Last night I took the opportunity to go and do something I have wanted to do for years. Photograph NYC while the 9/11 memorial lights were illuminated. I tried to prepare myself before I ventured out into the concrete jungle for the barrage of emotions I would undoubtably feel, but the effort was rather futile.
I left my apartment in the UWS and traveled down to Brooklyn Bridge Park for my first spot. When I got out of the subway a few blocks away from the shores of the East River, I already began to get choked up. I couldn’t see Manhattan through all the trees, but the sheer immenseness of the spot lights aimed into the night sky was very difficult to miss. As I made my way closer, the ambient noise of the normally quiet neighborhood began to have this strange low rumbling. After making my way through little path at the end of Middagh Street, what I saw before me halted me in my tracks and I couldn’t help but begin to feel my first emotion of the night…sadness.
A group literally composed of hundreds of people had gathered to view the tribute to all of our lost family, friends and loved ones. No one was talking louder than a volume that could be heard by someone more than a foot away from them. Very similar to how most people would talk when in a church or museum. The reverence for the tragedy that had happened 11 years before was so powerful. Some were just staring at the two majestic beams of light. Others were there with their tri-pods and cameras to take photographs. A few people came to leave little keep sakes and flowers for their departed loved ones. Others just sat there silently with puffed eyes and trails of tears that had recently fallen. I doubt everyone there had lost someone on 9/11, but everyone was changed because of it. It was after standing there for what seemed like forever that I began to feel my next emotion…pride.
Those 2 towers of light were not only lit to remind us of how so many souls were taken from this world on that fateful day, but also to remind us of those that made the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live. It was a symbol of their dedication, selflessness and and bravery. With these thoughts and change of emotion I began to do what I came to do. My hands shook as I unpacked my equipment. I was particularly excited to use the super wide angle lens I had rented (a Canon 14mm/2.8 L II…really fun to use!) to get as much of the scenery as possible. I jockey’d around the other people to find a good spot to shoot, lined up the lens and began to test my exposures. Some of them lasted as long as 45 seconds. I was getting ready to pack up and move to my next location and for some reason was pulled to a set of flowers that was tied to the railing. I dont know who left them and I doubt I will ever meet them, but I had to photograph it. Having captured my shots, I walked down Everit Street towards Brooklyn Bridge Park. When I reached the corner at Cadman Plaza Way and turned towards the park my next emotion hit me like a brick wall. I dont know if you’d actually classify it as an emotion, but my body was just overcome by a huge sense of reverence.
Before me was a parked fire truck from Ladder Company 211, Brooklyn. On top of that truck sat a lone firefighter with his head lightly downward, sitting motionless, staring across the water at lower Manhattan. I quickly ran near the truck and placed my tri-pod (damn auto correct keeps changing tri-pod to try-pod!!). As much as I wanted to have a perfect, iconic shot of this moment, I didnt want to be disrespectful of the firefighter and be invasive during his obviously powerful moment of reflection. I shot only 5 frames and gathered my equipment and approached him. “Sir, I dont know if you were a firefighter 11 years ago, but thank you for what you possibly did and still do today,” I said. “13 years, and thank you, he responded and we parted ways. I walked toward the water taxi dock at Brooklyn Bridge Park and began to set up for my next set of shots and my natural high from being in the presence of such great men, heroes if you will, by my next emotion…disgust. Sadly, this is not the only time I will feel this emotion during my photo journey.
I wanted to get sort of a third person perspective for a few shots so I set myself up behind a crowded dock to get the people in the shot as well. When I set up and pressed the shutter button for another long exposure I looked around and saw another photographer that was there with what appeared to be a girl who wanted to be a model. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Who the FUCK would want to have photos of them posing in front of those lights?!?” It was absolutely distasteful and I was completely appalled. If I was a model agent or casting director I would immediately dismiss someone with that kind of content in their portfolio. Maybe thats a bit harsh, but I don’t really care. There are certain things in life you just don’t do. I got my shot and left. At this point, for some reason the 9/11 Memorial Lights turned off. Maybe it was karma preventing them from getting their shot. Who knows. Since the lights had been turned off I became kinda bummed but still wanted to make the most of my night. I walked towards the north side of the Brooklyn bridge to keep the photos coming and about 20 minutes after I left, the lights came back on. I found a great location where I could have the bridge in the foreground and the lights in the background. As I started shooting my next emotion came along…its OH FUCK!
As I was shooting an NYPD vehicle came and stopped in front of me. An officer exited the vehicle and asked me for my identification. At first I thought, “Out of all the 762 people taking photographs out here, you decide to bother me?” The thing is, after 9/11 the laws pertaining to photography in NYC had changed and made it so that if you wanted to take photographs with a camera on a tri-pod you needed a legal permit. Today many police officers either don’t know or choose to ignore the fact that about 5 years ago, that law was eliminated and it went back to the old law stating that shooting on a tri-pod was ok as long as you weren’t disrupting traffic or interrupting the flow of people. Apparently, this is not why he stopped me. An additional change in law after 9/11 was that no one was allowed to take close up shots of “Super Structures” i.e. the bridge, without a permit. This was done to try and prevent terrorists from possibly obtaining detailed information on ways to destroy them.
He asked to see the photographs I had shot to determine if they would need to be deleted. He commented that he liked them and that I could keep them, however I had to go and find a different location. In addition to that he was going to take down my information but that it was going to stay in his pad, just in case. What “just in case” meant, I have no idea. While I was bummed that my time at this location had been cut short, I completely understood why. He was simply doing his part to keep us all safe. Which is exactly what all those brave men and women did 11 years ago. I thanked him for his understanding, thanked him for his continued service and we parted ways. Shortly before I had moved to that location, I found out a friend of mine was in NYC and we made plans to meet up in downtown Manhattan to get some closer pictures of the towering lights as well as Ground Zero.
I hopped on the subway and he picked me up. Unfortunately he wasn’t feeling so well (we don’t know if it was something he ate, or if it was because of how bad “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark” was, which was why he was in the city in the first place) so he drove me a little ways down the West Side Highway and dropped me of. It was at this point, the next emotion began…sheer and complete aww.
I was across the street, practically under the lights. They were HUGE! The only thing that shadowed their enormous presence, were the tourists that were posing in front of the lights with smiles on their faces! Im sorry but, thats just not the time or place for portraits. I can understand wanting to document your travels abroad, but SHOW SOME RESPECT! I wasnt going to let them ruin my night so I got the last photo’s of the night and made my way home.
It was an interesting and amazing night, something that I’ll never forget. I can’t imagine the emotions of those who lost someone on that day 11 years ago. Im quite proud of the photographs that resulted from my 5 hour trek around Brooklyn and NYC. I hope that my viewers enjoy the results as much as I do.
Also, if you have lost someone due to 9/11 or are a member of either the NYPD or NYFD and would like a hi-res version of an image for yourself, please don’t hesitate to contact me. All photographs will be delivered free of charge.