New York City - Roosevelt Island Tram view. Midtown.
I have been afraid of heights since I can remember. Even stepping on a tall foot stool would send me into a frenzied panic. It’s partially a control issue and partially an irrational fear of the eternal “what if” quandary related to my own mortality. And yet, I have discovered as I get older that there is something supremely thrilling about being high up above things especially being high up above New York City. It’s the same scattered sense of adrenaline-fueled excitement I get when I consider the vastness of the ocean. And in some ways, I think both vantage points offer the same sense of displaced wonder.
A month or so ago, I watched an absolutely incredible video called Overview which examined something called the Overview Effect. The Overview Effect is “a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface.” I can’t recommend the video highly enough. It’s a 15 minute short film that explores different astronaut’s life-altering experiences viewing the earth from above for the first time. The footage of earth from above in the film is overwhelming. It’s an emotional journey of a film that definitely has lodged its way into my consciousness. Here it is:
A few years back, when I went to the top of a skyscraper I had never been to the top of before, I had such an incredibly visceral reaction when I experienced seeing the city from above. It was rough for me to even take the elevator up 70 floors to the observation deck. I clenched my sweaty fists and closed my eyes the whole time deep breathing probably much to the amusement (or dread) of the fellow elevator passengers. Once I stepped out and onto the upper deck, I was hooked. It was as if I was seeing the city for the first time. Once you take yourself out and away from the streets that surround you, it’s as if the city opens up its arms to you. It’s fascinating to consider all of the activity and stories that are contained in any one part of such a view.
In the short film I linked above, one of the astronauts describes the Overview Effect saying that common features include a feeling of awe for the planet, and a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life among other perspective-shifting feelings. And I really think that anytime we take ourselves high above or deep below the reality we experience every day, it produces different (subtler when it comes to standing on the top of a skyscraper and perhaps more overwhelming in regards to being deep in the ocean) versions of the Overview Effect.
Since experiencing that amazing feeling when I pushed past my fear of heights to take myself high above my own every-day reality, I have actively pushed myself to seek out as many high vantage points as I can. This particular image (taken with the Sony A99) was taken high above the 59th Street Bridge (also known as the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge) entrance overlooking the buildings and skyscrapers that make up the New York City skyline in midtown Manhattan.
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