NYC photos

Mp3 Experiment Nine

More often than not the best photos I get on a shoot are not the ones I went looking for, but the result of something better landing in my lap.

One day this past July I took the ferry to Governor’s Island, hoping to get some good shots of the ferries that carry visitors to the city’s new favorite playground. After arriving on Governor’s Island from Brooklyn I promptly boarded another ferry to Manhattan, intending to come back to the island but wanting an opportunity for more ferry images. While then waiting in line for the boat back to Governor’s Island I suddenly found myself in the middle of an excited, cheering, and headset-wearing mob. Apparently I’d stumbled upon some sort of happening.

I followed the crowd on to the ferry, then off again at Governor’s Island and into the island’s interior fields. Suddenly everyone began moving in unison, apparently responding to instructions on their headsets. When participants pulled out white sheets, put them over their heads, and started walking around like a huge throng of ghosts, I began shooting as fast as possible. Fortunately I’d reloaded my camera after disembarking from the ferry, so I was able to make a half dozen exposures before the sheets came off and people moved on to the next instructions. I elected to go my own way at that point, but was hopeful I’d gotten some good photos.

I subsequently learned that the event I’d stumbled upon, billed as “Mp3 Experiment Nine”, was organized by Improv Everywhere, a New York City-based prank collective that, in their own words, “causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places”. For this event participants (around 4,000) were instructed to bring an MP3 player (with instructions downloaded) as well as a loaded water gun, a shower cap, a white bed sheet, a hard flat object, a small soft object, and a small musical instrument. At 3:00 PM everyone pressed play on their devises and, for the next half hour, followed a series of instructions from “Steve, The Omnipotent Voice from Above” that culminated in a massive water gun fight. You can watch the Improv Everywhere video of the event here.

Here are a couple of the photos I took:


Recently, while digging around on Flickr for photos of the event, it occurred to me that I might find a shot of myself in the crowd. Sure enough, in a collection of images by Arin Sang-urai, I found one showing me hunched over my tripod.

© Arin Sang-urai Photography, 2012

9/11 Memorial Lights

Two months ago I went to lower Manhattan to photograph the 9/11 memorial lights. In the years since the terrorist attacks I’d never photographed them and didn’t know what to expect, either in terms of finding a good vantage point or knowing how long the exposures should be. I spent some time circling the lights along West Street and took one roll of film, bracketing the exposures between roughly one and three minutes. Then I got lucky and was kindly invited to the garage rooftop where the lights were actually located. It was already late and the ceremonies that had taken place there earlier in the evening were over, leaving just a handful of photojournalists shooting the lights for their respective media employers.

Excited, I shot two rolls of film before — ugh — my camera jammed and I was forced to call it a night. I was hopeful about the results and felt confident I’d gotten some good images, but I really never know if there’s anything good until I see the negatives. I picked up the developed film a few days later only to find that all the shots I’d taken on West Street were underexposed and that most of the shots I’d taken on the rooftop were either underexposed or had been ruined by a processing error. Disappointed, I didn’t look at the negatives again until last weekend when, to my happy surprise, I found that there were in fact a couple of good shots in the batch. I made some high-res scans, tweaked the images a little in Photoshop, and — bingo! Turns out I got one I love.

Recent NYC Photos

Since March of this year I’ve been on something of a pinhole bender. I’ve taken over 70 rolls of film (120), amounting to over 800 images. The photos are of NYC architecture, ferries, subways, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Green-Wood Cemetery, the High Line, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, 42nd Street, the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, the Easter Parade, the AIDS walk, and more.

After taking photos of the city on and off — generally pretty aimlessly — for much of the past 21 years, my shooting has suddenly come into much more focus, so to speak. I’m working on several related projects and am taking photos with specific subjects and concepts in mind. I also started using a new camera (still a small cardboard box wrapped in black plastic and electrical tape) that has a smaller aperture, and the images are noticeably sharper.

Most of the new photos I’m posting here are included in the PHOTOS > NEW IMAGES slide shows. I’ll also post some of them individually in the blog when there are stories worth telling.

I hope you enjoy them!