On Sept. 11, 2001, I was sophomore at Hunter College. In the first hours after the attack, I walked roughly 80 blocks to Ground Zero. I left an acting seminar in which a classmate worried about her mother, who worked at the World Trade Center, and went to Hunter’s North Lobby, where students crowded under televisions broadcasting the towers’ collapse.
Using the last of my cash, I went across an eerily empty Lexington Avenue and bought a 24-exposure disposable camera. That sunny day caused the Fuji’s mediocre film to become as sharp as the images that would be etched into my mind.
Sixteen years later, the landscape of my walk downtown has changed along with my view of the world. The little electronic stores that drew pedestrians are dwindling, the Aiwa walkman on which news stations told me which streets were blocked off is now an antique, and the Tribeca parking lot I snuck through to get to West Street is now an apartment building that I’ve been invited to for parties.
Just as the Twin Towers had been my compass when I got lost in Greenwich Village, September 11th has been my gauge for measuring the relevance and importance of all since. Some of the things that are exciting to others seem not worth it when weighed against that day’s loss. You could physically taste and smell that loss in the downtown air as a blue sky shined over the fires of Ground Zero.
The world and my city could have learned more from the deep collective breath everyone took afterwards. We all could have laid down the arms we employed against each other and made a lasting peace that would have given us freedom from fear. Wouldn’t it be nice if the images in these photos were something that we could only Imagine?