A shot with no 2nd chance

VIEWFINDER

October 14, 2007|By Algerina Perna | Algerina Perna,Sun Photographer

At 7:30 last Sunday morning, the 10-story Mercy Medical Center parking garage that filled nearly a block at the northwest corner of Calvert and Pleasant Streets in downtown Baltimore vanished behind great billowing clouds of ivory dust to the accompaniment of a jarring series of percussive blasts.

A few minutes later, when the air had cleared, the garage was gone, reduced to a massive heap of broken concrete, twisted steel and mangled wire destined to be cleared to make way for construction of a new hospital building.

My job had been to record the implosion. This was one assignment where there were no second chances, and I acted accordingly, making careful preparations to record the event using both still and video cameras.

Days before, I drove around the area to determine the best vantage point for pictures.

The roof of a new Mercy parking garage one block to the east seemed to offer the best view.

On the morning of the implosion, I fastened one Sony video camera to the metal facade of the garage, using a mounting bracket. I taped the camera to the bracket because the connection piece was a little loose, and I had awful visions of the camera falling onto a safety worker below.

Dozens of people assembled on the roof, the media and hospital VIPs, employees, their families and friends. My fear was that the video camera would be knocked over by excited onlookers standing on lightweight plastic folding chairs just inches away.

But a guardian angel was with me, in the form of Paul Hofmann, 91, a friend of the owners of Controlled Demolition Inc., the Phoenix company that executed the implosion. He gallantly guarded the camera through the whole event.

After turning on the video about 7:10, I directed my attention to the 35 mm digital camera, choosing a spot several yards away at the corner of the roof to get a different angle.

I periodically checked the exposure settings as the sun continued to rise. I also had a second video camera mounted on a monopode to capture people's reactions after the explosion.

Hoisting myself up onto a yard-square concrete corner pillar from the back of a folding chair, I leaned on the pillar from my waist forward as my legs dangled in the air behind. Normally, I'm afraid of heights, but the solidity and expanse of the pillar eased my apprehension.

At 7:30, people shouted the countdown: "5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 ..." Then 13 ear-splitting bangs reverberated through my body. I had to concentrate to keep the camera still as I supported it with hands and elbows. I had never heard such a thundering noise at such close range. The clamor was accompanied by sparks of red light as the explosives ignited. There was a pause, then 13 more bangs and crashes as the building collapsed into itself.

Spectators applauded and screamed with delight, admiring the work of Controlled Demolition, which was so precise that a nearby tree was left intact.

The traveling cloud engulfed us in a layer of dust, prompting the crowd to disperse quickly. I was amazed that it took just 16 seconds for a 10-story building to collapse. Looking at the remains and the newly visible landscape beyond, I reflected upon the transient nature of our existence.

Karl M. Ferron, a fellow staff photographer who is also the Sunrise videographer for www.baltimoresun.com, was so captivated by the spectacle that he shot video on his own time from an interesting vantage point at street level. He produced our video and had it on the Web shortly after 9 a.m.

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