Last night as Hurricane Sandy started battering New York I stayed in my apartment waiting til the power went out. My internet went down pretty quickly but the lights stayed on and I just kept refreshing Twitter on my phone seeing the horrible things that were happening outside. As things got worse my joking Sandy Tweets became outrage and sadness as I saw photos of the Lower East Side under water. The combination of anger and photographic jealousy got the better of me and I decided I had to do something. I needed to help people or take photos or both. I really didn’t know what to do. I just put on a rain coat, grabbed my camera and walked outside.
My neighborhood in Brooklyn was empty but there wasn’t much noticeable damage. I started walking towards the Williamsburg Waterfront thinking maybe there was something I could do there where things might be worse. I promised my girlfriend I wouldn’t walk over the Williamsburg Bridge but when I got to the bridge something came over me and I just started walking over it. As I got to the middle of the bridge it went from the well lit bridge I have walked over a dozen times to pitch blackness once I reached the Manhattan side. Hurricane winds nearly lifted me up in the air as I kept one hand on the railing hoping I wasn’t going to be thrown onto the subway tracks. With a view of a half dark Manhattan and not much else I was half terrified and half exhilarated and I kept walking. At one point I was nearly scared to death when I came upon a couple actually having sex on the bridge. They must have heard me because they were completely still on the wrong side of the guardrail obviously hoping I wouldn’t notice them in the blackness. I didn’t until they were about a foot away from me. I yelled “Holy shit you guys scared me!” and then I told them to have fun and kept walking on towards the city.
When I got over the bridge there were cops everywhere blocking traffic. I slipped passed the barricades and darted up Clinton Street managing not to be seen by any cops. I didn’t want to get turned around before I saw the damage. Walking up Clinton Street in the dark was one of the wildest moments of my life. It was completely vacated and totally black except for the police lights behind and in front of me. I walked the few blocks to Houston Street and didn’t see anyone except what I am 99% was a grafitti writer putting in work in an empty city. I climbed over a fallen tree to get to Houston. I stood there on the corner of Houston and Clinton for a minute, checked my phone and decided what to do. I wanted to go to the water but it was so dark I knew I wouldn’t be able to take any photos of it, but if I walked towards the police lights over on Ave A, I figured I would be told to get out of the evacuated areas. Eventually I decided to walk up Ave B, then over to C and then eventually over to Avenue D.
For those that don’t live in New York, Alphabet City used to be a dangerous area, but it’s pretty gentrified and safe to a point. When you reach “Avenue Dead” as they used to call it you meet with a series of housing projects that are still pretty dangerous. I used to date a girl who lived on the corner of D and 4th street and we would see people dealing drugs openly on her corner nightly. No one should be afraid to walk around there, but let’s just say I normally wouldn’t walk around there with a $3000 camera in my hand… much less at night, in pitch black darkness. Somewhere in my mind I fancy myself a war photographer or something instead of a second rate pornographer/ hipster party photographer so I decided I needed to see the flood and the only place it was still flooded was in the projects. As I walked north I saw more and more water.
Once I got to Avenue C I realized that most of it had been flooded. Cars were up on curbs and were steamed up from all the water inside them but the water had receded so it wasn’t until I got to Avenue D that I saw any actual flooding. The Jacob Riis projects were partially underwater. By this time I realized the cops weren’t going to stop me from wondering around in the evacuated zone so I tried to use their lights to take photos of the flooding. It wasn’t really working so I walked all the way into the projects and over to where the projects met the FDR freeway. The FDR was closed and mostly underwater. I started to take photos at 6400 ISO at an 1.4 f-stop and holding as still as I could to reduce the shaking from a long exposure. I got a couple okay shots but it started pouring so I put my camera away before it got destroyed. As I walked back towards Ave C I realized there were a bunch of people still living in the projects. I saw candles in the window and a few people walking around. They refused to leave despite the evacuation and four feet of water.
I walked up Ave C towards 14th street and around 13th I ran into several feet of water. I waded in up to my knees because I wanted to get shots of the Con Edison trucks that had floated away from the power plant on 14th and C. I spent a long time wading around 14th and C trying to get shots. I managed to shoot some stuff at 6400 ISO at 1.4 at about 1/8th of a second by holding myself still against a railing and a car and a parking meeter. It is really amazing what today’s digital cameras can do. Making the total blackness of a powerless New York look like daylight is something cameras only a couple years ago couldn’t possibly do. All the light in those shots comes from the sky, police lights several blocks away and one car light that was parked outside the power plant.
I continued my walk West on 14th street amazed how I didn’t recognize anything. I have walked 14th street between B and 1st Ave probably 100 times and it felt like I had never been there before. Stuy Town was black except for the cops and Con Ed trucks. I know I keep repeating myself but the total darkness of the city was so terrifying and magical that I can’t express the idea enough. When I got to the corner of 1st and 14th I looked down into the L Train platform thinking how much I wished it was open. I had been walking for hours and was soaking wet and I was ready to quit. It was at that moment when I saw an actual cab speed by the Papaya Dog and over to Beth Israel hospital and I wondered if he was working or just helping out at the hospital.
I walked over to 2nd ave and started walking down back towards the Williamsburg Bridge and back to Brooklyn. More people were out at this point. There were a few cars, a group of hipsters on bikes, a few security guards doing the Gangnam Style dance outside the NY Eye & Ear Infirmary. On 2nd and 9th I met two guys who were keeping their bodega open despite the lack of power. They were the only store I saw open in Manhattan and they had pulled two cars up to the door, parked horizontally, with their headlights turned on so the bodega clerks could see what they were doing. I talked to them for a while and continued on down 2nd. At some point I saw another cab and I hailed him. I asked him if he was actually working and if the Williamsburg Bridge had been reopened. He told me it was still closed but he would take me to the bridge for $5. I was feeling pretty miserable so I took him up on his offer and walked back over the bridge to Brooklyn.
Three and a half hours after I left my apartment I made it home. I somehow ended up taking 350 photos, but most of them were complete shit. Taking photos without a flash in total darkness is harder than it seems… okay maybe it’s exactly as hard as it seems. I was left with about five photos I was mostly happy with and a bunch more spooky images that are at least interesting to look at. I didn’t help anyone, the photos I took were disappointing and I probably put myself in more harms way than I needed to, but I don’t regret the trip in the slightest. I will never forget those three hours last night and I am really glad that I was dumb enough to go outside and go on my little hurricane Sandy adventure.
I was very fortunate that the worst thing to happen to me was that my internet went down for a few hours, but there are tons of people suffering today. It’s going to be months before New York City recovers and probably a lot longer before a lot of the east cost gets back to where they were before the storm. I hope anyone who lives in an affected area can help out. If you can’t help physically you can always donate some money. I recommend the American Red Cross and I am going to be launching a fundraiser this week through Dolfans NYC hoping to raise at least $1000 to donate to the Greater New York Red Cross. You can text “Red Cross” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross right now.
Anyway, sorry for the long post but I had to write this story down somewhere. Again, the pictures aren’t fantastic but I think they are probably worth looking at anyway.
Click here to see all my pictures from my Hurricane Sandy adventure.