The editor’s letter in this week’s New York Magazine tells the story of how the staff put the issue together after our downtown offices were flooded. Here is the story of how the striking photo on the cover of the issue came together.
As we considered the different opportunities for imagery on Wednesday, it quickly became clear that one option was a picture of the island of Manhattan taken from the air, showing the clear delineation of lights on and off in different parts of the city. We called Iwan Baan, one of our contributing photographers, to see if he happened to be in New York at the moment. (He is based out of Amsterdam, but travels the world, and often stops by New York.) Baan’s photography focuses primarily on contemporary architecture and its relationship to the urban language of the city. He shoots from every possible perspective, including high up in the air from planes and helicopters. “That view of Manhattan, I had it in mind because I’d shot it a number of times before,” he said on Monday from Haiti, where he’s already on another international assignment.
Fortunately, Baan was in town last week and had prepared for the storm. “Before the hurricane hit, I had already decided that it could be very difficult to get out of the city,” Baan explained. “I was in Tokyo last year during the tsunami and the earthquake and experienced the moment of panic breaks out in a big city. So as a precaution I had already booked a rental car for the day after, just in case.”
But when he got to Hertz in Manhattan, they had run out of vehicles. “I made kind of a scene,” Baan admitted, “and in the end they said, ‘We have a car for you but it’s at JFK Airport and instead of $300, it’s now $2,000 for the week.’ It took me about four hours to get to JFK in a cab and when I finally got there, it was late in the afternoon. It was literally the last car in town.”
Then he had to track down a helicopter. “I started to call around the pilots that I usually use, but they were already out of gas or power or on a rescue mission, so none of them could help. I finally found one about an hour and a half drive away in Long Island, but they said they only accepted cash because the hangar didn’t have power. Luckily, I had also gone to the ATM before the storm and I had enough cash with me, so it all lined up perfectly.”
“I was already in Brooklyn, so I didn’t have to get out of the city anymore,” said Baan. “I drove straight there.” Total flight time was two and a half hours: one hour to get to Manhattan, half an hour shooting time over the city, and one hour back to eastern Long Island. It was a clear night with wonderful visibility and just enough cloud presence to make for a beautiful sky.
“It’s quite difficult to shoot from a moving helicopter even during the day because of the vibrations,” he said. “It was super dark so I had to shoot with a long shutter time, and I could only do it because I had just gotten the newest Canon” —a 1D X with a 24-70mm lens — “which is more sensitive. I shot between 2,000 and 2,500 shots — 80 percent of the shots are a blur, 10 percent are maybe useable, and 1 percent were really sharp.
“It was very uncertain, but I knew it would be an amazing shot of New York at that moment. All these details of the day just lined up. If one of the things didn’t line up, the shot wouldn’t have been possible.”
Here, we present ten images from the shoot, including the cover, which appears first. We’ve published them on the Cut to take advantage of the full-screen zoom functionality available on that site.