There’s a spot in DUMBO that’s become an iconic location to capture the Manhattan Bridge. I’ve lived in New York for the entirety of my adult life, and until just recently I’d never been there. If nothing else, I can now say that photography gets me out of the house to enjoy the occasional car fire.
I was meeting a photography friend, Ariel, and his wife Lia for the first time in DUMBO. They arrived just as golden hour was beginning, cameras in hand. Thirty or so other photographers, some with accompanying models, were there taking photos on this lovely summer evening. The street is mostly not passable to traffic due to pedestrian traffic, but there was an ice cream truck, and locals’ cars were parked along the street.
DUMBO has become a cool and expensive place to be in recent years, and those waterfront condos are all quite pricey. In front of one of these buildings on the blocks, as soon as Ariel and Lia arrive, a gray BMW M5 (E39) started smoking. At first it was a little, and then it was a lot.
This was shortly before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and as someone who grew up close enough to where it happened that kids at my school lost parents, I’m probably still traumatized. I assume the smoking M5 is about to explode. I basically shout at Ariel to run, as I turn tail and flee.
Anyway, it didn’t explode, it just burst into flames. Must have been some kind of electrical problem. The owner eventually showed up and was quite shocked- it was a nice older BMW until, you know, it spontaneously combusted. But right after the fire kicks into high gear, the hipsters and Instagram models had mostly scattered, and I’m there with some of the finest photographic tools available in my hand- a Leica SL2 with a Summilux-SL 50mm F/1.4, in beautiful light, free to capture the response unfold as I please.
I got some banger shots of the car burning, the terrified crowd, and firefighters responding, and the owner’s face. One of my great sadnesses is that there’s not a real venue for people to see photos like this- how much editing is really worth it to make these documentary photos of a singular event shine, then they’ll just be seen on a phone by a few hundred of my followers? It depends how much time I can find before the next singular event happens. New York is paradise for street photographers, because the chaos never ends.
But to encapsulate the surreality of the situation in my Single Shot Story, I chose this murky- you may say corrupted- version of the iconic view. You know something’s wrong right away, but you’re not sure what.
I’m glad that the owner cheaped out on his stereo install or whatever and lost his car on the altar of my creative journey. Nothing lasts and we must embrace the fluency of the ephemeral. Sorry about your car, bro, that sucks.
[Chris Lonardo is a photographer in New York City. Many thanks to Chris for his contribution to Single Shot Stories! ]
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