DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Old Glory in New York

Filed under: Photography: Signs and Displays — Tags: , , , , — fred @ 22:20

Fragmented Flag, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

For the Fourth of July, I offer a selection of images of the Stars and Stripes, as displayed in my home city of New York.

Many artists have explored the aesthetic possibilities of the U.S. flag, most famously Jasper Johns. It has a strong graphic presence that makes it stand out in nearly any setting.  The bold colors and stripes assert themselves through distortions that would render most patterns unintelligible, as in the images above and below.

Auto Reflection, 2002, photo by Fred Hatt

Here a flag in a window is seen through the reflection of another flag hanging from a building across the street.  There are additional small flag stickers in the reflected windows.  Even the stripes of the blinds and the fields of colors made by the reflected building and sky seem to echo the visual elements of the flag.

Flag in Flag, 2001, photo by Fred Hatt

Below, a gentle breeze is enough to make ripples in the water standing in the gutter, but just barely moves the flag hanging from the side of a building.

Gutter Reflection, 2004, photo by Fred HattFlag on Rusty Car, 2001, photo by Fred Hatt

I had been casually photographing things seen on the street for many years, but in 2001 I got my first digital camera, a Canon G1, and began carrying it with me nearly all the time, dramatically increasing my photographic output.  That was the year of the September 11 attack, of course, and suddenly flags were everywhere in the city, as expressions of solidarity and defiance.  When photographing in the city it became nearly impossible not to photograph flags.  At that time, it was common to see unusually large flags attached to cars:

Flag on Rusty Car, 2001, photo by Fred Hatt

The explosion in the number of flags displayed in New York City lasted for quite a few years.

Construction Shed Flag, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

In a way, the proliferation of flags showed that people felt called to respond to a terrible new reality, but didn’t know how.  This kind of symbolism was all we had.  Often, religious and national symbols are used in response to our sense of powerlessness in the face of death and history.

Headstone, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

The Union battle flag below, a veteran of the War Between the States, is on display at Grant’s Tomb in Manhattan:

Civil War Battle Flag, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

Outside the Tomb, there are columns that translate the stars and stripes into sculptural form:

Flag Column, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

Another flag in columnar form is this display on the outside of the NASDAQ MarketSite building in Times Square, a building completely covered in video billboard.

Nasdaq Flag, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

In the years following September 11, 2001, many businesses in the city displayed flags or incorporated them into their commercial displays.  Here’s the window of a Brooklyn store that sells walkers, trusses, neck braces, and the like:

Medical Supplies Flag, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

A psychic reader’s window displays symbols of power:  crystals, wizards, angels, and the flag:

Psychic's Display, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

Screaming Mimi’s is a long-time vintage clothing store in Manhattan, made famous in the 1980’s by pop singer Cyndi Lauper.  In the zeroes they got on the patriotic bandwagon too.

Screaming Mimi's Red White & Blue, 2002, photo by Fred Hatt

Here, the U.S. flag adorns an inflatable sledgehammer, perhaps a metaphor for the American Empire’s ineffective military might and bubble economics.   Or maybe it’s just a cute toy.

Inflated Toys, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

The following picture is not from Abu Ghraib, but from a Manhattan bondage club, duly expressing its patriotic sentiments in the wake of 9/11.

Bondage Club, 2001, photo by Fred Hatt

I live in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, where the flag of the Mother Country is often displayed alongside that of the Land of Opportunity.

Italian America, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Country first, hamburgers second:

United States of White Castle, 2006, phot by Fred Hatt

Here the slanting winter sun gives a glow to a row of international flags and the exhaust from Manhattan’s famous network of underground steam pipes.

Flags and Steam, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

A lot of people put up flags and forget about them, letting the elements fade and tear them.

Weathered Flag, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

On this flag sticker, the stripes have completely faded away, replaced by a beautiful network of cracks like one would see on a dessicated lake bed.

God Bless America, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

Another faded sticker, another inane yellow smiley:

United We Stand, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

The wind has whipped this flag to ribbons:

Stars and Ribbons, 2007, photo by Fred Hatt

And this flag flies in a fortified industrial wasteland:

Flag and Razor Wire, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

This is getting too depressing.  Flags blowing in the wind, even if they are ripped up, can make beautiful patterns of thrilling color:

Tattered Flag, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

Flags often make interesting wriggly shapes when viewed from almost directly underneath:

Soft and Hard, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

Convulsing Stripes, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

Billowing Flag, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

And flags clustered together send the color moving in all directions:

Flag Cluster, 2008, photo by Fred Hatt

Patriotic Neighborhood, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

Here, a building shrouded for renovation work still displays its flag in golden crepuscular light:

Sunset Flag, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

As a complement to this post, you may want to check out my earlier post, “9/11:  Signs in the Aftermath“, which shows many flags and other kinds of displays that sprouted in New York City in response to the catastrophe of September 11, 2001.

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