(more details later, as time permits)
When the weather is nice on a holiday weekend, you can be reasonably sure that there will be lots of interesting people to photograph in Central Park. My typical plan, on such photo expeditions, is to walk through and around several different parts of the park — in order to see different groups of people, and also to take advantage of different scenes and backdrops. But it means that I don’t spend very much time in any one place, and most of my shots end up being “ad hoc” in nature, with almost no planning, preparation, framing, or composition.
On this Memorial Day weekend, I decided to restrict my wandering to just one area — the “Great Lawn” that’s more-or-less in the center of the north-south expanse of the park. I walked around the sidewalk perimeter of the large grassy area, starting at the north end (because I had entered the park at 86th Street), heading down to the south end by the Delacorte Theater and the Belvedere Castle, and then back north again to my starting point.
I had a 70-300mm zoom lens on my camera while I was walking, and while that made it relatively easy to capture some interesting scenes of people out in the middle of the lawn, it was almost impossible to take a quick picture of someone just a couple feet away from me. Normally, I would just shrug and mutter to myself, “Well, that’s the way it goes” — and perhaps resolve that, next time, I would use the 18-200mm zoom lens that covers both a wider range between wide-angle and telephoto.
But in this case, I decided to change lenses after the first circumnavigation, and then make a second circle around the Great Lawn with a 24-120mm zoom lens. (All of this involved full-frame lenses on the Nikon D700, rather than the half-frame DX 18-200 zoom lens on my older Nikon D300.) So, on the second walk around the lawn, I focused more on the people sitting on benches, walking past me, and stretched out on the grass near the sidewalk. It also gave me a chance to set the lens to its maximum wide-angle setting, and take advantage of quick, unfocused, wide-angle “hip shots” whenever there was something interesting nearby that I had to shoot quickly.
When I got home, I decided to take a quick look at the Wikipedia article about the Great Lawn, to see if there was anything special that I needed to mention in these notes. I didn’t expect to find much, because — as far as I knew — it had always been part of Central Park, and had always been the same. To my surprise, I found that that was definitely not not the case. Indeed, today’s Great Lawn is situated on a flat area that was occupied by the 35-acre “Lower Reservoir” that was constructed in 1842 to supply water to the residents of the city. After the Croton-Catskill reservoir system was completed, the Lower Reservoir became redundant — but political battles ensued for several decades before the city finally settled on a plan for an oval lawn.
That plan basically fell apart because of the Depression, and the open area was filled with a “Hooverville” of improvised shacks for quite some time. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia finally brought in the legendary Robert Moses (the visionary force behind so many other parks around New York City and the rest of the state) to implement the plan — and it was essentially finished in 1934.
And there’s more to the history, too, but I’ll let you read that on your own if you’re interested. (You might be interested to know, for example, that in 1995, Pope John Paul II held an open-air mass for 125,000 on the Great Lawn. Yes, it is that big!)
In any case, I finished my second loop around the park, went home and uploaded several hundred photos, which I’ve winnowed down to the ones you’ll find in this set…