Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Nature (and Human Nature Inextricably Bound in Lower Manhattan)

07 December 2015


1. Into the Light;Copyright © 2015 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

1. Irish Hunger Memorial Project, Brian Tolle, 2002; Copyright © 2015 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

2. Into the Light;Copyright © 2015 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

2. Irish Hunger Memorial Project, Brian Tolle, 2002; Copyright © 2015 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

Let me know which you prefer and why. Click onto each image to enlarge.


“The living world can be seen as a network of interlocking fields of replicator power.” ~~ Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow (1998).

My world view has been embedded with a distinct philosophy about how nature and human nature are inextricably linked. I’ve been this way all my adult life: many decades of   sunrises and sunsets.

“We” are possessed by the desire to put them–nature and human nature–in their own category. When, in fact, they are one. But humans are the perpetrators of communication through language: spoken and written forms. My orientation is a visual one, symbolism through images and words, again, sort of one and the same.

In the above quote Dawkins is referring to art and science, which is very much the confluence of photography and nature. It’s a duo that motivates me to see my immediate world and beyond as the juxtaposition of living creatures as a source of inspiration and wonder.

While human ingenuity and innovation have brought us to a miraculous juncture in our history, we certainly are perfectly imperfect on this universal journey. So I want to show this interface between our world that spins around nature and human nature.

In my small corner of the planet I am on the search for images that transpose what we see into a story about this crucial bond–a bond on a delicate precipice. I am not a doomsday kind of person. I have enduring hope that the trajectory of our planet’s ills will be slowed, even reduced considerably. It must be. It has to be.

While we are living in complex times with many uncertainties, the one that we can actually work to improve is environmental consequences–seen and unforeseen–of human’s continuous interplay with nature. Often this interaction is at the detriment to the entire planet.

Okay, so these are ethical, moral, political, and scientific issues that are legacies of the human condition. Can we turn the tides and move toward a healthier Earth? Only involvement and time will tell.

I’m choosing to soothe my soul through my lens and pens. I invite you to join me. Or comment on my journey. I’m not sure where it will lead, but this post is an example of my path forward and melds with some previous ones.

Part of my vision is to take street life and above-ground archaeology and show how nature is very necessary in the urban environment: how pockets of green can help sustain our relationship with this spinning planet that gives us life. And in this effort show progress and hope.

In the Lens section is an example of the interconnection of nature and human nature. New York City has turned itself into a center of green streets, renewal of the land, newly-planted trees, engaging waterfronts, and parks aplenty. The New York Restoration Program is a prime example of the work being done–work that has created among other successes 52 community gardens. By 2014 NYC had developed 109 acres of new parkland.

When I took these images of portions of Brian Tolle’s 2002 “Irish Hunger Memorial Project” in Battery Park, (through a City Parks Conservancy Art Program), I was drawn into its narrative as we walked from the dark into the light–light that showed a vista of people, trees, parkland, and the Hudson River. This scene evoked the way cities can provide public spaces and moments of nature in our consumer-driven and technological society.

This site-specific work of art reminds me of the earthworks of 1960s and 1970s , which were made by such luminaries as Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria and Robert Smithson.  Brian Tolle created the monument (96′ x 170′) to memorialize Ireland’s Great Famine as well as make a statement about today’s world hunger. The text that runs along the walls blends the history of the famine with modern reports on hunger throughout the world. As nature and human nature evolve over time, this work will too. Text will change (notice the layers of water that have added a patina over the letters) and the earth and stone that support the monument will be modified through outside paths of grass.

3. The Wall, Hunger Memorial, 2002; Copyright © 2015 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

3. Irish Memorial Hunger Memorial, Brian Tolle, 2002; Copyright © 2015 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

As I thought more about this artwork and its location by the waterfront in Lower Manhattan, the idea of its significance grew and grew. It is a quintessential example of how adaptation and confluence of ideas, human history and Mother Nature can be part of urban life.

The “living breathing” memorial with its concise yet poignant language and visual interpretation of history transmits an emotional response about the intersection of nature and human nature. On one very small piece of our planet an artist has given us a natural wonder that provokes thought about how today’s human toil from climate change effects Mother earth.

In Manhattan you can find such inspiration in a tiny park or on a main street. The greening of this urban center is impressive. And the other four boroughs are doing their job too.

Humans are still pioneers on this planet, and we must come together for the greater good to sustain our journey. And in the doing–even a small contribution–we begin to  understand how deeply and thoroughly we rely on nature to coexist and exist: how we are inextricably bound.

Tip of the Week:

American photographer Mitch Epstein’s New York Arbor (2013) devotes this volume to the staggering number of trees that line parks and street of the most extraordinary of urban centers. It’s an apt example of the greening of cities and how important this effort is to the health of our entire planet. Epstein gives each tree special attention, never sublimating its beauty and importance to its surroundings. Spectacular trees represent each of the five boroughs. He wrote, “These immigrant trees, along native counterparts, still thrive in New York City. The trees remind me of the human immigrants who continually arrive in New York, who creatively adapt to a brutal yet tolerant city, and rarely abandon their original character.” To read more about this book, click here.

Mitch Epstein's New York Arbor, 2013

Mitch Epstein’s New York Arbor, 2013

View other entries for this week’s challenge:


As always I welcome comments about this post or any part of my blog. My photographs for the mobile photography challenge are taken with an iPhone 6.

If you’d like to join this Mobile Photography Challenge, please click here for details and history of the challenge. If you have any questions, please contact me. Below is a reminder of the monthly schedule with themes for upcoming challenges:

1st Monday: Nature.

2nd Monday: Macro.

3rd Monday: Black and White.

4th Monday Challenger’s Choice (Pick One: Abstraction, Animals, Architecture, Food Photography, Night Photography, Objects, Panorama, Portraiture, Still Life, Street Photography, and Travel).

5th Monday: Editing and Processing with Various Apps Using Themes from the Fourth Week.

This entry was posted in Black-and-White Photography, Human Nature, Macro Photography, Mobile Photography, Nature Photography, Street Photography, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Nature (and Human Nature Inextricably Bound in Lower Manhattan)

  1. Tina Schell says:

    You chose one of my favorite NYC spots this week Sally. So nice to see it featured so prominently both in your photos and your thoughts.

  2. Su Leslie says:

    Having come late to the party (again), I can only agree with Tish. Both in my preference for the first shot — there is a very positive energy in the slash of colour — and in sharing your views about human stewardship of our planet.

  3. I think you are very right in what you say about the necessity of green in our urban landscape. It does sustain our relationship with the whole that is our planet. As I read your text I think I prefer more and more the colour version of your photos. The colours points exactly to the need of plants in our urban world.

  4. DG MARYOGA says:

    Engrossing read with insightful viewpoints and observations, gorgeous your theme, dear Sally,and the b/w image. Superb lighting and linear perspective.

  5. Maria F. says:

    I think both have their virtues, although I like B&W for architecture with many shadows.

  6. Tish Farrell says:

    I prefer the first image, Sally. I like the flush of light across the paving; there’s hopefulness in it.
    As to our doing what we can for our environment, as we’ve said over at my place, we are of like minds on this. But there is also the political-economic angle – which none of is meant to untangle and penetrate – i.e. the small group of very powerful people who are invisible to most of us, but whose actions daily have global consequences.

    • Tish, I strongly agree. I’m not sure what it will take for those in power to work on behalf of the greater good. Meanwhile we can continue to do what is within our own reach. I appreciate your comment. Thanks.

  7. Debbie H says:

    Very interesting post as always, thank you! I like them both but the first one has a touch of colour that speaks to me for some reason.

  8. prior2001 says:

    Well I like the first photo the most – but you know – I found that the image took on a total different feel after I read your pens part – cool how that happened -and I too have had plenty of sunrises and sunsets – nice post S!

  9. badfish says:

    when they’re small, I like the color. But when I see them large, I like the B&W better…but then, I’m a B&W fan. I especially like the wall image!!! I have posted some iPhone photos, but they never seem to match up with your weekly prompt!!!

  10. Profoundly and timely thought provking pen. How do we live in the here and now..
    As dirty and smog chocked as Mexico City is it is filled with fountains memorials and parks. Green ways down the middle of an avenue, as if the Monstero that is Mexico City still craves Nature to survive. I know I do.
    The first image stays with me like I’ve been there before, but never have.

  11. I love the colored one the most, because it gives it more of a depth.

  12. Enjoyed your thoughtful words and interesting insights.

  13. Angeline M says:

    You’ve posted a very insightful narrative, Sally. I too hope that the earth will survive the human destruction going on. I do think more and more people are waking up and stepping up to save mother earth.
    I think I like your black and white photo just a tiny bit more than the color version because of a little extra refraction of light against the tile on the wall.
    Have a good week.

  14. I love that first image – the green trees just add a little of nature to the urban scene.

  15. Allan G. Smorra says:

    I like the stark B&W photo this week, Sally. It really accentuates the claustrophobic feeling of a root cellar. This monument is new to me, thanks for teaching me something new today. I’ll have something for you tomorrow.

  16. Love the perspective on both of these. I love B&W but I really like the pop of color.

  17. Nato says:

    It is a true challenge to use nature for our journey without destroying it. History has shown humans to be so evil and destructive and then on the flip side, others are loving and creatively resourceful. I do pray that there are more of the latter for the sake of my children and possible future grandchildren. Nature is so precious, and like you say, we are bound to it for our survival. Great post:)

  18. Amy says:

    I agree with Patti. Such a power post, Sally. I like the angle you took of this photo, and the lighting you captured is fantastic! 🙂

  19. Sally, I have to go with the first one today, as I think that color is inextricably tied to one of the reasons we have these green spaces. The Chicago area, and DuPage County where we live, does a wonderful job of having parks and green spaces where people can at least momentarily get away from the city and into nature. What a blessing and of course it’s healthy as well.


  20. pattimoed says:

    Very powerful post, Sally! I love those glimmers of light in the black and white image. It really highlights the interplay of nature and the urban environment. I am also hopeful that we will work to find solutions to our environmental woes, caused by excess and greed. It’s becoming more and more urgent that we do this. Thanks too for the book idea. I think you just gave me a great gift idea for my sister-in-law who is a gardener who lives in Manhattan!

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