Estudio Javier Jaén
New York, New York
Photographs by Javier Jaén, All pictures have been taken in New York City between 2010-2018

Text by Antonio Rico, Edited by Estudio Javier Jaén in collaboration with Ester Ferruz. Limited Edition. Printed by Nova Era, Barcelona 2018.

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The Quantum City
—Antonio Rico

New York is the quantum city. As Richard Feynman said: if you think you understand quantum physics, then you don’t understand quantum physics. Quantum mechanics teaches us that it is impossible to examine a system without modifying it. Exactly the same thing happens with New York: if you think you understand New York, then you don’t understand New York. If you also think you can get to New York and simply photograph it in order portray it to objectively to others, then you haven’t understood that the quantum nature of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx makes it impossible to be in New York without having already become a New Yorker. You are at the same time the photographer and the photographed, the observer and the observed. You can photograph Barcelona, Glasgow or even Paris within the logic of classical Newtonian physics. New York however forces you to change your paradigm. You can walk around the Grand Place in Brussels or along the walls of Dubrovnik without being part of Brussels or Dubrovnik, or even Belgium or Croatia, but you can’t be in New York without being completely inside New York: on every sign, around every corner, on every person whose existence you haven’t even noticed. Do you understand? Yes? Well then you’re not getting it.

The best proof of the quantum condition of New York is found among the pages of this book by Javier Jaén, whose main thesis is that in the most important city on the planet, things that are the same can be different: differences the same, the close far away, the far away close, the apparently integral isolated; but far more likely, the isolated absolutely integral. The journey through the impossible and inevitable pairings on each page allows New York to take its defining motto from Niels Bohr’s very own coat of arms, another great quantum physicist: contraria non contradictoria sed complementa sunt. Opposites are not contradictory but complementary.

Because that’s what these photos are all about. Understanding the thread that joins a plastic band that reads “caution” in English and “cuidado”
in Spanish with an image of a zombie ride at the foot of Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel. Spotting the difference between a close-up of a smartphone portraying a street musician and a close-up of a smartphone portraying Les Demoiselles d’Avignon at the MoMA. How close a trash imagery store and a Mennonite female choir are. How distant, how terribly distant, are the ice on the Christmas ice rink at the Rockefeller Center and the ice burying an abandoned car on Nostrand Ave. With masterful handling of photographic syntax, Jaén progresses and returns again and again to the same idea: just as quantum mechanics has shown that in the subatomic world there are laws that bend the logic of everyday life, New York, New York shows that the same elementary laws that apply to Amsterdam, Tangier or Stockholm cannot be applied to New York. A particle may and may not be in a particular place at the same time; the Messiah awaited by the Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg has already reached the Methodist churches in Harlem. A particle moves at a certain speed when you don’t observe it and at a different speed when you observe it; the same lively and happy Big Bird that we’ve all seen in Sesame Street collapses exhausted onto a bench at Union Square as soon as the terrified passers-by stop looking in her direction.

The quantum city doesn’t have maps. It has no north, no south, no east, no west. It’s a curved space above itself, a Klein bottle, a Moebius strip. For this reason, photographs can serve as the most precise guide for telling us how to get from one point to another, how to make a Fifth Avenue skyscraper small and a Metrocard lying on the ground giant. Spiderman’s suit in Central Park  is full of wrinkles. Posters, arrows, marbles, slippers, rings, potatoes, plastics, cables, sex. Mexican food is prepared in Brooklyn. Greek food is prepared in Brooklyn. Indian food is prepared in Brooklyn. Cornered in its uniqueness, firmly at the center of the galaxy, New York engulfs everything without admitting any internal compatibility. Nothing is contradictory. Everything is complementary. It’s eternal. It lasts a fraction of a second and disintegrates.