Friday, September 12, 2008

A Hometown In Smoking Ruin

Seven years ago today, just about this time, 7:15 PM, I was out on a pier in Bayonne, New Jersey making the picture you see above. New York City was a smoking ruin and I was burning film trying to get just the right exposure, to balance the lights on the Statue of Liberty with the darkness of a lower Manhattan that had been without electric power for the past thirty six hours. I also wished to convey the bleakness of the scene before me.

It's difficult to view your home town in smoking ruin. Even from across the harbor, this picture was difficult to make. I'd been documenting New York City for well over twenty years. I had an intimate relationship with those buildings and, by either extension or personal connection, the people who inhabited them day and night since they opened. From the east, from the west, from the north, from the south, from the ground, from the air, at dawn, at dusk, on clear days, on hazy days, on good days and on bad days... I've shot those buildings until I couldn't shoot them any more. And there I was, one more time.

I don't know how many dozens of times I've shot NYC from there, and I can't believe how strange it was to be without my old friends and favorite subjects. There was only a cloud of smoking dust where the Twin Towers used to be. As I walked the last quarter mile or so from my car, I could see the silhouette of another photographer unpacking his gear. I couldn't make out the face from far away but I could tell by the shape of his luggage that it was an old friend out there that night, doing exactly the same as I. He was just setting up as I reached our favorite spot. I said, "Jake, why am I not surprised to see you?" He said, "Man, am I glad you're here!"

We stayed together until about ten o'clock, a good two hours after we were done shooting, trying to comprehend what we were looking at. It was just too bizarre. We couldn't believe what we were seeing. It was out of a nightmare. We sat there together commiserating and reminiscing. We were glad to have met there that night after not having seen each other for quite a while.

What's that they say? Misery loves company?
Above: Canon EOS-1N, 70~200mm Canon Zoom Lens EF L Ultrasonic, Fujichrome Velvia


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