In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter sun rises in the southeast and travels in a low arc across the sky, making architectural photography a little more challenging in the deep canyons of New York City. Architects like to see their buildings in sunlight. In the immediate vicinity of the Grand Concourse, with its beaux collection of medium tall apartment blocks— this translates at present as a narrow window for such an opportunity.
The firm that hired me was keen to capture the striations of light as created by the building’s sun shades, a recent design. Also on the shot list for the day were a handful of street views and details.
I rang the bell on the apartment building across the street from 2388 Creston Avenue, and was able to locate the super. An agreeable man who in the short amount of time I spoke to him told me of raising fish in his bathtub and being hit by a car which left him with chronic pain in his hips and knees. He agreed to give me roof access, and handed me what looked like a small garage door opener. “Press this button to deactivate the alarm. Press this button to reactivate it. Don’t get locked on the roof”. I quickly headed for the stairs.
Two flights up. A woman in an apron stood by her apartment door and speaking in Spanish, gestured inside.
“Me tengo que ir a la azoteca”, I said. In hindsight it could have been “Me tengo que ir al manicomio”— which may also be true.
Five flights up, a group of kids smoking pot. They eyed me suspiciously but said nothing.
I pressed the top button on the opener and an audible chirp emanated from the now disengaged alarm mechanism. Grabbing the handle with a gusto not usually displayed by a grown man who has just ascended seven flights of stairs with a heavy bag, tripod, and stepladder. I was through the door, on the roof, and…
The door slammed shut.
First things first. Photographs to be made. As it turned out, I guessed right. Here was the perfect place to make a double frame stitched image with the mighty 17mm shift lens. I was lucky to have timed this whole adventure perfectly. The shadows were juuuust creeping to the bottom of the sidewalk, and I had my choice of a few pedestrians walking by to include in the shot. Got it. On to the next shot, back down to the street.
Locked on the roof? I think not. Using my knife, I cooly opened the door by inserting a blade through the narrow space between the door and the sill, and gently twisting left. Victory.
Piercing, shrieking, screaming alarm.
I had no idea whatsoever where I put the alarm mechanism. A significant amount of time passed before I did.