The Night When Lower Manhattan Went Dark

When the lights went out in lower Manhattan on that evening in late October, darkness enveloped everything around me. A week later I was grateful to see what two New York photographers and filmmakers saw that night. Their work helped me understand the magnitude of the blackout Superstorm Sandy visited on my beloved city, of which I could see only a small sliver from my windows. Here Ruggero and Valentina Vanni write about what it was like to be out on the streets as they documented this frightening and beautiful short film, which turns out to be a cautionary tale of modern life.—SSS

“Downtown New York, October 29, 10:13 pm.–The lights had gone out. The brunt of the hurricane just passed us. The wind fell and the rain stopped. We had to go out and see.

“We have been living here for over 30 years and photographed all over the city. We are in love with downtown Manhattan and its ever-changing urban environment at day and night. We knew this time it will be different. We could not imagine how different.

“Everything was quiet. The streets had lost their soundtrack. The overhead clouds reflected the light from uptown as a ghostly luminescence. From time to time police cars cruised by slowly. Their bright headlights revealed reality; glimpses of the city the way we knew it. Some patrol cars stood still, headlights off, just the strobe on top: the street-wall got blue, then red, and purple in between. It defined the environment in a completely new way. Dramatic, not as it is used commonly, but in its original meaning.

“We were walking in an urban space of a German expressionist movie. We, and the few others on the street, were helpless extras in a drama, whispering as if afraid to disturb.

“In our first experience of a disaster we were not scared. We felt no immediate danger. But we had a deeper feeling of having been taken over by something way more powerful than we could imagine–the proof of the fragility of our modern life.”

Ruggero and Valentina Vanni say “We write as ‘we’ because both [of us] shot the photographs and made the video (we are a team in work and life). We wrote our impressions about the experience together. We tried to express our thoughts as simply as possible. We hope you like it. Writing is not our medium and we have no misplaced pride about it.”

Categories: Cities