This Photojournalist’s 9/11 Images Document A True American Tragedy

Life & Culture Writer
09.11.17 2 Comments

Getty Image

It’s been sixteen years since the September 11th attacks and the nation still feels the impact of that day. In a matter of minutes, the world changed irrevocably for every person in the county. Acts of terror in Manhattan, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon shattered our sense of safety and shifted our geopolitical policy in ways that continue to this day. 2,996 lives were lost, but the scope of the tragedy reaches far beyond the recorded casualties.

After 9/11, it seemed like the nation might falter under the weight of our collective pain and fear. Instead, we rebuilt. We were the nation that history had assured us we could be. Resilient. Brave. Unified. Now, more than a decade and a half later, we must memorialize the people who lost their lives in the deadliest terrorist attack the world had ever seen. But, we don’t just remember those who perished, we also remember those who rose up from all walks of life to commit acts of heroism. Because honoring their actions is what preserves our humanity.

Getty photographer Spencer Platt was in New York on 9/11/01 and has returned to 7 World Trade Center over the years to document the passing of time. When the first plane hit, he raced toward the Twin Towers from Brooklyn, snapping shots along the way. As memories fade, photographs are perhaps our truest barometer of reality — framed though they are and altered by the context in which they are viewed. In order to help us see what he saw, Platt spoke with us about that day, its impact on photojournalism, the difficulty in memorializing it, and why 9/11 is a story that must keep being told.

Getty Image / Spencer Platt

Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the south tower of the World Trade Center and explodes at 9:03 a.m. on September 11, 2001 in New York City. The crash of two airliners hijacked by terrorists loyal to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and subsequent collapse of the twin towers killed some 2,800 people. / “This is an image that is seared into my mind’s eye. I was a fairly green photographer at this point and I had just walked across the Brooklyn Bridge when the plane hit the North Tower. I remember snapping tons of shots not fully grasping what was going on. Later, when I was flipping through the images on my camera, a taxi driver was peaking over my shoulder and shouted: “He got the photo!”

The anniversary of 9-11 is coming up and you’ve been taking pictures ever since the event happened. Can you talk to us a little bit about that project?

Well, I’m based in New York. I’ve been at Getty Images going on 18 years. And, I’m a general news guy. I’m a wire photographer, meaning that I’m pulled into anything and everything. I just got right down to cover the hurricane in Texas and I’m just on my way to Florida tonight to go cover Hurricane Irma. I’m just thrown around wherever.

When 9-11 occurred I was in, and still am, based out of Brooklyn. For me, as a wire guy, I would say that having the term “project” is almost a little precious for us. We just cover anything and everything. 9-11 happened in my hometown. Even though I’m on the road a lot, I’m still in the New York area a lot and it means a lot to me. It’s definitely close to my heart. I find myself, once a week, twice a week, I’m covering something that has a relationship somehow to the events of September 11. It’s become ingrained in my life, really, the day and the subsequent events.