About three quarters of Strand and Sheeler’s shots in Manhatta could just be stills. It’s less about the camera being motionless than about the subjects being motionless. While the subjects are varied, a lot of them are related to the water—whether the tugboats or the ocean liners or the docks, there’s a lot of water in Manhatta. Most of those shots get nothing from having movement in them.
Similarly, the shots of buildings—regardless of how much smoke comes out of chimneys—are essentially static. There’s something to seeing moving images stand in for still ones, but it’s hardly compelling. Almost a hundred years later, Manhatta is a curiosity of artifacts. It’s impossible to imagine how it played to contemporary viewers.
But where it comes alive are the people. Strand and Sheeler have these amazing shots of bustling crowds, sometimes from high vantage points, and Manhatta truly becomes awesome.
Directed and photographed by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler.