9/11 Photos – The New York Times
In 2002, The New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for its coverage of the September 11 attacks and its aftermath. Two decades later, we asked our photographers to return to their work from that time and reflect on the images they created, and what it took to capture them. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
I was watching NY1 when I saw a plane hit the World Trade Center. I grabbed my gear and ran to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. My partner pointed to a plane flying over the Statue of Liberty, and I knew what was going to happen: I was going to see hundreds of people die. I remember saying, “No, no, no!” But I took a breath and said to myself: “This is history. Do your thing.” I put the camera in my face, widen the horizon, and I waited for the plane to come into my frame.
I try not to think about that day. I witnessed the magnitude of the loss of New Yorkers – working moms, dads, sons and daughters, friends. I have nightmares; Not sleeping well has become the norm since September 11. Image of a woman frozen in time and reaction to the fall of the first World Trade Center tower.
If I hadn’t swapped for the longer lens on my camera two days ago; If I didn’t go west because the road was blocked; If I hadn’t stopped at that moment, I would be out of breath as I run towards the World Trade Center; If I hadn’t looked at the burning tower thinking, “Wow, it looks like it could fall at any moment,” if I hadn’t… I still don’t know why I had to capture that moment. was assigned
I heard a sound out of the darkness of the cloud of the breaking of the glass and the first tower that had fallen. I crawled out from under the emergency vehicle where I had taken shelter and made my way to the sound inside the Stage Door Daily on Vesey Street. It was a surreal sight: firefighters, police and a few civilians stumbling around, holding their breath, spitting through their mouths of mud, holding cold cuts and cheeses for that day’s sandwich by the eerie flashing light of the display case Used to shine Officer Richard Adamiac leaned over, coughing. In the background of the photo is the entrance to the deli. One should have seen the scorching sun of that beautiful September morning. Instead, the neighborhood was shrouded in darkness.
Time shrinks when I remember, and I am back under an emergency vehicle, in complete blackness, feeling like sandpaper is being dragged down my throat. Then I catapulted through Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Second Intifada and the war in Iraq, and then back to the United States. Watching the events surrounding the troops’ withdrawal with growing despair brings back memories – of lost friends, of seemingly futile efforts – and I wonder: Has it all been in vain?
That morning it took me a long time to find a secret way past the perimeter of the police barricades where the towers had fallen. As I climbed over the precarious pile of rubble, two firefighters caught sight of me. He was walking fast and I could hear his conversation. I learned that they were looking for a firefighter from Stair 21 they had just found. They ran after me, and I picked up my camera as they told him that his brother, a firefighter, was inside a tower when it collapsed and is believed to have died. His shoulders fell, and he was embraced in a moment of shared grief. Initially, I wanted the faces of the firefighters to be more visible in the image. However, over the years I have come to appreciate their anonymity. For me, they have come to symbolize the deep loss of so many people on that day.
It is on the Brooklyn Bridge, when the second tower collapsed, as the escape of survivors slowly made their way through the smoke and into the sunlight. I met Joseph Sylvester, who said he worked at the World Financial Center. He was covered in ashes, bleeding from a piece of debris that fell on his head. He said that he is looking for his father, who works in the area. I will never forget how cool and calm they were. I think everyone must have been in shock – just quietly, slowly making their way to safety.
This photo by Michele DeFazio reminds me of the kindness of strangers. I think of him every 11 September. I saw Michelle walking alone to the Bowery, where a missing persons reporting station had been set up. With a picture of her husband carrying fliers into her house, her grief and anxiety overwhelm her, and she paused for a while. Strangers on the street also stopped to comfort him. The moment was fleeting. Soon after this photo was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, I called Michelle. It was important to me that she knew that her story was important to history. We had a short, somewhat awkward conversation given the awkward relationship we’ve shared now. She told me that she was still working on accepting the loss of her husband and had set up a scholarship fund in his name. In the days following the attack, we would learn that 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees – including Mitchell’s husband, Jason – were killed in the attack. I later covered his memorial service, creating pictures of the vast ocean of people who came together in their grief, crying themselves.
My job was a funeral in Yonkers, for an EMS worker killed in the attack. The world press was also there, but after the burial they packed their gear and left. I stopped by EMT for a tribute which included a salute and music from a boom box. I shot three frames in the rain, one at the end of the roll, when Jay Robbins burst into tears. I will never forget how it happened when the music started playing. It’s hard for me to see this picture. It still breaks my heart.
What sticks with me is not the fire, not the crushed gray concrete of the Pentagon, but the feeling of cold air and an incredible blue sky. Pieces of the green jet structure were under the feet. I only had moments to shoot before rescuers and others dominated the scene. I knew that place very well. He was going home from the bureau every day. I met two people on that plane. By the time the fighter jets passed overhead—as if in silence, angrily tribute—I knew American life would never be the same.
In the weeks following September 11, I was assigned to photograph the aftermath—a landscape in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn that had been irreversibly altered. A bitter, burnt smell remained in the air, and pieces of paper were carried by the wind across Brooklyn. As I was driving, I saw a fire truck with blown windows, no longer red but covered with white ash and debris, which was driven back to the firehouse, Engine 226. When I looked to my right, I saw an emotional moment open, and I quietly took two pictures. Lieutenant Matt Nelson, at left, responds, as Tom Casatelli, the truck’s sole survivor that day, hugs the son of his fallen comrade Lieutenant Bob Wallace. It is a moment that still haunts me.
After the terrorist attacks, people forgot their differences for some time. American flags were flown from the windows of Park Avenue. Monuments, such as those in Union Square, sprung up around the city. Prayers and candle lighting were held regularly. People reached out and supported each other: the country mourned collectively. Twenty years ago we split up, but we came together, trying to be the best version of ourselves. As we find ourselves tearing apart two decades later, I can’t help but ask: Who won?
Saturday, September 15, 2001, outside St. Francis Assisi Church, for the burial service of Michel Judge—a Franciscan friar, priest, and pastor of the New York City Fire Department—who died while performing the World Funeral on September 11. business center. I was not allowed inside to take pictures of dignitaries and speakers: it turned out to be a blessing. The church was full, but a crowd gathered in front of the Engine 1/Stair 24 firehouse in front of the church, a crew of mostly firefighters, some in old uniforms. At the end of the sermon, Judge’s friend and fellow friar Michael A. Duffy asked everyone to stand up, raise their right hand, and bless Michael, who had blessed so many in life and death. The crowd raised their hands in front of the fire house and repeated the blessings he had given to many others. And I was blessed too.
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