Dark City

September 2003

by Vince Laforet, New York Times

I always have terrible luck with big stories breaking in the middle of my vacation - the blackout was no exception to this rule, as I had 5 family members over from out of town when the power went out. At first, I think most people in New York City assumed this was a limited power outage, perhaps confined to their block or power grid, as is often the case in the middle of a hot summer. I called the office and learned that my block was far from alone - but when I heard that the blackout involved most of the East Coast and parts of the midwest I feared that this might be the result of a concerted attack. I heard that some passengers trapped in the subways assumed the worst and started to cry when all they could hear where the constant sounds of sirens on the streets above.

I ran down the stairs of my apartment building with two flashlights, two bottles of water and power converter for my car to charge batteries and my laptop off of my car battery. After spending an hour or so taking pictures of streams of people walking up Broadway I knew I needed to make the one shot that you can only get once in your career - the Manhattan skyline completely blacked-out. I knew I would never make it to Queens on time - the streets were jammed and the underground passes were not moving - so I called The Times and asked them to consider hiring a helicopter. I made it half way to the heliport by car - and got stuck for 20 minutes without moving an inch at an intersection and had to finish the trip by foot. Because of a garbled telephone call - we initially lost our reservation for the extremely valuable flight time. Luckily I knew the manager of the helicopter company and was able to beg for 15 minutes of flight time just as the sun was about to set - even though there were 40 people lined up outside of the heliport willing to pay thousands of dollars each for a ten minute flight to New Jersey. I initially photographed the thousands of people trying to get ferry rides over to New Jersey and other walking over the Brooklyn bridge. With my flight minutes running out, I asked the pilot to spend the last 5 minutes hovering above the East River as I framed the sun setting between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building. That was the easy part - running the pictures back to the office in the dark city streets in time to make the deadline was an unforgettable adventure.

© Vince Laforet
Staff photographer, New York Times


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