Made the above selfie in the spring of 2001, with a Nikon Coolpix 990 and a screw in fisheye lens. The digital world has moved quite quickly since then.
What has not moved at all is the Empire State Building. Nary an inch. (Well, maybe it does in high winds.) But it still remains, stolid, imposing, and beautiful, right there at 34th St. and 5th Ave., in the heart of the city. It turns 90 this week.
Countless pictures, movies, stories and legends have made, spun and recounted about this grand, gray dame of a building. On May 1st, 1931, the lights went on for the first time. They still burn brightly, changing colors with the moods, seasons, holidays and celebrations of NY.
It was home, briefly, to an inflatable King Kong, which got torn up in the winds and quickly became a giant, one ton plus hefty bag, drooping sadly on the side of the building.
I also put an Olympic skier up there, which was fun.
Any climbing I did up that mast was due to the gracious good nature of Alex Smirnoff, a true gentleman of New York. He allowed me almost carte blanche to climb around up there, because he knew the building was built not to be the subject of strictures and regulations, but to be photographed. Sadly, he is gone now, but I was able to include Alex in the Faces of Ground Zero project, which I shot just after 9/11.
Being in charge of the mast operations, Alex had his hands full after 9/11, as the destruction of the Trade Centers eliminated the antenna atop the North Tower, and a great deal of transmission capability was lost with it. The Empire State had to step in, and re-gear and update the upper infrastructure to keep the broadcast airwaves humming.
Much of the work done up on the Empire antenna structure was done by Tom Silliman, founder of Electronics Research Inc., a firm repsonsible for a great deal of the innovation and maintenance of modern antennas all over. Tom, effectively, taught me how to climb, how to use my harness and ropes, to gain advantage and lever backwards and establish distance and room to shoot. He also became part of the Ground Zero Project.
As he said, in the aftermath of 9/11: “At midnight, I was on an ice shield of the Empire State Building, 1,250 feet above the city with my bag of tools, working. It’s peaceful, but I look downtown and see the work lights and the smoke—still smoke after six weeks. It brings tears to my eyes every night.”
Below, I made this grinding picture of Tom for the America 24/7 project, quite a few years later, looking north and east over sunrise Manhattan.
We’ve done a fair amount of climbing together. Here we are, with Keith, great guy, great climber, up on the Prudential Tower in Boston, some years ago.
All in the pursuit of getting the camera in a different place. Happy Birthday to the Empire State Building, an amazing piece of NY history!