[Blog #2] Rowing in the City. Use of rowboats in C19th/C20th New York and London ( Peter Bowen, 113302456 )

London

Date: c. 1890s Photographer: Unknown Location: Thames, London Source: National Maritime Museum, London

Date: c. 1890s
Photographer: Unknown
Location: Thames, London
Source: National Maritime Museum, London

In this first image, we see three members of the Thames River Police at work upon the eponymous river, acting as both law enforcement and lifeguards upon the water. The boat in this setting, is a practical tool used to increase the efficiency of law enforcement in London as it faces new challenges with its growth in the 18th century. It is an innovative way of utilising the natural infrastructure of the city as it advances into modernity.


New York City

The following four images depict a different use of the row-boat in a modern city, that of leisure. Unlike the Thames, these bodies of water – the lakes of Central Park, NYC –  serve little practical purpose. Here we see an altogether different scene, that of the city’s denizens escaping the urban environment, isolated, finding privacy in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities.

Date: 1931 Photographer: P. L. Sperr Location: Harlem Meer, Central Park, NYC Source: New York Public Library

Date: 1931
Photographer: P. L. Sperr
Location: Harlem Meer, Central Park, NYC
Source: New York Public Library


Date: 1923 Photographer: P. L. Sperr Location: The Lake, Central Park, NYC Source: New York Public Library

Date: 1923
Photographer: P. L. Sperr
Location: The Lake, Central Park, NYC
Source: New York Public Library

This is the image I personally feel evokes a clear contrast between the solitude of the rower and the city he is escaping, almost out of sight, but never exactly so. This is the creation of a personal, private space in a modern city, although temporary.


Date: May 7 1933 Photographer: P. L. Sperr Location: The Lake, Central Park, NYC Source: New York Public Library

Date: May 7 1933
Photographer: P. L. Sperr
Location: The Lake, Central Park, NYC
Source: New York Public Library

Again, in this image, the city skyline almost feels alien, there’s a spatial contrast, a facsimile of the natural within the unnatural, like a human zoo.


Date: c. 1930 Photographer: Unknown Location: The Pond, Central Park, NYC Source: New York Public Library

Date: c. 1930
Photographer: Unknown
Location: The Pond, Central Park, NYC
Source: New York Public Library

Lastly, the boats at anchor. I feel that this photograph, unlike the other three captures no sense of the personal space created by the boats or the park around them, instead it is poignant. In their inanimate form it is harder to imagine the experience of privacy. It informs the viewer that the escapism provided is fleeting, gone as soon as you step back into the city.


Source links:

Thames River Police: http://www.portcities.org.uk/london/server/show/conMediaFile.5198/Police-rowing-boat-off-the-entrance-to-London-Docks.html

Central Park Images: https://www.oldnyc.org/

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