Picturins America
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13-A Walker Evans, Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1929
Olga Mironova

 

Skills covered:

Visual interpretation

Analysis

Logical reasoning

Critical thinking

Listening

General goal:

To develop students English speaking and comprehension skills through analyzing Walker Evans picture Brooklyn Bridge and the expressive means used by the author.

Objectives:

  • To introduce iconic American architecture, the history of US urban development and study related glossary
  • To advance students reading and listening comprehension skills
  • To develop/elaborate/reinforce/strengthen students English oral speech, opinion sharing and reasoning
  • To develop students visual interpretation and debating skills

Language development:

    • Speaking
    • Listening
    • Reading for details
    • Teamwork discussion
    • Video Watching

Materials / Visual aids:

  • The picture by Walker Evans Brooklyn Bridge
  • Texts for reading
  • Text (song) for Listening
  • Handouts for lesson activities
  • Sites
  • Video fragment

Lesson Plan

Activity 1 Warming up (class discussion) (5 min)

What do you associate NYC with?
(Statue of Freedom, Rockefeller Center, Broadway, Trade Centers, Brooklyn Bridge Teacher shows the pictures of the places)
What do you know about each of them?
What is special about their architecture?

Picture of Central Park (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Southwest_corner
_of_Central_Park,_looking_east,_NYC.jpg
)

Picture of Times Square (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NYC
_Times_Square_wide_angle.jpg
)

 

Picture of Empire State Building (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:NYC_Empire_State_Building.jpg
, http://commons.wikimedia.org/
wiki/File:Empire_State_Building_From_NJ.jpg
)
Picture of Statue of Liberty (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:Majestic_Liberty.jpg
, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liberty
-statue-from-front.jpg
)

Brooklyn Bridge (Robert Stolaric for the New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2007/08/03/nyregion/03spans_CA1.ready.html,
by Lars Aronsson http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La2-brooklynbridge.jpg)

Activity 2 Listening and Discussion (5-10 min)

Now we are going to listen to a famous song by Frank Sinatra New York, New York!

 

New York! New York!
Start spreading the news, Im leaving today
I want to be a part of it - New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray

Right through the very heart of it - New York, New York!

I wanna wake up in a city, that doesnt sleep
And find Im king of the hill - top of the heap

These little town blues, are melting away
Ill make a brand new start of it - in old New York
If I can make it there, Ill make it anywhere
Its up to you - New York, New York!

What kind of feelings does this song evoke?
How do you understand the phrase If I can make it there, Ill make it anywhere?

Activity 3 Guessing What (Class Discussion) (5 min)

Well talk about one of symbols of NYC. This is Brooklyn Bridge which attracts millions of travelers every day throughout the year.
Can you suppose when it was constructed?
Where is it located?
What is it used for?

Activity 4 Watching Video (3 min)
Directions: find out the answers for the above mentioned questions.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh-6cEPiYUo&feature=fvst

Activity 5 After Discussion (7 min)
What did you feel while watching the video? (Admired the grandeur of an architectural masterpiece, appreciated the spirit of it as both a great monument and a functional item of an urban landscape, marveled at a NYC panorama the bridge offers)
Did you get a wish to walk along the Bridge? (Yes it is, a historical landmark, perceived as an intrinsic part of NYC, no there is nothing special about it, its just a bridge)
What is the most special for you about the Bridge? (It is both a renowned monument and a functioning bridge available for both pedestrians and drivers; it is a symbol of NYC, a very strong association with the overall image of the city, it is such a familiar landmark, featured in numerous American movies, news reports, photosets)

Activity 6 Describing A Picture (5 min)

Teacher shows the picture by Walker Evans

Picture by Evans

http://sga-art-history.blogspot.com/2010/01/13-walker-evans-brooklyn-bridge-new.html

What do you see? (A tower with two pointed arches, an array/grid of cable wires going up to the top center of the tower, a silhouette of a streetlight)
What part of the Bridge is it? (One of the two bridge towers, cable lines leading to its top, an upfront view with the camera looking up at the tower)
What is unusual about the picture? (A viewpoint is different from a conventional side view of the bridge; a close-up/close shot of one of the parts of the construction and stark black-and-white contrast make the shape look abstract; the balance in the picture is asymmetrical)

Activity 7 Interpretation (10 min)
How did the photographer reflect the symbolism of the construction?
(He showed pointed arches of the bridge tower, highlighting/constructing its resemblance of Gothic arches usually found in mediaeval architecture, this parallel is to symbolize historical significance of the bridge as a milestone of American architectural history)
Can you call him an artist? Why?
(Yes, he is an artist because he showed not just a fact of a bridge but the unusual view of it; he pictured the bridge from an unconventional viewpoint: instead of showing a side view of the whole bridge as most photographers did he showed one of its towers upfront making the shape of the bridge seem abstract and/or Gothic; his picture implies an artistic impression of the bridge as not just a site but a marvel of engineering; it demonstrates truly artistic reflection on the marvel an its role in American history paralleled with that of Gothic architecture in medieval Europe)

Activity 8 Reading for Specific Information, Teamwork (15-20 min)

Students are divided into two groups, each given a text about the Bridge and a notable quotation suggesting a certain perspective to the Brooklyn Bridge multifaceted symbolism. The groups are to answer the questions concerning their texts, apply the information to interpret the quotation given and discuss their ideas and thoughts.

Group #1

In 1878 renowned American poet Walt Whitman returned to his beloved city of New York and saw the nearly completed Brooklyn Bridge. He described the visit provided "the best, most effective medicine my soul has yet partaken--the grandest physical habitat and surroundings of land and water the globe affords--namely, Manhattan island and Brooklyn, which the future shall join in one city--city of superb democracy, amid superb surroundings .
Read about changing NYC landscape of the late 19th century and answer the following questions:
What kind of urban problems hit NYC in the 19th century?
What was done to address those issues?
What ideas and concepts lay behind the changes championed by Olmsted?
How did the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge fit in that (Olmsteds) conceptual frame of urban planning?
What makes the Brooklyn Bridge a perfect public monument and why does it embody Whitmans idea of the future city of superb democracy?
Does Evans picture hold the impressions of Walt Whitman and why?
Sum up your answers and share the information you learned from the text, your comments and ideas on interpretation of the quotation with the class.

Text 1
The origins of twentieth-century New York, both in its physical characteristics and its social institutions, can be traced to the years between 1870 and 1900. No single New York structure better symbolizes this era of progress and change than the Brooklyn Bridge. It embodies both the technological advances that were essential to the modernization of New York and the spirit of confidence that allowed designers, politicians, and the public to envision huge projects involving complicated administration and finance.
The New York of 1870 was a densely populated horizontal city in which the highest buildings were five and six stories. The great majority of people and commercial establishments were located below 23rd Street. Grand Central Depot, built between 1869 and 1871, was constructed at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in part because the city government had ruled that there could be no steam engines below that pointin other words, within the heart of the city.
By the 1880s some of the first skyscrapers had been built in lower Manhattan. Among the most notable was the Tribune building of 187375. It combined advances in steel and iron construction with the passenger elevator to create the beginnings of the vertical city. In 1899 a British journalist wrote, when they find themselves a little crowded, they simply tilt a street on end and call it a skyscraper.
The dazzle of New York at night was already a distinctive feature of the city when another British author told in 1882 of the electric lights on Broadway from 14th to 26th Street. The effect of light in the squares of the Empire City, this correspondent wrote, can scarcely be described, so weird and so beautiful is it. The next year the electric lights on the Bridge were turned on, making it the first bridge in the world to be electrified. The population density of lower Manhattan (330,000 persons per square mile on the Lower East Side by the late 1880s) was lessened somewhat by the development of apartment houses. The first of these houses, built for the middle class, were located north of the densest areas of the island. The famous Dakota apartment house, occupied in 1884, was so named, legend has it, because it was so far north and west of the central city that living there was like being in the Dakotas.The effects of the crowded urban environment on people were addressed by such social reformers as Frederick Law Olmsted, who effected monumental change through his plans for New Yorks Central Park (designed in 1857), Brooklyns Prospect Park (designed in 1866), and upper Manhattans Riverside Park (designed and built between 1873 and 1910). These open spaces, planned in a naturalistic and picturesque style derived from nineteenth-century English landscape theory, gave the city dweller sorely needed room for mental and physical release. Olmsted theorized that parks were integral to a democracy: they served as places where all classes could mix and experience one anothers company in an atmosphere lacking in the established social hierarchies. The development of these parks as important cultural institutions was paralleled by the establishment in the late 1800s of museums and libraries. The American Museum of Natural History was established in 1869, The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870, and The Brooklyn Museum opened its doors in 1897. In 1895 the New York Public Library was founded, and two years later the Brooklyn Public Library Association began to serve the public. Both libraries were formed from the consolidation of private and
semi-private libraries. The years after the Bridge opened brought radical physical and social change to Brooklyn. Although Brooklyn was known as New Yorks bedroom as early as the mid-1850s, the surge of immigration to New York in the 1880s pushed more and more people across the river. The neighborhoods of Park Slope and Prospect Heights were built up in the 1880s, and by the turn of the century development had moved further inland. Brooklyn was no longer just for Brooklynites: by the 1880s Coney Island was enjoyed by New Yorkers seeking release from the summer heat.
From The Great East River Bridge, 18831983
(New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1983)
By Deborah Nevins, from Essay 186918831983
as available at http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/
research/brooklyn_bridge/essays/

Group#2 David McCullough, American historian, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and the author of The Great Bridge called the Brooklyn Bridge a reminder of community . Read the story of the bridge construction and answer the following questions: Why was it necessary to build a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn? Who designed the bridge? Who was in charge of the construction? What was so dangerous about the construction process? Do you think Roebling was the only one to suffer from the bends? What was the residents and authorities reception of the bridge? What makes the Brooklyn Bridge a reminder of community? Does the picture reflect McCulloughs idea? Sum up your answers and share the information from the text, your comments and ideas on interpretation of the quotation with the class.

Text 2

Brooklyn had a proud and distinctive personality when the bridge connecting it to Manhattan was begun. Up until the early nineteenth century it had retained the quality of the original Dutch settlement. Though the Dutch name of Breukelen had been anglicized, the rural tranquility persisted. From 1810 to 1847, however, the
population swelled from 3,000 to 30,000. The very rapid growth of the city of New York, just across the East River, was the major factor behind this boom. Real estate speculation and improved ferry service also encouraged residential development on Long Island.
Though a large part of the population commuted each day to New York, Brooklyn had an extensive port and warehouse district with eight miles of piers and dry docks. Steel, glass, tinware, sugar refining, printing, and whiskey were all important Brooklyn industries.
Before the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, ferries provided the essential link between Brooklyn and New York. In 1860, 32 million passengers used the East River ferries; by 1868 the number was more than 50 million. Thirteen ferry boats completed more than one thousand crossings each day.
Severe winters often made ferry crossings impossible, and the especially bitter winter of 186667 was important in persuading many influential Brooklynites that a bridge to New York was essential.

It was conceived in winter, in the mind of John Augustus Roebling, the illustrious pioneer builder of suspension bridges and wealthy wire manufacturer of Trenton, New Jersey. According to the accepted account, he was caught in the ice on a Brooklyn ferry and then and there, scanning the distance between shores, envisioned his crowning work. His oldest son, Washington, age fifteen, happened also to be with him at the time.
The heaviest blow he inflicted on Washington was his own hideous death just as the real work at Brooklyn was about to begin. There was a foolish accident. Roebling was standing beside the ferry slip, helping with the surveys and with such concentration that when the boat docked he neglected to get out of the way. The boat jammed against a string piece, which caught and crushed his foot.

When John Roebling died in 1869 his son Washington A. Roebling assumed his responsibilities.
Washington Roebling believed that management should take as many risks as labor, and he continually went down into the Bridges underwater foundations, or caissons, both in normal circumstances and in situations of crisis. In 1871 he experienced the terrible effects of caisson disease, or the bends , and in 1872 his physical suffering combined with anxiety and fatigue turned him into a permanent invalid. Although he never went to the Bridge site again, he continued to direct the construction of the Bridgefirst from his home in Trenton, New Jersey, and later from his house on Brooklyn Heights.
A woman of tremendous fortitude and intelligence, Emily Roebling was her husband Washingtons chief aide in building the Bridge. She took Roeblings correspondence, read all important documents to him, communicated in person with the board of directors and the engineers, and provided Roebling eyewitness accounts of the construction progress. Without her energy and reliability, Washington Roebling could not have continued on the project after 1872.

All told, several thousand people took part over fourteen years, many who were American born (including some blacks), many Germans, some Italians, some English, at least one Chinese, and a great many Irish. They all worked a ten-hour day, six days a week, and they were all menwith the one exception of Emily Roebling.

The Bridges opening day, proclaimed Peoples Day, produced a frenzy of festivity unlike anything seen before. People poured into New York and Brooklyn by train, boat, and barge, and all the hotels were full. At noon, business virtually shut down, and President Chester A. Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland led a parade down Broadway for the official opening. At 2 p.m., the President and his party began their walk across the Bridge as a band played Hail to the Chief, the North Atlantic Squadron fired a salute, and church bells tolled. Emily Roebling, representing her invalid husband, waited for the President at the Brooklyn terminal with Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low and several thousand invited guests. Later the President and the Governor went to personally congratulate Washington Roebling at his Brooklyn Heights home.

From 186918831983 by Deborah Nevins: abstracts 1,3,5
From The Builders by David McCullough: abstracts 2,4
Both from The Great East River Bridge, 18831983
(New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1983) available at
http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/research/brooklyn_bridge/essays/

Activity 9 After Reading Discussion (15 min)
Students of each group represent information they gathered while reading and discuss and share their ideas on quotations with other groups.

Hometask Comparing and Sharing Russian American Differences. (Explaining homework 3 min)

Read Vladimir Mayakovsky poem written in 1925 just 4 years before Evans picture was taken and compare in what ways Russian and American artistic impressions differ (in speaking).

Overall time 80-85 min

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As cited in Poetry Landmark: The Brooklyn Bridge In New York City at the Academy of American Poets official webpage: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5754

Courtesy of PBS from The Brooklyn Bridge documentary: available at http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/brooklynbridge/film/

The disease is caused by changes in air pressure that affect nitrogen levels in the bloodstream.

 
         
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