Friday, September 9, 2011

Sept. 11, 2001

With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, I recently scanned in my negatives of the photographs I took ten years ago per request of a magazine. Its amazing how much of what happened that day shaped my life.
In 2001 I was working days as a photo editor at Fortune.com and the evenings as a photo producer at NYTimes.com. The night of Sept. 10th I stayed late at the NYT Digital offices working till about 3 in the morning before biking home.

I was sound asleep when I started receiving repeated calls shortly after 9 am in the morning. I ignored the ringing phone for 20 minutes before I woke up and answered the call. It was my ex's father calling to see if we were o.k.

I asked him what he meant?

He said: "Turn on the TV."

I turned it on to see the image of the plane hitting the twin towers. I then looked out the window of my Upper East Side Apartment and all I could see was smoke coming from downtown. After texting my ex to see if she was OK. Even though I had not shot a news assignment in a few years my photojournalist instincts kicked in. I jumped at my bicycle, bought ten rolls of film and peddled south towards the World Trade Center.

I biked through Central Park past workers streaming home. I stopped by the Fortune office ("Go home" my boss said) in midtown...

...I continued biking south to Union Square where I shot this photograph.
By this point the towers were both down and the cops had started to cordon off the south part of the island...
But there was one road that they were evacuating people out on the east side and when a cop turned his head I biked past him and towards the WTC.
I could not even imagine what I saw.
It was utter devastation. In New York City.
I was shooting but I was really in shock. My initial photographer instincts were overwhelmed by what I saw before me.
People climbing over a debris and destruction...
A group of friends carrying their cat away from the disaster, only asking me how to get away...
I ended up on Greenwich Street south of the Twin Towers. Even though I was just a block away you could not see anything but black smoke...but then something appeared...
The twisted remains of the south tower of the World Trade Center. I can't say I really knew what I thought. I just stared in disbelief. I started having problems breathing a nice security guard gave me some paper towel to wrap around my mouth and help.

I was exhausted by that point. My film was running out and I figured I should head off to the New York Times website to see if they could use some extra help. I biked back uptown up the West Side and made it to the NY Times Digital offices. My boss told me to drop off my film first at the NY Times photo dept. offices which developed them for me (I still can't believe how orderly the photo department was on this day handling the disaster) and then I went back to work.

The island of Manhattan was shut down so I was the only photo producer for the website that was available to work. I ended up working a 24 hour shift from 2 in the afternoon on 9/11 till 2 in the afternoon the next day until one of the other producers from Brooklyn was finally able to make it into the offices.

The months after in NYC seemed unreal. I still get a pit in my stomach thinking about it. I realized that day I wanted to be someone who told the story through their photographs. I realized that I wasn't prepared that day to be a real photojournalist and cover such an important story. That made me decide to leave the website several months later and start out from scratch to become a professional photographer. Its a decision I never have regretted.