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Photographer Chronicles One of Gwathmey's Final Buildings

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Well-known architecture photographer Evan Joseph has shot hundreds of interiors, but until recently, he had never told the visual story of an entire building. Then Rizzoli New York approached him about doing a book on Gwathmey Siegel's 400 Fifth Avenue, a 60-story tower that was one of the last projects that Charles Gwathmey worked on before his death in 2009. To adequately capture every nuance of the structure, Joseph spent six months shooting the building during all types of weather?the cover image is pre-snow storm?and at all times of day?the lobby bar was shot at dawn. The building has 157 guest rooms, 57 condos, a spa, restaurant, lounge, bar, and terrace, plus a landmarks-approved glass and limestone facade that echoes the nearby Empire State Building, and Joseph says it's the combination of these elements that sustains visual interest. "It's a very special building in that it has all of these things going on. It would be very hard to do this for a different building."

Joseph's goal with this book was to "create a synthesis of architectural photography, which tends to be a little cold, and marketing photography, which tends to be a little too slick." To help him do that, he stripped away all the extras?you won't see any orchids or strategically draped blankets?and constantly thought about a quote from the architects: "Great architecture is self-decorating."

For the aerial shots, Joseph took three different helicopter rides, including a sunrise shoot that required "quite a bit of finagling" by air traffic control because they were in between New York and LaGuardia's air space. During a recent phone interview, he described the experience as "spectacular":

I'm very obsessive about meteorology and lighting and where the sun is going to be, so I planned it very well. I wanted to catch the sun rising right along the building, so the building was silhouetted. The sun is behind the building so it's creating that wonderful starburst shape right on the side of the building. The Empire and Chrysler are on either side, and to have it all come together was really special. It's a pretty rare moment to be present for. Immediately after shooting into the sun, we zoomed around to look back on the building as the first rays of the sun were hitting it, so the helicopter is between the sun and building. To see the tippy top of the building get that orange sunrising glow, along with the top of the Empire State Building and Chrysler, while the rest of the city is in this eerie murky blue darkness, it was thrilling.

The cover image (lead photo), however, was not shot from a helicopter. Joseph wanted to shoot it from a rooftop to get a clear cityscape, but he struggled to figure out which building would give him the best perspective. Then one day he was shooting inside the MetLife Building at 1095 Sixth Avenue, and he realized that the rooftop would give him the perfect vantage point. A snow storm was forecasted to hit in a few days, so Joseph quickly got his paperwork in order ("all those things you need to do so you can stand on a stranger's commercial rooftop"). "It was a very, clear spectacular day," says Joseph. "It was exactly what I hoped it would be." The cover image was taken the moment after the sun set, "a nice moment to be standing up on someone's roof freezing to death." ("That's become one of my native habitats," says Joseph, "alone on a rooftop surrounded by photography equipment, peering over them edge waiting for the perfect light.")

It's well-known in the photography world that Joseph, who collects camera lenses, carries around a lot of photo equipment, and for this book, he says he used almost everything he owns, "including a real honking telephoto lens that [he] lugged around." Every lens captured the facade in a slightly different way. In the book's introduction, Paul Goldberg describes the intricacies of the facade, a mix of limestone, glass, and metal. He says the most striking element is the shape of the windows, which look like bay windows turned on the side, so the peak where they meet protrudes outward. "The angled panes of glass, covering the entire facade, along with the limestone moldings make this an unusually active facade for a modern building, with a sense of debt that is far from the sleek, flat facades of so many modern buildings..."

[All photos © Evan Joseph]

Shooting the interior was no less of a process. He had to reschedule the penthouse shoot at least five times to get the right weather for the right suite, and he had to shoot the lobby at 4 a.m. Joseph wanted to photograph the hotel bar at sunset, but that was during happy hour and they wouldn't close. So instead he shot it at dawn, which gave him the opportunity to remove all extra objects to "really make it the perfect clear architectural photograph" that captured the "contrast between the rich italian leather chairs and the dark wood of the bar and beautiful blueish dusk light and the cool white, shiny, teardrop lobby sculpture." "After that shoot," says Joseph, "I was like 'Wow, that was worth being up at 3:30 in the morning.'"
· Evan Joseph [official]
· 400 Fifth Avenue [Rizzoli New York]
· 400 Fifth Avenue [book website]
· 400 Fifth Avenue coverage [Curbed]

The Setai Fifth Avenue

400 5th Ave., New York, NY 10018