A Somber Halloween

When I was growing up long, long ago, Halloween represented pure joy. My mom always encouraged me to be creative when it came to my costume, and there was a guarantee of a bag full of candy at the end of the night. Ah, the simple joys of childhood.

As I’ve gotten, ahem, a little older, the excitement has faded a little bit, but the fun hasn’t gone away. I still let myself have a little bit of a candy treat (just not a bagful these days), and love seeing the young ones (and many of the not-so-young-ones) getting in the spirit and dressing up. I especially love seeing those who put a bit of creative thought into their costumes.

In fact, as much as I tend not to focus my lens on people, I’ve often thought about how fun it would be to head out with my camera and photograph the kids (and adults) who had put together a fun and creative costume for their trick-or-treat fun.

But tonight, there’s none of that fun mood, at least where I am in New York City. Hurricane Sandy swept through the area, creating all sorts of destruction. Most of that destruction happened outside of Manhattan, on the coast of New Jersey, along Long Island shore, in Queens, and elsewhere. But there are plenty of problems here as well.

I went to a restaurant for dinner, and ended up in conversation with more than a few other people there. Everyone had a story. Every story was different, and everyone had a different perspective. Many were without power. Many had no water service. Many knew of others who had suffered far worse. Everyone seemed to be of the mindset that they didn’t have it as bad as anyone else.

Watching the news, I certainly felt fortunate. I didn’t lose anything or anyone in the storm. I know plenty of people in the area who lost power, but as far as I know, none of them lost anything more. But so many people are dealing with tremendous loss. It is difficult to put into perspective.

The images on TV are unreal. I can’t even imagine such a loss.

Yesterday, after the worst of the storm had passed, I ventured out onto the streets of Manhattan. Mostly I wanted a bit of fresh air, but I also wanted to get a sense of what things were really like in the city. It was interesting to be in and among some of the damage, and to see things that were rather extreme, but to realize that it paled in comparison to what people were dealing with in areas nearby.

Naturally I brought my camera. I felt like a photojournalist, documenting things that were difficult to digest. There was the crane that had partially collapsed and was (and is) still dangling precariously over the streets of Manhattan. There was the apartment building where the front wall had completely collapsed, exposing the four apartments on the upper two floors. There were many awnings and other structures damaged by the winds.

Along the way, what was most impactful was the realization that the significant damage I was seeing paled in comparison to what others were dealing with nearby.

I’m not usually one for brevity, so I’m not often at a loss for words. But the experience of seeing damage all around me, and knowing that others were dealing with damage that was many orders of magnitude worse, left me feeling a need for silence. It left me wondering if I should suspect the Ask Tim Grey emails. It left me wondering if I should stop posting to Facebook and other social networks. It left me feeling that maybe it was best to be quiet and stay offline for a little while.

Ultimately, of course, I have a difficult time staying quiet, just as I have a difficult time not capturing photographs of the things that occur around me. But it is interesting to experience such a somber mood on a night that is supposed to be about nothing but fun.

By and large, people are resilient. I look forward to having the opportunity to photograph happier times than what I’m witnessing now…

About Tim Grey

Tim Grey is in the business of making photographers smarter and happier. He is the author of more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has written hundreds of magazine articles, and publishes the Ask Tim Grey e-mail newsletter as well as the Pixology digital magazine. He also speaks at a variety of events and leads photography workshops around the world.
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One Response to A Somber Halloween

  1. Paul Pokrywka says:


    I’m sure that those photographers who live in the areas affected by Sandy, appreciate and look forward to seeing your emails. Especially now when they want a diversion from what has happened. I am sure your emails are like a breath of fresh air, a return to normal.


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