The Night Hunter

Urban explorer and photographer Steve Duncan approaches history from a different perspective.

by Paul Hond Published Spring 2010
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That notion elicits further glimmers of the Tao of Steve: “I see myself more like Robin Hood,” he says in his laid-back way. “I do what’s right, even if it doesn’t necessarily conform to the law. It’s a crime not to look at these amazing views.”

To fight this menace, Duncan has enlisted his visual gifts. Not X-ray vision (like Batman, the real-life Tunnel Man has no superpowers, just superior skills), but something close: an ability to capture beauty where it is most hidden.

“I got my first film camera in 2000 and was fooling around with it for years, without much hope,” he says. “I wasn’t interested in documentation; I wanted to replicate the sense of awe, capture the feeling of these inaccessible places. So one day I dragged a couple of friends who were amateur photographers down with me and we fooled around trying to figure out how to light absolutely dark space. It wasn’t until 2005 that I felt like I was taking any pictures worth keeping.”

Sunswick Creek, QueensNow he hardly goes anywhere without his Canon EOS 5D. “I want to share things that are amazingly beautiful, or sometimes not beautiful. Sometimes,” he says, “it’s just exciting to realize that there’s this giant 60-foot diameter brick sewer from the 1880s running under your favorite bar in Williamsburg.” Exciting and, to Duncan, edifying. “I think it’s worthwhile to understand your environment and where it came from,” he says. “Relics of the past and remnants of previous layers of urban development make you realize that the built environment around us was not inevitable, that there are different ways it could have gone, which helps us realize that we have an agency in how our cities develop.”

Duncan has presented slide shows of his work at venues in New York and Riverside, California. He has hosted the Discovery Channel show Urban Explorers and recently appeared on the History Channel as an expert on New York’s underground. His photos have appeared in exhibitions in New York, Boston, Washington, and Riverside.
Still, for Duncan, there’s nothing like the real thing.

“I would love it if I could take, one at a time, each night in a row, every New Yorker up to the top of the Manhattan Bridge and show them the view from there.”

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