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Artwork from Xavier Nuez of a rundown building at night in Buffalo

Alleys & Ruins no. 68, Gated (2005, Buffalo, NY, 11:15pm)

When I shoot in dangerous places, I almost always have one or two people with me to watch my back. People have backed out just a handful of times over the years, but never like this.

I’m in Buffalo where I meet Hector, a young man who is willing and eager to hang out with me while I do a night shoot. We exchange numbers and I call him later that night to meet. He tells me some of his friends want to come along, and I think, Great! More protection.

They show up in their SUV and these guys are ready for Saturday night clubbing – loud dance music is thumping and they’re all dressed up... one guy is already hammered and another is wearing a silk shirt. Do they understand we'll be trudging through alleys and ruins at night? I lose faith in them instantly but they’re all I have.

“How long's this gonna take, bro?” asks Hector. 'Like, an hour?'
“Um, I don't know, a couple hours maybe,” I say. “Let’s hurry.”

I take them into a narrow alley between two rusted out industrial buildings I had scoped out during the day - there are many abandoned buildings in this rough neighborhood. The long alley opens up onto a haunting enclosed courtyard. So far so good. I walk around, looking for a shot, and find an intense looking scene.

Excited, I walk to their massive Cadillac SUV, the loud music has long been turned off and it’s very quiet around us.

“This is a great area. I think I found a good shot.”
“How long this gonna take?” he whispers, looking around, “like, 5-10 minutes?”
“Wha? No! At least another hour!”
“Cause we gotta go. Our friend Jimmy's been calling. We gotta pick him up.”
I stare at Hector, then at the alley around me. I never would have scoped out a dangerous location like this alone.
“You telling me you're leaving?”
“Yea, sorry bro.”
“Well... that’s fucked up! What’s this neighborhood like?”
“Not good.” says the guy with the silk shirt.
“Um... are there any gangs? Do people get killed around here??”
“Not here”, says the drunk dude. “This is just where they dump the bodies.” He laughs nervously.
“Nah,” says Hector. “There was a gas station back there on the main road, so there's people around - I'm sure its safe. But we gotta go. Sorry bro.”
I don't even know what that means - a gas station? - but what I do understand is that they're leaving.
He rolls up his window and gravel starts crunching under the rolling wheels. They slowly drive back out the long narrow alley. Now I feel stranded and vulnerable in the darkness of this dead end alley.

I look at the shot again. Dammit! It’s a good one and it’s hard to leave. 'Those fuckin dicks!' I whisper. I simply cannot leave - I’ve already found the shot and I feel somehow it has to be saved - captured and set free, otherwise it'll never get out and I'll never see it again.

I quickly grab my gear and work furiously. I try to get lost in my work, but I'm looking around constantly. It’s not easy in the tense darkness that surrounds me. I set up the camera and trigger the shutter release on my 50 year old Hasselblad. Forty minutes later, I’ve got the image. I throw the gear in the van and race out, cursing Hector as I leave.



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