Thomas Cole, "Desolation" (1836)

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Summer Brooklyn Navy Yard Photos Span the Ages

While looking through the submissions from the participants on our Summer Photography Tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, I was reminded of one of the grandest works of art we have right here in New York City, Thomas Cole’s Course of Empire, which is housed at the New-York Historical Society.

At about the same time the US Navy began building the famed Brooklyn Naval Hospital, Cole was painstakingly painting his five-part masterwork.  It was the 1830’s, and Americans were keenly aware of the global powerhouse that the United States could become.  Cole painted the series in glowing and detailed Hudson River School-style, depicting five stages of empire – the series takes viewers from a “Savage” to “Pastoral” states, then to the “Consummation of Empire,”  “Destruction,” and finally “Desolation.”

When the works debuted in New York City, they won acclaim far and wide; James Fenimore Cooper (who, incidentally, was a frequent contributor to the Brooklyn Naval Lyceum’s journal) raved: “Not only do I consider the Course of Empire the work of the highest genius this country has ever produced, but I esteem it one of the noblest works of art that has ever been wrought.”

Fast forward 180 years.  Grand romantic narratives like the cycles of civilization still exist, but under a very different framework.  Instead of years of labor at a canvas, we can capture hundreds of images in a moment with digital photography.  In the course of our two-hour tour, the thirty participants created thousands of color images; not only that, but many are instantaneously published around the world (thank you, Internet).  As many of us do on a daily basis, they find, edit, and share information in real time.  Events like our photo tour and contest encourage this sharing of unique experiences, but also highlight moments and objects that would fit into Cole’s framework.  In New York City — and specifically in the Brooklyn Navy Yard — there is plenty evidence of this progress, and what lay behind us.

Each photographer on the sold out tour was allowed to submit up to seven images, and we received almost ninety entries (see the entries from our winter and spring tours as well).  They were posted to Instagram following the July 20th tour.  As always, submissions reflect a wide range of styles and subject matter, with many that are quite beautiful.  This contest will be judged by professional photographer and Yard tenant Amy Fronczkiewicz (read more about her work), and our next blog post will feature the winners, which Amy will “like” on Instagram.  The photographers of three selected photos will receive two free tickets to any of our tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and entered in our year-end competition, which will feature all 12 selected photos from our four seasonal photo tours in 2013.

Enjoy the photos below, and remember that this is not an announcement of winners – that comes in the next blog post!  Thanks again to all the participants. By sharing your photos you share your creativity and enthusiasm with all of us, and it is contagious.  Please click on the photos for credits.  Stay tuned!

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Turnstile Tours offers the Seasonal Photography Tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard four times throughout the year – please visit our tour page for tickets and information.  The last tour of 2013 will be offered Saturday, October 19 at 11am.  Advance ticket purchases are recommended.  In partnership with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, we also offer our Overview Tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard every Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm, and other special themed tours of the yard.  All tours begin at BLDG 92, which offers free admission to three floors of exhibitions on the yard’s history, the Ted & Honey rooftop café, and a host of great special events and programs.

This post was authored by Rich Garr, manager of our Seasonal Photography Tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.