5 photographers reflect on their images of September 11

I was in Cape Cod on September 11th. I couldn’t come back for five days because they closed New York. I was desperate to return. A native of New York, I wanted to offer all the help I could. When we returned, I walked to Ground Zero with my Leica. They had erected a fence and covered it so you couldn’t see inside. When I lifted my camera to take a picture, a policewoman said, ‘No pictures, mate, this is a crime scene. And I said, “What are you talking about? This is the street. The crime scene is in there. She said, “No, Mayor Giuliani said photographs were banned,” and I said, “Really, the most historic moment in contemporary American history and is it going to ban photographs? “

Giuliani had been afraid that people would make money out of a tragedy. It was not my concern as an artist and historian: I wanted to make the record before it disappeared. Basically I said, well fuck you, I’m going and I’m going to do whatever I can: make videos, take pictures, cover as much as I can. I have a park department badge, but the cops kicked me out anyway. Eventually, I met people who got me a real NYPD mayor photographer badge. It took weeks. It was that kind of impulse to do something important to the city that would leave a history of this event rather than having none. I did not understand everything that happened, because how could I be alone? But I took 8,500 photographs of what I thought were important developments when the site was taken down.

I worked 12-14 hour days carrying 40 pounds of equipment, walking 10 to 12 miles a day around the site, coming home after midnight. It influenced the rest of my professional life because I later started doing more public service than my own job.

Inside the site, the ground was shaking, smoke was rising. Giant machines gripped, scratched. The noise level was incredible, the human activity incredible. I stood there weak in my knees. I literally knelt on the floor crying because it was so overwhelming to see the scale of the disaster, two hundred story buildings collapsing. It was beyond how we think of ourselves in the city. The images never lost the persuasiveness and immediacy of being there for me.

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