by Ariel Sabar
Creative Director: Alex Camlin // Da Capo Press/Perseus Books Group
Photographs by Henry Sene Yee
“The couples in this book hail from across America and the world. Most don’t live in New York City. Some never did. What mattered to me was that they met there, in one of its iconic public places. Each of the nine stories begins just before that chance meeting—when they are strangers, oblivious to how, in moments, their lives will irrevocably change.”
—from the Introduction
The handsome Texas sailor who offers dinner to a runaway in Central Park. The Midwestern college girl who stops a cop in Times Square for restaurant advice. The Brooklyn man on a midnight subway who helps a weary tourist find her way to Chinatown. The Columbia University graduate student who encounters an unexpected object of beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A public place in the world’s greatest city. A chance meeting of strangers. A marriage. Heart of the City tells the remarkable true stories of nine ordinary couples—from the 1940s to the present—whose matchmaker was the City of New York.
Intrigued by the romance of his own parents, who met in Washington Square Park, award-winning author Ariel Sabar set off on a far-ranging search for other couples who married after first meeting in one of New York City’s iconic public spaces. Sabar conjures their big-city love stories in novel-like detail, drawing us into the hearts of strangers just as their lives are about to change forever.
In setting the stage for these surprising, funny, and moving tales, Sabar, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, takes us on a fascinating tour of the psychological research into the importance of place in how—and whether—people meet and fall in love.
Heart of the City is a paean to the physical city as matchmaker, a tribute to the power of chance, and an eloquent reminder of why we must care about the design of urban spaces.
Art director Alex Camlin, (check out this Q+A he did at The Casual Optimist), assigned me this fun project that combined two things that I love and explore in my personal photography:
Serendipitous juxtapositions of people and/or things in the most unexpected places and my favorite place in the world, New York City.
I presented several concept sketches of different approaches but they had a tough time pinpointing a direction for the book. This usually happens when you want the cover to say everything and explain the book. Once you start putting very specific plot elements on the cover, and they're visualized in a literal way, then you are forced to make every detail of each cover element correct. Is this the right time of day in the book? Is that her hair color? Would he write with that pen? I try to avoid that by working with images that are more open to interpretation and hopefully focus more on the emotional aspects of the book. Alex worked with his editors to focus on what was essential. We tried a few more rounds but I was feeling that I wasn't getting want they needed.
This comp was inspired by the beautiful opening scene to Woody Allen's film "Manhattan" (1979) underscored with George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue":
Inspired specifically to this scene at the 2:14 mark. Hmmm, 2:14...2/14...February 14...AKA Valentine's Day! Coincidence? I think not. But certainly serendipity.
But in the end, they went back to my very first idea:
I played off of Milton Glaser's iconic I ♥ NY logo. Obvious yes, but with HEART in the title, what else could it be? I shot the cover over some peeling paint found on a subway station column. As a bonus, I was happy I was able to use some of my personal photos throughout the jacket:
A brief video interview with Milton Glaser, designer of the the iconic "I Love New York" (logo design c. 1975):
Glaser's 1976 sketch of the logo sketched quickly on a piece of envelope in the back of a cab:
Part of the "I Love New York" tourism campaign of the 1980s, this commercial features celebrities proclaiming why they "love New York.":
A look at the origin of the "I (Heart) New York" ad campaign from a New York state high school student: