Dominique James, Photographer

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Midnight in Manhattan

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Midnight in Manhattan

Midnight in Manhattan (Photographs by Dominique James)

Geographically speaking, the Empire State Building is not the center of New York City. That distinction belongs to a little-known pastoral patch of grass in the lower portion of Central Park called Sheep Meadow.

But the art deco-designed Empire State Building, a 103-story skyscraper occupying a considerable city block that intersects Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street, with a full height of 1,454 feet—once the tallest building in the world—might as well be, the center of New York City.

As far as anyone in Manhattan is concerned, the Empire State Building is unquestionably the heart of New York City.

For most New Yorkers (and visitors alike), the Empire State Building is the one true compass on which to navigate the city without a map. From street level, those who are a little lost and wanting to geo-locate might simply look up to see where the Empire State Building is; and then, from high up the Observation Deck, on a clear day, one can visually map out the sprawling lay of the land for thousands of miles, not just the boroughs but across other states.

Movies such as An Affair To Remember, Love Affair, and Sleepless in Seattle, among many others, have established the Empire State Building as a major cultural icon.

And above all else, the Empire State Building is an office building.

Of its many notable tenants, Filipinos might find one to be of particular interest. The Filipino Reporter, a weekly newspaper founded on July 2, 1999 by Filipino newsman Luigi Andrei Eusebio, catering primarily to the Filipino-American community in New York City (the only ethnic newspaper that holds the distinction of being a regular member of the New York Press Club), has its office at the Empire State Building.

A compass, a cultural icon, an office, the heart of the city—very few buildings can claim to be all that, and more.

Yes, there is indeed so much more, so let’s add one bit: the Empire State Building is a veritable magnet to photographers.

Countless shutterbugs have been to the top of the Empire State Building to take pictures of the spectacular 360-degree view. Because of the ubiquity of the pictures taken from its perch, even those who have never been up the building, or in NYC for that matter, can have some imagined sense of what it might feel like to be up there. (Although of course, as with anything else, nothing really comes close to the experience of actually being there to see and experience it for one’s self.)

The Observatory Deck of the Empire State Building is open to the public from 8 AM to 2 PM. In 2008 alone, over 110 million people went up to marvel at the grand view all around down below—many of them with camera, of course.

I was one of them.

According to NASA, Manhattan’s bright city lights at night, bounded by New Jersey, Brooklyn and Queens, is visible from outer space. It glows a collective, bright amber.

Because of this bit of curiosity, instead of the usual and far more common daytime images of Manhattan’s sprawl, I decided I wanted to go up there (again) after dark to take pictures of the city down below, bathed in millions and millions of electrical pinpoints collectively battling darkness with valor. Armed with a compact camera, up I went on a chilly spring evening, determined to snap at whatever there is to see of the city at night.

Of course, I wasn’t disappointed. From that clear evening, close to midnight, I was able to take many, many pictures all around, and from it, a set of black-and-white landscape photos that has more in kinship with abstract paintings than realistic photographs.

Lacking the many telling details visible in daylight, and with no colors, one can only glean hints of the familiar shapes of the buildings and of the streets silhouetted in countless glimmering, shimmering lights. You are keenly aware of the city’s palpable existence down below, even if most of it is shrouded in darkness.

The black-and-white, abstract-looking pictures, stark in minimal shades of gray, informed only by specific arrangements of lights to suggest forms and structures, with most everything hidden in shadows, turned out to be a fascinating representation of New York City at night—a seeming state of incompleteness. Naturally and quite automatically, viewers cannot help but imaginatively fill in and map out the blanks of familiar nooks and crannies. Even if the individual frames of pictures were to be stitched to form one grand panorama of Manhattan in the dark, it would still appear incomplete, and one would still strive to imagine the personal, familiar blanks.

But there is another interesting way of looking at the incompleteness of each picture from this black-and-white photo set—for me, and for many others who have lived and called New York City home for quite some time, the experience of the place is somehow encapsulated in each of those largely incomplete photos—in the low-lying buildings, in the bustling city streets, in the city corners, in the patches of parks, in the soaring skyscrapers, and in the pinpoints of light everywhere, which, while appearing to be expansive, is actually well-contained and constrained in each of the finite frames. If there’s anything true about New York, it is a city unto each and every one’s own.

Pulling back a little, if we are to impose some sort of organizational structure to this set of photographs, we can divide them into two subsets.

The first obvious subset will have to be the almost vain attempt at photo-realism, where every image is a stark, clear-eyed impression of the sprawling urban landscape from a bird’s eye view. These are pictures that, although they are, almost aren’t.

The second, and perhaps less obvious subset, would have to be the painterly depiction of the views. These pictures, consciously taken with longer than usual exposure times, even deliberately moving the handheld camera in certain patterns or directions of motion while the digital sensor is being exposed, produced artful blurs that are somewhat impressionistic.

But despite the distinctiveness of the photographic approaches, styles and techniques, all the images, individually and as a set (or a subset), aims to invoke yet another facet of what New York City is all about—or whatever it might be—to the hopeful transients and transplants attempting to dig in and latch on to its granite foundation, to the wandering, wide-eyed tourists gawking at everything with undisguised awe, wonder, and curiosity, and to the jaded New Yorkers themselves who long ago have been blinded to everything around them.

For me personally, during the almost 4 years that I lived in New York City, and from out of the countless photographs I’ve taken of everything I’ve seen there, this set of black-and-white nightscapes is nothing but an open embrace of the ravishing, glittering bejeweled city that I’ve fallen madly in love with, which to this very day, I happen to be still madly in love with.

So, New York City, I love you … still.

Come and take a look at my set of “Midnight in Manhattan” black-and-white photographs at

Also, if you haven’t already, please sign up (and do invite others to sign up as well) to my brief monthly photography email newsletter at Thanks!

[Note: All photos from the official photography website are now directly available for download and print order for personal, editorial, and commercial use. Thanks!]


At last, now available at Getty and Zatista

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Photographed by Dominique James. Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.


Armed with an array of some of the latest and the greatest ever-evolving digital tools I can lay my hands on, I’ve been posting my photographs on the Internet since the digital revolution got on its earnest way. I must admit that there’s a certain kind of thrill in showing off all sorts of pictures online to the point that sharing photos can quickly calcify into a habit, one that I can see myself happily doing for a very long time to come—something that someone who may be so inclined to look will be happy about.

Through the years, the world has seen a proliferation of amazing online photo-sharing platforms, some of which I’ve had the opportunity to use in showing my pictures. I’ve tried many thus far and I’m most certainly game to the idea of trying out whatever new ones come along. As a matter of fact, I think it is always a good thing to keep finding out new ways of sharing photos online. Whenever something good comes along, I’d most likely be one of the first to give it a shot. This allows me not only to discover different styles of showing pictures online, but also to find out more interesting ways to engage my viewers. While there have been a lot of photo sharing trials and experiments that did not work out for me and for my audience, there are a few that, to this day, I’m still using. The most enduring ongoing web-based photo sharing site that I’m still using to this day is something that I’ve started more than 10 years ago. And the newest is something that I started just months ago.

Most professional photographers like myself, which is probably also true for the countless amateur photographers, would most likely prefer to just have a single place online to put up all the pictures all the time. The goal would have to be a single, magnificent online presence. That would be really tidy. It would simplify a lot of things. And it would be the ideal. But nowadays, a single online presence just seems impossible, and impractical. From day to day, photographer or not, pro or not, we now all make all sorts of pictures that we want to throw up and out there that just wouldn’t fit into a single online presence.

There’s our family snapshots, party pictures of friends, photos of commercial work, and fine art photographs. Each one of these is different from the other, intended for very targeted audiences and for very specific purposes. If I try to bunch everything up in a single place online, hoping to appeal to a very broad everybody, I’d sooner than later turn off every single one. The best approach is to apply the old slice-and-dice trick and then pray hard to keep things neatly organized. Put one type of photos here, another type over there, and another one over there, and then, keep the distinction clean and clear. Things have a way of getting messy as the days, weeks, months and years roll on. Images have a way of crossing over into places where they shouldn’t be, and we have to be forever vigilant to keep things in place year after year. It’s a little difficult at first, but once you get the rules right, and the habit going, it gets easier.

Since I’ve been sharing photos on the Internet for a very long time now and for so many different intended reasons, I’ve happily somewhat become at least more consistent in socking photos in all the right online niches. I’ve managed to cobble together some sort of systematic way when it comes to uploading everything in a fairly organized manner. So far, so good. But as I survey the online landscape of my handiwork, I discovered a gaping void—one thing I’ve never really addressed throughout the years of photo sharing—and that is, to offer easy access to anyone online to get to my photographs. For the longest time, I was happy enough to just show everyone who’d care to look at what I’ve been doing. But, through the years, I’ve been asked quite a few times how anyone can actually buy my pictures. I’ve thought about this for some time, and I think I was able to work out a solution.

Beginning just a few months ago, since I decided to make it easy for anyone to get my pictures. I did two things—first, to make my pictures available as downloadable stock photos, and second, to make the pictures also available as a fine art photo print.

In making the photos available as downloadable high-res image files basically for commercial, editorial and other uses, the first step I took was to survey the myriad of online stock photography agencies and choose which one to latch on to. Luckily, at about that time, I received an offer to sign up with Getty Images. So now, if you have a need for commercially available thematic stock photographs for your advertising campaigns or for editorial use (and even for personal use), you can now easily get and download my stock photographs via Getty Images.

After that was all set, I went to work on the second step, which is to find a site that will facilitate the easy availability to my limited-edition, signed and numbered fine art photographic prints. There are many out there that offers all sorts of solutions that will allow me to do this. And in looking both far and near for one that fits my needs, I’ve decided to go with Zatista. Once I’ve signed up and was confirmed, I initially opened a secure Zatista storefront with a few recent black-and-white photographs. A few days later, I decided to quickly add color photographs as well. These pictures are from my New York City photo series. And, more will be added soon.

How has it been so far? Looks like I’m all set with both Getty and Zatista. The feedback I’ve received, and the sales I’ve made, have been tremendously encouraging. I’m happy that I am connecting with more and more people who are finding me and my photographs online through Getty and Zatista.

So, if you are looking for readily-available and downloadable high-resolution digital image files for commercial, advertising and editorial use, look me up at Getty. And if you want to hang original contemporary photographic art in your homes and offices, check out my offerings at Zatista. (Hey, you can even send someone my photographs as a gift!) And, of course, I still accept commissioned assignments.

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