© Iwan Baan/Getty Images
Despite a successful career as an architectural photographer, Iwan Baan was relatively unknown outside of his niche until November 3, 2012, when New York magazine published its post-Hurricane Sandy issue with his photograph of a powerless lower Manhattan on the cover. Baan’s story about making the photograph involves a quest of sorts, replete with obstacles, irony, serendipity and last-minute reprieves. But the moral of the story is clear: carpe diem.
Baan arrived in the city the day before Hurricane Sandy struck, contracted to photograph the new Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill on New York’s Long Island. He quickly realized that assignment would have to wait. Having been in Japan during the 2011 tsunami, Baan knew that unless he made preparations right away, he would not be able to work once the storm hit. He withdrew as much cash from the bank as he could and booked a rental car.
As soon as he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport to pick up his rental car—for $2,000 rather than the $300 he’d originally been quoted—New York magazine reached out to him seeking one of his trademarks: an airborne shot of the city. Baan estimates that he is up in a helicopter taking pictures once a week, and he was one of the few people in New York City that day with the experience, equipment and determination to make the photo New York was after.
But there was a problem: In the wake of the storm, there were no helicopters available in the city. Baan had been in touch with Long Island pilots before the storm hit, looking for help with his Water Mill shoot. He realized he could drive out to Long Island and fly back in to take the photos. At first the pilot demurred, pointing out that the credit card machines were down, but Baan’s pocket full of cash was convincing.
He soon found himself in near-total darkness, shooting out of a helicopter door, open to the cold winds blowing off of the ocean. Not only had he forgotten his gyroscope at home, but he was also using a brand-new camera. “I had just gotten the [Canon EOS-1D X], maybe three months before,” he says. “I didn’t test it under those kinds of conditions yet, but you can shoot up to 200000 ISO. You can shoot with barely any light and still get a decent picture.” When asked if he had any inkling while he was up there that he might have taken a career-defining photograph, the Dutch photographer gives a faint smile and says only, “Fingers crossed.”