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How One Photographer Captures 'New York From Above'

Photographer Evan Joseph has made a career of capturing New York City's diverse architecture in its many forms: He works with high-end real estate firms to capture luxe interiors, and with construction firms to document their projects in progress. He's also released two books that explore New York City in different contexts: comparing the streetscapes of the past to their present-day counterparts, and showing what landmarks look like at night. His latest project, a book titled New York From Above, offers yet another perspective on NYC: as the title suggests, the images were all taken high above the city, either from a helicopter or from atop buildings like One World Trade Center. "My aim is really about capturing what I see as this tremendous beauty in New York," he explains. "There is a beauty here that rivals anything you see in the Grand Canyon."

The book came together almost as an accident: Joseph was working with the operators of One World Observatory to photograph the supertall and its surrounds for one of the attraction's interactive features. After submitting his images, they asked him for even more. From there, a partnership was born. "I've been working on this book for years, saving these images of New York, and I [told them], 'I think it goes really well with your idea of the view of the city from above,'" referring to the Observatory's "see forever" tagline. (Thanks to that partnership, New York From Above is exclusively distributed through the attraction's gift shop.)

Many of Joseph's images are shot from a helicopter (he's worked with the same pilot for years), which allows him to not only capture grand aerial views of the city, but also specific, detailed images of architectural elements that are simply too high to be seen normally. The image below, of the spire of One WTC, is one such case; in what Joseph calls a "serendipitous moment," he just happened to be in a helicopter that day, and had time to fly around the building and capture the steel spire from more than 1,700 feet up.

Of course, photographing the city's skyline from those great heights isn't exactly easy. Joseph and his pilot often work long hours in order to capture buildings at all times of day: in the morning light, at the mid-afternoon "golden hour," and in the evening. And that's even before taking into account the fact that the work itself is a physical challenge, one that involves getting precise locations correct high above the city. "The two of us do these really complex maneuvers in order to put me and the helicopter right over the tip of the building, or directly over the middle of Time Square looking straight down," Joseph explains. "That stuff takes some practice and is nerve racking for everybody."

Joseph has also scaled some of the city's most iconic towers—the Woolworth Building, One57, One WTC, the list goes on—as part of his day job, which led to some of the images in the book. One offers a perspective of Central Park from inside Tommy Hilfiger's penthouse at the top of the Plaza Hotel; another, which was taken from the top of 432 Park Avenue while it was still under construction, shows an expansive (and rarefied) view of Manhattan. "I love being in construction sites before they put up the glass," says Joseph of that particular shoot. "To sneak up to the edge of that slab and be 60 stories above Manhattan, and to be able to see that view of New York from that location for the first time, it's really thrilling." Though not without its dangers: according to Joseph, shooting on rooftops can be just as harrowing as from a helicopter. "I actually feel safer in the helicopter that I do on those building sites," he explains.

But for Joseph, part of the thrill is in the process. "I'll do anything in the moment. I'll climb up that maintenance ladder or hold onto the edge of this water tower and shimmy up that ledge just to get myself into this perspective." That daredevil spirit informs at least one thing that this veteran photographer would still love to do: "I'd like to explore the top of both the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building a little bit more. I've explored them both from outside from the helicopter, but I'd like to crawl around up there."

One World Trade Center Freedom Tower

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