Revisiting scenes of 9/11 in photographs
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Associated Press photographer and photo editor Mark Lennihan was at home with his family in Brooklyn when a neighbor, who knew Lennihan was in the news business, told him a plane had struck the World Trade Center.
Lennihan called his office and was told to go to Brooklyn Heights where he could get a good view of the Manhattan skyline across the East River. When he arrived there was a huge cloud over Manhattan as both towers had collapsed by then. After getting shots from Brooklyn and with roads closed he started on foot over the nearby Brooklyn Bridge. The scene, he said, was “like an exodus of people” streaming out of New York looking dazed and wearing face masks, Lennihan said.
Working for a wire service, Lennihan had to get the photos out quickly so he used a fax line in a lighting store and transmitted his digital photos back to the office from his laptop.
Since other AP photographers were already at the World Trade Center site, he was sent to area hospitals to photograph the injured. Because so many victims were killed in the collapse of the towers and those who fled suffered minor injuries, there was not much to photograph. He then set up what he called a “field editing station on the curb outside St. Vincent’s Hospital” to edit and transmit the work of other AP photographers.
In the afternoon he was sent to relieve photographers who were at the WTC site. Lennihan said “the scene was dark, like a curtain of dust was pulled over the city.” The sun was a disk in the sky as the dust prevented much light from reaching street level. Fortunately he was shooting digital and didn’t have to open his cameras to change film and let dust into his gear.
He photographed weary firefighters and rescue personnel searching through the debris before authorities cleared the site of media.
With his laptop batteries too low to transmit, he took a taxi back to the AP office in Rockefeller Plaza.
Over the last 10 years Lennihan has covered the rebuilding progress at the World Trade Center site. The construction has been good for the New York economy, with billions of dollars pouring into the project, Lennihan said.
In August he returned to Lower Manhattan with photocopies of the images he shot and those of his colleagues to try to replicate them to show the changes over the decade. He wanted to reshoot them down to the same spot, framing, time of day and lens.
Lennihan looked for landmarks that were still there but in some cases they had been moved or were gone. A park where fellow photographer Richard Drew shot the towers collapsing is now the Goldman Sachs headquarters. When standing on the exact spot was not possible, he came as close as he could, such as where Suzanne Plunkett photographed pedestrians fleeing from the falling towers. This location is now a construction site.
Working on the project, he realized how photographs trigger memories.
He said “it gets to the whole reason why we take photographs … so we don’t forget.”
See the series of photos in an interactive slider.
*On Sunday Lennihan will be photographing the 9/11 memorial from a building overlooking the site.
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