The Digest – November 4th, 2012

©Peter Van Agtmael – via ‘AFTER SANDY: MANHATTAN AND THE ROCKAWAYS’ [The New Yorker]

Last week at this time I was preparing for Superstorm Sandy, not knowing what to expect. There wasn’t much preparation I could do other than picking up some meat, chips, cheese and alcohol at the store. On Monday I woke up early because at that point B&H had not announced whether or not we’d be closed. The word came at 11am that we would not be opening so I hunkered down and waited for the storm. I watched Netflix while keeping track of the storm primarily through Twitter which again turned out to be an amazing resource.

The winds howled ferociously, but my power and internet stayed on. As the night progressed I kept wondering when things would go dark for me. They never did. At no point did we lose power or internet in Astoria, Queens where I live. But we were lucky, very lucky. The reports on Twitter started to paint a bleak picture. After a few vodka drinks I went to bed, not knowing what had happened to the city. When I awoke I checked Twitter. The reports were still somewhat vague. I assumed that work would again be cancelled. Around 11 I got word that we would be opening at 12:30pm. The worst of the storm had missed midtown where the B&H offices are located.

There was a problem though. Public transportation wasn’t running, so I hailed a cab. As I crossed the Queensboro Bridge I wondered what was in store for me in Manhattan. Around 34th St. things were quiet. As you can imagine there weren’t many people in the office. As I worked I kept tabs on Twitter where the reports were pouring in about the damage caused by the storm. Almost all of Downtown Manhattan was in the dark.

This was bad, very bad. But in my New  York bubble, life moved on relatively normally. It created a strange dissonance which isn’t uncommon in New York. It’s a city of bubbles, and that was never more clear to me than in the aftermath of this storm.

Wednesday was one of the strangest days I’ve experienced in New York. Our offices opened at their regular time, 9am, but there was no subway service. I had to take the bus. I knew this was going to be a hellish commute. I caught the bus by my apartment and sat in nearly stand still traffic for an hour. I never made it out of Queens. At Queensboro Plaza I got off the buss and decided to walk across the Queensboro Bridge with hundreds of other New Yorkers on their way to work. It took me two hours to cross the bridge and make my way from 59th St in Manhattan to the B&H offices on 34th St.

©Timothy Briner

By this time it was clear that the storm had caused catastrophic damage to New York City. Downtown was still in the dark. Manhattan was a city divided. Part of it had power, part it didn’t. The reports from Staten and Coney Island, the Jersey Shore and Rockaway were bleak, very bleak. And yet, here I was watching the news as if this wasn’t happening in the city I resided. It was strange. I felt helpless. What could I do?

As worked ended on Wednesday I decided to walk home. I knew it was going to be a trek, but that didn’t discourage me. Over the years I’ve become accustom to walking for 3 or 4 hours at a time. The west side of 34th St had power but when I got to around Madison Ave things went dark. I remember turning my head to look south. Pure darkness. I contemplated foregoing my plans and heading Downtown to see what was happening but I thought better of it. I’d just be a disaster tourist, a gawker. There was nothing for me to do. I decided the professional photojournalists could do a much better job than I ever could, so I continued on back to Queens, finally arriving a few hours later with little more than a pair of sore feet.

As I write this I’m still in my bubble. I haven’t been anywhere near the hardest hit portions of the city. The most damage I’ve seen are downed trees and power lines, which there are plenty of in parts of my neighborhood. As I came across them on my walk yesterday I thought about all the neighborhoods where this scene was probably repeated.

Naturally photography played a huge role in documenting the effects of the disaster. Time sent five photographers out to document the damage with their iPhones and Instagram. Naturally this outraged a certain segment of the photojournalism community. I have nothing to say about this because I find this argument so trivial that I’m not going to waste your time.

New York literally might be the most photographed city in the world. You can’t walk a block without running into a photographer. This disaster is being documented from every imaginable angle. The photographers are on it. Fine art photographers, photojournalists, landscape photographers, documentary photographers, citizen photographers, amateur photographers, hobbyist photographers. They are on it. It may take weeks or months or even years before we see all the work, but we’ll see it.

Of course there was other news in photoland and I’ll share a few of those links but not as in depth as usual. The storm also delayed the arrival of the proof copy of LPV 5 but I’m hoping it’ll get here this week so I can final share it with you. Stay tuned.

If you’d like to assist those impacted by the storm, this link has a good list of resources.

Here are a few links to photographs from the storm that caught my eye.

 Links of Note

©Noah Kalina