(soft piano music) (moving orchestral music)
I can't enter this space without getting those, sense of a smell or chills I had from the nine months I spent down here. This was pure destruction right here, this was just piles, imagine 100 stories of building. Imagine if that building fell here. And to walk amidst the fallen members of that building, it was one of the most powerful experiences of my entire life. (soft orchestral music) I didn't have a plan of what I wanted to do. All I knew is that when New York City was attacked, as a native New Yorker, I wanted to help in some way. But really, by the time people were allowed to come close to the site, all of the necessary jobs were taken, people who were moving steel, construction workers, engineers, all of those people who were doing the searching, those positions were filled, so what could a citizen, a normal, ordinary citizen do? I was lost, I didn't have an idea, but something happened to me while I was visiting the area in the im...
mediate vicinity of the towers. I raised my camera and a police woman behind me said to me, "Hey, no photographs allowed. "This is a crime scene." And I remember being shocked and thinking, wait a second, the crime scene's in there, this is the public space. You can't tell me not to raise my camera, I'm a citizen. I have a right to raise my camera. So I started arguing with her, and I said, "Suppose I was the press. "What would happen then?" She laughed in my face and she said, "The press, huh? "Look over there," and I looked over there, and there was the press call, maybe a dozen video cameras with big booms and reporters and they were all tied up with police tape. And I said, "Well when are they going in?" And she said, "Never. "Mayor Giuliani said this is off limits to photography, "no photography allowed." And at that moment, a little light bulb bing, went off in my mind and I thought (gasps), no photography means no history. How could that be, how could a modern event of this scope go unphotographed because some mayor doesn't have the vision to understand that history has been made on his watch and he should follow through and record all of this. So I tried to convince him through some intermediaries. He wouldn't listen, and I thought, well, too bad. I'm gonna figure this out myself. I wanna make an archive and in a way, I found, in a moment I found my usefulness came from all the years I've had of editing photographs, mine and sometimes other people's for books that I did, and I knew my way around an archive and I knew how to build an archive and I thought, okay, that's what I'll do, I'll make the archive. (soft orchestral music) I was working late at night and right back there was a pile of rubber like a hill going up to the buildings and I had to make the shot I wanted, I had to make from that point but when I looked up there, there were 11 policemen sitting on chairs up there. And I thought, oh shoot, that's my spot. What am I gonna do, they're gonna throw me out. So I walked all the way up the hill and when I got to where the cops were, they were sitting on chairs. All the chairs had fallen out of the building. And I walked up and I sat down, phew, on somebody's lap and I said, "Hey, you guys are in my spot," and they all got up and said, "Oh, wait a second. "What are you doing?" And I said, "I'm the history photographer. "I'm working for the museum of the city of New York, "I'm making a document about everything here." And they said, "Yeah, we gotta do that. "This is for our kids and for our grandchildren. "We need the history," and I said, "Yeah, but the mayor says no photography allowed," and they said, "Screw the mayor. "We need this for our history. "And we're gonna protect you." And from that day on for the next 50 days, these 11 detectives from the arson explosion squad, they took care of me. Anytime some cop threw me out, they said, "Hey, he's with us," you know. It was fantastic, they saved my ass the whole time. And because of them, we now have the history of almost 9,000 photographs in the record of what happened at ground zero. So, my point is, sometimes, chance provides you with an opportunity to do something bigger than yourself, outside the scale and scope of your ambitions. But it's those moments that drive you, they allow you to become the person you can become. And that's the secret of any art form. If you reach out beyond what you think are your limits, you extend and expand yourself through whatever medium you choose, be it photography or music or dance, whatever it is, when you try something, you become the next version of yourself and the problems that you have to solve to do this thing you've tried to do are the problems that enlarge your capacities. So it's a growth leap that you're capable of making. You know when 9/11 happened, I was 62 years old. And the work that I had to do really was for a much younger person, because I was walking two and a half miles in in the morning and two and a half miles back at night. I was carrying 40 pounds of equipment by myself with no assistance and I spent 10, 12, 14 hours a day inside ground zero, walking around and around and around and up and down and in and out. Usually adding another 10 miles a day. So I was walking, let's say 15 miles a day carrying 40 pounds of equipment in a dangerous place that was full of toxic chemicals and fumes. It was on fire, it was exploding, and it had sharp knives sticking up everywhere and this 62 year old guy was wandering around and then making photographs by myself. It was a kind of passion that I had that really consumed me and really the benefit was that by doing this demanding work at my age, I felt young again. Photography and my commitment to doing this for the people of New York made me feel that same thrill I had when I started in as a 24 year old kid. Photography was like food. I had to have it every day. And here I was again at 62 years of age, doing the same thing, going out there and seeing. So, think about this. A project comes to you whether it's something you decide on yourself because you love it, because it's the lake you grew up on or it's the church you belong to or it's the interested people on your block that you wanna make a portrait of in the long term. Any kind of project that comes your way, if you go into it open-hearted, with all of your energy, you'll find incredible things that will teach you, inspire you, carry you along, and ultimately, shape the artist that you're capable of being. (moving orchestral music)