Sean McIntyre · designing tech to create great things

Adding Light to Dark Manhattan

Nov 01, 2012

(Edited by Michelle Frank)

A few days had passed since Hurricane Sandy came through New York City and all of Lower Manhattan was still without power. I joined my friends CJ and Enki in Chinatown to see what darkness was like, and then to add our own light… with projectors. There aren’t many opportunities to do this kind of thing in Manhattan, normally so brightly lit. On Halloween night, I left Brooklyn for the first time since the storm.

Dark started at the halfway point of Williamsburg Bridge. From Brooklyn to the apex, bright lights, and then, there was nothing but a few headlamps of pedestrians and cyclists making their way toward Manhattan. As I crossed the mid-point of the bridge and stepped into the darkness, I felt suddenly as if the extra lights I wore for safety might be ruining a special moment.

In the Manhattan streets, most illumination came from cars’ directional highbeams. That and the constant parade of cops with their flashing lights, although there was no real emergency. A Chinatown firehouse poured light into the streets with an intense, portable bulb. The sound of generators was everywhere, and crude advertisements directed people toward the few bars that were still open.

(Photos taken by Enki and myself)

Houston St

We hopped cabs to four separate spots, trying to find places to project for the Halloween revelers in the streets. Enki found a blank white billboard at the corner of Houston and Allen that really lit up. That caught a lot of attention. There, people out and about took photos and asked us what we were up to. They shared their own stories of traveling through the dark city and told us they appreciated what we were doing.


One skateboarder stopped and showed me a couple of photos he had taken that day. The first was an image of heavy foot traffic crossing the Queensboro Bridge. He also showed me hundreds of people waiting for the city buses to take them from across the water and into Manhattan. He was so compelled to by the darkness emanating to the south that he had to venture down.

Cooper Square

CJ and Enki were the projectionists of the night. CJ used a simple set of high-contrast images that were both jovial and political in nature. His bat signal was the most popular, and I’m a little disappointed no costumed Batman appeared to heed his call (although one un-costumed Batman did volunteer his services!). Enki, a photographer, broadcast an interesting photo of a mushroom. As the night progressed, the mushroom got dressed up and changed into a spinning jack-o-lantern!

Cooper Union

Four hours later, our night finished without interference from civilians or police. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a hot cup of coffee to warm up!

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