Work In Progress: We Fly With Our Own Wings

My Story

As I lay on the basement floor with my hands tied behind my back and a gun to my head I thought, “I am going to die tonight.”

The night of December 21, 2003 changed my life forever. At the time I was fresh out of school and working at a sneaker store in the Lower East Side. It was a Sunday and just as we were closing two guys who had been in earlier in the day knock on the door. We buzz them in because they had put so many shoes on hold and we thought they might buy some. As soon as they walked through that door I knew something was terribly wrong. The older guy had some sort of ski mask on his face and before I could make sense of the situation he pulled a gun out and pointed it at my face. “Get against the wall,” he barked as he put the gun in my face, “put your hands on the wall and look at the floor.” He pulled plastic knot ties out of his pocket and tied my hands behind my back. Then he went through my pockets and pulled out my cell phone and wallet and dropped them on the floor. The younger guy who only wore a Yankees hat to cover his face tied up my friend who ran the store with me. We were then brought down to the basement and ordered to lie on the floor. As I put my face on the cold cement floor I began to drift away from reality. I couldn’t believe what was happening. “Where is the safe,” the older guy asked both of us as he dug the gun into the back of our heads. They had trash bags with them and they began to quickly pack them full of sneakers. The older guy would occasionally blurt out that he was a killer and that he had killed people over very little than this. As they ran around getting what they could the older guy would put the gun into the back of our heads and make threats.

The thought that I would die tonight quickly raced through my mind. I tilted my baseball hat up and over to the left so that when he shot me in the head perhaps the angle of my hat would throw him off and the bullet would only graze my head. From this point on it is very hard for me to describe in words what happened. I suddenly felt a powerful rush flood my body, I was no longer there on that basement floor. The muscles in my body relaxed. This wave whatever it was that had swept through me told me that I was not ready to die. No! It was not my time to die, what I was put here on Earth to do I had not yet begun. And as soon as it communicated that to me, it raced out of me just as quickly as it had come. When I opened my eyes and looked around the two men had gone.

From that night on I have devoted my life and everything I have to my art, doing what I now know I was put on Earth to do. That night has ended up being one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. It has challenged and taught me a great deal about what it means to be alive, who I am and how I live my life. Ultimately, this experience has become one of the driving forces of my art. Sometimes I remind myself that I shouldn’t be here, I should be dead and I think about this gift I have been given. Every minute that I am alive I try to make the most of that gift. I know what I was put on Earth to do and I must do it, I don’t have a choice, I will go crazy if I am not able to do this thing that exists inside me. I have given everything I have to pursue this dream that I am living. I have lost girlfriends, friends, I have racked up huge amounts of debt and have made many other sacrifices in order to live this dream. I would even die for it.

Last year I was photographing at dawn in a rough neighborhood. As I was under my dark cloth focusing, I suddenly heard someone very close to me. I pop out and find two guys with metal pipes in their hands at my side. We stare at each other. Nothing is said for several seconds. I wanted and needed the photograph that I was about to take and I was determined to make it, I said, “Rob me, beat me up, kill me or leave me alone,” and I returned under my dark cloth. When I was finished focusing I threw the cloth back over my shoulder and as I went to grab a film holder from my bag, I looked around and the two men had vanished. Perhaps that was a foolish thing to say and I was lucky, but I meant everything I said. I was not and am still not afraid to die doing this thing that gave me a second chance at life, to me that is the way I must honor this gift and if I do not live this way and by these rules I would be cheating this gift and my life.