Since joining the Fire Department in 2006, Lieutenant Kyra Neeley King has not only seen a great melding of various rescue services — including medical professionals and firefighters — into a cohesive response force, but she’s also witnessed these brave first responders serving a common purpose of helping New Yorkers.
King, a liaison to Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro and a photographer, has brought that idea of common purpose to life in a new exhibit now on display at the Fire Museum in SoHo in Manhattan through January.
Called “Brave Colors,” the exhibit features photographs she has taken of the men and women of the FDNY, working at various scenes. The collection, however, speaks to the human element of being a member of this prestigious department, one of the largest in the nation.
For King, photography is an extension of who she is, and she uses her abilities to tell a story about the people she works with through black-and-white photos. Her photos include selective spots of color, such as flags and other insignia, which create a sort of 3-D effect on the walls of the museum gallery.
The Fire Department was a major career change for the energetic King, who can be seen in the field wearing her white liaison helmet, with two cameras swinging from her neck ready to get photos as part of the Incident Management Team.
The lieutenant started out with a degree from Boston University; she later attained a Masters in education from Brooklyn College, and then taught fourth grade in a Bedford-Stuyvesant elementary school. It wasn’t until her mother was injured, did she decide to join the Emergency Medical Service and the FDNY.
“It just stuck with me and I thought that my mom and dad would’ve been disappointed, but it turns out they are very proud of me,” she said.
Photography became part of her life, first using her cell phone, and then making the transition to professional grade gear. Her mother and her uncle are both professional photographers; her uncle works as a commercial artist, while her mother is a photographer with a nonprofit. Their experiences gave King guidance as her photography skills developed.
But first, she got her feet wet as an EMT, working on an ambulance in Manhattan out of Bellevue, Harlem Hospital and then, transferred to a Queens as a rescue medic. It was there that she became injured while assisting a female patient who grabbed her shoulder hard, causing an injury that would require surgery.
While recuperating, King was assigned to FDNY headquarters, where fire officials realized her skills. They offered the newly promoted lieutenant the liaison job – which entailed working with IMT and taking photos for the team’s use.
The lieutenant’s experience working on the streets made her well suited for her new role, as she would meet firefighters and EMS personnel on the streets – she would photograph them – but “please don’t smile, just be yourself,” she’d say.
While taking photos that are essential to the department’s understanding of each event, she has managed to capture the human side of the department’s people – finding the expressions of intensity, while allowing spot color to accentuate the scene.
She even has one police officer in a photograph, a tribute to her husband since 2016 – she met Detective Chuck King of the Emergency Services Unit on the roof of the Marriott Hotel in Manhattan on New Year’s eve photographing the ball drop.
She likes to joke that she “outranks” her husband – “his lieutenants agree, but he doesn’t,” she chided.
“It’s more than just photography, it’s the inspiration,” King said as she straightened a photo that was somewhat off balance. “It’s really about picture of people – women and men on the job. You hear about events like Medal Day, but it’s really about the work done every day. Yes, it can be a dangerous job, but we are constantly moving so when you see them here, it’s really neat to capture these moments of the various services working together.”
King also worked with the FDNY Photo Unit for a time in 2014, photographing the difficult moments, the many funerals for emergency workers who continue to die of 9/11 related illnesses she called, “heartbreaking – and the 9/11 deaths are not stopping.”
One photo she has on display shows firefighters lined up watching the procession – with a little girl in the line-up with a parent in full color, while the rest of the line stands in black and white.
In another photo, an American flag is shown in half-color. She touches it and admires the color difference. “It looks like you can pick the flag right off the canvas,” she admires.
As she fixed photos, she ran into two visitors to the museum, one incidentally named Lt. Jack King, visiting from Greensprings, Ohio, where he is part of the Greensprings Volunteer Fire Department.
“Nobody will believe we met,” said the photographer, who then posed for a photo with her visitor.
The photo exhibit will run through January. The museum is located at 278 Spring St. and is open daily from 10 to 5 p.m. Prints are available for sale, with the proceeds going towards the FDNY Museum.