Written by Kenneth Tanaka
One of photography's old chestnuts is that if you stare at something long enough you will eventually see something remarkable. Maybe it's not such an "old chestnut," after all.
I have been staring at Lake Michigan and, particularly, Chicago's Monroe Harbor for nearly thirty years, year in and year out. I never tire of looking at it. The scene is always changing, but never more so than in winter when freezing and precipitation often produce amazing scenes of abstract beauty.
I was photographing just such a scene one afternoon in late February (2014) as the harbor's surface was re-freezing following a brief thaw. Suddenly I saw something remarkable in my viewfinder: a man walking across the thin ice! Was this real? Where had he come from? That ice is only a couple of days old. Is he crazy? My jaw dropped and took my gut with it as I was certain I was seeing the final moments of someone's life. Falling into that water at this time of the year would certainly kill anyone within a few minutes, as it already had elsewhere along the Chicago lakefront during this winter. Nevertheless the man appeared to be walking completely nonchalantly, slightly under-dressed for the 10°F weather. Was he suicidal, I wondered?
At my first sight there was no evidence of any reaction to this stunt. There was nobody on shore, no emergency personnel as this fellow strolled across the harbor ice, apparently trying to reach the breakwater that forms the harbor. I was certain that each step would be his last, and that we would soon helplessly watch him sink into the icy water. As my wife was ready to call 911 we were relieved to hear sirens heading toward the harbor. At about this same time the "water walker" seemed to encounter ice that rattled his nerves enough to force a retreat. I captured this image as he turned and walked, again nonchalantly, back toward shore where a group of fire/rescue personnel and police officers anxiously awaited him.
I'm happy to report that the man safely returned to shore, apparently perfectly dry, and greeted his prospective rescuers with what appeared from my distant vantage to be a "Gee, what's the fuss?" attitude. Police and fire personnel spoke with him for a few minutes and then loaded him into a waiting ambulance, even though he seemed in fine condition.
And that's the last I heard of this stunt. No news coverage whatsoever.
In my years watching the lake and harbor I have never seen anyone try such a stunt. And of course I certainly would never encourage anyone to try it. But it sure made for a wonderful, rather surreal late afternoon image, didn't it?
I realize that there are likely to be a few readers/viewers who may be suspicious that I've created the "Water Walker" with Photoshop. For them I add the following image showing the fellow as he reached shore.
One last note. A good friend remarked that the image looks equally fascinating when inverted, since it does not show a horizon and the walker is so cleanly reflected. I agree!
UPDATE 10 p.m. Saturday: Since Mike posted this piece my wife found a kind of news item concerning the incident. Believe me, this fellow required no 'rescue,' luckily for everyone. In answer to another inquiry, I can assure everyone that relatively little post-processing was performed on the image. Just enough to make it work nicely in a print. And, finally, someone asked privately about the camera. I used a Fujifilm X-E2 with the XF 55–200mm lens for this image. —Ken
©2014 by Kenneth Tanaka, all rights reserved
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Edward Taylor: "Actually, this incident was reported on the national news. I saw this on the evening news (I think NBC). They showed him walking back to shore and being 'rescued.'"
David Paterson: "An otherwise good friend of mine tells me that all my pictures look better upside-down."
Carl Schmidt: "I've read this blog for years but never felt compelled to write anything until now. It's a beautiful picture and one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I assume there's minimal or no post processing. It's the real thing."