Damon Winter – Where Steel Meets The Sky

- - Photographers

We were so taken by Damon Winter’s photo essay in the New York Times Magazine that we recently featured on The Daily Edit (Where Steel Meets The Sky) we decided to ask him a couple questions about it:

Heidi: How long did the project take?
I was given access to their entire work day for 5 days (almost consecutively) in July. They were in the process of beginning construction on the 73rd and 74th floors.

How were you protected to take those shots?
In order to have access to the site I had to go through the OSHA 10 hour safety training which is a general work place safety course. I did that for two days. Then to be up with the steel workers, I had to do another 5 hour fall safety training course where I was qualified to use a harness to be able to tie off while working up there. I always wore protective gear, heavy boots, hard hat, glasses, hearing protection and of course the full body safety harness with a shock absorbing lanyard that I could clip onto the beams to protect me from a fall.

What was the most challenging or difficult aspect of working in that environment besides the height?
It is always tough when you work on stories like this with really restrictive access because you always have minders beside you watching you the whole time. It was hard the first few days because I had Port Authority public relations people watching me and safety enforcers watching me, but over the course of those 5 days they got used to me and figured out that I knew what I was doing and wasn’t a real risk or threat to them or their jobs and they really relaxed and let me go about my work more freely. The floor boss for the ironworkers was another story. His job is to supervise the whole operation up on the derrick floor and he is tough. I didn’t speak to him the whole time, just tried to stay out of his way and attract as little attention as possible. I’m used to building up good working relationships with people I photograph but anytime I talked to an ironworker or they talked to me while they were working I would get yelled at. The smallest misstep, if you were in someone’s way or standing under someone who was working would get you yelled at and at first I was under constant fear of getting thrown off the site.

Beside the view, what was the most impressive thing about being up so high?
Well the view was amazing but it was really watching these guys put together this amazing structure, seeing how every piece just fits together like a puzzle, down to the millimeter, was really the incredible part. They are so nimble and confident when they work. They shimmy up the columns and run across the beams without a second though….I suppose it really is second nature for them. When I was up there it was another story as I watched every footstep and walked slowly and deliberately. The way they move up there is a sight to behold….something that still photos can’t do justice.

Did the iron workers help you at all or were they concerned for you?
I wasn’t really allowed to interact while they were working so I really just tried to be the “fly on the wall”. Of course it wouldn’t work and the guys came and talked to me all the time. They were great with me, really nice and welcoming. Not too many people pay that kind of attention to those guys and they aren’t used to having someone up there with them for that amount of time. Most people come up there for a few hours, never to be seen again. I was there day after day and they appreciated it.

Heidi Volpe

There Are 17 Comments On This Article.

  1. Really beautiful work! It’s tough to get in with these guys but once you get to the workers it’s amazing. Great job conveying the beauty of this industrial project.
    I’m curious if this was conceived and shot in B&W or flipped in post.

  2. fantastic! i was blown away by these images when they were first posted here and they are so much more meaningful now with winter’s story. thanks for this!

  3. One of my favorite stories of the year. Reading this account of the making of gives me goose bumps – virtual vertigo. Dream assignment in many ways. Kudos to the New York Times Magazine.

    Superb job Damon.

  4. I wonder if the building will have some advanced emergency features? Seeing that rescues over the upper floors of the WTC towers were impossible, I question the rationale of building such tall buildings. I guess it’s a bit like jet planes–if the engines go they don’t glide, there is no escape. A little bit of Russian Roulette. Also, this new building would seem to have a bullseye on it. I understand the idea of overcoming and rebuilding, but the terrorists will surely see the new building as a symbol once again to be attacked.

  5. I would like to know who made the decision for black and white and was it made before shooting the images or were they digitally converted after. I love that it harkens back to the vintage black and whites of the GE building and am sure that it’s the inspiration.

  6. Great to read Damon’s comments on the preparation and working with these guys. Wonderful stuff Heidi.

  7. Congrats Damon, these photographs are beautiful and classic, i’ve still got the magazine around the house and can’t stop looking at it. Great work!

  8. @shane

    the Lens blog on the NY Times site had an interview with Damon as well and they addressed this issue on B&W:

    “We discussed it from the beginning. Ninety-five percent of the time, I think it was absolutely the correct decision. Part of it is like what I said before. They want to reference these old iconic pictures of the steelworkers that we remember hanging over New York City’s cityscapes. And for purely logistical reasons, when you’re shooting throughout the course of a eight- or nine-hour day on top of a building, it’s really harsh light. It’s a lot easier to make really graphic images. The color muddies things up.”

    http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/01/an-embed-high-above-new-york/