When Vincent Laforet was 16 years old, he wrote a letter to Cornell University. “I said that I wanted to be the eyes for those who either couldn’t see things or didn’t want to see them,” he says. “And I kind of naturally fell into photojournalism because it not only allowed me to experience life in a new way but also allowed me to perform a public service of sorts.”
Today Laforet is one of the world’s premiere photographers, a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist for the New York Times and a contributing photographer for virtually every other major publication on the planet. His work has been featured in National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Stern and Paris Match, to name a few.
In 2005, American Photo Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in photography. “I think the ultimate goal of any journalist is to share information, to get the word out,” he says. “I was very fortunate to get hired at the New York Times when I was 23 or 24 and I just started to photograph the city that I’d grown up in.”
Laforet gained fame by discovering new ways to capture the daily dramas of New York City, exposing scenes that few city dwellers had ever seen. He covered disasters — including 9/11 — and wandered through the unexplored boroughs of the maze-like metropolis.
Then he hopped aboard a helicopter. “Though I never really aspired to do aerial photography,” he says, “the first time they put me in a helicopter, I immediately fell in love with it. Being airborne gives you an entirely different perspective, both literally and figuratively. It shows you an angle that we’re not used to seeing. You have a different perspective on human beings and our relationship to the environment. And Manhattan is definitely a very interesting environment.”
Flight led to a veritable love affair with heights. In 2000, Laforet scaled the spire of the Empire State Building to photograph two engineers working on its antenna. Then he cast a desirous look at the nearby Chrysler Building. “It was almost a holy grail because it’s an extremely exclusive location to get access to,” he says.
Laforet pitched his story idea to Life Magazine, which quickly caught the fever. But that was just the beginning. “I have little interest in repeating photographs,” he says. “I wanted to try to innovate with technology, make every image something different and unique.” To do that, he’d need to find a new perspective. So he rented a megaboom — a huge articulated arm — to dangle his camera off the edge of the building. “I needed to mount the camera at a lower angle than was physically possible,” he says.
There’s no easy way to focus or adjust a camera when its positioned at the end of a stick, so Laforet used a MacBook Pro and Aperture to preview his images as he shot them. “I was able to use the loop tool to see if the image was sharp or not, and I was able to make very fine-tuned adjustments immediately,” he says.
Making adjustments was critical — Laforet only had one chance to get his shots. “Aperture proved pretty priceless because it did what I think any piece of software or hardware should do — it became transparent. It took a bit of work to get the technology right and to get everything lined up, but when the shoot actually happened, there wasn’t a single glitch. It just worked flawlessly, and with all that pressure on your shoulders, it’s nice to have things work.”