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Sempé Fi: Empire State of Mind

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Pollux writes:

“The Empire Diner, the world’s finest and possibly hippest Diner, is famous not only for its outstanding atmosphere, but also for great food, top notch service, and being a homestyle, basic-food restaurant.” So proclaims the website of Empire Diner, which forms the backdrop of the March 22, 2010 cover of The New Yorker.

The cover artist, Jorge Colombo, renders Chelsea’s Empire Diner into a glowing, nocturnal haven, the windows of which are illuminated with bursts of grays and dark pinks. The reflection of a traffic light is visible on one of the Diner’s windows, emphasizing the perpetual movement of cars on the road.

Instead of a straightforward and literal depiction of the Diner, of which there are plenty in countless television shows (such as Law & Order) and films (such as Men in Black II), Colombo here gives us a nighttime scene whose “main character” is not a customer of the Diner at all but a figure walking her dog.

The dog-walker is completely enshrouded in shadows and darkness, while the Diner twinkles and glows in the background. Colombo’s “Evening Walk,” created on his iPhone, focuses its attention on the contrast between the figure outside of the Diner and the Diner itself. Colombo himself is an outsider looking in. Instead of sitting down to a meal of a Negimaki Burger and Jack’s Chili Sundae, he is outside of the 24-hour Diner, looking, absorbing, and creating.

Like many of Colombo’s covers, “Evening Walk” is a study of color and light. Colombo’s eye is that of an artist rather than someone intent on simply creating something on his iPhone. The newness of using the iPhone for artistic purposes has worn off, but the power of Colombo’s interpretations of New York City has not.

Empire Diner, which has New York Landmark status, is immortalized by Colombo, but “Evening Walk” is not an advertisement for the Diner. Colombo partially obscures, perhaps intentionally, the words “Empire” and “Eat.” The emphasis here is on Colombo’s brushes with the life and magic of the city streets rather than his considerable skill with the Brushes application.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree