Today marks 20 years since hijacked airliners crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and, thanks to heroes on board, into the woods near Shanksville, PA instead of the US Capitol. The headlines in the next day’s Wall Street Journal screamed the news.
Remembering September 11
A few days later, the United States declared war on Afghanistan.
My first time back in the city after the towers had fallen was in July 2002 and it was weird. As a frequent visitor to New York, I would walk uptown with the Empire State Building in front of me as I headed toward Central Park. I was used to turning once and a while to look behind me to see the Twins. But they weren’t there anymore. They were gone. The city’s southern skyline was wounded and strange. It was like a face missing its two front teeth.
When I got back to the apartment, I photographed that strange new toothless skyline. On a 1995 visit, I’d shot the towers from the apartment. That view had the Towers in front of the rust-colored NYU library. I used that to line up their ghosts where they had been. Ghostly false teeth.
The 6.1-megapixel camera I used to take the skyline below cost $8000.
On the site of the Towers are two memorial pools — in the exact same location and size as the footprints of the North and South buildings. The names of all of the victims killed in the attack including the passengers and crew of the two airliners are engraved around the two memorial pools. The hijackers are not listed.
The memorial grounds are home to the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum. One exposed wall of the 110,000 square foot facility is the slurry wall from the North Tower. Support beams now twisted into grotesque sculptures by the forces of the explosions and collapse of the structures are displayed.
The FDNY Ladder Truck #3 was crushed by the destruction of the World Trade Center. It’s now on display in the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
20 years after the attack on the World Trade Center, just a few days ago the US brought the Afghan war to an uneasy conclusion. The debris from the attack has long been cleaned up. Steel from the Towers has been made into memorials across the country. From New Jersey and Florida to Colorado and Ohio, memorials made from those maimed and twisted beams have been erected in remembrance.
A brand-new subway station, the architectural marvel named The Oculus at the World Trade Center site. Seven buildings including the Twin Towers were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001. The Oculus is a spectacular part of the rebuilding of the site that was decimated two decades ago.
The photo at the beginning of this article shows New York’s southern skyline as it appears today and where the original landmark World Trade Center towers were.
Some events are so significant that practically everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they happened. My parents remembered Pearl Harbor and when F.D.R. died. I remember exactly where I was when J.F.K. was assassinated in 1963. The same goes for Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Not all of the events were bad. The whole world watched Neil Armstrong make humanity’s first step onto the moon.
September 11, 2021 is the latest milestone for me. Overall that makes the last 20 years kind of quiet when it comes to truly memorable events, unlike the 1960s.
Digital photography comes of age
As the World Trade Center has evolved into a new centerpiece tower, memorial, a landmark rail station and other new buildings, digital photography has grown up too. The old camera gave way to a 50-megapixel version that costs a sixth of what the one I used in 2002 did. The tools are better.
Best of all, there are ever renewed things for us to photograph as the stories of our lives move forward. There are also the artifacts from milestones to shoot to remember where we were on September 11 before it, today and to come.