ANIMAL’s original series I Should Have Shot That! asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week, Shane Perez talks about a misadventure while urban exploring on the Queensboro Bridge.
It was December, a couple years ago and it was a pretty nice night, not terribly cold or anything, y’know, a little cloudy and overcast. I like cloud cover for skyline photos from bridges. You get more texture, not just a black sky washed out by light. It gives something for city lights to bounce off of. There were ideal conditions for a good bridge skyline photo that night. I went up with a couple of buddies.
The Queensboro Bridge has four different towers and we split up, and two of us went on one tower and I two to the other to shoot each other across the bridge on the tops of the towers. It was a pretty nice night and I put my bag down as I normally do and was setting up my tripod and camera. I just set up for a great skyline shot with the guys on the other tower across and a nice cloudy sky and very, very quickly, conditions just changed! It got really windy. It started snowing, just out of nowhere. It hadn’t been snowing that day. There hadn’t been a prediction of snow.
I’m like, “Oh, shit, this is not good, but I might still be able to get a really cool shot.” So I keep trying to set it up, keep checking the exposure and all of that, and out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving, tumbling across the top of the bridge. I look over, and it’s my bag with things in it.
My bag is tumbling towards the edge, caught by the wind. I yell out to my friend “Yo, my bag!” I was 30 feet away from it and he’s in the middle of changing lenses, a lens in one hand and a camera in the other, and he’s just kind of like “UH!” frozen, can’t do anything. I start running for it immediately as it’s tumbling and the bag hits the railing on the edge of it and stops — “Oh, thank god!” I run towards it, run towards it — and then it’s gone. I can see it sail off of the bridge, disappear into the night, taken away by the air.
There were two lenses, some memory cards, my favorite hat, maybe a couple flashlights, some random stuff in the bag — nothing crazy, y’know. Some climbing gear, heavy. I’m like…
“Fuck. That was my bag. I just lost my bag. I probably killed somebody. I probably hit somebody’s car and they swerved and hit somebody else, and there is a horrible accident and we all have to go right now.”
I immediately broke down all of my gear, and said “We gotta go, we gotta go, right now, we gotta get off the bridge.” I called everyone. “We gotta go, we gotta go, I dropped a bag full of stuff. Maybe on the roadway, we don’t know for sure, but we gotta go.” We haul ass down and get back down to the road level and I’m expecting carnage. We get there and everything’s pretty quiet, cars are flowing kinda like normal. I see one car slow down unexpectedly, directly on the opposite side, maybe they saw something in the road and are slowing down. My buddy Steve darts across the traffic on the bridge and goes to check. There’s nothing there.
Okay, no accident… Where’d the bag go? We were between the towers that were on Roosevelt’s Island. The bag fell towards the island, not the water. It was pretty hopeless. We take the train to Roosevelt’s Island. We walk under the tower of the bridge, strolling on the sidewalk, haven’t really started looking yet and there’s my bag, laying in the grass like three feet off of the sidewalk. Everything’s inside of it and everything’s perfectly fine. Nothing happened. Not a scratch. The bag got swept off and flew 400 feet and somehow landed and nothing was broken. I didn’t get the shot at the top, which would’ve been great, y’know, with the snow coming down over the city and my buddies in it, had it not been for the bag tumbling out of sight. Also, it taught me a lesson: if you’re gonna take something of, even if it’s nice and not windy up there, you need to clip it to something and attach it securely before you walk away from it.
I’ve been doing this for awhile and you get a little fearless and it was a good reminder. Nobody got hurt.
Yeah, it could’ve been a person I guess, but it takes a lot of wind to blow a person off of something. I don’t think what I do is all that crazy, really.
People have all these skewed perceptions of what’s dangerous — like, oh, that’s “dangerous.” How many people do you know who have died falling off a bridge? Not that many. But how many have died of cancer or heart disease? In a car accident? Driving a car is wayyy more dangerous than what I do. Eating junk food. Not exercising. Way more dangerous in the long run and sometimes even in the short run. Cars are horribly dangerous things. If you don’t factor in the accidents — the pollution, all the environmental stuff, depletion of fossil fuels.
Also, a lot of people tend to associate illegal with dangerous. Most people prefer not to be arrested for things. But y’know, there’s tons of illegal things that people do all the time. I don’t see it as that bad. Generally, you’ll get less jail time for being caught trespassing somewhere than you will for having drugs on you.
Anything that you do is gonna be risky in some way. If you manage risks and you understand them, it’s not any more dangerous than anything else. Like, that bridge? That’s some guy’s office. Every day, some guy climbs up and doesn’t make anything of it, changes a lightbulb or whatever. Structures are made to be climbed by people. They’re designed by people, built on a human scale. They just look a little scary.
Shane Perez is a Brooklyn-based photographer currently working on a series of nude environmental portraits in strange locations and killer urban exploring photography. He’s also the person who made an unsanctioned visit to Walt Disney World’s abandoned “Discovery Island” a few years ago, earning him the threat of a lifetime ban from the amusement park. I Should Have Shot That! is illustrated by the amazing James Noel Smith.