Street Level; Jon Ortner’s Tale Of Two Cities

Well, it’s really only one city—New York—but the assignment called for Jon Ortner to capture images so different in spirit and approach that he might as well have been in two very different cities.

The Empire State Building at center stage in the New York City nightscape. Jon took this 1.3-second exposure from the roof of the Beatrice.
© Jon Ortner

There was not only a dual nature to the job itself but also something of a split personality to the building Jon was hired by developer J.D. Carlisle to photograph. Located between 29th and 30th Streets on Sixth Avenue, the 54-story structure in fact has two names and natures: from the street to the 25th floor it’s the Eventi Hotel; at the 26th floor it becomes the Beatrice and rental apartments.

Jon wasn’t hired to shoot construction; his specialty is fine art images that define an essential element of real estate success: location. His photos would be used for the building’s website, for brochures, and for display in sales and leasing offices.

The Eventi/Beatrice and Sixth Avenue in an 8-second exposure.
© Jon Ortner

To showcase the Beatrice, his images would be all about the brilliant daytime vistas and sparkling night lights of the city. “Those were the shots that would make people want to live there,” Jon says, and he took those photos from the building’s roof and from the Cloud Lounge and Terrace on the 54th floor. With his D-SLR on a tripod, he captured images from all points of the compass, working slowly and deliberately, with geometric precision and careful consideration of the weather, the light, the clarity of the air, even the stillness of the structure. “The idea is that almost anywhere above the 10th floor, you get a magnificent view,” he says. He also shot the hero exterior of the building from the heights of a suitably tall building nearby.

But down at street level, it was another story.

A café in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Color often triggered Jon’s photo opportunities.
© Jon Ortner

“The idea for this part of the assignment was that when you live in the building you have access to incredibly hip neighborhoods,” Jon says. “Chelsea, the Theater District, the Meatpacking District, the Flower District, the Flatiron District, the High Line.” In other words, the trendy, hip areas of the city that everyone hopes will stay trendy and hip. (A word of explanation: in Manhattan, “neighborhood” and “district” refer to any area within a 5- to 10-minute cab ride.)

On the street the assignment was all about energy and attitude. “They asked me to come back with photos that captured the feeling of living there, that conveyed the energy of the vibrant cultural scene.”

Doorway in an area hotel. “I saw the color and the design, and it reminded me of a Pete Turner shot. All I had to do was wait for the right people,” Jon says.
© Jon Ortner

His instructions were clear: there were to be no straight horizons; everything was to be tilted, blurred, and zoomed, with vivid, even exaggerated colors. “I moved the camera, tilted the camera, went inside, outside, day and night, but especially at twilight. I shot over a thousand street photos. It was almost like being a paparazzo.”

But a polite one. At street level, it pays to be on the level. “You can’t be a jerk,” Jon says. “You have to smile, be engaging. People tend to question you when you’re photographing them eating or you’re shooting the front of the restaurant or a display window. Waiters come out, owners come out.” The best answers to the questions? The truth. “I’d stop what I was doing, whip out some of my work—I had my postcard books with me, and my calendars—and I’d tell them who I was working for and show the business cards of J.D. Carlisle. I’d say, ‘You see that building glistening over there? Well, they want to advertise all the best shops in the neighborhood—this is free advertising for the neighborhood and for you.’”

An area café. “The problem with getting great shots at twilight is that it only lasts about 35 minutes, and you want to go to 10 different locations and get 10 different great shots.”
© Jon Ortner

He shot from the hip, moving all the time, walking through like a tourist, no tripod, just shooting, zooming, and tilting. “I went to the extremes of my style, which meant feeding on the energy.” And the color: “I’d look around and see purple lights, and I knew shooting anyone walking in that area would give me an exquisite purple hue in the background. Colors triggered a lot of shots.”


erenjuan's picture

Nice captures, I love the picture of the doorway on an area in the hotel, i like it when there are girls in the pictures. - YORHealth