Streams

Chasing Crime With a Spot News Photographer

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New York Daily News photographer Todd Maisel shooting a crime scene at Coney Island. New York Daily News photographer Todd Maisel shooting a crime scene at Coney Island. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

In honor of the latest Weegee photo exhibit at the International Center of Photography, titled Murder Is My Business, WNYC tagged along with a modern crime photographer from the New York Daily News to see how shooting for the tabloids has changed from the days when Weegee was shooting lurid images of fresh murders and breaking news. [SLIDESHOW BELOW]

Two police scanners and a handheld radio crackle as photographer Todd Maisel’s car lurches and carves its way through south Brooklyn. It’s nearly 11 a.m.

A police dispatcher calls for back up at Coney Island there’s a DOA (dead on arrival) under the boardwalk. Maisel’s spirits lift.

“I don’t hope for a disaster, I just hope that I’m there when it does happen,” he said, scanning traffic considering the fastest way to get to south Brooklyn. “After 9/11 you start to be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”

Maisel, a 51-year old with a salt and pepper goatee has been a New York Daily News spot news photographer for the last 13 years and has been shooting professionally for 14 years before that. He’s not the only photographer who chases scanners, but he’s one of the city’s veteran shooters.  

Maisel’s beige, beat up Hyundai SUV doubles as his office.

There’s a 20-year old yellow police light planted on the dashboard next to a porcupine stuffed animal. Maisel’s cell phone is constantly beeping with alerts from BNN (Breaking News Network) and colleagues at the News and rival paper the New York Post.

“I chase fires, police incidents, accidents, homicides, you name it, whatever’s going on the street, that’s what I’m at,” he said. “No story is too small for me.”

He then uploads photos to the photo desk at the Daily News.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, the married father of two lives in Marine Park. He knows when he’s crossed a precinct line, and he also knows the radio codes by heart. He keeps a hand typed laminated cheat sheet on the overhead visor where most people keep the garage door opener. He’s the national director of the National Board of Press Photographers Association and a regional director of the New York Press Photographers.

He knows the tabloids are printing more national stories and fewer local stories in recent years and can’t say for sure if his pictures will even run in the paper the next day.

“I don’t know. God knows. Only God knows, and his name is Colin Myler,” he said, referring to the Daily News’ editor in chief.

A Body in Coney Island

1:00 P.M: Maisel parks on an empty West 12th Street at the Coney Island boardwalk. The whistling wind is strong and cold. He hustles down the sandy planks, a Nikon camera dangling from both shoulders. He greets a fellow Daily News photographer who also just arrived.

Maisel leaps on top of a bench and begins snapping photos of a half dozen detectives in long black coats. They quickly disappear beneath the boardwalk behind yellow police tape. He jogs around to the other side of the public restroom and peers behind the chain link fence. A man in a black trench coat straddles the lump of clothes. Maisel wedges his body against the fence, aiming his telephoto lens at the scene.

“Maybe a parks worker?” he muses out loud.

A medical examiner flips over the stiff body, and a rigid leg shoots in the air. Maisel grimaces, then returns to his car to file the photos.

He tosses his cameras in the back seat and flips open his battered Apple laptop with a cracked screen (he ran it over by mistake, but it works fine). It is Velcroed to a stand within arms reach.

Maisel shot 120 photos at Coney Island. He chose one: the medical examiner hovering over the body. He crops it tighter and uploads it to the Daily News. He then watermarks it, and sends out two Tweets with photos:

 

  Nice day but wind making it cold at Coney Island Beach where a dead man was found under boardwalk

Was able to giggle [sic] gate open a bit to see medical examiner checking out the body. A male white, workboots, blue coat.


The body, a 40-50 year old, remains unidentified, according to DCPI.

Todd Maisel at Coney Island boardwalk shooting photos of DOA (Stephen Nessen/WNYC).

A Smoldering Brownstone

1:45 P.M.: Maisel is now in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where a half dozen firefighters with air tanks stream out of the basement of a burnt-out four storey brownstone. Maisel waits for them to pass and then climbs into a window on the ground floor of what firefighters call a “Collyer’s Mansion.” 

Balancing his body he leans against the blown-out frame holding the camera away from his body. Then he takes one step in. Then another. Now he’s inside with the remaining firefighters.

“I’ve always had a sense for danger, and what to avoid, what to go close to,” he said, “and we’ve had explosive devices where I’ll get up really close and be able to hide. I pride myself on being stealthy, and being bale to get close to things without people knowing it until it’s too late, until I’ve already gotten the picture.”

Emerging from the burned building with his FDNY hat on backwards and his back speckled with water, he begins showing the firefighters photos on his camera. He chatted with a neighbor and then consoled the burned building’s tenant, who was sitting across the street in a black fur coat sipping coffee.

Maisel, who always wanted to be in the Army, said he never considered a career in journalism until he started writing at his college paper.

Later, he found his photos were better than his writing, and he’s been shooting ever since.

Maisel is not strictly a city photographer. The Daily News has sent him to Iraq to shoot the invasion in 2003; to Peru to cover a plane crash; and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. But his proudest and defining work was shot on September 11.

“After going to almost 70 funerals it became very difficult, psychologically, to continue doing it the way I was doing it,” he said. “Stuff does take a toll on you, especially when you know all the people who were killed. Some of them were very good friends. It had a tremendous impact on me.”

Maisel generally doesn’t ask permission before he snaps a photo, and he often gets closer to crime scenes than the NYPD is comfortable with. He claims his NYPD press pass has been confiscated 17 times. Today, it’s displayed prominently on his chest in a plastic sheath.

“It’s important for me to have good relations with the police—they can make or break a story,” he said.

Todd Maisel emerges from a burned out Brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

A Perp Search

3:08 P.M.: The police radio in Maisel’s pocket crackles. 

“Three male blacks—by the BQE—fire arms still outstanding—three male blacks,” the dispatcher’s voice said.

Maisel says goodbye, and sprints back to his car.

He wants to catch one of the suspects as bad as the police. He hurtles down Bedford Avenue. When he sees traffic is backed up, he veers into the bike line and speeds down the narrow chute. He rolls through a red light, and high tails it the wrong way down a one-way street. The fasten seat belt sound chimes all the while.

He parks on the sidewalk, pushes open the door and runs over to police, who already have the suspect in the back of the patrol car. Other officers are driving the alleged victims to the site to identify the suspect.

They drive up and officers drag the suspect out of the car, pulling back his grey hood and yanking off his black knit hat. An officer flashes a thumbs up. Positive ID.

With his elbows firmly tucked against his body for stability, Maisel stands in the middle of the street and shoots it all.

“I look for those nuances, those moments when people are not ready to see, or the perpetrators trying to hide,” he said. “You try to get their personality out of the photo, that’s always a pretty important thing.”

Police pull a suspect out of the car for the victims to identify in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Back on the Road

3:40 P.M.: As he coasts toward the Brooklyn Bridge, filing photos, typing captions and phoning the desk, he laments that he didn’t get a shot of the gun in the police car. Once he files the photos, he takes a quick peek at his stock portfolio.

Doing well today. He slams the laptop shut.

Maisel has violated dozens of driving rules and put himself in harms way multiple times today to get the shots.

He admits a desk job or a teaching position might be nice, but he’s content to keep working at this pace for now.

“I’m going to turn 52, next month, and yeah it’s starting to wear on me a little bit more,” he said.  “I could be busy and get home and feel all refreshed. I can have a whole day where you’re getting almost nothing. I find that more stressful.”

Maisel is active on Twitter, so even if his photos aren’t printed (none of the photos appeared in the paper the following day) he’s happy to keep posting a visual record online.

“I tell you, the energy, you get so much out of it, it’s like a heroin fix,” he said. “It’s all part of the adrenaline rush, the whole job is an adrenaline rush when things get going, and I live for that.” 

Daily News photographers Joe Marino (L) and Todd Maisel (R) at Coney Island looking into a DOA at Coney Island.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Daily News photographers Joe Marino (L) and Todd Maisel (R) at Coney Island looking into a DOA at Coney Island.

Todd Maisel's photo at Coney Island as police investigate a DOA.
Courtesy of Todd Maisel/ New York Daily News

Todd Maisel's photo at Coney Island as police investigate a DOA.

do not use for other stories per ICP

Weegee, Hold up man killed, November 24, 1941. © Weegee/International Center of Photography.

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Todd Maisel works out of his car, which doubles as his office.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Todd Maisel works out of his car, which doubles as his office.

Todd Maisel's photo at Coney Island as police investigate a DOA.
Courtesy of Todd Maisel/ New York Daily News

Todd Maisel's photo at Coney Island as police investigate a DOA.

Todd Maisel shooting photos at a fire in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Todd Maisel shooting photos at a fire in Bedford-Stuyvesant. 

Todd Maisel's photo of firefighters in a burned out Brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Courtesy of Todd Maisel/ New York Daily News

Todd Maisel's photo of firefighters in a burned out Brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Todd Maisel's photo of firefighters in a burned out Brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Courtesy of Todd Maisel/ New York Daily News

Todd Maisel's photo of firefighters in a burned out Brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Todd Maisel Tweets several times a day after snapping photos on his iPhone.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Todd Maisel Tweets several times a day after snapping photos on his iPhone. Here he Tweets: Colliersmansion condition Stepping through trash with an accompanying photo.

Weegee, The dead man's wife arrived...and then she collapsed, ca. 1940. © Weegee/International Center of Photography.

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Todd Maisel's photo of the neighbor, who was sitting on the stoop watching firefighters work. Her building remained unscathed in the fire.
Courtesy of Todd Maisel/ New York Daily News

Todd Maisel's photo of the neighbor, who was sitting on the stoop watching firefighters work. Her building remained unscathed in the fire.

Maisel's mobile office, with a laptop stand he built himself.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Maisel's mobile office, with a laptop stand he built himself.

Maisel is the national director of the National Board of Press Photographers Association and a regional director of the New York Press Photographers.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Maisel is the national director of the National Board of Press Photographers Association and a regional director of the New York Press Photographers.

In Williamsburg Maisel listens to his police radio to find out what the police are doing now about a couple of men apprehended.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

In Williamsburg Maisel listens to his police radio to find out what the police are doing now about a couple of men apprehended.

Todd Maisel's photo of the suspect apprehended by officers being identified by the alleged victim.
Courtesy of Todd Maisel/ New York Daily News

Todd Maisel's photo of the suspect apprehended by officers being identified by the alleged victim.

Weegee, Line-Up for Night Court, ca. 1941. © Weegee/International Center of Photography.

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Todd Maisel keeps a 20-year old police light on his dash, which he refurbished himself and does use.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Todd Maisel keeps a 20-year old police light on his dash, which he refurbished himself and does use.

Maisel keeps a laminated list of police precinct radio codes on his visor, although he knows most codes by heart.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Maisel keeps a laminated list of police precinct radio codes on his visor, although he knows most codes by heart.

New York Daily News photographer Todd Maisel shooting a crime scene at Coney Island.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

New York Daily News photographer Todd Maisel shooting a crime scene at Coney Island.

Todd Maisel at Coney Island.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Todd Maisel at Coney Island.

Courtesy of Todd Maisel/ New York Daily News

Todd Maisel's photo from 9/11: Lt. William Roberts of Ladder 113 stands in disbelief just after first of the two Twin Towers collapsed during the Sept. 11 World Trade Center terror attack.

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Comments [14]

lucas gainsbourg

"WTC vs. UMTS" or can a microwave explode iron?!

An UMTS-protectionfield against hackers, realised through an electromagnetic energie at the steelconstruction, liquefied the iron, like cooking water in a microwave, and was like the northpol for the autopilots. Finally in a microwave paper will not start to burn like you can see at the picture.

You want to read more:
http://worldtradecenteraccident.blogspot.com/

May. 02 2012 02:06 PM
Moses kestenbaum,ODA from Williamsburg

He drives in a bike lane? He drives down the wrong way? He aint no EMT or fire guy, he is just a photo curious guy, its wrong of him to break the law

Apr. 06 2012 11:33 AM
fotonut

did weegee ever turn on red or drive fast...oh my goodness.... was he a public menace?
there is alot more to fear on the streets of ny than todd maisel ... wake up u squares.

Feb. 02 2012 08:42 PM
Todd Maisel from New York City

Ive had several questions regarding how I do my job.
I've been doing this 28 years and I have to say that whatever I do, I do it carefully and am completely focused.
It can sound like I am not, but I am.
I guess when you are a block away from the breaking news job, you tend to do what ever it takes to get to it. Do I do things beyond what others might do? Yes, but I must emphasize that I do it carefully and thoughtfully.
I have a yellow light on my dash. This does not give me permission to break the law, but it is completely legal to have it. I do not use it to break the law. It is for safety. When you pull up on a job, you want to be as visible as possible. I want the officer standing at the beginning of the block to know I am coming to the scene too. That said, I always ask permission to enter a block where a breaking news incident is occurring.
Further, if there is no available parking spot, I will take any spot available - even parking the wrong way or on a sidewalk, but never obstructing an emergency vehicle or hydrant.
As for using computer while driving, it serves as a gps, guideance system, and communications network. Every emergency vehicle uses it this way too. So do I.
Everything I do is done carefully and with experience.

Jan. 27 2012 12:23 PM
Rick

They pay his medical benefits? Not after this interview.....

Jan. 26 2012 12:04 AM
Paul from New Jersey

I heard this story on the radio this afternoon - shocking abuse.

To JG from Battery Park: Assuming that Nessen is describing his experience accurately, I strongly disagree with you, Maisel's driving clearly puts himself and others in danger on a daily basis.

The driving described wouldn't be tolerated for anyone else, why is it tolerated for him? He may not hope for disaster, but he's giving it plenty of chance to happen.

I can only hope that this story glorifying Maisel's behavior doesn't encourage others to follow his example.

Jan. 25 2012 06:14 PM
JG from Battery Park

I know this photographer and although this stuff smacks of thriller movies, the truth is Maisel is not that stupid to put him or any other human being in danger. You don't attend 70 funeral and think life is forever.

Jan. 25 2012 12:42 PM
andy from manhattan

the need for photographs never trumps public safety. this guy is clearly a public menace. tweeting pictures while driving??? driving the wrong way on a one way street for a photograph of a crime after it happened? driving in the bike lane? parking on sidewalks? who is this guy, and how important does he think his crap crime pictures are? i find all of this ridiculous, absurd, and sad.

"god knows" he needs to get to that desk job pronto. and the nypd needs to be enforcing traffic law much more thoroughly to get people like this off the streets.

Jan. 25 2012 08:32 AM
ben from williamsburg

Agreed with the above, this guy sounds like a liability. We learned that he drives too fast, runs red lights, drives in bike lanes, drives the wrong way on one way streets, drives on the sidewalk, and uses the computer while he drives.

After all that, it sounds like his photos are rarely published.

I hope he gets that office job soon.

Jan. 25 2012 08:31 AM
BNN

Just a note...it's Breaking News Network (BNN), not "Service." Great piece!

Jan. 24 2012 11:19 PM
D. from Fairfield County

Was not impressed by this guys driving style - was not happy to hear he evidently was speeding down (my sons') road - in the bike lane!?

Jan. 24 2012 06:36 PM
Michael from New York NY

Interesting. This guy should have his drivers license revoked before he kills or injures someone.

Jan. 24 2012 06:08 PM

Good catch, thanks for reading!

Jan. 24 2012 03:49 PM
mary from north carolina

firefighters don't use oxygen tanks (can you imagine the danger!).
they use air tanks.

Jan. 24 2012 02:49 PM

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