From sunset September 10 through sunrise September 11, 2002, photographer Horst Hamann pursued an ambitious photo project: documenting one night in the life of New York City a year after 9.11. A Leica Digilux 1 in hand, he began his marathon walk in Harlem, proceeding south to Battery Park, stopping at Ground Zero, capturing some 1,500 images along the way. Selected images from that nightincluding those shown herewill appear in his latest book, One Night on Broadway, to be published in December.
SP&D caught up with Hamann for a behind-the-scenes look at the project and an upclose view of one of New York's finest photo chroniclers.
The idea came to German-born photographer Horst Hamann one evening last November, while videotaping a short story with Jimmy Breslin based on one of Breslin's 9.11 articles, "A smile gone but where." Pleased with the Sony digital camcorder's performance in low-light conditions, Hamann bought his first digital camera, a Canon PowerShot G2, the next day and started experimenting with night shooting.
"I got sensitized to all the colors and lights, and decided to try a personal project: walking down Broadway capturing the beauty and mood that shines in the night." Bouyed by his results, Hamann shared some of his night images with the publisher of his earlier worksNew York Vertical and Horst Hamann New YorkBernhard Wipfler in Germany, and Jimmy Breslin, who is penning the introduction to One Night on Broadway.
Why a Leica Digilux? Hamann had never used a Leica analog camera, preferring to work in the panorama format. But he has had a long and friendly relationship with Leica, and they had discussed the possibility of doing a project together. When Leica announced the Digilux a couple of months ago, they gave him a camera to test.
It turns out the Digilux was a perfect choice for One Night on Broadway, according to Hamann.
"The large screen is very helpful for controlling the image and composition and in terms of handling," says Hamann. "It's a typical Leica productclear in design and function, all manual options have the capability of f-stop corrections, and the metering is amazing. It's the perfect transition camera for photographers coming from the film side of the medium."
To lighten his load during the lengthy walk, Hamann toted minimal gearno tripod or additional light. Media storage was an issue, as was battery life. Fortunately, he received all the storage he needed from Panasonic, which developed the Digilux with Leica.
"Panasonic gave me 2 512MB SD cards, which weren't officially available yet, and 14 256 and 128MB cards. I wound up using about 2.3 gigs of storage, basically all the cards. In all, I shot about 1,500 images, real close to my upfront calculation of 10 images for each of the 155 blocks we would walk."
His two assistants, Ax and Nate Cunningham, carried his Mac G4 iBook, a backup Digilux, and 5GB mind storage (in case he had to download, but he didn't), and got signed model releases from the people Hamann chatted with and photographedsince the project was for publication. "I couldn't stop and talk too long if I were to make it down to Battery Park by sunrise."
As his friend Adolfo Doering, a Mexican filmmaker, walked with him documenting the project on video, Hamann described his photo project to prospective subjects and asked their permission to be photographed for the book and exhibition.
"As I'd seen over the past 20 years of taking pictures in New York, the people are wide open and had no problem with it. If anyone said no after I'd taken a picture, I deleted it in front of them."
Any technical difficulties or obstacles, I inquired. "Since I'd shot mostly B&W in recent years, it was an adjustment to keep my style and visual approach while thinking in color. It was great. I felt like a conductor orchestrating an endless spectrum of color and movement."
And as he'd shot for years primarily with analog rangefinders, like the Hasselblad X-Pan, Linhof Technorama, and Mamiya 7, looking at the screen instead of through a viewfinder took some getting used to.