You can click on any photo to see a larger image.
I arrived at my office, at Broadway and Houston, early on the morning of September 11. Our cleaning person was vacuuming. I was leaving a voice mail for a client. When the first plane struck, the noise of the vacuum and my distraction leaving the message meant that I wasn't aware that anything had happened, but I think the cleaning lady turned off her vacuum because she heard something. When she did, the FM NPR radio station that the business manager and I had been listening to to was gone; the radio was putting out quiet static. A few minutes later the alarm in the suite next door went off. We went to investigate. The person coming in had been distracted and shocked and forgotten to disable it on entry. She told us about the crash of a plane into the World Trade Center. We went to our computer and called up the CNN web site, which had only a photograph; no text. It was clear immediately to me that it was a terrorist attack; the crash was centered on the building, and a real pilot would have tried to evade it, just clipping the building. As we were looking at the CNN site, my wife called my cell phone from a business trip in Virginia -- I was able only to tell her about the crash, and then we got cut off.
My business manager and I went down to go outside to see. At that point, only the first plane had crashed, and we could clearly see it when we were outside our building's entrance on Broadway. I decided to walk home -- a few blocks away -- to get my camera equipment. When I'd walked a block, someone said that another plane had hit. I hadn't been looking and hadn't noticed the noise.
As I continued walking, I saw that drivers had pulled their trucks to the side of the street. Their radios were tuned to a local AM news radio station at high volume, and small crowds gathered around the trucks to listen. I heard people talking about the Pentagon, the general order that all planes land, and things that turned out to be untrue, like the Supreme Court being bombed.
I arrived at my apartment and gathered a 35mm SLR camera, a 28-70 zoom, a 70-200 telephoto zoom, a 2x telephoto extension, a tripod and a few rolls of film. My plan was to walk south toward the towers, about a mile away, and take pictures. I had in mind the historic photos of an airplane sticking out of the Empire State Building. The resulting pictures follow here.
The photos start from outside my apartment, at 5th Ave and 9th Street. They have the Washington Square Park arch in the foreground.
These photos were taken from Washington Square Park. The construction in the foreground is a new New York University building.
I started using my telephoto lens and tripod. These photos were still taken from Washington Square:
I moved south to the corner of Bleecker St. and LaGuardia Place, where the trees would no longer obstruct the foreground buildings. Big things were falling from the World Trade Center, and it didn't look safe to walk further, so I stopped. LaGuardia is not ever a busy street and now most traffic had stopped, except for a few taxis, a convoy of UPS trucks (who'd received a general recall order) and some police cars. I set up the tripod in the middle of the street. I didn't consider that the towers might collapse; I only had a sense that we were watching a big fire.
It wasn't just a big fire. The south tower collapsed. I had my camera set with a 2-second delay from button to shutter to minimize camera vibration with the telephoto, so when the tower collapsed, I tried firing frames as fast as I could but the camera didn't respond. I only managed to snap the few shots below. As you look at the pictures, note the reaction of the people in the photo to the horror of what we were witnessing. It was hard to believe what we were seeing. Then someone -- riveted on the scene no doubt and oblivious to me -- walked in front of me and my camera. In the confusion, as I moved my camera and tripod around them, the shutter activated and fired a shot at the street signs.
I ran out of film at this point, and changed from Kodak Royal Gold to a new roll of Fuji Velvia film, and the colors now are richer as a result. As I started shooting this roll, the south tower is gone, with only a cloud of smoke and dust remaining. The North Tower is still standing.
I changed to telephoto and took some closeups of the top of the North Tower.
Around this time I realized that some of the things falling were people. The photos show some people falling on the left side. Even at reduced resolution the images are disturbing.
The fire started getting more intense.
These photos show some people jumping from the right.
The tower collapsed.
The film ran out of the camera. A huge cloud of dust was rolling east and north. It was clear that we'd watched an event that had killed a large number of New York's best firemen and many people who were in the tower and surrounding areas. My hands were shaking lightly, in horror, shock, and fear. It seemed that the situation was possibly out of control -- the city government's command bunker was located in the World Trade Center complex. Would the fire become a conflagration and head north? The crowd who had stood around watching with me broke up. There was a mixed sense that the show was over, and that it was necessary to start to prepare and react. I had plenty of film and I suppose I should have walked south but I went back to my office, packed up some critical papers and copied some key files onto my laptop and went home, to get ready to evacuate the city if necessary. On the walk home there were many office workers walking north - some in suits without their jackets. No one looked injured, only disturbed. Since they were carrying their briefcases too, it was as if the commute to Wall Street had changed to be a mid-day walk north through Greenwich Village. There were lines of people waiting for the pay telephones. Cellular service were blocked.