We celebrated the centennial of the Manhattan Bridge yesterday. The Manhattan, though not as famously gorgeous as the Brooklyn, is one of my favorite city bridges. It often gets pretty short shrift as far as adoring attention goes, but the city gave it quite a nice party, ending with a fireworks display by the famous Grucci family.
When I first moved to New York, I lived on the Lower East Side, very close to the bridge. I was in the middle of a photography class at the time, still casting around for the subject of my final project. I had an idea that I wanted to do night photography or play around with long exposures, but it was still pretty vague. I started getting up early-early in the morning and taking my camera and tripod out into the pre-dawn day and taking pictures. That’s when I “discovered” the Manhattan Bridge a few blocks from my apartment. It has a pretty dramatic entrance:
So I set up my equipment and started taking pictures. I think about this now — about the fact that I was out alone at four and five in the morning with my beautiful Nikon FM, on streets I was utterly unfamiliar with, in a neighborhood that was more than a little dodgy at the time — and I cringe. At the time, I didn’t think twice about it. People would occasionally come up to check out what I was up to, but no one ever bothered me, no one ever tried to take my camera or anything else. I guess they figured if I was fool enough to be out there, fool enough to be happy to see them and welcoming of conversation with them, they’d let me live in my little rosy fantasy bubble a little longer.
I still can’t believe I was naive enough to be out on the street without even the most casual thought about my safety, but clearly I was a different person then (“young and dumb” as a woman I used to know would say). I’m glad for it, though, glad that – at twenty-five – all the possibilities I could see were good ones. If I moved to New York today, I wouldn’t take those pictures, wouldn’t be out alone like that … and I’d miss a really nice experience. I got some nice but not exceptional pictures. Mostly I just enjoyed being out and about at that strange quiet but not inactive hour, out in my new city, out with my camera. I’d share my pictures, but they’re all on slides, so the photos here are from my Google images search.
(This one is Berenice Abbott’s. Don’t you just love her?)