Monday, September 12, 2011


This is the second part of a two day blog on 9 - 11. If you have not read the first part you can find it here.

When we went to Ground Zero, we were only two of many that were there on September 21st. There were people six across and dozens of rows behind us and in front of us, walking slowly on a warm day inching forward people looking in all directions and yet everyone was polite and even helpful. I commented on this to Phyllis and she had noticed the same thing. 

As we reached Ground Zero I was at first mesmerized by the devastation that spread out over the sixteen acres in front of us but slowly started noticing people and posters left by people. I have already mentioned that on that day my professionalism slipped. I had a very hard time concentrating on what was happening all around me. My emotions were making me lose focus. I would see somebody and just stare at them, forgetting about the camera clutched in my hand. This did not occur when I was photographing the rubble but when I turned my attention toward the people around us. 

Any photographer reading this will understand when I say there were shots not taken that I still remember so many years later. I remember an image of a simple scene of a barn that I saw as we were driving home after a long weekend photographing in Maine. Phyllis was driving and as we drove by this road, I could see this barn with great light but by the time I truly 'saw' the image, we were past it and since there was heavy traffic coming in both directions, I let it go. That was twenty years and thousands of images ago but I still remember that image not taken. On this day at Ground zero, two such instances happened. 

As I was standing within a crowded area looking at the debris, I heard singing. It was faint and there was a lot of noise that day but I heard it. I turned and looked into the crowd behind me and I saw two young civilian guys standing looking at where the towers had stood, singing God Bless America. People started hearing it and like me they looked. Soon, others were singing including me. This was not a loud rousing version but quiet like a hymn. They suddenly stopped and just walked away into the crowd.

I wiped my eyes and realized I never took the picture. I had become part of the image and stopped being a photographer. That was the last time that ever happened but it was not the only image lost that day. As we were leaving and walking up a side street, I walked past a police officer who was talking to a young woman. After I was past them, I heard crying and turned to see the young woman crying pretty hard while the young officer was trying to console her. In her hand was a poster of a missing person. 

You saw them all over walls and taped to poles on the streets of New York in those days. Her face was contorted with pain as tears ran down her face. I lifted the camera to my eye, focused, saw the shot, stopped then took the camera from my eye. I could not take the picture. I felt like I was  intruding on this woman's grief and violating a human trust. I think it would have been a really touching picture and part of me still wishes I took it. But on this day in our history, I just couldn't.

I did photograph other people that day and here are a few of them plus other sights I saw.

Here was something that I had never seen in the US before that day but not so unusual since then; a truck parked on Broadway.

    There were people trying to fix underground electrical and 
    plumbing problems from 9-11.

Phoenix Arizona Firefighters were being driven to Ground Zero to help in the rescue and cleanup. Look at their faces.

Military personnel were all around. Again their faces reflect all of our feelings in the aftermath.

A soldier was standing next to a light pole that someone had attached flowers and a poster announcing a prayer vigil.

This next image actually made me feel good, some people were getting back to business. This  shows a young girl helping her parents sell souvenirs. Even this cute young child had no smiles that day!

The people of New York were battered but not broken. A shout of defiance is written in the dust left by the towers' collapse.

                       It took too long but finally justice was served !!!!!

Crowds of people were all looking grim. I mentioned to Phyllis that we were all at a large wake and the fallen towers' rubble held the remains!!

These posters could be seen all over Manhattan. Being ten days since the collapse, they stood as a chilling reminder of the loss that day!

                            The media was there shooting!

                     The sadness could be seen on everyone's faces.

  These firemen take a well deserved rest. The members of the   
  NYFD lost over 300 of their brothers on 9-11.

Our flag was being shown everywhere. Any other time, this would bring a smile to your face but not that day.

                                   It was not only fire and police personnel 
                         that served during those days!

                 This is a scene that you could see in any city almost any day; a city worker with a police detail but this day, it included a military guard.

                                     Patriotism from all of our citizens.

                     Some images of that day!!

Of all the images I took that day, this next one is the most emotional for me. This gentlemen who was working among the rubble, helping with the cleanup and hoping to find survivors, had just come back from a shift and was resting. Look at the haunted look in his eyes! I can't even guess what he had seen in his time out there and how many hours he had been working in the past week.
Look at the message written in the dust!



Nelieta said...

Jim it is difficult to look at these photos because the raw emotion is so clearly visible. I understand completely what you say about photographing people when the pain is so visible. One of the things I hate the most is when people take photos at a funeral. There are times when the camera should be left at home.

Great post and well written.

Here is mine:

ferdian said...

great post many information

Leah Griffith said...

Wonderful documentation Jim. My cousin was a fire fighter there during this time. He still carries the loss of his comrades in his heart.

Savira Gupta said...

You can see hurt, surprise, too many to write down.. All real and this would take time to lay low.

Colleen said...

Jim I also found these hard to look at...what naked grief and destruction. You did an amazing job of capturing the essence of it and I think your sensitivity shines through when you say there were so many powerful images you chose not to capture. My heart hurts seeing these. God bless you today.

Alejandro said...

they are images that will revoke


Abby said...

Thank you for sharing these photos. I couldn't look at the one that kept showing up on TV; it is still too raw for me to look at the burning buildings. Yours are a proper tribute to a nation coming together. The missing posters haunt me still. One of my assignments on September 12th was to interview people with the posters; there was a place in town they all congregated.

Jan said...

Beautiful tribute and photos. It was hard to look at the pictures but you have done a fantastic job of reflecting the emotions of those individuals,our country and the world, without the sensationalism. Thank you for this.

MSRheinlander @KUWTR said...

I remember seeing the American Flag everywhere!! Thanks for sharing all of these faces!!

Jim said...

Once again great images. I know what you mean by images not taken JIM. Some of our best moments when travelling I have no photo of because I put the camera down and enjoyed it thoroughly. And they remain our else will share them. No regrets either.

Rimly said...

Those images speak to you of that days tragedy Jim. I dont need to say anymore

Alejandro said...

I feel the emotion yet i feel those in other lands who have had much more done to them... (by whom?)

btw I am not taking away from what happened Jim

As a photographer their is always perspective...

AJ said...

That story about a young woman crying touched me. You didn't need a photo. Your words were enough, Jim. That will stay in my heart just as vividly as any photo could.

Larry Lewis said...

Unbelievable pictures of an unbelievable event. !0 years have gone by yet we all can remember it all as though it took place only yesterday. Maybe it's best to never forget. You have given a wonderful caring post. Thank you for sharing.

Mari Sterling Wilbur said...

Raw, powerful and a beautiful tribute to those who were on the front lines!

Saun said...

Great Post thanks for sharing

Martha J. M. Orlando said...

So incredibly moving . . . once again, your images are stunning, capturing all the emotion of the moment.


Tameka said...

Jim I'm reading this a few days late, but I am filled with emotion and tears are starting to form. The pictures bring back so many memories for me. Riding the train the next day in New York was so haunting. Everyone was in shock. No one was reading or listening to music. We were looking at each other for answers. Looking at the expressions of some of the people that you captured brought that back to me.

I always wondered how hard it is for photographers to take pictures of grief. Your explanation of lost pictures brings this home. In those moments your mind captured the images so your heart could always process them. Thanks for so respectfully and beautifully framing a painful moment in time.

melissa said...

You've put in something more here Jim... more than the devastation and the rubbles---you've made this post humane...I love seeing that side of you that engages and interacts with people. The faces and emotions are so haunting they keep coming back but I guess you've found a better place for your images in your mind which you could always go back into. Your memory's very sharp...

I could imagine myself in that place amidst the crowd of people... I feel for you America and I pray for you...