“Seeing is not believing…”
Around 8:30 am, September 11 2001, I turned on the television set to check on the weather. All networks were reporting that an American Airline’s plane – Flight 11 – had crashed into One World Trade Center, the north tower. Minutes later, a second plane slammed into the south tower. At that moment it removed all doubt that it was not an accident…
I picked up my camera and film and ran to the 1/9 train, at 66th street, the most direct way to get to the World Trade Center from my home. People were talking to one another about what they had seen on the news. Then the train stopped unexpectedly inside a tunnel. As the minutes passed, I could feel the anxiety build. No one knew what might be going on above ground.
I decided to get off at the next stop -- which was 14th Street –- 14 happens to be my lucky number. Large groups of people were listening on portable radios to reports about other hijacked planes. As the first building collapsed, some covered their eyes, and others couldn’t stop watching… I began walking towards downtown Manhattan, passing many people coming toward me covered with ashes.
“Go the hospital! Donate blood!” someone shouted. The closer I got to the World Trade Center, the more monochromatic the cityscape became. The streets were covered with paper and debris. Firefighters were warning people to back off because of gas leaks. They, themselves, seemed in a state of shock.
Knowing the streets well, I was able to get to the site from the West Side Highway, in the early afternoon; having made my way, in part, through damaged buildings with their alarms blaring. Downtown Manhattan was the site of unbelievable chaos and destruction. This was the first time in my life; I had ever confronted this kind of situation. As a photographer I have focused on documenting New York City daily life. But I had never photographed anything that you would call "news."
I met a press photographer. We stayed together, somehow connected, bearing witness, breathing ashes, seeing tons of twisted steel from an elevated point of view at the World Financial Center Building. Dense smoke and bright sunlight created one haunting image after another. I remember saying out loud to myself, as I clicked the shutter, “I cannot believe this.” I felt as if I was under anesthesia, kind of numb and amazingly calm.
Suddenly we heard “Run, Run, Run!” Trade Tower no. 7 was collapsing less than a quarter-mile away from where we were. The smoke and grit made it impossible to see or breathe, and everyone was coughing, gasping for air. At that moment I was not sure if we’d make it to safety.
At dusk I left what is now called “Ground Zero,” with six exposed color rolls. The faded blue sky was filled with smoke. I arrived at my home late at night with pain in every part of my body, my eyes were burning and my heart felt as if a part of it was gone...
Even though I have hugged my wife a thousand times, hugging my wife at the door that night felt different than it ever had before.