The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is a monumental architectural triumph of New York City, constructed on May 24, 1883, which supports, to this day, the colossal weight of bridge-walkers, automobiles and its own mass on pylons embedded deep in the East River. The Bridge, designed by German-born American civil engineer John A. Roebling, served–and still serves–as an elegant junction between Manhattan and Brooklyn, a unifying gateway between the glittering metropolis that is the dense island of Manhattan, and the spirited and feisty localism that defines the sprawling borough of Brooklyn. As noted by American photographic historian Alan Trachtenberg, the Bridge, “hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World . . . was tangible proof of America’s achievement.” Thus, the Bridge stands for the very notion of progress.

Swann’s December 12 auction features The Bridge, A Poem, illustrated with Walker Evans images, including one that focuses upward to emphasize the decorative suspension cords and the soaring height of the archway, calling attention to the Bridge itself as a physical object–one that is both absurdly intricate and incredibly strong (above). His vantage point, created by directing the camera lens toward the Bridge’s highest peak, accentuates its grandeur and presents an atypical account of the structure, organizing the space and point of view in an unconventional manner. By obscuring the walkway and the car lanes, through the darkened exposure, Evans also deemphasizes the Bridge’s practical role as a pathway for commuting. The structure’s ability to constantly morph, as represented in this masterly interpretation, makes it an attractive subject to artists who aim to capture it using an endless range of photographic phenomena.¬†

The Bridge has been a source of general awe and artistic preoccupation since its construction, in part because of its lyrical arches and graceful span and the boldness and innovation of its construction, which took vast amounts of engineering prowess, time, money and even the lives of many to complete. It has been depicted by innumerable painters and photographers, including Berenice Abbott and Photo League photographer Alexander Alland, undergoing variegated personal and artistic translations, affording the structure its iconic status. The numerous artists who have chosen to tackle the Bridge as their subject, have helped to secure its emblematic status and give it a subliminal emotional resonance. These artists capture the Bridge–a symbol of New York City, the progressive and evolving metropolis–in such a way as to evoke a strong visceral response from their viewers, via the power of their focused realism. –Francesca Altamura