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Q&A With Robert McCabe, Pt. 3: Favorite Photographs

Robert McCabe is a celebrated photographer whose most recent exhibition took place in Corfu, Greece. This week he selected some of his favorite shots from his two Abbeville Press books, The Ramble in Central Park and Weekend in Havana.

Q. What are some of your favorite shots from The Ramble in Central Park?

A: P 31 Reflections in the Lake. I got inspired by the reflections in the lake several times and there are a couple of others included in the book. The success of these reflection photos depends on what was in the foreground, what was reflected, and how the light fell on all the components. One could do whole book of them!
P 66 The Oven. I like the sense of tranquility and the distance from the bustle of the city. The only link is the Times.
P 81. Fall Wedding. Luck plays an important role in photography. This was one of those lucky shots where all the players are visible and doing what they are supposed to be doing. If they had been my models and I had taken 1000 shots I doubt I would have gotten one as good.
P 109 Winter near Azalea Pond. This spot is exceptionally photogenic. And I picked the winter scene just because it’s rarer. There are other shots in the book of this spot in the fall.
P 118 A tranquil spot on the banks of the Gill. When I see this I think to myself, no one will believe this exists in New York.

Q. How about from Weekend in Havana?

A: P 87 The Man. The Bronze. The communist bronze ideal juxtaposed against the lanky human reality. But there are structural similarities which make the two figures seem related.
P 103 School pals. The sense of two children in rapport is strong in this–something difficult to capture in images. I have a series of the two of them together.
P 114 Woman and her dog. The color palette I like, as well as the sense of the emotional attachment between the woman and her dog.
P 119 The Three Graces. A lucky shot, with everyone in exactly the right position.
P 125 Toy vendor. This summarizes some of the heartbreak of Havana–no toys for children except these handmade “toys,” and the sadness of the maker.
P 137 Untitled. The local and foreign visitor. The positions and expressions speak 10,000 words.

Q. Tell us about your most recent work, including your recent exhibition in Corfu?

A. I am currently working on two books relating to Greece. This year I had the opportunity to photograph in a number of Greek islands that have beautiful topography, including Ithaca and Patmos.

I have an exhibition in progress now on the island of Corfu. It is titled “China Greece–Ancient Peoples, Changing Worlds.” It is in the Old Palace in Corfu, which is now the Museum of Asian Art. It consists of 40 color photographs of Greece in the 1950s and ’60s and 45 color photos of China in 2006. There are in addition 25 black and white photos of Greece in the 1950s. The venue is the most beautiful in Greece, and the island certainly one of the most beautiful and pleasant. So I hope you will try to visit before the May 12 closing date.

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Images by Robert McCabe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase a copy of The Ramble in Central Park, published by Abbeville Press.

Images by Robert McCabe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase a copy of Weekend in Havana, published by Abbeville Press.

Q&A With Robert McCabe, Pt. 1: The Ramble in Central Park

Robert McCabe is a photographer whose numerous books include The Ramble in Central Park: A Wilderness West of Fifth (Abbeville, 2011), Weekend in Havana: An American Photographer in the Forbidden City (Abbeville, 2007), DeepFreeze! A Photographer’s Antarctic Odyssey in the Year 1959, and On the Road with a Rollei in the ’50s. His photographs have been exhibited in the United States, France, and Greece, including most recently in Corfu, and have appeared in numerous publications. This week McCabe was kind enough to field some questions from the Abbeville Blog about his two Abbeville volumes, beginning with The Ramble.

The 38 acres of New York’s Central Park known as the Ramble are dense with trees, streams, and giant granite boulders; teeming with birds and other wildlife; and beautified by rustic bridges. For McCabe, this urban oasis is the heart and soul of the park.

Q. How did the Ramble project come about? What fascinated you about this particular aspect of the city and the park?

A. I was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with my aunt for Thanksgiving a few years ago. She was a working photographer until she died this year at age 101. She published a ppage of photos every week in the Jackson paper. We used to go out together photographing wildlife and landscapes. When I got back to New York after Thanksgiving I went for a walk in Central Park and happened to wander into the Ramble. I had a eureka moment when I thought, my god, we have our own wilderness here! So I decided to start photographing it. I quickly realized that every hour of every day of every season presented new vistas–like a kaleidoscope. So I began returning to the same areas different times of year. Now, every time I go back I see photo opportunities that I wish I had had for the book. It would be tempting to do a sequel.

The Ramble is an amazing concept–a wilderness in the middle of Manhattan island. Of course there’s one big difference with Jackson Hole: no bear and moose. And while our rocky heights are thrilling to climb, they don’t match the Tetons.

Q. How does the Ramble change from season to season? What can tourists expect during the winter?

A. The differences between seasons are spectacular. I love the earliest days of spring with new buds and blossoms and the small light green leaves. One still gets the distant vistas through the trees then. Good for photography. In the summer visibility is limited and the shadows are dark and it becomes more difficult to compose interesting shots with the extreme contrasts in light. Fall is spectacular with amazing colors. Our printer once began desaturating the separation of a photo of Japanese Maple not believing such bright colors were possible. And being in the Ramble in a blizzard is a unique experience. When the snow is swirling down, and the views to the buildings of the skyline are blocked and the paths all hidden with fresh snow it’s very easy to get lost.

Q. Have there been any lingering effects of storm Sandy on the Ramble?

A. I haven’t been back in the Ramble since Sandy. But the early snowstorm last year (2011) destroyed many trees in the Ramble from the weight of the snow. During Sandy I was in Corfu for the opening of an exhibition of my photos. We had a big storm which cut off power. The opening was scheduled for after dark. The U.S. Ambassador had come, and the number two in the Chinese Embassy. There was no auxillary power so we were getting very anxious. Fortunately power was restored two hours before the opening.

Q. What aspects of the Ramble’s geology, flora, and fauna amaze you the most?

A. The history of the flora is very interesting, with useful non-native plants introduced by early settlers, then decorative non-native plants introduced for aesthetic reasons, and now a return to native plants after it was discovered that some of the non-native plants were taking over! For me the geology is really extraordinary, with the massive boulders dropped by the glaciers as they melted. I know of no other place with so many outcroppings of bedrock that have been so beautifully polished by the rocks held in the ice. There is also the mysterious channel carved in the rock. I think I finally figured it out this summer after seeing similar channels carved in bedrock on the island of Ithaka. They were to collect water from rain.

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Images by Robert McCabe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase a copy of The Ramble in Central Park, published by Abbeville Press.