Friday, September 11, 2015

Unpublished Photos of 9/11 by Richard Zampella

Richard Zampella 9/11 Photographs
The World Trade Center Collapse on September 11 © & ™2015 Richard Zampella 

On September 11th 2011, I was living on the waterfront in downtown Jersey City, NJ. My apartment was about four blocks from the Hudson River and directly across from the river from the World Trade Center. Each night, I could fall asleep in my bed with a view of the top floors of the south tower.

On the morning of September 11, I received a telephone call from my older brother who asked me, "What happened? Can you see anything?"  I had no idea why he was asking.  He said, “One of the Trade Centers have been hit by an airplane.” He told me to to look out my window. There I saw the top 17 floors of the buildings in flames.

I hung up the phone and told him I would call him back. I went to the closet and grabbed my Nikon XG-1 and headed towards the river.

Fourteen years ago, Goldman Sachs was in the process of building a new world headquarters on the banks of the Hudson River in Jersey City. The building site was located in a spot that has unobstructed views of the southern tip of Manhattan. In the confusion of that morning, there was a total breakdown at the work site. Everything had come to a halt and there was no one at the gate to stop me from entering.

Richard Zampella
I made my way to the edge of the river and stood among a group of steelworkers that were working the site. Each of them speculated about the structural integrity of the towers. There were several engineers who  who were scribbling calculations with one another and they all agreed that the building would remain sound.

Within moments of their final conclusion, the first tower collapsed. I placed the camera to my eye. I took these images that are still difficult to view 14 years later. What I will remember most about that moment was the "low grade" rumble of the collapse in my ears.

When the first tower became obscured in a cloud of debris, I stood dumbfounded.  I lowered the camera and observed the steel workers surrounding me slowly drop to their knees in despair.

Within minutes the roar of the fighter jets could be heard overhead. The Jersey City Police were clearing the waterfront. No one knew what might happen next. As I made my way home, I observed groups standing around open car doors and listening to the radio like I had seen in history books when JFK was assassinated.

For months, I knew the exposed film was in the camera. I wondered if it should it be processed? I pondered – “Was it wrong to have photographed this disaster?" More months passed and finally, two years later I had the photographs processed.

Over the passing years, each time I look at these images, I wonder if I had witnessed the disaster only through the lens of a camera.

Yes, I was there, but did the act of taking pictures make it easier to bear witness to what had happened?

These photographs have sat in a box for the last 14 years. Sometimes I look at them and reflect how  close I was to what is now called “Ground Zero”. I would put the images away, wondering if they served any purpose other than proof that I was there.

The stories abound on the internet as each anniversary approaches. Endless commentary how the event has become reduced to popular culture, including cartoons that try to reflect trivial sentiment from that day.

Richard Zampella 9/11 Images


Friday will mark the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. I publish these photographs in the memory of those lost on September 11, 2001.  It is my sincere hope that future generations shall never forget them and the unselfish bravery of the first responders that sacrificed their own lives to help others.

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