July 12, 2009

Manhattanhenge 2009

We're all familiar with Stonehenge and the significance of the summer solstice right? But how many of us have heard of "Manhattanhenge"? I would wager not many unless you happen to be a Manhattanite! Today, 12th July, was one of two days this year when the Sun sets in exact alignment with the city grid, illuminating every cross street on the island as the sun sinks onto the horizon. As the sun sets, one can witness the golden orb sitting with its top half above the horizon line and the other half below. Manhattanhenge took place earlier this summer also on 30 May, but I only came to learn of it during this past week, and immediately my curiosity was piqued!

It is almost laughable to think that future civilisations would attach astronomical significance to the design of Manhattan's grid construction, but the ancient sites of Newgrange in Ireland and Stonehenge in England have long eeen revered as mythical, mystical places for their supposed worship of the Sun by their very design.

The 42nd street bridge here in Manhattan is apparently one of the best spots to photograph this annual phenomenon, and as luck would have it, I live on the very same street. Unfortunately, I could not (as a newbie to all this) have anticipated the crowds that would gather just outside my apartment block this evening. Instead of being there at 7 to set up my tripod and wait it out until sunset at approx. 8:30, I foolishly wandered down about 15 mins beforehand, only to be met with a sea of expectant photographers, both amateur and professional, all eager to capture this unique photo op.

Disappointed, I had no opportunity for a full-on shot of the sun setting from the desirable elevation of the 42nd street bridge. My only recourse was to stand in the middle of the busy city street below with hundreds of other hopefuls, blocking traffic and having abused hurled at me by passing taxi drivers. Nevertheless, these occasions are rare events, and I stubbornly stood my ground in the middle of the road as the golden ball slowly dropped onto the horizon at the far western end of 42nd street. I managed some semi-decent shots, but these could have been superior had I done my homework and secured my spot on time.

It's comforting to me to see that moments of wonder like this will still draw a crowd even in today's hectic, indifferent world. There are those who remain unimpressed by such things, and while I stood on 42nd street I overhead a woman passerby remark "Jesus, would you look at this. It's so American." In my mind, it seemed anything but American....there was something really unifying about it, drawing people of all walks of life together as if by some sort of magic. Sun worship in the medieval sense no longer exists it seems, but to watch this evening strangers standing together all facing towards the golden orb in the sky one would be forgiven for thinking that the practice was still alive and well.

And just to give you an idea of what a professional photographer who gets there on time can do check out this link - a great shot by Steve Kelly taken at the earlier event this year.


And a video posted on YouTube:


Cool, right!!

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