Numbers in a City, New Haven, 1997

by See-ming Lee
Typographic landscape of a city described through visually counting from 1 to 100.
Numbers in a City, New Haven

This was my first photography project. It started out as a project for a typography class while I was in college. Like most graphic design assignments at Yale, it was very open ended. We were asked to show the experience of a city through the language of typography. I have always been interested in numbers, and as such I decided to run around New Haven and photograph numbers which represent the city, from 1 to 100.

The series was to be projected on the wall as a slideshow. The numbers are recognizably New Haven, and most who have been in New Haven can recognize the sense of time and space as they go through the series. Some commented that it reminded them of Sesame Street.

I thought of extended this to different neighborhoods in New York, but I never had the time to work on more of them after college, and as such I have only completed the first and only one…

The original series was displayed via a conventional slide projector. In order to best-simulate the original intention on a computer, view the set as a slideshow and set the speed to fast. I will make a video in the future when I have time.

These were shot with my first digital camera, the Sony Mavica FD7. (Notes 1)

Copyright 1997 See-ming Lee / SML Photography / SML Universe Limited


Sony Mavica FD7

My first digital camera. It shoots and saves images in JPEG format at 640×480 resolution to 3.5 floppy disks. Each floppy disk can hold 40 “standard quality” images, and 20 “fine” images. The FD7 offered an autofocus f/1.8–2.9 zoom lens, with 10x range having a 35mm equivalent of 40–400mm.

I spent $999 on it — with money I had earned from design clients. I made a conscious decision that I would not spend a penny from my parents that‘s intended for my living expenses.

Sometimes people would tell me that they can’t do photography because they can’t afford a decent camera. You don’t need an expensive camera to do photography. Some photo equipments are expensive because they allow photographers to make certain shots that would be impossible to do with a phone. But you can absolutely do photography with any phone, or even a toy camera.

Sometimes the quality of the photo doesn’t even matter — sometimes, as you can see here, it’s just an idea. I like to think that concepts and ideas trump quality of an image every time.

If I do this series again in 2024, the image quality would probably look a lot better now, and I likely would have better composition. But I still appreciate this history of me having done it in 1997. It came from a simple concept — counting from 1 to 100. And conceptually, I could appreciate my very young self to have attempted it.