AJ Sokalner: Photographer and Friend
I had the distinct pleasure to be working shoulder to shoulder with him on that tragic night. I would like to share my story of the last hours I spent with AJ:
Photographers gathered outside Cipriani on 42nd Street well before 5pm for the7:30pm event.
We were working the ACE Awards. There was a group of about twenty five photographers working outside waiting for Lady Gaga to arrive. There wasn't much space to accommodate all the shooters. Photographers were two and three rows deep, on ladders, awaiting her arrival.
AJ was concerned about getting a spot, but managed to find a spot right next to me by the curb where the talent was arriving. AJ and I decided we would work together until "all hell broke loose" when she arrived. We couldn't block the sidewalk and obstruct the flow of pedestrian traffic. But, once she arrived, we decided we would swing out and get the shot.
Not to our surprise, Lady Gaga wasn't to show up until about 9pm.
During that time, AJ and I were having one of our usual sarcastic conversations. We poked fun at the nature of our business, we reminisced about previous events we had covered together. We even got into a funny conversation about STP. "The gas company with the orange logo?", I asked. "That's tells me how old you are!" AJ responded, as he was referring to a LSD-like drug from the 60's. He always had great wit to his words. We had spent a good four hours together, shooting the breeze and passing the time with humor.
Lady Gaga arrives and AJ and I sprung into action. Just our luck, she posed right in front of us! We shot like madmen, lighting up the night with a barrage of flashes.
As she went inside we all started to pack up our gear and seek warmth from the chill in the air. I had just left my spot and said my goodbyes to everyone when someone yelled "AJ fell..."
I ran back to where he and I had been standing just a minute prior and saw AJ on the ground. I ran up to him and touched his face "AJ, AJ...you alright?" I got no response. "AJ?". People gathered around, the other photographers now noticed what had happened. "Call 911!', someone yelled. A bystander said he knew CPR. "Get in there!" I yelled. He started to pump his chest. Where's the ambulance? Within minutes we saw EMS coming down 42nd Street. We ran into the street, waving frantically to alert them to our position.
An EMT woman was first on the scene to attend to AJ. She started to pump his chest. Another EMT brought out a heart monitor. They went to work on helping AJ right there. Fire engines arrived, police arrived. Another ambulance arrived. They brought out a stretcher and transported him to the ambulance.
They worked on AJ, pumping his chest. They were doing everything in the world to help him. "Hold on AJ!", I yelled into the ambulance. We all stood there, feeling helpless, hoping our friend was ok.
We all started to call people he knew, his girlfriend, his job. We all wanted to make sure he was alright. A few photographers went to the hospital. Another photographer picked up his girlfriend and dropped her off at the hospital.
After everyone had left, a group of us stood outside Cipriani's dazed. What just happened?
It was about 10:50pm when I heard that AJ passed away. I called and let a few of my colleagues know about the tragic event.
AJ, we will miss you buddy.
Funeral Service for AJ Sokalner:
Friday, November 6, 2009, 10:30am
Beth Israel Memorial Park