STEPHEN MALLON: The Salvage of Flight 1549

Brace for Impact: The Salvage of Flight 1549 © Stephen Mallon

Five years ago, Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River. Stephen Mallon documented it's salvage. I *spoke with Stephen Mallon about how he got started in Photography and the making of these photographs.
“Mallon’s work harkens back to the heroic industrial landscapes of Margaret Bourke-White and Charles Sheeler, who glorified American steel and found art in its industrial muscle and smoke during the Great Depression.”–David Schonauer

Stephen Mallon is a British-born, Brooklyn-based Industrial and Fine Art Photographer. Mallon first caught my undivided attention and gained enormous acclaim for his series, Brace for Impact: The Salvage of Flight 1549. His large-scale photographs documenting the salvage of Flight 1549, the plane piloted by Sully Sullenberger III who successfully emergency-landed in the Hudson River in January 15, 2009 saving all 155 people aboard.

He followed with another outstanding series, “American Reclamation - Next Stop Atlantic”. NYC Transit joined the artificial reef-building program off the east coast of the U.S. in 2000. Mallon beautifully traced the progress of the train cars on their last voyage out to sea.

Brace for Impact: The Salvage of Flight 1549 © Stephen Mallon
I studied Photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology from 1992-1996. When I came to New York after graduating, I was picked up by several assistants that liked my work ethic and they brought me along on a number of jobs; that was how I got started. I assisted for four years. In the late ‘90’s, I was shooting industrial landscapes, burned up power stations, airplane landing strips, oil fields, and ended up with a portfolio of Industrial Landscapes.

My wife and I came up with the concept of a body of work to propose to the recycling industry to photograph within the 50 states to interested companies and have a flushed out project that could be published as a book. I came up with the title “American Reclamation.

While I was scouting locations for the book, I spotted a barge loaded up with New York City subway cars. The stripped and decontaminated retired subway cars are thrown into the Atlantic Ocean to create a reef. They pull the windows out, they pull out the motor and the plexiglas, but the steel bodies have asbestos from the old fireproofing so it’s not cost efficient for scrap yards to purchase the steel. They can’t cut them up in a traditional scrap yard, so they dump them into the ocean. They have been doing this for centuries, since the 1600’s, with old tanks, old tires, and cement blocks. The EPA signed off on it. They start building reefs within ninety days, although there’s concern about how stable they are because the hurricane apparently pushed a lot of the subway cars around because of the strength of the currents.

American Reclamation - Next Stop Atlantic  © Stephen Mallon

American Reclamation - Next Stop Atlantic © Stephen Mallon

When I found that barge, I got in touch with Weeks Marine and showed them my existing work on the recycling project. The general manager was a fan of photography and said, “Come on down.” He introduced me to the program director of the MTA who then granted me access to the yard at 207th Street and allowed for me to go out on a series of chase boats with them and photograph when they were putting the subway cars into the ocean.

They were going out every month with a tugboat that takes the barge down. It takes about 24 hours for the tugboat to get there loaded up; so the crew boat goes out from either Cape May or Ocean City and we meet up about two hours out. Bang up right next to them. They climb up a ladder onto the barge, start up the excavator with a custom arm built by them to pick up the subway cars and start throwing them off. Then that crew boat backs off. It needs to stay in the area anyway, so I was able to ask the captain, “Can you keep me here? Get me closer, get me to this side.”

Around November of 2008, I got a call from the salvage contractor at Weeks Marine saying, “I don’t know if you’re interested, but we are picking up the Concord tomorrow”. Weeks has a floating crane, so they were able to pick up the Concord and move it back onto the pier that had been built for it. I photographed while the Concord was being moved to the newly restored Intrepid Museum.
Jan 15, 2009, it’s my wife’s birthday, Sully lands in the Hudson River and we’re sitting in a bar in Clinton Hill looking at this on TV. Someone at the bar said, “I wonder how they’re going to get the plane out?”  I said, “I know who’s going to do this!” I called my contact at Weeks Marine and asked if they got the job. He said I’ll be in a meeting with the Coast Guard and the FBI, so I can’t pick up my phone, but call Tom Weeks, who owns all the cranes. I jumped in the car, plugged in the address on the GPS, got on a tugboat and then I went out and photographed the crash site. I ended up with exclusive access to Sullys crash because I went in there under the aspects of photographing for the construction company, Weeks Marine. As the fuselage and engine of the aircraft were later brought up intact, lifted some eighty feet out of the icy waters by a gigantic crane and a team of divers in heated wetsuits, I photographed the moment standing on the deck of a crane-barge. I went inside the aircraft to shoot and photographed inside the cockpit and the pilot’s seat. NTSB was there and granted access for me as well with the understanding they would have jpegs available for their research and presentation if needed.

 Brace for Impact: The Salvage of Flight 1549
© Stephen Mallon

Rob Haggard, of AphotoEditor.com, was the first to post press about my photographs of Flight 1549 on his blog. CBS News picked this up and then it just exploded – NBC and MSNBC, New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, PDN, the Lucie Awards, and numerous blog posts later.

They showed Flight 1549 and a couple of the subway cars at PULSEMiami. About half a dozen prints sold, half of which were the subway cars, so I went back and shot the subway cars again. I had a solo show at Front Room Gallery in Sept 2010, on the next chapter of “American Reclamation - Next Stop Atlantic”. The works have been accepted widely and have been shown in New York, Miami, San Francisco, Rome, and the Bristol Biennial, Bristol, UK.

*The complete article "STEPHEN MALLON: INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPES" first appeared in iMagazine in 2012.


Patrick Lucas said...

very dramatic and impressive event

Stella Kramer said...

Love the work. This story is what got Stellazine going.

Stephen Mallon said...

Thank you Elizabeth. Thank you Stella.

jimmy said...

i like this post very much. everything are enjoyable.