Atlantic Yards Aerial Photos: Interview with Jonathan Barkey


Jonathan Barkey, Atlantic Yards Camera Club member, recently got to fly over the project area. We spoke to him to find out how he captured these dramatic images.

How did you get to take a helicopter ride around the footprint?

The Municipal Art Society of New York commissioned an architectural team to generate new renderings of the Atlantic Yards project reflecting developer Bruce Ratner’s recent admission to The New York Times that most construction will be postponed due to financing issues and the slowing economy. I participated in extensive group e-mail exchanges with MAS that led to the choice of shooting angles and ultimately, their decision to photograph the site from the air.

Why not use shots from The Williamsburgh Savings Bank or other tall structures around the footprint?

Believe me, everyone involved tried hard to get good photos from nearby buildings, since helicopters are really expensive. When MAS asked for existing images, I sent them a panorama I’d taken last year from a rooftop on Flatbush across from the "Miss Brooklyn" and arena sites; it was clearly too close but, at least, good for context.

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Jonathan Barkey


The Williamsburgh Savings Bank offers amazing views from its higher floors, but the angle isn’t quite right, and Forest City’s own Atlantic Terminal office building blocks key parts of the site. MAS also tried rooftop views from State Street and farther down Atlantic Avenue, neither of which offered acceptable proximity or height. I championed the idea of shooting from the Vanderbilt Avenue end—to show most effectively what would likely become a massive parking lot stretching west toward the arena. That’s the most shocking of the two views used in the MAS renderings, and the reason the website can be called "Atlantic Lots."

1779590-1606031-thumbnail.jpgTo help MAS, local photographer Tracy Collins, who has been methodically documenting the Atlantic Yards footprint and adjoining neighborhood, tried shooting from two different rooftop sites overlooking that block but they just weren’t tall enough. See the image, left.

How flexible was the pilot in terms of getting you the angles you needed?

He went exactly where we directed him, but said 500 feet was the minimum altitude possible. With four people in the helicopter and strong winds that day, he wasn’t able to hover, so we made wide, slow circles around the site, descending to about six hundred feet in eight consecutive passes. I remember telling the pilot to get closer and closer, particularly at the Vanderbilt end, for maximum visual impact.

1779590-1606943-thumbnail.jpgWhat equipment did you take? Did you have any special lenses or filters?

I used a Canon EOS 40D digital SLR and a 17-55mm f/2.8 image-stabilized lens. Stabilization, which reduces blur caused by camera shake, was necessary to counteract the strong vibrations from the helicopter. For good measure, I set a fast shutter speed—1/1000th second. Otherwise, no special equipment. I shot from the back seat out the right side of the aircraft, with the door removed to facilitate photography. As I’ve discovered during several such flights, it’s crucial that the photographer get the best seat; having someone sitting between you and the door or window makes the job much harder.

Did you have specific instructions from the people producing the 3D mock ups for the shoot?

Based on the pre-shoot brainstorming, MAS decided in advance that they were going to produce two renderings: one from the west with the arena block in the foreground, and the other from the east highlighting the "parking lot block" stretching from Vanderbilt to Carlton. Real-time shooting decisions in the air were based on my instincts and familiarity with the site. Time over the AY footprint was exactly 20 minutes. I captured about 120 separate images, of which MAS selected the best two.

What are your thoughts on the project now that it has been scaled back?

The project can hardly be described as "scaled back," despite the developer’s decision to lop 109 feet off the top of "Miss Brooklyn" (Building 1), a token concession first announced in 2006. Why? Because the rest of the plan is roughly the same, including its massive, neighborhood-killing size. But nobody actually believes anything but the arena and a few towers will be built any time soon.

It looks like a huge empty lot down there. Surely some development is better than that?

This tragic circumstance, resulting from the malfeasance of city and state government enabling a developer-driven process with no meaningful input from residents and elected representatives, allowed Forest City Ratner to demolish much of the neighborhood even though the full build-out was always a sham. That’s why a coalition of groups, now supported by local politicians who once favored the project, are petitioning Governor Paterson to call a "time-out" on further demolitions. Most people who oppose Atlantic Yards want to see development over the Vanderbilt rail yards—done responsibly and in true partnership with the community. A good start would be the community-driven UNITY Plan, a sensible framework that rejects lunatic scale, superblocks, egregious architecture, obscene public giveaways, and eminent domain abuse.

Who else has done independent renderings of the Atlantic Yards project?

e MAS project has many antecedents. My own efforts followed pioneering work by Jon Keegan (in the form of a Google Earth model) and Will James. The Environmental Simulation Center created both stills and a Google Earth model for the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods. Other visualizations appeared in New York Magazine.



Jonathan Barkey is an editor for American PHOTO magazine and lives in Brooklyn.

Two Rallies at Atlantic Yards

400_2008_DSC_4986.jpgOne Saturday, two rallies at the Atlantic Yards site: one calling for Ratner’s project to go forward, the other for it to stop. I would have come back with more shots of the friendly atmosphere at the start of the pro-project rally, but it began on private property where I was not permitted to take pictures. Persons with notepads are likewise unauthorized to enter Atlantic Terminal Plaza.

For more detailed coverage:
Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards Flickr Pool




Atlantic Yards Time Out Rally


"Call a Time Out on the Atlantic Yards Bait and Switch:
A Community Rally to Tell Governor Paterson to Halt the Atlantic Yards Project"

The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, Brooklyn Speaks, and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn  have joined forces to organise a rally in the heart of the Atlantic Yards Development footprint. Come and see for yourself the scale of the project, and the sharp increase in demolitions.

Saturday May 3rd at 2pm
752 Pacific Street

More on the rally here 

Don’t Destroy Brooklyn: Atlantic Yards Community Meeting


Much of the Atlantic Yards area is rapidly turning into what looks like a Misrach image, so now’s a good time to find out more about what’s going on.

Tonight Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn hosts a community meeting, open to everyone:

"Find out the latest on the community’s fight against the destructive Atlantic Yards project, including news on the political and legal effort to stop the project. Find out how to get involved. Also, learn about the UNITY Plan, the community’s alternative plan to develop the rail yards with truly affordable housing, community-friendly open space without the abuse of eminent domain. City and State politicians will speak and be available for Q&A."

Thursday, March 13, 7pm
Hanson Place United Methodist Church. Main Sanctuary

Church Address:144 Saint Felix Street at Hanson Place
*Enter at Hanson Place [Map]
Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Subways: 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, R, Q to Atlantic/Pacific



A public workshop for the Unity Plan took place yesterday on Atlantic Avenue. The plan is a community-developed alternative to the Forest City Ratner project. For more information click here 

Atlantic Yards Camera Club: Everyone is Invited


A group of Atlantic Yards photographers are getting together to take pictures in the footprint on Sunday. This in response to people getting harassed by official staff when taking pictures there. They hope to use the opportunity to help people both sides of the fence, and lens, to be more aware of photographers rights. The Atlantic Yards footprint offers a surprising range of subjects, including beautiful but quickly disappearing homes and industrial architecture.

Here’s a basic round-up of a photographers’ rights (PDF) 

Here’s some background to the event 

Photographers, videographers, bloggers, and supporters. News media are welcome.

A "photographers’ rights free expression mobilization" responding to the harassment of video artist/teacher Katherin McInnis by an MTA police officer last Sunday, February 3rd on public property within the Atlantic Yards footprint. We will discuss photographers’ rights and the Atlantic Yards situation, then walk and photograph within the footprint. Depending on circumstances, we may have the opportunity to engage in a respectful information exchange with MTA police and/or private security personnel. End point: Freddy’s Bar and Backroom, 485 Dean Street, corner of Sixth Avenue.

Meet at the Brooklyn Bears Community Garden, Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue, entrance on Pacific. If there’s *heavy* rain or snow, we’ll change the meeting place to Freddy’s Bar, 485 Dean, corner of Sixth Avenue.

WHEN: Sunday, February 10th @ 3pm