Voices From Behind the Lens - Ground Zero

Catherine Leuthold, Matrix
There are many unreal moments. At 9:50 am I stand in disbelief as the south tower collapses in front of my lens. It sounds like a jet taking off. I move slowly away towards the street when a huge grey cloud filled with debris slams into me and I almost fall. Watching it through my camera, I steal four frames, that I see later are a gray cloud with parts of a police car, a man running in front of it, and a blue police barricade. And then just nothing but suffocating blackness, muffled screams, moans, an "Oh my God", and my quiet terror.

I felt like I was being buried alive. I couldn't breath or see. I think, ahhh shit, this is it. But it isn't. I reach out and find a corner of marble of a wall in front of me and pull myself around it. I pull my shirt over my mouth and keep my eyes closed. I start talking, saying my name and that I'm a photographer over and over to keep the fear back. I ask if anyone is near me. Then arms and a voice find me and we talk quickly. I ask him who he is, what does he do, anything. I will always remember his voice, but I can't remember his name. That bothers me. There is no sense of time in this place, we hear a shout "Over here...a door." We struggle to find it in the blackness, and then there is a yellow light.

I see a ghostly face, a man wearing a Yarmulke, he pulls us into a computer shop. A woman screams her partner is still out there. The man has locked the door and I yell at him to open it. No one should be out there. There is no anwser outside, and I start taking pictures again.

Don MacLeod:
When I heard the news, I grabbed my cameras and ran up three flights of stairs to the roof of my building in Little Italy. My neighbors were already there, silently watching the collapse of the South Tower. There wasn't much to say; we all stood there watching, not talking. Normally we go the roof for Fourth of July fireworks or to sunbathe or to have a summertime party. Watching the towers fall on an otherwise perfect September morning was so incomprehensible that nobody at the time seemed to realize the enormity of it. The attack seemed to happen in slow motion. For those us far enough removed geographically from the site, what we were watching was surreal. It wasn't frightening or moving. The attack looked like an almost prim performance of catastrophe. The terrorists wanted to make an immense show; they certainly had an audience for their murderous handiwork.

While the rest of New York slowly returned to routine, work continued around the clock at Ground Zero. Rescuers worked through the clouds of smoke from still-burning fires and the thick dust raised by every move they made. The site was lit by portable floodlights brought to the scene the night of the attack. This shot was taken at 11:00 PM, Sept. 16, five days after the attack. At the time, there was still hope of rescuing survivors and the list of the missing was still estimated to be below 5,000.


Jay Mallin:
I was at the Pentagon early on, and the photos taken an hour or so later, when the media had been pushed much further back, don't convey the destruction of the attack. The Pentagon itself is so huge, the gap blown in it looks small by comparison. What was really stunning, standing there, was that there was no sign of the plane itself. This was a big plane with a lot of local people in it, people from my neighborhood, and it hit that building so hard it seems to have vanished into nothing.

Ryan Mercer, Chief Photographer, Herald News, Passaic County, NJ
I got caught in a blast of dust 2-3 blocks from Ground Zero. It swallowed you up, everything went deathly quiet and completely black. For sixty seconds I had no idea how I was going to get out. Then I took a lens cleaning cloth covered with a polymer to breathe through. I found another man in a similar situation, we walked out together and I brought him to an ambulance. After I calmed down, I went back in to get my job done.

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