Featured Photograph

New York City
from the World Trade Center

This month's featured photograph is a five minute time exposure taken from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower.

Picture a tall, skinny teenager shuffling off the elevator at the 110th floor of the World Trade Center with a large format camera case in one hand and a big tripod in the other, not attracting any attention from security personnel! For two hours before sunset, I trudged around with my gear looking for the perfect angle and generally killing time until I could make the dusk time exposure that I had come for. I brought glass cleaner along, knowing that I would have to shoot through the thick, dirty glass that formed the tower's skin. The building's ribs were narrowly spaced, substantially restricting my camera position. In order to overcome reflections, I had to position my camera so that the metal lens shade was in direct contact with the glass. Given the long exposure time, the slightest vibration or sway in the building would have destroyed the image.

Having composed the image, I inserted a 4x5 film holder and began waiting for the moment when the dusk sky would come into perfect tonal balance with the artificial lights. As I waited, I took frequent light meter readings and squinted at the scene. I calculated and re-calculated the exposure time as the light level continued its slow freefall. Finally, when the moment seemed right, I opened the shutter and waited five minutes before closing it. I had only one chance to capture this photograph. After the five minute exposure it was too dark for a second attempt. If the film had gotten scratched during development or anything else had gone wrong, the image would have been lost.

The early, small silver prints I made from this negative showed a cropped version of the image and failed to capture all of the shadow detail it contained. The negative sat in my files for more than twenty years, virtually forgotten until last year, when I began going through old work, selecting some images for re-printing with digital technology. When I came across the long forgotten World Trade Center images, they held new significance for obvious reasons. Scanning technology allowed me to capture all of the amazing detail in the lower part of the picture. Digital editing allowed me to rescue problematic parts of the image and print the full negative. The resulting print is a new interpretation of an old image, but in many ways it comes closer to the original intent of that skinny, teenaged photographer who made the picture so long ago.

– Joel Pickford

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