I've always had a fascination with firefighters. To me, they're soldiers on the front lines of civilian battles: saving the lives of those in need while putting their own at risk.
I've dreamed of photographing firefighters in the line of duty since I was a teen. I've often sat and marveled at portraits of these men and women, surrounded by chaos and disaster, focused and vigilant, running in when others are running away. I've thought about what it would be like to capture an unforgettable image like those I've seen.
Some of the most profound firefighter photos that stick out in my mind are from 9/11. It might partially be because 9/11 happened when I was a teen. Or it might also have to do with my involvement in my high school's media and photography program at the time. I soaked up the news coverage that day like an industrial strength sponge. Regardless of the reasoning, I attribute that day to the start of my interest in firefighter portraiture.
In 2002, on my way home from school, my neighbor's house caught fire. I was taking a photography course at the time and had one roll of color slide film in my Pentax K1000. I think it was my first time shooting color positive film stock.
When I drove past, I was shocked to see that no one had responded to the call yet. I was there before any fire department showed up and boy, teenage me was over the moon with excitement.
I took about 8 photographs of the fire, none were particularly good except this one.
The quality of the print is absolutely terrible as I had no idea what I was doing in the darkroom when it came to color positive prints. In fact, the print I have is so bad, I had to correct it in Lightroom. Some of it's awfulness can be attributed to it's age, though.
At the time, a classmate of mine was a volunteer firefighter with the Hurley FD and saw my photo. He asked for a copy to hang in the department and as far as I know it might still be there.
Even though I never lost interest in the subject, I wasn't able to focus my attention on the topic until recently. It never seemed like a subject matter anyone would be very interested in. But to my surprise I was very wrong.
I follow several emergency alerters on my Twitter and when I woke up on January 21, I saw that there was a tweet regarding a 4 Alarm fire only a few blocks from my apartment. I thought it might be fun to check it out even though the fire was at 4 am and by the time I got there, it was about 2 pm. With my shiny, new 70-200mm lens in hand, I took this photograph and my odyssey began.
As of this blog post, with 76 "likes", this is my second most-liked photo currently on Instagram.
Two weeks later, on February 1st, an absolutely out of control blaze ripped through a warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The 7-Alarm Fire burned for 5 days before being brought fully under control as the building was demolished around the smoldering pit.
After my recent success with the above photo, I decided to take a look for myself.
Once again, brandishing my new Canon 70-200, I snapped my currently most popular photo.
With 91 "Likes" on my page, and one feature by @NYCFirePhotos with 350 "Likes" this is by far the most popular photo I have ever taken.
In fact, @NYCFirePhotos have been quite generous with their shoutouts to me.
But the insanity doesn't end there. I've also since been featured by @ChiefMiller and surprisingly, @ig_Great_Shots_NYC
Pretty incredible given the total accident this was. But I'm thrilled that there's a subject out there that I'm good at shooting and that at least some people are interested in looking at.
Going forward, it's a topic I'm certainly going to continue to pursue. Whether it's about the fire itself and the loss of property or the firefighters and their personalities and attributes that make them human, there's always a great story to be told.
They may be superheroes in our eyes but it's good to see they enjoy a good laugh just like the rest of us.