10.11.16

Why Lampposts?

[Different shades of green on Saint Paul lampposts, c. 2004.]
The first time I got my hands on a digital camera  was back in 2004.  My sister, an early adopter, was visiting home and had brought one with her. “Hey, let me borrow that,” I demanded in a typical older brother move, and for the next two days I found myself taking pictures of lampposts.

I don’t quite know why. I’d been intrigued by lampposts ever since I’d worked as a accounts receivable drone at a small film company in Hell’s Kitchen. Wandering over lunch hour, I found myself drawn to a particular lamppost in the Southwest corner of Central Park. I’d sit with my sandwich and sketch its curves. Central Park lampposts resemble a Venn diagram in black iron, a pattern like waves. The quietude of the lamppost, surrounded by trees surrounded by skyscrapers, was one of those closely guarded city secrets, an island of privacy in an ocean of people.

Returning to Saint Paul, the paint caught my eye. The city has a distinct style of lamppost, an old fashioned stamp, but the varieties of paint were a constantly surprise. Occasionally yellow, often faded olive green, a block or two of robin’s egg blue, drab grey or solid black, there seemed to be no real pattern to how the city’s lampposts were painted. Who was responsible for this subtle madness? What city crew repainted the posts, and did they simply use leftovers from the Public Works supply stores?

[Some of the many lampposts of Minneapolis.]
Saint Paul’s rainbow of lampposts were one of those urban curiosities too marginal for most eyes, but once you began to notice them, the lampposts carried you forward like clues in a detective story. (Central Park's lampposts, in fact, are embedded with a secret code.) I like noticing the details and differences, the way that the globes twin themselves along Grand Avenue, or the subtle period transmutations in the city’s historic districts. When you stop and notice, the variety of city lampposts presents a bewildering euphoria. Minneapolis has a few distinct styles, everything from faux-Gothic posts like the crown of a evil Disney queen to odd concrete assemblages that remind me of a handmade grotto to the ultra-modernist globes shedding light on the University campus.

Why lampposts?

They surround us, the most ubiquitous sidewalk ornament, practical architecture. So look at lampposts as they light the way. Even when they don’t, they can cast beautiful shadows.

[See also: Why Sidewalk Closed Signs?]

[A beautiful forest lamppost on Portland's Mount Tabor.]




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