Photographers' Blog

9/11: Ten years later

On September 11, 2001, four hijacked planes were used to carry out attacks on the United States. Two planes hit New York City’s World Trade Center, a third plunged into the Pentagon, and the fourth crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after an attempt was made by passengers to regain control. In total 2,992 people were killed.

Shannon Stapleton, who took one of the defining images of the attacks, recounts covering New York city over ten years in a Full Focus Photographer Notebook entry

Jason Reed and Larry Downing document one mother’s story of loss in Five years with Justin

Lucas Jackson spends time with the NYPD and discusses the city’s omnipresent security in Inside the NYPD’s counter terrorism unit

Larry Downing, who covered the aftermath of the attacks on the Pentagon, asks Where were you on 9/11?

Inside the NYPD’s counter terrorism unit

When our photo staff began to plan for the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it was difficult to know where coverage should begin. The first story that came to mind is how Ground Zero has changed. It has been remarkable to watch the buildings being constructed. Not only have we seen them rise above ground level, but slowly surpass the height of every other building in lower Manhattan. Colleagues of mine have done a wonderful job of documenting the evolution of the site and the reactions of those around it, but while that might be the most obvious story to tell, it was not the most profound change that I feel has taken place in New York since the attacks. For me, the most significant modification is that security has become omnipresent in the city.

Security has emerged as a fact of life here. When we fly we have to take off our shoes and throw away our water bottles. Every commercial building in New York has a security team and identification is required to get to work. The speakers in the subway system continually remind us that “if you see something, say something” and photographing a building that lies in full view of the public is considered a suspicious activity. While this all might seem like an Orwellian society in which “Big Brother” is constantly looking down upon us, it is necessary to remember that New York has been the target of two major successful attacks, one foiled attack, and unknown numbers of prevented attacks since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

The most visual way to show this shift in New York’s security is to document the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) counter terrorism units. According to their website, the Counter Terrorism Bureau of the NYPD was created by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in 2002 as a direct response to the realization that the city could not rely solely on the federal government for the safety of it’s citizens. The department’s counter terrorism units are the result of the NYPD’s evolution from being a purely domestic reactionary police force to their current manifestation as the primary preventative law enforcement agency for New York City. While the average New Yorker has seen a gradual change in how the department operates since September 11, what is different may not be readily apparent. This photo essay is an attempt to show the many tasks that this section of the NYPD performs in their effort to safeguard the city.

The way to the island of horror

It was a typical Friday afternoon in Berlin — traffic in the streets and people looking forward to their weekend. A few hours earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had finished her traditional summer press conference in the capital city, where she answered with quite a lot of humor and unusual looseness, journalist’s questions about the Greek crisis and the EU summit in Brussels before she left for summer vacation. I was at home and not aware of the latest news when I got a phone call from the Berlin office: “It’s an emergency. There was a bomb explosion in Oslo. Can you book a flight to Oslo and immediately fly there?” At first I did not know what exactly had happened. My wife searched for information online and the first breaking news images from Oslo had flooded the media. People were wandering amid the rubble in the governmental area of the Norwegian capital.

REUTERS/Berit Roald/Scanpix

REUTERS/Morten Holm/Scanpix

REUTERS/Per Thrana

I booked the next flight from Berlin to Oslo. I had just two and a half hours until departure. I quickly packed my equipment, took a 500 mm telephoto lens and a few days worth of personal belongings. At the airport check-in I met other journalists — a mix of foreign colleagues and the Reuters cameraman with whom I would fly to Oslo. The plane was packed, every seat occupied, mainly with journalists. This was one of the fastest routes to Norway after the bombing. There was free internet onboard so I was able to check the latest news non-stop. There was now concrete news trickling in about a shooting on Utoeya island, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) northwest of Oslo, with a number of people reported dead.

REUTERS/Jan Bjerkeli

REUTERS/Morten Edvardsen/Scanpix

REUTERS/Morten Edvardsen/Scanpix

When the plane landed in Oslo at 22:30 it was still light out and given the situation and the information about the shooting on the island Utoeya, I decided to go there immediately. I rented a car at the airport and drove off, with the help of my GPS navigation. Meanwhile I had contacted the Reuters text correspondent and our local photographer who had made one of the first pictures for us from the island. I told him that I would drive to Sundvollen, which is the closest village to the island. There was a hotel where all the survivors and their relatives were being taken. It was raining when I reached the hotel after midnight. I parked and walked into the hotel. There were rescue workers and survivors everywhere and parents who had managed to reunite their children who survived the shooting. When I asked at reception for a room for the night, I realized I was standing in a group of survivors. To stay there — or even to photograph it — was quite impossible. People were crying and hugging each other. There were reports that a considerable number of people had been killed during the shooting on Utoeya island and that there was a connection with the bombing in Oslo. It was after leaving the hotel that I took the first photos of survivors, from outside the police cordon.

Sept. 11 – This year it seemed different

Sept 11

Having covered the events of 9/11 and 6 of the last 7 memorials, this year was very different. In the past I had a very hard time covering these memorials emotionally. It was tough seeing these people grieving the loss of loved ones and having, not even through six degrees of separation, known anyone that passed away hard to grasp. But year after year we have gone down to the site to mark the anniversary of one of the worst attacks on American soil in history.

Sept 11 2

This year it seemed different. For me, it seemed not as emotional as the years past. With less exceptions people seemed to be getting on with their lives to a certain extent. I also noticed how the kids of the victims are getting older – not nearly as many babies and younger children. Seven years have passed and the children are growing older. I also think that the presidential candidates visiting the site took some of the focus away from the families’ and loved ones’ day of mourning. It became a separate story to cover other than the anniversary.


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