The Bridges of Manhattan
Bridges are our way in, out, and across. They connect us to others. They are our arrival and our escape. They incarnate the essence of connection. The bridges of Manhattan were born from a pragmatic need, and all built at different times, but each has its own identity. These bridges, which were often designed and engineered by immigrants, connect millions of people with a wide variety of cultures, hopes and dreams.
How could New York as we know it exist without them?
I first shot the Brooklyn Bridge and its renowned view on August 9th 2001, not knowing what lay ahead. One month later these colossal bridges were transformed into escape routes. After a long time grieving, I rediscovered the desire to capture their character and beauty. One Sunday morning, a sailboat passed under that same bridge and caught the attention of my Hasselblad. A four-year journey began.
I woke up every day before sunrise and spent many weekends with my camera and bicycle, going up one side of the island of Manhattan and down the other. I often had to clamber over fences and through back lots, and sometimes even fell into the murky water.
Along the way, I saw the diversity of citizens whose stories were connected to and by these bridges where they said I do or I love you, or renewed their vows. I have met people on and under bridges: some joyful, some sad; some alone, some not; some on their daily walk, others at a significant transition, looking for answers. I connected with many of them in some way in the shadows of these monuments. I learned along the way how the bridges link others’ lives, and my own.
To me, there is no civil existence without bridges. We tend to forget about them, to disregard them, to see them as instruments. The weather and our moods change around them with the seasons. The climate of the city shifts from rushed to fearful and back again but they remain, steadfast and beautiful. We give them our trust, but we owe them our attention and our respect. While in New York they are constantly rehabilitated, they are not yet preserved with the attention they deserve. Let us see them for the objects of beauty that they are, and for the interconnectedness they generate.
My interest in bridges was born where I grew up, in the small salt mining town, Varangéville, France. A long steel footbridge, called la "passerelle", connected the town’s two halves across a canal. As it separated my nuclear family from the rest of the village where my school and relatives were, it became more than a passageway for me; it became my playground. Every day, I explored its beams and underpass.
I was ten years old when my father handed me his Kodak Brownie, and I began to photograph the world around me, including my bridge. I snapped pictures of neighbors walking over the bridge, of the barges passing by on our canal overflowing with salt and limestone. My journey as an autodidact started here: I ran around the village, clicked the button on the little black box, and brought the rolls of film to the local photographer who let me stay to watch as he developed and brought the images to life. It was addictive. My "passerelle", with its steel cross-beams, reminds me now of the Bridges of New York.