Why five? Because five has a certain authority: the Torah has five books, Islam has five pillars, my hand has five fingers. Because the number five is beautiful in form—the ampersand of numerals. Because William Carlos Williams “saw the figure 5 / in gold / on a red / firetruck / moving / tense / unheeded,” and Charles Demuth paid homage to Williams’s poem in a great painting, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Greenwich Village in 2016, I saw the hook-and-ladder truck belonging to FDNY Ladder Company 5 idling on Sixth Avenue. I asked the crew if they knew that the Met had a painting of their 5. “Of course,” they said, “we have a poster of it framed in our station house.” 

Originally Published: March 1st, 2018

Alan Thomas is a publisher and photographer whose work has appeared in Design Observer, Places Journal, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Thomas's book, 55x5, will be published by Marquand Editions in April 2018. He is editorial director at the University of Chicago Press.

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