Michael Bloomberg Up a Tree
In 2008, I was assigned by Time magazine to photograph New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for their annual Time 100 list of the world’s most influential leaders and thinkers. He was being featured because of his visionary commitment to make New York a paradigm in the fight against global warming by slashing greenhouse gases, achieving the cleanest air of any big city on the continent, and planting a million trees in the process.
My idea was make a simple photograph of him, shovel in hand, planting a sapling in the sidewalk of one of the city’s public housing projects. The day before our shoot, however, his office called to say that because of his schedule, our picture would have to take place on the grounds of City Hall. It clearly wouldn’t make sense to have him holding a shovel standing next to a towering hundred-year-old tree. Plan B was needed ASAP, so I hopped the subway down to City Hall to scout the possibilities. The good news was that there were many beautiful mature trees in the small park surrounding City Hall. The crook of one tree caught my eye – it was just low enough to be accessible by ladder and boasted the Brooklyn Bridge as its backdrop.
The next day, high on a raised platform, I began to set up the picture with Bloomberg on the right and the bridge on the left; a perfect double-page magazine spread. As it turned out, I had been shooting with the Canon 17-40mm zoom lens, set at about 35mm to frame Bloomberg and the bridge. As I zoomed out to 17mm, I noticed that none of the passersby beneath us seemed to take any notice of our presence twenty feet in the air. Suddenly, the picture could no longer focus on Bloomberg, the tree, and the bridge. It had to show context: the utter incongruousness, the absolute absurdity of Michael R. Bloomberg, climate activist, the billionaire Mayor of New York, standing high in the crook of a tree, juxtaposed against a sea of oblivious New Yorkers just going about their business.