Remembering The Empty Sky

On this the twelve anniversary of 9/11 it’s kind of hard to believe so much time has gone by. I wasn’t in New York that day, I was in Miami with my cousin and we were scheduled to return on Sept 11th. I had never got a  premonition before but on Sept 10th, I had a dream that a plane had crashed into the building in Chelsea where I lived.

In the dream, the plane was in tact on the roof and people were evacuating via a staircase. I went down to my car to get my camera bag and when I got on the elevator to get up to the roof, the elevator turned into a roller-coaster and was moving in all directions except up to the roof. Upon seeing the television imagery on 9/11 I felt many emotions and  selfishly, as a photojournalist who lives close to the site  yet was not home at the time, one of those feelings was frustration that I wasn’t there to cover the story, just like in the dream.

When I got back to New York on September 18, I tried to get down to the site with no success. I then avoided the Ground Zero area because authorities didn’t want people there and my I had let my press privileges expire and couldn’t get in.

So when I happened upon the site and saw the depth of reaction of people, I decided to come back with my Nikon F100’s and Tri-X film and tell the story of what happened through the faces of people who were compelled to visit the site to see for themselves it really happened.

It was not that long ago, but digital photography was in its relative infancy and most phones didn’t have cameras in them. Another world. In fact, authorities didn’t want anyone taking pictures and at one time they threatened to ticket photographers who did so at what they considered to be a crime scene. But people came and they wanted to record what they saw, you couldn’t stop the photographs from being taken.

I shot for about three months from the end of September to the end of December, when platforms were built and tickets given to control the crowds. I shot about 100-36 exposure rolls. I tend to be a low profile kind of shooter, liking the intimacy of a wider lens and moving fast, but on this shoot people were so inside their head as they looked at the site, few noticed me. As the debris was cleared I could see the intensity of the reactions diminish.

I have heard from various people in the photographs over the years and just recently Jill Nobis sent me a note.

“In November 2001 I went to NYC on a bus trip with my college.  I was a sophmore at MVCC in Utica (upstate) New York.  The events from 9/11 were life changing, so when I had the opportunity to go to NYC I jumped at the chance.  The sites that I saw that day were unbelievable.  It was very surreal experience and I felt so many different emotions.  Like many others, I could not stop watching and reading about the events of September 11th.  This trip I thought was going to put some closure to the real life events taking place.  How wrong I was.  Every year I look back and reflect on the events and the trip that I took in November of 2001.  

Yesterday, April 10, 2012 my mom and I went to visit the 9/11 memorial.  It was an unbelievable to see how much the site has changed, but still it keeps the spirit and emotions of the events from 10 years ago.  After we spent a while at the reflecting pools, my mom and I made our way into 9/11 store.  After looking around and watching the videos that were playing, we came across the book section.  I was browsing through different books and was just about ready to leave when your book, “Empty Sky” caught my eye.  I started looking through the pictures and stopped on page 56 and then my heart stopped.  That picture is of me and my college friends when we went to visit NYC in November 2001.  I am in the middle of the picture.  It was such a strange feeling seeing that moment on print.  I brought your book home with me so I can tell this same story to my family and friends. Just wanted to share my story with you.  I have attached a picture of me that was taken yesterday at the reflecting pool.  

I dedicated my book Empty Sky, to my cousin Joel Breslof who was very sick at the time and who I was with in Miami on that day. Joel encouraged me to follow my photographic passions and move to New York for which I am forever grateful.

The soon to open 9-11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero has acquired a complete set of my Empty Sky photographs. I know that the images will be well cared for and their always for people to get a sense of how life changed soon after 9-11.

You can see more Empty Sky images here.


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  1. says: Michael Brown

    I was looking at my copy of the book today (9-11-2014). It is the book I review to remember the event. I don’t want to see the physical devastation. It is the emotional toll that touched me and that you recorded so well in your images. The intimacy of the images puts me there with these people.