burst through the pavement, shooting the Seventh Avenue Line thirty stories into the air, passengers’ mouths agape and limbs akimbo, steel couplings and garbled announcements boiled into a gas and forced into the atmosphere. The sky over Midtown is black with transit. Inspectors from the City Department of Chronology are on the scene in their distinctive canary-colored helmets, but there is little they can do.
Ms. Jennifer Greene, of Olympia, WA, did not intend for Aubriana Franco, a tiny figure etched in light beneath the enormous cloud, to be the subject of this photo, but thanks to a serendipitous ray of late-winter sun peeking sharply through a gap in the skyline, Aubriana is illuminated and the viewer’s eye is drawn right to her. Ms. Greene’s photography instructor is full of praise for this image, and Ms. Greene is not inclined to mention that the effect was accidental.
Even deeper than time runs a current of anxiety, which grows stronger as time depletes, and which erodes the bedrock beneath the city year by year, softening its foundations. Aubriana, on another office errand and bundled in her warmest winter coat, is shivering as she crosses Seventh Avenue. She’s wondering if she did right leaving Carter and whether she and Janine will do okay on their own. She seems to sense the underground anxiety, as though her feet are instruments of divination on the pavement, as though she can feel where the current flows and where it turns. She has a cup of hot coffee in her hand, and keeps spilling it on her glove. Halfway across the avenue, she is engulfed in sunshine.