When I was assigned to photograph the bank manager, something inside me gave a decisive nod. The bank manager was someone I could hate. The bank manager was someone I could hunt.
Even though he had suffered this horrible experience the day before, I looked at the photographs of him flailing on the ground, attached to what he thought was a bomb, and I thought, “This fat, helpless man…must be photographed again.”
I didn’t have a scrap of sympathy for him. In fact, looking at him in the pictures, porcine, panicked and prostrate, I worked myself in to quite a state of hatred for him, which would help to get the job done.
The day before, I’d been working a shift for the Daily News. This meant that from 11 am to 6:30 pm I had to be ready to go.
I’d wandered over to Rockefeller center with my bag of equipment to take in an exhibition celebrating 100 years of air and space travel. I was just pushing away from the acrobats when my two-way pager started to chirp. My blood pressure spiked immediately.
Charlie at the desk told me: “There’s some kind of a bomb scare going on at 40th street and 5th ave.”
I ran the ten blocks South through the lunchtime crowds. As I ran, part of me mulled over the topic of health insurance, and my lack thereof.
They were already starting to block off the streets. The cops were putting up the red tape and though several of them barked angrily at me, I stood my ground for a while and tried to discern what was happening. The street up ahead was empty save for a loose sprawl of cops standing immobile, looking around. They looked nervous. A large special ops truck was straddling 5th ave. at 41st street
“If you want to blow up, then you’ll stay right there,” a cop mused loudly.
I shot cops and pedestrians. The pedestrians were relatively calm – just another bomb scare in Manhattan.
A young German man named Felix was standing near me and he said, “I got ze best pictures of ze whole thing.” He’d been in an internet café four blocks up and across the street when things had started to happen. I asked him what he had, and he said, “Everything”.
He seemed confident so I called in to the desk and told them that I was going to look at his film. He’d shot the scene with a tiny camera and I asked if it zoomed. “Yah, zoom’s Good.” He said. He asked me how much the Daily news would pay him for the film, because he and his girlfriend Joanna wanted to get a flight to Miami, and when I told him roughly 150 to 200 dollars, he said oh that’s not enough. He was an Emergency Medical technician back in Berlin and he said, in Germany you get paid 200 to 500 Euros.”
“Have you done this before?” I asked him
“No, this is the first time.”
The Daily News will pay you 200 dollars at the most”.
He said maybe he should go to the New York Times, and I said, maybe he should.
We took his Advantix film to Duane Reade. I paid for the processing and when I came back an hour later and looked at it, I was amazed at Michael Dabbin’s prescience (Dabbin, a co-worker, had casually guessed the outcome).
The shots were taken so wide angle, you couldn’t tell what was happening. In one shot a speck in the bottom left corner was a bomb expert crouching over a bomb. It could have been a dog or a manhole cover, it was so difficult to discern. So much for the right place at the right time.
The next morning, Charlie said, “Go look at the post.”
Front page. Someone named Paul Salazar had taken the most extraordinary photographs of the bank manager on the ground attached to a brief case.
I can say this for whoever Paul Salazar is: Either he didn’t know the risk he was taking, or he is a courageous photographer.
This is how the story was reported in the POST and the Daily News: A well dressed bank robber (he’d overdone it a bit in a tuxedo and bow tie) had gone in to the bank with two louis Vuitton bags claiming that he had a large amount of cash that he would like to open an account with. When the bank manager went to shake his hand, the robber slapped a cuff to his wrist, thereby attaching the bank manager to a brief case which he then claimed contained a bomb. He actually went to the trouble of actually opening the brief case partially to expose a network of wires and painted drumsticks.
He told the bank manager that he too was wired with explosives and directed the banker to take him to the vault. The banker gave a “secret signal” to set off the loud alarm. The robber fled the scene. Meanwhile, the bank manager ran up to the street, burst out in to the daylight and screamed to the police who had already arrived,
“I’ve only got 30 seconds.”
According to the post, police threw him some universal hand cuff keys –no heroics there- and the bank manager, quite on his own, released himself and squirmed away.
So here I was the next afternoon, outside this same bank, an HSBC branch, hunting the manager. Amazingly, he’d shown up for work. You’d have thought the experience might have changed him irrevocably, perhaps causing him to seek a spiritual life in the woods upstate, to wander like Siddartha, or at least to take the day off.
Andrew from the DN was there. He covered the front.
Robert was also there from The Post. He and I were covering the same side and rear exits.
As I waited at the corner of 39th Street and 5th avenue, looking back and forth from the Eastern exit to the Southern, I chanted to myself: “Fat bank manager won’t get away. I will bang him this very day.”
A PR lady from the bank approached warily and asked Robert and I what news organizations we were from. We told her. She tried to remain calm and professional, but it was clear that our presence taxed her poise.
“I am trying to assist in one of our employees right’s to privacy ,” she said.
Robert, who is Brazilian and definitely looks the part of a paparazzi, with long hair, tried the persistence bluff. “Even if we don’t get him today, we will come out here every day until we do so he might as well come out now”.
“He hasn’t done anything wrong. In fact, he’s sort of a hero,” I said, lying.
She disappeared, calculating PR ratios.
Eventually a Lincoln town car with tinted windows pulled up and then backed in to a loading bay on the Southern side of the building. Robert and I knew this was the banker’s ride when they closed the hydraulic gate. We made rapid, imperceptible adjustments to our gear. I set my focus to three feet and cranked up my flash.
Two female reporters who realized they wouldn’t be getting a quote, watched us with morbid curiosity as though they were about to witness a beheading. We stood to one side of the loading dock and waited. The gate started to open. Three beefy security men stepped out. Then the car started to roll out behind them. The bank manager was in the back of the car.
Robert and I broad sided the car. We pressed our cameras up against the back windows to reduce reflection and flashed in to the car. Robert was practically on top of the car as it turned and made its way out on to 39th street. The driver gassed it and sped down the block.
This was where I figured I had an advantage over Robert. I sprinted after them.
I got lucky. They were stopped by the light at 6th ave. I ran up to the car again and shot through the tinted glass. Again, the bank manager was holding his hands up in front of his face to protect his identity. This infuriated me. The man had lived through a bomb scare and now he was scared of being photographed? I cursed him as though he were a murderer. I scrambled around the car taking photographs from any angle that might work.
I considered yanking his door open and blasting him that way but…no stylebook would have recommended it. The driver got involved and thrust his hand towards the back to assist in the masking of his client.
Finally, with a squeal of tires, the car pulled away. I went back and looked for Robert but he was gone. One of the reporters who had watched the whole thing said, “Robert jumped in his car and chased after them. Can you believe that?”
I was impressed. Robert had taken it to another level. I imagined him following that town car all the way to Western New Jersey and terrorizing the subject as he shuffled complacently towards his front door.
After all that excitement, I chimped through my frames to discover that I had only one photograph of the bank manager but it was blurry. The tinted windows had made it impossible to avoid obscuring reflections. I was livid. Then the shame crept in.
I imagined what I must have looked like chasing down that car. Specifically, I imagined a girl I’d known in college witnessing the whole thing from a car directly behind the banker’s. ‘Is that Matthew Roberts?’ she might have wondered, aghast. ‘What kind of monster has he become…’
The next day, worried that Robert had scored, I went down to the nearest deli and scoured the papers over a 50 cent coffee. I was relieved to discover that neither of our papers ran a new shot.
And The New York Times, for the second straight day, made no mention of the failed bank robbery.