NYC and the Visual Design of Season 2 of The Wire

I fell behind a bit on last week’s design work for Wire 106, and I know folks are already onto audio assignments and radio shows. But while I was in NYC I took along my camera and decided to do my design blitz based on the aesthetic of The Wire. What’s interesting is that based on the commentary by producer Karen Thorson on Season 2, Episode 12 (as well as the commentary by David Simon on Season 3, episode 1) it became clear that the late Robert Colesberry was hugely influential on the visual aesthetic of The Wire.

What’s also interesting is how much Simon seems to hate NYC. It came out a bit in his commentary for S03E01 when discussing how bummed he was to have missed the opportunity for a Yankee joke when filming at the Orioles game, and he was sure to note  that he hates the Yankees. For many, NYC has become the epitome of the gentrified, wealthy metropolis that cities like Baltimore live in the shadows of.

The Freedom Tower

At the same time, Colesberry came up in the film industry in the mid 1980s and 1990s working on NYC films such as Andy Warhol’s Bad, Martin Scorcese’s King of Comedy and After Hours (a personal favorite), and more recently HBO’s 61* —the story of the NY Yankees’ storied 1961 season. So, Colesberry’s aesthetic was very much grounded in NYC cinema, making for an interesting infusion of the NYC aesthetic in this Baltimore-centric universe. I admit this might be a bit overwrought thesis, but I couldn’t help thinking about it while taking photos of the tip of Manhattan where the two planes struck the Twin Towers and subsequently shaped the development of our national agenda for the last 13 years, which was in many ways the target of The Wire‘s staunch critique of post-9/11 America.

Take a look at the following images, and tell me they don’t invoke the aesthetic of Season 2. Admittedly they are likely to have some similarities given they’re port cities, but the omnipresence of 9/11 in these images is exactly the aesthetic/visual that is becoming apparent to me about The Wire more generally.

Homeland Security at One South Street

This could be just about any cut scene from the Terrace projects to downtown Baltimore from season 1

The Brooklyn Port–the colors and cranes are familiar

Reminds me of Nick and Frank Sobotka having an early morning discussion about thieving at the port

NYC is more beautiful than Baltimore, this must be remembered

Containers, trucks, tug boats. Season 2’s aesthetic captured in NY’s harbor—although this is the Port of NJ

Garbage Barge

This could be the boat Bodie threw his guns onto.

Downtown Manhattan with a couple of alterations

I couldn’t find McNulty on his police boat, but I did catch NY’s Bravest

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