In the blackout

New York, NY, USA -- 01 November 2012 | Permalink
11 pictures
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Lights are beginning to appear in our neighborhood. The police have installed a generator-powered lighting mast at the intersection of Delancey and Essex, creating a splash of artificial moonlight that seems blindingly bright to eyes accustomed to the darkness. Further down, sputtering red highway flares mark the corners of streets. A few shops in the neighborhood have installed their own generators, carving out squares of light in the blackness. Elsewhere, the darkness is as absolute as ever.

The Williamsburg Bridge is lit halfway. At the Manhattan end, the bridge is unlit, but as you approach Brooklyn, the first orange lamps appear. If you turn around and look back towards Manhattan, the orange-lit walkway disappears into a black void.

The darkened bridge is crowded. Fast-moving cyclists speed out of the night. The bright blue-white points of LED flashlights reveal walkers, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. Often tight-packed groups of ten or twelve people emerge from the dark, huddled together as if for security, led by a single person holding a flashlight,.

To me, the darkness feels reassuring rather than threatening. There is a feeling of safety and intimacy about moving quietly through the dark; it is the orange light of the Brooklyn side that makes me feel vulnerable and exposed. Even with no electric light, there is ample light to see by once your eyes have adjusted. My camera may struggle with the darkness, but to the human eye, the night is rich with information and strangely beautiful. Shapes and colors are unfamiliar and dream-like.

On the bridge, a Hasidic couple, the man in shirtsleeves, his wife in her black coat, march briskly to the end of the lighted section, then turn and walk back towards Williamsburg. Another man, in black pants and waistcoat, payos flying, jogs out of the darkness, his breath clouding in the cold air. Beyond the wire mesh that runs along the walkway, the lights of Midtown sparkle in the night, hovering above the black slash of the darkened zone in the foreground.

From the walkway, I can look down onto the road. From time to time a car passes, dragging a bubble of light with it as it races towards the blackness of lower Manhattan.