LOWER EAST SIDE — The heroism of a homeless man who jumped into the East River to save a stranger was the impetus behind a photographic exhibition by DNAinfo Reporter/Producer Ben Fractenberg.
Fractenberg, who has been covering Manhattan’s local news for three years, arrived at pier 107, just north of East 106th Street on the Upper East Side, to chase a report of a man who had jumped, or fallen, into the river.
When Fractenberg arrived he met Jonathan Barbosa, then 28, who had jumped into the river and helped the drowning man, keeping him afloat until help arrived.
"I just jumped," Fractenberg recalled Barbosa saying at the time. "I didn't think about it."
Fractenberg asked to take a photo of the reluctant hero, and the image moved him and also stayed with him.
“Just the way he looked at me," he remembered.
"I was amazed that someone would do something like that for somebody else."
This started Fractenberg collecting similar shots from ordinary people in extraordinary — and newsworthy — situations.
"The more I did it, the more I was amazed by people's willingness to show their vulnerability," he said.
Nearly all of the shots in the exhibition “New York Portraits: Faces in the News” were taken in the course of Fractenberg’s work at DNAinfo.
He put the photographs together and approached Mark Miller Gallery. Several months went past and he heard nothing but, ever the dogged reporter, he headed to the gallery in person with his prints. The result is on display starting Thursday.
Each image is unique, but all share a common theme, which Fracteberg describes as “ordinary New Yorkers in life-changing situations."
"I was moved by the emotion of people who aren’t used to being in the media," he said.
Fractenberg believes the strongest photograph, and the one that probably got him the show, is the shot of a mourner at a vigil in East Harlem for 16-year-old Tysha Jones who was shot and killed in Brighton Beach on June 9, 2011.
The man, staring intensely right into the camera as Fractenberg pressed the shutter button, just "popped up from the crowd" that instant, a static grieving face in a sea of movement.
Taking photos for a news website, but also with an artistic standpoint in mind, means Fractenberg must reconcile the urge to get the shot with a very human reluctance to intrude in difficult situations.
“You never want to feel like you’re exploiting people and you hope that you are shedding light on issues that affect communities that might not otherwise be in the news,” he said.
The exhibition opens on Thursday evening Sept. 22, from 6 p.m. and runs until Oct. 20 at Mark Miller Gallery, 92 Orchard St., Lower East Side.