2 O O 1 :   A N   N Y C   O D Y S S E Y
T A L E S   F R O M   A   T E R R O R I S T   *

( * the term courtesy of the NYPD)

Quick return | "We've got a bigger problem now"
Divine Comedy | Visuals of 2001



A quicker than expected return to the city -- only 16 months after the 2000 trip -- resulted from the fact that I finally had forgiven the ordeals of 2000, and for the last six months had in fact craved to return to the City. A ridiculously low price offered by the Royal Dutch Airlines for fall flights triggered the will into action -- with the 9/11 then almost crushing the already made travel plans. In the end, I, however, decided to go for it, risking a possible shutdown in transatlantic connections back to Europe in case of the start of war operations. Everything went well in that sense, though.

In the hindsight, the fears I had harboured about the city still being a shadow of itself by the time I arrive there on 28 Sept, with the Downtown in shambles and with a depressed mood, were totally unfounded. The, to my eye, outwardly totally unaffected vibrancy of the City further supported my view that attacking NYC and unbalancing it for a long time is difficult -- after all, Rudy Giuliani had prepared NYorkers with his programs through the years...

I chose to stay as far as possible from the "Ground Zero" and although I went to Downtown to bag a couple of buildings, I didn't even want to look at the direction of the WTC while down there. The all-encompassing smell of burned plastic and the added number of police patrols and street blocks were, however, still the only signs on the eastern portion of the Financial Center of the horrors three weeks ago.


The line above, a song from the Dead Kennedys' 1981 album ("praising" the newly-elected Ronnie Reagan) aptly reflected the somewhat changed atmosphere that resulted from the stricter security measures. All very good and needed in the current threatening situation, but some fine tuning and use of brain is always allowed and applauded.

Before the trip, I had thus feared that the attack to the WTC would enforce an even more, indeed, policed streetscape. In a sense I was correct, but mostly the City indeed strolled on as before, the same going also for the policies about photography -- and the use of tripods... ;^) Unfortunately, the over-(the-top-)zealous conduct around the heavily guarded Grand Central on the first shooting day by the police also revealed the occasionally almost paranoid extent of this concern for security.

First, I was just setting up the tripod on the Vanderbilt Ave., the best sightline for the Lincoln Building, when a policeman approached and politely and almost apologizingly explained that the security was due to some "big bosses" being inside the terminal (possibly the congressional delegation?). So I walked off, content that he handled the situation in a well-mannered way. (I did return on Sunday to bag the Lincoln from the same direction.)

The next one a few minutes later was a quite different thing altogether; after having shot the Phil Morris Bldg. (with the bridge of Pershing Aqueduct in the foreground) from the sidewalk in front of Grand Central, number two approached. I thought he would complain about the tripod -- boy, was I wrong. He started an inquiry about "who I was taking the pictures for", claiming me to take pictures of bridges (for terrorists, which he didn't explicitly say, but anyone could understand he meant that) and demanded to see my ID. Luckily I had the covers of my old passport in my back pocket mainly for travellers check use so that he could fulfill his need. And nothing even related to an apology. On leaving the scene I even thanked him(!) as a sign of courtesy and of olde British spirit of "good sport" -- for them only doing their job. Perhaps it also had to do with the fact that I had decided to take a lighter note on the tripod restrictions and try to understand the difficult situation in the City. (And, in general, the encounters with tripod-banning security personnel were good-natured, even involving light banter on the subject, like on the Penn 34th St. plaza or the ex-Equitable Bldg. plaza.)

Despite any "decisions" made while arriving from the JFK and seeing the flags everywhere and the cropped Downtown skyline from the Queens, the next meeting finally did make me angry, inwardly at least. After having rounded to the back of the Grand Central and just bagged the MetLife and the American Brands from the 45th Street with tripod, I was packing my equipment for leaving. The two policemen that had been standing under the elevated driveway across the street did just what I had already expected them to do to: to approach and give a rundown -- in which sense they didn't disappoint. Maybe something about the precision of my fast tripod packing, akin to Army rifle drill ;^), or the fact that I had checked the images on my laptop raised their suspicion. Whatever, they asked to see the ID and I foolishly said "not again", which of course raised their suspicion further. As with the earlier w*nk, any claim about shooting for my own scraper web page were dismissed (how else?) -- so, the passport info, number etc. were taken up for scrutiny (so I guess I'm a semi-potential name in the FBI and NYPD lists from now on) and questions like the hotel in was staying in were asked. To top it all, the other of the pigs, I mean, "New York's Finest", asked if I was going to blow something up. I of course, totally dumbfounded by the arrogance of the w*nk, only dismissed it as a joke, although a bad one under the circumstances, which I said. Although there was a slight air of "only trying the ice" with the question, I'm afraid he was also half-convinced that I had something to do with the terrorists. Now, even with my most light-hearted attitude on the proceedings around the Grand Central, I have to say that I was horrified how easily one could fall into a very sloping ground with the "right" photo equipment. Once again I saw that going the "touristy way" in photography will save a lot of grief, at least from the authorities. What mostly angered me, was the fact that not only did they treat me like a crime suspect with background checks but that I, who had heeded Giuliani's call to help the City by travelling there at a time when tourists were leaving the industry high-and-dry, spending money there, expressing my love for the City's high-rise architecture by photographing it at a time when there's apparently need for NYers to reflect on their city's skyline (and almost breaking my back in the process) -- perhaps even risking my life on the way, given the security (or lack of) of the airlines -- get to be called, in effect, a terrorist by some [expletive] pigs. Of course they had their jobs and "founded" suspicions (based on a d*mn tripod), but that doesn't remove my right to be hurt by what happened as I personally know what I am and what not. Although I only got roasted by the policemen on these two occasions, they were enough to show that also non-arabs doing suspicious things in the city could get suspected of everything possible.

So, if the security of the Pershing Viaduct or the MetLife area is raised once the war begins, you know who to blame...

An almost fatal indication of the increased security concerns in this had led IMO to almost paranoid responses, one being the approaching of a police on the sidewalk next to the cordoned-off Javits Office Bldg. plaza while I was shooting the U.S. Courthouse (I didn't even dare to take my tripod out so as not to stand out from the "snappers", see the reason above); he told me about the buildings being Fed buildings and thus not allowed to be photographed and that one photographer had already had his camera confiscated(!) for that and that I would in a similar situation get it back only with a lawyer. (Sorry, but give Ashcroft more power on top of that and the DK song will get more chiller undertones.) Heck, I was grateful(!) I got to get away scot-free and get to keep my camera as I skipped complaints...

After that, I was really nervous to shoot in Downtown -- if shooting the Pershing Aqueduct was considered suspicious, how in the h*ll could I get away with craning my tripod-mounted camera towards the high tops of Chase and 40 Wall -- perhaps as a prelude to another aircraft attack, in somebody's minds at least?

A stark contrast was the policeman in Bryant Park, who gave me a five-minute timeframe to complete my shooting -- I had course already used the tripod on several shots there on the previous day and just a few minutes earlier...

(24 May 2004:
Three years on and the proposed introduction of photo/videography ban on the NYC Subway seems to be just one more, albeit a major, development to the direction of a restricted environment of suspicion that an event like 9/11 easily ensues. Fines will be awaiting those who, even inadvertently, break the rules. Given the attractiveness of a major transport system like the subway as a terror attack target, perhaps a move to be expected sooner or later, but, nevertheless, one not giving any inducement to soon shoot anything publicly in the city. Especially with a tripod...)



Along with the business-as-usual proceedings in Midtown, and even in Downtown, a sure sign of the return to normal daily rhythm was the material by the comedians at the Comedy Cellar (link) in the Village, the definite high-point of the trip. With its hilariously acknowledged bombings (in this case, a comedy term!) and superb rantings ranging from Afghanistan to Dow Jones to racial profiling by the likes of Chris Rock & other names I've regrettably forgotten, that side of the spectrum is certainly coming back together. To further twist the matter to that direction, the day I arrived in NYC happened not only to be the birthday of Mika Häkkinen, the Finnish winner of the US Grand Prix at the Indianapolis during the weekend, but also of Janeane Garofalo, the v. outspoken NY comedian (who has also volunteer-worked in the aftermath, and, by her own admittance, even put a US flag on her window(!) after the attack, due to a lost friend).

And after 26 hours of travelling, the best way to treat jet + airport lag is undoubtedly to embark on the Industrial club scene 'til three o'clock (the monthly occurrence of the industrial club coincided with the previously-booked flights, and finally lead to the decision to make the trip) and then, have full two hours' sleep before hitting the road for a whole-day photo session, burdened with approx. 7 kg of equiment... But at least I didn't watch all of Conan that evening...


An unprecendented amount of footage was brought back after hectic and exhausting three-day shootings ranging from remakes to new subjects, from Midtown South to Uptown (also a bit of Downtown).

As an addition to the last year's photo equipment info, the replacement of the small screen of the Cassiopeia P/PC with the large screen and the large HD of the highly portable IBM TP570 laptop and the CF card adapter made it possible to not only view the quality of selected shots immediately but to also, at intervals, to transfer the images from the CF card to the HD of the laptop. The digital photo equipment seems to have finally reached its fruition.

The new footage will start trickling into the site shortly.
24 May 2004:
And now the photo background notes are finally available.










lo-go © e t dankwa 3-4 October 2001