As New York continues the process of digging out from Sandy, it’s now time to begin processing what went wrong and how we can prevent it from happening again. While figuring out storm surge barriers and solutions to keep subways from flooding is important, having a record of just what happened to the city will also be key: As the memory of the storm fades, it will be easier and easier to say there is no need to prepare for the next one. Phillip Van‘s haunting and almost surreal photos of a powerless New York should help with that.
Out walking on the nights of October 31 and November 1, Van–a writer and director–wandered the streets of powerless downtown New York, snapping photos of the buildings. In a city where most of the urban landscape remains lit even when no one is there, the darkened buildings are a shocking site: “They felt like mausoleums,” says Van.
He’s right. We tend to measure our lives and productivity by our power output: If the lights are on, things are thriving. A city with no lights seems dead and empty. It’s what makes the occasional lit window you see in the photos shocking and hopeful. But those aren’t intrepid New Yorkers with generators; they’re apartments lit by candles, the flicker of the light rendered into a soft glow by the photographs’ long exposure times. “I could see them flickering after my eyes adjusted,” says Van. “That was the most humbling part of the experience: gaining a sense of all the people in the dark, patiently waiting it out.”