Lights Out, Big City

  • Posted on: November 6, 2012
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One week ago, Sandy crippled the Northeast – towns were destroyed, people were stranded in their homes, and a lot of us were left in the dark.

We take for granted the power that fuels the infrastructure of a city.

Last week we literally had that power taken away from us.

What amazed me the most was the call to action that spread over the social media waves.

There were floods – and people came with pumps;  there was darkness – and people brought light; when our most basic necessities: food, water, and gas were suddenly lost, people did not riot.

Instead they rushed to each other’s aid.

Yes, mistakes were made but the good in humanity persevered.

NYC has been through a lot in the last 11 years and perhaps those experiences aided our first instinct being to help.

Nancy and I foolishly went out during the night of the storm with a tripod and camera to document our neighborhood in Brooklyn.

The neighbors that we pass every day were coming together to help one another and share their experiences. We had all been locked in our homes during the storm without any news of what was going on.  Ironically the bar across the street from us was open throughout Sandy’s invasion – it was a true meeting place and the satellite TV was our only source of information.

As a photographer – I was a witness to a very surreal experience.

The Bright Lights of the Big City had been turned off.

The NYC skyline was lit only by the full moon and I knew I had to document it.

By Thursday the lights were starting to come back slowly – one of the first buildings “back” was the Freedom Tower.  I went to a familiar place along the Brooklyn side of the East River to capture the darkened skyline.  Compare it to the wider shot taken earlier this year from the same location and you realize how many people were put out of their homes and how much power was truly lost.  The grid works in mysterious ways, for example the image of the Brooklyn Bridge from the dock shows the fist set of lights coming from Manhattan are out. In the last image, you can see how the Manhattan Bridge is half in and half out of darkness.

As my friend and I explored the City Hall/Downtown area, the only lights we saw were coming from police cars, bicycles, and people walking around with headlamps and flashlights.  Well lit, bustling streets were now eerily quiet and sunken into an even darker shadow under the skyscrapers.

Technically speaking a typical exposure under the lights of a city are fraction of a second.  But now, working under the full moon and ambient light coming from cars my exposures were averaging 3 minutes at f/11 at 200 ISO.

These longer exposures, hopefully never again to be experienced, created a look at the city that hadn’t been witnessed in many years.

We live in strange and challenging times – but to me this was another example of how we become stronger with adversity and how the true lights of the cities will never be blown out.

So keep creating, keep helping, keep sharing, and keep living.

5 Comments

  1. David Brommer · November 6, 2012

    Great post Gabe. Your always an inspiration.

  2. gabriel biderman · November 6, 2012

    Thanks David! Your passion and friendship has definitely influenced my “New York Years”!

  3. Sandy bartlett · November 7, 2012

    Beautiful and haunting images!
    Truly inspirational prose, hopefully the coming together after Sandy will continue after the wrath that has been the election cycle.
    Thank you,Gabe, for highlighting the hopes of humanity via photography.

  4. Einar Erlendsson · November 8, 2012

    You working hard Gab doing great stuff in addition to your workload at B&H

  5. gabe · November 8, 2012

    Thanks Sandy and Einar – I actually had a long conversation with a friend of mine who is a police officer working 14-20 hours a day since the other Sandy hit. A lot of them are still being put in areas still without power to prevent any looting. He also has witnessed and been part of more people coming together than falling apart. Here is to wishing for some calmer times ahead…