Security measures curb one bridge infatuation

Heartbreak: The post-Sept. 11 world is painful to a New Jersey man who is "only really happy" when he's on a bridge with a camera.

August 02, 2002|By Adam Lisberg | Adam Lisberg,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NEW YORK - If you accept that a man can fall in love with public works, then you will have no trouble understanding Dave Frieder's heartbreak.

"I feel like a fish out of water," he says. "I am only really happy when I'm on a bridge with a camera."

Frieder loves bridges. This is no tepid love, like the way some people love chocolate. This is an infatuation, the sort of affection that drives all other thoughts out of his mind. He collects bridge memorabilia, he memorizes their measurements, he studies their every angle. Frieder, who is 48 and single, loves bridges the way some people love spouses.

Yet Frieder's nine-year love affair with the great bridges of New York, which has found him scaling their heights with a harness around his body and thousands of dollars' worth of camera equipment in his hands, has run into the operational equivalent of a restraining order since Sept. 11.

The three agencies that run 14 of New York's major bridges, which once routinely gave Frieder permission to photograph among the crossbeams and cables, suddenly grew leery of letting someone into their more private areas. The people who once gave him green lights are now blinking yellow and red. They say they need to put security first, no matter how pure his intentions.

Frieder understands this, but it pains him. He sits in his New Milford, N.J., apartment, surrounded by cameras and bridge souvenirs, wearing a "Feel the Steel" promotional T-shirt he designed, and pines to be back on the spans.

"I've been doing this nine years. The bridge authorities know how much I love doing this," he said. "They know me. I'm not a crazed maniac. I love the bridges."

Frieder has been a photography buff since he was a child and has been enamored of bridges almost as long. Ask him why, and he spills a torrent of history and numbers and appreciation, gesticulating with sharp motions as every digression spawns its own digression - whether on the history of suspension bridges, the process of clamping a bridge cable together, or how different types of trusses respond to wind.

Though his head is full of statistics - he knows every inch of a bridge - the shape and design and feel of a bridge are more important to him than any piece of engineering.

"To me, bridges are like giant sculptures," he said. "It's like a Rodin, but it's a thousand times bigger, and it's functional."

Frieder works as an independent construction worker and handyman; photography is his passion.

He started photographing New York's major bridges in 1993, with the ultimate goal of producing a coffee-table book. But as he began trying to capture what he loved about the bridges on film, he realized he needed to go higher and deeper - to record the vistas that only ironworkers get to see.

"In the beginning, I didn't think I'd have to walk the main cables or climb the steelwork. But then I realized everyone has seen it from down here. I want to see it from up there," he said. "All the different views of the bridge allow me to envision it as a whole."

He wrote a lot of letters to government agencies. He made a lot of phone calls to workers tucked inside those agencies, workers who turned out to be bridge fans, too. They started believing in what he wanted to do, and the permissions started to come.

Frieder's black-and-white images - many of which are posted on his Web site, www.davefrieder.com - marry the majestic sweep of a monumental structure to the intricate details of its ironwork.

Rivets dance across the sunlit face of the Bronx Whitestone Bridge; the trusses of the Bayonne Bridge disappear to the vanishing point in a cavalcade of triangles; the latticework of cables of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge seem less bound to the earth than wrapped around the sky.

His work has been featured in promotions by Hasselblad, the company that makes his high-end professional camera; in an advertisement for a company that works on major bridge repair projects; and in engineering magazines.

"The best days are when you get a deep blue sky and white clouds," Frieder said. "I don't ever want to go home. I want to camp out there all night."

One of Frieder's favorite photographs - taken in 1996 by a bridge worker who accompanied him on a climb - shows him seemingly on top of the world. He is standing atop one of the massive metal spheres that ornament the top of the Manhattan Bridge; it is easily taller than him. The Brooklyn Bridge crosses the river in the middle background, lower Manhattan sprawls behind it, and nothing rises above Frieder's white hard hat except blue sky.

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