Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Photographer Ron Hartley captures blacktop beauty in Brooklyn

Ron Hartley Blacktop Photos "Planet"
Ron Hartley Blacktop Photos "Planet"
One man's trash is another man'
Three years ago, retired adman Ron Hartley, 69, began taking pictures of cans, bottle tops, hairpins and other discarded items that have become permanently embedded in Brooklyn's streets.
"I kind of look at them as city fossils, documenting the time and place and the people who live here," said Hartley, a former advertising art director whose "Brooklyn Blacktop" photo series opened yesterday at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Hartley, a Pratt graduate who moved to Brooklyn three decades ago, first snapped a photo of a crushed Coke can that he noticed stuck in the pavement near his feet while he waited at a stoplight just blocks from his home on Grand Army Plaza.
"This is all brought to you courtesy of my bad posture," he joked.
He then started seeking out spots where Brooklyn streets - their tar seams softened by the summer sun and pummeled by traffic - had absorbed bits of carelessly tossed junk that took on a beauty of their own.
He found a plastic fork "that reminds you that the city doesn't leave much time for lunch," a compact disk and even a sink faucet pressed into the Brooklyn streetscape.
"The artists who really crafted this are the tens of thousands of Brooklyn people who've driven and walked over them and crushed them over the years," Hartley said.
That meant he found some of his best material at heavily trafficked and often treacherous spots like the one at Flatbush and Atlantic Aves. Hartley bought a bright orange safety vest and wore it as he dashed out into intersections at red lights to set up his camera and tripod, braving both cars and irritated pedestrians.
"All the while, I'm calculating in the back of my head when the light is going to turn green, and I'll be like the crushed can in the photograph," Hartley said.
Hartley carried a notebook at all times to keep track of particularly trash-rich patches of road so that he could return and shoot them. "You can't leave them too long, though, because they're constantly paving over things in the city, and before you know it, it's gone," he said.
"Brooklyn Blacktop" is on display in the Central Library's Grand Lobby until May 30.

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