It may be only fitting that we needed to travel all the way to Cleveland to discover something about New York City. The Rust Belt Ohio city, built by names like Rockefeller, is having the type of Brooklyn-esque renaissance, driven by the arts, many are looking back nostalgically here in New York. The 78th Street Studios is a 170,000 square foot hive of artist studios, galleries, recording studios, and performance spaces – defined by the owner and developer, Daniel Bush, as an “eclectic art maze.” He bought the building sixteen years ago and turned it into what is now northeast Ohio’s largest art and design complex. Within 78th Street Studios is Tregoning & Company, one of the largest at 5,000 square feet. On exhibit until January 28th is “Morning Joe,” a series of large format, fine art photographs by David Joseph with a singular subject: discarded, abandoned coffee cups on the streets of New York City.
“Morning Joe” on exhibit Inside Tregoning & Company
First and foremost, Joseph’s photos reveal the beauty of the mundane and the forgotten. As the photographer reveals in a personal statement in a gallery brochure, Morning Joe is part of his ongoing quest “for different ways to capture the beauty of the everyday projects.” While the photography clearly falls within the rubric of fine art, with carefully constructed framing, stunning colors and exhibited on an immense scale, it’s clear there is a humanist and humoristic element to the choice of subjects.
“Lady Liberty” from the series “Morning Joe” by David Joseph
In “Lady Liberty,” a Bouchon Bakery cup sits perched next to the tablet on a Statue of Liberty replica, one of many that abound in the city. A coffee cup manages to stay put within the spokes of a locked bicycle wheel in “Wheels Up” while another fits perfectly between two pipes in “Pipe Dream.” In “Cream 2 Sugars,” a cup sits atop a piece of infrastructure on which someone has put a pair of googly eyes, revealing something of the absurd. Is this a commentary on human ingenuity in finding places with the perfect dimension to squeeze our waste, or a reflection of the resilience of the coffee cup? Either way, Joseph admits it is deliberate, stating “My modus operandi is to create elegant images that are tinged with my own sense of irony.”
“Pipe Dream” from the series “Morning Joe” by David Joseph
“Wheels Up” from the series “Morning Joe” by David Joseph
In other images, Joseph explores the aesthetic allure of the coffee cup on its way to oblivion. In “Coffee Slick,” a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen cup has become half filled with a swirling, bubbling puddle of oily, liquid detritus. In “Reculture,” a Mud Truck cup and a single strawberry lie smashed on the pavement, next to another strawberry fortuitously spared – but for how long? In “Coco Loco” the leftover coffee from a sideways cup melds into its murky surroundings.
“Coffee Slick” from the series “Morning Joe” by David Joseph
“Coco Loco” from the series “Morning Joe” by David Joseph
Other images seem to reveal something about New York City – whether from the coffee cups themselves (the iconic blue and white Greek diner cups certainly make an appearance) or their surroundings that take the shape of pay phones, subway entrances, graffiti, and more. One photo shows no cup at all, but its ubiquitous plastic lid sitting atop the glass circles seen on the sidewalks of Soho, suggesting a link to the age old artistic question: how far can you reduce an object before it is no longer that object?
Photograph from the series “Morning Joe” by David Joseph
Joseph’s keen observation of the city is not surprising, given his academic background: he has a master degree in Architecture and a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. But funny enough, Joseph is not a coffee drinker at all. He says,
“Being the only one I know who does not drink nor obsess over the smallest detail about the grinding, brewing, and drinking of coffee, I thought coffee would be the perfect springboard for me….Not participating in the morning ritual of slowly savoring a cup of coffee, I found myself with a perfect time slot to document the latest wave of garbage graffiti that seems to be everywhere. I would walk from Chelsea up to Midtown, down the highway to Tribeca, and then across SoHo to the Lower East Side, where I documented the detritus while I waited for the City to wake up.”
“Grande Graffiti” from the series “Morning Joe” by David Joseph
He says this targeted wandering made him realize that coffee cups were like a three-dimensional version of a tag: “I realized that New Yorkers, no matter their socioeconomic status, were leaving their tags all over the City. This is the new graffiti, and whether it is City Bakery, Starbucks, or Jacques Torres, the city is covered in beautiful litter left behind by busy multi-taskers with no time to properly discard their coffee cups.” Joseph seems to find humor in observing this rush – a perfect Dean & Deluca cup with cardboard heat protector next to an eaten and oxidizing apple core in “Forbidden Apple” or a Greek diner coffee with a half eaten bagel in “Breakfast of Champions.”
“Breakfast of Champions” from the series “Morning Joe” by David Joseph
And many others show the human remnants on the coffee cups themselves: magenta lipstick on the cup, rim and lid; splattered coffee spills, fingerprints, even a hair inside a half discarded latte.
It’s a lush collection, if the adjective can be applied to urban waste, and a beautiful one. We look forward to seeing what Joseph has next on his plate of everyday objects.
Morning Joe will be on display at Tregoning & Company in 78th Street Studios in Cleveland until January 28th. You can see more work by David Joseph on his website. Joseph’s photography clients include Gucci, SHoP Architects, Gensler, The Hard Rock Hotels, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co. and more.
Next, check out 11 coffee shops for design buffs in NYC.