David Rothenberg: Landing Lights Park

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Landing Lights Park includes works from the eponymous, ongoing series of color photographs highlighting the intricate relationship between New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and its surrounding residential neighborhood in the borough of Queens. The series is named after an actual public park comprising a number of vacant lots in the vicinity of the airport. Landing Lights Park, is also the title of Rothenberg’s 2018 monograph, which presents an array of images depicting how airplanes ceaselessly dip into the daily lives of unassuming citizens. 

Rothenberg, who has lived in New York City for more than 20 years, is inspired by its dichotomies. He never has to stray too far from his Jackson Heights home to find inspiration for his work. Rich and poor, grandiose and unkempt, old and new collide in the urban landscapes of Queens. The neighborhoods of Astoria and East Elmhurst, which are directly under the airport’s flight path, are home to many vibrant immigrant communities. These neighborhoods also have been some of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, when airplane travel has significantly slowed. Yet, the images in Landing Lights Park are likely not what one imagines when arriving in New York City. Where is the Statute of Liberty? The Empire State Building? The glistening skyline of Manhattan? Rothenberg gives us a view into another New York, reminding us that it is a place where people live, work and go to school. 

The series “Landing Lights Park” pits the humble neighborhood against the behemoth airline industry and its passenger demand. Yet, Rothenberg does not pass judgment on either party. The artist is quoted in saying that, “finding a way to see these passengers in my pictures felt like I was discovering a vulnerability.” From the sidewalk, Rothenberg uses a telephoto lens and fast shutter speed to capture the airplanes’ ascents and descents at various angles. The resulting photographs are as interested in form as they are in content. Suspended in motion, the jumbo jetliners appear as if they are floating weightlessly in the air. Rothenberg slyly distorts proportion and scale in these images that evoke as much fascination and amazement as genuine concern.

The Artist would like to thank the Queens Art Fund and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Greater New York Arts Development Fund for their support of the creation of this work.

Artist Biography