Thank you to UFA Manhattan Trustee Rudy Sanfilippo who placed me in Ground Zero as Official Photographer on behalf of the fire unions. Thank you also to UFA President Kevin Gallagher and UFOA President Peter Gorman for signing off on this request. Rudy, there would be no real record of the "Recovery" other than a few shots here and there had you not fought so valiantly to have me document this period in New York history. Years from now, when families look back & have a record of this period, they can thank you. You gave me the chance to contribute artistically to this tragedy, so thank you. This website could not have been produced without the volunteering of time & creativity by my friends at Beardsley Design Associates. Thank you to Jeff Lawrence & Tanya Onori. In the early stages of this site, Luis Ortiz & Jose Miguel Santos of NeoCompTech.com and Rose Blue all put time and effort into getting this website off the ground. Thanks to all of you. And a warm thank you to Jan Lederman of Mamiya cameras for technical support. God Bless you all for helping me with this very special photo project. This website is dedicated in memory to the 3,000 fallen heroes who died on September 11th at The World Trade Center, New York. May the memory of the fallen live forever in all of our hearts. This website is my photographic journey into the history of the events of September 11. There have been some tough emotional periods during my shooting but they were buffered by the wonderful people I met and worked with. Most of these images were not easy to shoot. Shooting in the hole at Ground Zero was not glamorous. But it needed to be done. The hole changed in physicality each few days. Many dramas unfolded each day and I tried my best to capture the emotions of those scenarios. Also, I tried to do this as tastefully as possible. My goal was to bring you as close as you can get with the hopes that you will understand it all on a deeper level than just seeing a giant void from the viewing platform. As FDNY Chaplain Christopher Keenan once said to me at Ground Zero, "Two bullets went into the World Trade Center, but only LOVE came out."
My name is Gary Marlon Suson & I am an actor-playwright based in New York City. I was unexpectedly appointed the Official Photographer at Ground Zero a few months after the tragedy at World Trade Center. I shot on behalf of the Uniformed Firefighters Association and Uniformed Fire Officers Association. On September 11, 2001, my life, as well as all American's lives were turned upside down by a vicious terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon utilizing commercial aircraft filled with innocent passengers, flight attandants and pilots. The horror that ensued was felt not only by the victim's families, but by all Americans and foreign countries as well. Our country had been violated & many wives, husbands & children were forced to suddenly live without their loved ones. All this because of some warped religious fanatic's interpretation of Holy Scripture and felt it was God's will to kill others. One doesn't need to study religion to know that God is not about murder & killing. God is about LOVE and PEACE. At least that's how I was raised.
7th was a great day for me. I was finally off crutches. Weeks before the tragedy,
I was in Heidelberg, Germany, where I had flown to have reconstructive knee surgery
with the world-renowned knee specialist Dr. Hans Paessler. When I finally came
off crutches, I immediately went to Central Park. I had missed the summer for
the most part and I wanted to finally walk, or "limp" into Sheeps Meadow
and enjoy the sun. That weekend I had my first chance to enjoy New York, although
it was filled with the never-ending rehabilitation that comes along with major
knee surgery. I would have Monday off and was not scheduled for re-hab again until
11AM on September the 11th. I never made it.
At 9:15 in the morning on September 11th, I awoke to a pounding on my door. It was my neighbor, Darryl, and I assumed he was frantic because his wife was due to give birth that day. I figured she must be in labor? But when I opened the door, he was screaming that the World Trade Center had been attacked by terrorists. I laughed & said, "Yeah, right." Darryl, who I had never seen get riled up, yelled, "Gary! I'm not kidding! Grab your camera & get up to the roof!". With that, I grabbed my Mamiya medium format camera and some film and ran for the elevator. I was terrified as I waited for the elevator to open to the roof as I had no idea what to expect.
September 11 was a sunny, warm, cloud-free day in New York. The perfect Indian Summer day complete with royal blue skies. As I pushed the door open, the sunlight blinded me - but when I turned the corner, Indian Summer turned black. There it was: The World Trade Center was smoking violently. Thick black smoke spewed into the air and I had a sick feeling in my stomach...A feeling I have never had and I hope I never will again. I was looking at an act of PURE EVIL. Next to me stood my upstairs neighbor, trembling from having just watched plane #2 slam into the South Tower. As much as we wanted to deny it, we knew we were the victims of a terrorist attack. From that moment on, it was like a nightmare, happening quickly - living moment to moment in a state of panic...A feeling I can't describe - just pure horror to see this...My first thoughts were for the innocent flight attendants, passengers and pilots who I knew were gone. Then I thought about the people on the floors where the planes went in. Then I just assumed the best: That everyone had been safely evacuated. I was hoping to see some kind of plane dump water on the Towers. It never happened. Moments later, we received word that The Pentagon was hit and another plane went down in a field somewhere in Pennsylvania. Just too much too handle.
As a boy, growing up in the Chicago suburbs of Highland Park & Barrington Hills, I used to read the "Best of Life" Magazine. I had a strong fascination with photography at age 9. I thought it was interesting how a little box with a hole could stop time forever. I was always drawn to the famous photos of wartime & crisis. I would study the photos from Vietnam and the hostage crisis at the Olympics. The photo of Kennedy's funeral and the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. Each one was a moment frozen in history and I would often study each one for quite a while. The photo of MLK as he lay dying from a sniper's rifle and likewise with RFK as he lay in the ballroom. I looked at it like a child because I was a child: How this little box could freeze a moment in time. I never got bored of those photos - each time finding something new in them. I used to wonder what it was like to live through that moment as the photographer. I wasn't even born when those moments happened, but there I was, right there with that photographer. My point is that I learned at a young age the power & responsibility that a photographer has. The power to STOP TIME, forever and the responsibility he/she has to educate future generations with their images. So many people's concept of photographers these days are of the stalking papparazzi that harrass celebrities that the true importance of photography and its reputation has suffered in the last 20 years. Historical photographers like Matthew Brady, who documented the Civil War and Richard Avedon's documentation in Viet Nam have left us with priceless images that captue a crucial period in World History.
At age 14, my parents bought me a professional camera: A Canon AE-1 & this was a turning point. At age 17, while at Comiskey Park in Chicago watching the White Sox play for first place, I took a photo of a Little Boy that would win me the prestigious KODAK MEDALLION. My award-winning shot was flown to New York with the other medallion winners and displayed guess where....The World Trade Center. I never imagined that years later I would be in New York shooting the remains of the Twin Towers...the very place that my first winning photos ever appeared. The reason for sharing this history is for the following reason: To shoot & document every aspect of 9-11 and Ground Zero, and there were many. I had to summon all those camera tricks I learned as a child on my farm. I had to draw on all those techniques that I was convinced I would never use in real life. It's funny how you learn the dumbest things as a child and actually wind up using some of them later on in life. In this site, you will see a multiple-exposure photograph of the West Side Highway that was used as a shuttle for ambulances to and from the hospital. I am glad at age 16 I shot multiple-exposure self-portraits of myself dribbling a soccer ball through cones or I would never have been able to make that 9/11 photo happen. Perhaps nothing you learn as a kid is DUMB! Everything you learn has it's purpose. Even the smallest things.
All major decisions can be reversed! A few minutes after my major decision, I realized I had a responsibility to go out there and try & document for future generations what terrorism was. I suddenly wanted to capture emotionally moving images that could convey to people around the USA and World exactly what we were living through. I sat down at the computer and much to my surprise, the website name SeptemberEleven.net was available. I figured it would be a good place for people to log onto and connect with what was happening in our city. I just never imagined where my journey would lead me. So, I bought the URL, grabbed my Mamiya medium format camera and went off to do my thing. I chose to shoot on a larger format camera because the clarity was amazing as opposed to a 35mm camera. It was the right choice for historical documentation.
Sunday, September 16th. I was picked up by my friends and driven past numerous Ground Zero checkpoints. The energy was intense. We drove by the press area and I realized I was going all the way into the heart of Ground Zero yet again. Face mask on, I thought I was ready. But nothing could prepare me emotionally for what I was about to see. It was mayhem. The smell of burnt smoke permeated my clothes. My heart really did sink when I stepped into sight of the "pile." Now, I was on hallowed ground & could see the full effect of the collapse. So many innocent lives lost in a total of 90 minutes...just so hard to comprehend. I was as tasteful as possible when shooting. I didn't want to appear disrespectful to the deceased or the Firemen and rescue workers trying to do their job. However, I also had a job to do, like them, and I had to take out that camera and shoot. My first image I shot wound up being an important part of the collection and it was seen world wide when the Recovery had ended. It was of a crushed fire truck that had been pulled from the rubble and whose members had all perished. A lone firefighter walked up to it, wiped the ash off the FDNY logo on the door and then scrawled with his finger the word, "WHY?" He then leaned against the rig and cried. When he left, I shot the image of the door. You will not see anything graphic or any "shock value" images on this site. There are ways to induce emotions with an image without using "disturbing" subject matter. And that's what I tried to do. I think the world has had enough with images of people running down the street crying, covered in ash & of survivors sitting on the curb, bleeding, with a cold compress to their head. This site's purpose is to capture the emotions of 9-11 and the "Recovery" in a different perspective: The coming together of a big city as though it were a small, country town...To show the people who contributed to the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. The photos that I have put on this site, for the most part, are the ones that move me or even make me cry when I see them. But it is a good cry; the cry that helps me heal and come to peace with things. Based on the emails I received over time, it appears that these shots have had the same effect on viewers. I have received emails from many people: From FDNY widows to relatives of WTC employees to Police Officers and Firemen who barely made it out of the Towers alive. To date I have yet to hear anything negative, only positive. If I ever heard of anything on my site that hurt people, I would remove it.
This site should not re-awaken the horror of September 11. My goal was that these images would help heal those suffering from the pain & show people what I saw: The coming together of a community during a time of crisis...A deeper look at the human spirit. It was easy for those terrorists to kill; Well it was just as easy for us to find the very BEST in ourselves. I have had many emails about three photos on this site. One is the Genesis Bible Photo. As I leaned over to photograph in the rubble what appeared to be a burnt page from the Bible in January of 2002, my friend pulled up in his ATV and said "Jump in. We have to go to a recovery." I didn't realize until the next morning when I got the proof sheet back and zoomed in that it was the Bible page containing the passage Genesis 11 - The Tower of Babylon. We raced back that night - three of us - to look through the rubble and find that page but it was lost. A rainstorm the previous night ended that quest. I have to admit I was burnt out from shooting there during the time I shot that photo. I was considering quitting. Being the Official Photographer was a great honor, but at what price? I was miserable. When I saw the page was Genesis 11, The Tower of Babel, I admit I cried very hard. I was very overwhelmed. I thought perhaps there was some reason I found it that I was not aware of. It did help give me strength to carry on shooting and so I stayed & was able to capture the most moving images of my life. Everything comes with a price. Shooting there, while it was an honor, exposed me to some unpleasant sights. I would often just think about that Bible page and what it meant to me: That GOD was still watching over us through desperate times and knew our pain. He hadn't left us.
A photo I receive emails on is the NorthTower collapsing. Many people see in the smoke what I now call the WTC Angel. An effigy, a likeness, creative thinking: Call it what you want. I see it too! The angel sits there perched like a figurine you'd see in a Greek garden or on the side of a castle. The wings, chest, body & flowing hair. It's all there and actually brings me peace when I look at it.
I met many amazing men down at Ground Zero who inspired me. Men like retired FDNY Captain Bill Butler, retired FDNY Lt. Paul Geidel, retired FDNY Lt. Dennis O'Berg, retired FDNY Rescue-2 firefighter Lee Ielpi, FDNY Chief Jimmy Riches, retired FDNY Captain John Vigiano, retired FDNY Lt. George Riley, retired FDNY Captain Edward Sweeney, FDNY Captain Joe Downey, FDNY Chief Joseph Pfeifer and retired police officer Arnie Roma. These men wore their hearts on their sleeves and were an inspiration to all.
I never thought that I would be in the same position as all those photographers whose unique photos I viewed a boy thumbing through LIFE. SeptemberEleven.net is my contribution to you. I hope that I did my job to your liking. In 9 months of shooting, I never sold one image to any newspaper or magazine until the "Recovery" was over & permission was granted to me by the fire union. All of these shots were unreleased commercially until May 28, 2002, when the New York Times ran a feature story on my work entitled, "From a Camera at Ground Zero, Rare Photos of an Agonizing Dig." . (That also means you can't download or copy them in any way) This collection was turned into a coffee table book by Barnes & Noble Books in September of 2002, called "Requiem: Images of Ground Zero." Although I worked for free at Ground Zero and drained my savings account, I made arrangements to always share my proceeds with charities linked to 9-11. If you're interested in purchasing an image, e-mail me at SusonPhoto@aol.com . God Bless the victims who perished on September 11, 2001 at The World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa. God Bless the Families, Survivors, FDNY, EMS, PAPD, NYPD, VOLUNTEERS, FIRE PATROL, Department of Sanitation Workers and CHAPLAINS for your hard work at Ground Zero. A special thank you to my friend Rev. Mitties DeChamplain, whom I admire greatly for performing God's work at the Ground Zero morgue.
A very special thanks to the FDNY Firefighters, Lieutenants, Captains & Chiefs that make up the New York City Fire Department. You guys helped me capture many of my most powerful images which have in turn touched the lives of many. It was an honor & a privilege to work alongside you in the hole during all those cold months. I appreciated the trust you put in me to let me document your heroic work in recovering the victims and trying to leave no one behind. Although I never met your fallen brothers, I felt as though I had by knowing you guys. I now see that firefighters are a unique breed of people; a brotherhood made up of qualities that I saw in you guys every day down there in the hole. Qualities that include toughness, compassion, kindness, humbleness and incredible LOYALTY. It was been a great learning experience for me and I thank you for your friendship and making me feel welcome in your groups during those horribly difficult times. Once again, I would like to thank Manhattan Trustee Rudy Sanfilippo at the Uniformed Firefighter's Association for placing enormous trust in me to capture images of such a sensitive nature that would give families and all other interested parties a record of "The Recovery." I hope that these shots pay homage to all those lost on that tragic September day. And as for the evil man who caused all this carnage, whose name I WILL NOT MENTION as we don't want to glorify you: Keep running & keep hiding like the little cave rodent that you are because we're coming for you...
Bless the USA. God Bless the Victims of September 11 and their surviving families..
Gary Marlon Suson
New York City 2002
Copyright © 2001 Gary Suson, Inc. All Rights Reserved.