Last May, photographer Leonid Furmansky spent a month in New York after being away for two years during the pandemic. He had previously lived in Coney Island as a child during the 1990s after his parents emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine, so this visit was a chance to see the city anew.
On this latest visit, Furmansky noticed the many buildings covered with scaffolds. They were everywhere, like blooms emerging after a rainstorm that ended a long drought. (There are roughly 280 miles of the stuff in the city, according to John Wilson.) The scrim added a semitransparent layer to the facades, pushing them farther out into the street and closing them off into black and blue prisms. It was like Christo and Jeanne-Claude took over the city and made it into an urban art project.
With Thomas Struth’s 1970s New York streetscapes lingering in his mind, he set out to document these “scaffold jungles.” Many are the result of local laws mandating that buildings taller than six stories have their exteriors inspected every five years, setting up a rotating crop of temporary platforms that migrate about the city, casting storefronts into shadow and offering a dry place to camp.
In particular, Furmansky sought out historic buildings, as the contrast was greatest between the largely stone facades and the lightweight metal structures screened in fabric, at times braced with wooden components. With more careful details, some locations could have been large-scale Robert Irwin pieces. He wandered Manhattan’s canyons with his camera, observing both these large, ephemeral constructions and the street life that went on below them. The city is a stage upon which the lives of its citizens are performed.
Furmansky doesn’t always have a plan when realizing personal projects. Instead, he hangs back and lets the work reveal itself. That’s exactly what happened here.
Leonid Furmansky is a Texas-based photographer. He documents structures that represent the way we live. His work has been published in The New York Times, The Architect’s Newspaper, Dwell, Cite, Texas Architect, Divisare, and ArchDaily, among other publications.