This is the story of the night I first fell in love with New York, the night I took this image, 'A New Kind of First Love'. I share this story in celebration of launching this print with Lyle O. Reitzel gallery. Find out more and see other prints HERE!
I remember years ago, on a long flight to Rio, I found myself unable to sleep. So I passed the time watching random movies. Somehow all movies I chose appeared to have been filmed in New York. With only time to watch one more before landing, I selected the new Men in Black. Not only was it filmed in New York City, but it was filmed at the start of the summer of 2012, while I was there. As some scenes depicted the cityscape during the night, with the bridges in the background, I couldn't help but wonder: 'Am I in this movie, a couple of pixels somewhere on top of a bridge?'
Jumping back to 2012. My first trip to the Americas:
I handed in my Final Major Project at CCAD, the Art College I studied at, got on a train to London, and boarded a flight to New York City early the next morning!
Upon arrival in New York City, seeing Manhattan Bridge with its pretty little globes on top, I knew it warranted a closer inspection. After a river-side scouting mission, my mind was set, and my plan was made. I went back to where I was staying, napped until about midnight, and all that was left to do was to execute!
First problem! The subway. Usually I'm quite good at getting lost, but this time it was through no fault of my own. I ended up being forced to get off at a wrong stop and meander through the streets on my own. It was dark, the middle of the night, and a little intimidating. Only 23, from a small village in England, it was my first time out of Europe. I kept my wits about me and kept moving until I found my desired destination. Luckily, plenty of police officers were about to point me in the right direction. If only they'd known why I was going there.
There are several things to remember while climbing bridges. One of them is the traffic. On the comparatively minuscule (yet still adorable) bridges of Middlesbrough, UK, traffic is just a nuisance. The less there is, the better. No one likes wobbly bridge-top photographs. In New York, however, traffic is good. In the city that never sleeps, the traffic on a bridge never stops ... unless you've been seen!
Avoiding the ladders intended for climbing, I decided to climb the structure itself. To date, this is still the most enjoyable bridge climb I ever did! I squeezed through the framework into the girders. There was such little room in there, I couldn't climb like you would climb a ladder. There simply wasn't enough space the lift my leg. So I strapped my bag to my side to allow maximum room, and I used the 'X' shaped beams that enclosed me within the structure to pull myself up. One 'X' at a time.
Climbing all the way up took longer than I expected. Having slowly pulled myself up the structure, I eventually got to the top of the Manhattan Bridge! I used my last remaining strength to open the hatch. Inhaling deeply, the air was cool and refreshing. Hot and damp with sweat from the climb, I dragged myself out of the hatch, and collapsed. I lifted my head and let my eyes fall on that famous city skyline. Here, alone, on an island in the sky, it felt like the view, sparkling like stars, was just for me. Like the city was mine. And so I began to capture it.
Another thing to remember when on bridges in New York is helicopters! Being distracted by capturing the view, one of them was already almost on top of me when I heard the most disturbing noise. The traffic noise was still there. It wasn't the lack of vehicles, it was the addition of a different type of vehicle. A helicopter was fast approaching and nearly overhead. I had been warned by friends about them searching bridges as they are passing by. In what felt like one swift movement, I detached my camera from the tripod and bagged them both. I clambered down the little hatch and into the structure as far as I could. Holding myself as still as possible, with my heart beating in my eardrums, and stomach in my mouth, I watched the search lights sweep through the metal framework towards me. Shafts of light were piercing through the structure and burning strips of black and white into my eyes. I could no longer hear the noisy helicopters blades, just my heart and my lungs. I knew I had managed to remain unseen as the light stopped shining. My heart slowed, and I held my breath, so I could hear the helicopter pass by and slowly fade into the distance until there was only my increased heartbeat and road traffic below left to be heard. That was a good sign. And exhale....
I re-packed my camera bag and made the slow considered climb down, back the way I went up. Still full of adrenaline, it felt like I quickly found myself at home in New York City. Now in the early hours of the morning I started to head back towards Manhattan. Suddenly I could see the silhouette of a man loitering halfway down the path, between me and the bed that was waiting for me. He wasn't moving towards or away from me, just staying there. Has he seed me climb down? At this point I thought back to the travel advice all my friends gave me, about never being alone and not staying out too late. However, there were no other options, I needed to go that way. I had to get past this guy! So, I tucked my long hair into my hat, I adopted my best man pose and began to strut along the bridge as I imagine a man would. With this newly adopted walk, probably looking like something from Monty Python's 'Ministry of Funny Walks' sketch, I approached the silhouetted stranger. All the while I was considering the value of my camera and how stupidly vulnerable I was on my own...
What an idiot I felt! Upon getting closer, I dropped my shoulders, my hair and my silly walk. It wasn't a man, it was a young lady, also alone, with the same amount of camera equipment as I had; just hers was all out and on display as she shot landscapes of NYC from the bridge. Felling relived, I took it upon myself to make a quick introduction and talk rubbish as only I know how. Her name was Stephanie O'Connor and she was studying photography. She had been out many nights, on her own, and it was perfectly safe. Had she known how scared I was approaching her, I might have thought she was mocking me.
After the pleasantries were exchanged, we each continued on our own separate photography missions. Mine took me to the Brooklyn Bridge where I ran up the cables to stand next to the flag poles, on top of the most famous bridge in the world... but that's a different story.