Story Behind the Shot: Fall Landscape

EnlargePhoto of the High Line by Steven Severinghaus

In celebration of our new 18-month High Line Calendar, we’re exploring each month’s featured image to bring you more of the behind-the-scenes details.

October’s calendar image is a vibrant autumn landscape shot by High Line Photographer Steven Severinghaus. This image was taken during one of our seasonal photo walks, informal meet-ups Friends of the High Line leads with our volunteer photographers. On that early morning in October last year, a small group of us met up at the south end of the High Line at the top of the Gansevoort Stair and set out into the park with our cameras. The weather was brisk and fall foliage was in full-swing. Steven’s photo beautifully captures a short section of park between West 19th and West 20th Streets. In the foreground, the light purple blooms of Raydon’s Favorite asters contrast against the yellowing wispy strands of threadleaf bluestar and red-tinged Shennendoah switchgrass.

Steven is one of a small, dedicated group of photographer volunteers who lend their talents to the High Line, turning their lenses to a variety of subjects in the park. He has an impressive talent for discovering subtle details and textures that easily go unseen to most people. Browsing his Flickr Photostream is guaranteed to brighten your day. There you’ll find hummingbirds alighting delicate branches, poetically composed portraits of seasonal blooms, and a variety of the teeniest fauna you’ll ever find in New York City’s natural spaces.

We are endlessly impressed by and delighted with Steven’s work, and we’re sure you will be too. Join us after the jump to get to know him better.

Friends of the High Line: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Steven Severinghaus: I grew up in farm country outside of Mahomet, Illinois. Both of my parents were biologists, so naturally, I went to school at the University of Illinois and got a degree in computer science. I am a programmer by day, but I have always been deeply curious about nature. Moving to New York a few years ago has, ironically, brought me much closer to nature. The parks are teeming with diverse flora and fauna, of course, but in fact I find subjects anywhere I stop to look.

This doesn't really fit into the narrative, but I also sing with two barbershop choruses here in the city. That's where much of my time outside work and photography goes.

When and how did you first pick up photography?
My earliest memory is from when I was about twelve years old. My parents had a microscope and a Pentax 35mm with an adapter that fit it to the microscope. I took photos of various slides that my mother provided, but the best subject was pond water, which is crawling with fascinating critters – my favorites were the rotifers. Photography took a back seat through high school and college, but I got back into it in 2001 with my first camera, an early digital SLR. I've had a camera with me everywhere I go ever since.

You have a talent for capturing beautiful details of plants and animals. Would you say that these are your favorite subjects? Why?
Plants and animals are an addictive subject matter. What is this thing called? What is its life history? What is it related to? How did it end up at the High Line? Where else can I find it? Questions arise of their own accord. The more you know, the more you can ask, and any answer can lead you to another photographic subject. Others presumably feel the same way about, say, fashion or architecture, but my upbringing gave me my starting point.

Do you have any favorite subjects at the High Line?
It's hard for me to pick a favorite subject at the High Line. The incredible diversity of the plantings combined with the swiftly changing seasons makes it a moving target. A few weeks ago it was the milkweed, then it was the stonecrops, then the glorybowers and toad lilies, and now I am eager to see the sumac change colors in the coming weeks. And for every plant, there is a cotillion of creatures around it. One of my recent favorites was finding a grasshopper hiding in plain sight on an otherwise nondescript allium that had gone to seed.

Besides the High Line, what is one of your favorite places to take your camera?? If you were to make a recommendation to a photographer going there, what would you say?
My home away from home is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It provides endless opportunities for photographing nature, and there is – relatively speaking – peace and quiet to be found. Bring your camera, find a spot to pause for a few minutes, and just watch. Watch the plants, watch the ground, watch the sky, watch the people. Soon enough you'll see something surprising or beautiful or both, and there's your photo.

Complete the following sentence: “I volunteer at the High Line because…”
...of the people! Meeting the people in the volunteer program transformed the High Line for me. It's not just an abstract destination, where I can anonymously peruse the landscape. It's a whole organism of interesting people doing interesting things with horticulture, architecture, sculpture, food, music, and much more. It's rewarding to be a volunteer with these folks.

Learn more about the High Line Volunteer Program.

High Line Calendar

Purchase our 18-month High Line Calendar for this and many more beautiful photos of the High Line through four seasons. Or, for a limited time, members who join or renew at the Rail level will receive our beautiful new calendar as a special thank-you gift. Join or renew today.

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