This year, for the 20th anniversary, I added another layer to the concept.
I began by making a list of events, places and sensations that were important to me: Where I was when the planes hit (Rector Street) and when the first tower came down (the Brooklyn Bridge). The bench in Battery Park from which I managed to call my mother to let her know that I was fine, even though cell service was mostly down. The dreaded silence outside St. Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village, where relatives gathered waiting for ambulances to bring in the injured, but almost none arrived.
Life continued and these places moved on — in 2010, the hospital shut down, and by 2016, it was a luxury condo building — but for me, they remained forever connected to that infamous day.
Guided by my memories, I took photos of the same places in 2011, 2016 and 2021. I varied my camera’s exposure over a series of three frames, showing how despite what we think we remember, our memories fade over time. Until now, I have kept this work personal.
On my way to work on Sept. 11, 2001, just before 9 a.m., my train’s operator came on the intercom to announce that we’d be skipping the Cortlandt Street (World Trade Center) station and that those passengers wishing to go there should get out at the next stop, Rector Street. I spent the next bit of the ride annoyed that I’d be late by more than 10 minutes, then grudgingly joined other commuters climbing the stairs out of the subway station and heading north toward the World Trade Center. I saw debris in the air, which I presumed was related to some kind of fire somewhere, but I was south of the towers and did not see the hole the first plane had made. So I continued to walk to work, more concerned about being late than anything else. That was the moment when I saw the explosion above my head — as I later found out, it was the second plane hitting the South Tower.
Seconds after the shocking bang, I was enveloped by the smell of smoke and jolted with all the other commuters south, away from the twin towers. Running alongside hundreds of others, I wasn’t sure what had happened until I overheard someone saying it was a plane. Checking my phone every few minutes, I couldn’t get a signal until I reached Battery Park. There, I sat on the bench, determined to make that one phone call — to my mom. It worked. I reached her, said I was okay and learned that she hadn’t heard anything in the news yet. It was the only phone call I was able to make that morning.
I decided to go home by foot and headed to South Street. As I reached the Brooklyn Bridge, a friend who had just heard the news reached me on the phone, and I started describing the past hour. That was the only incoming phone call that came through that day. As I stopped to look behind me, the South Tower collapsed. Within minutes, a cloud of white dust engulfed everything around me. Covered in dust, dazed and tired from running, I heard jets approaching — were they attacking the bridge? Should I risk going back, away from them, or was it safe to go forward? Being on the bridge at that moment felt like a huge mistake. We were being attacked, and using another iconic landmark to walk home felt dangerously foolish.
By the next day, I was relieved to find out that my closest friends and relatives were unharmed, but lacking any other information and looking for answers, I made my way to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. In New York, everyone knew that this hospital was the primary recipient of patients after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, so like everyone else there, I expected to see hundreds of ambulances streaming in. Instead, there was dreadful silence. Hundreds of relatives and friends attached photos to the walls outside.
As days passed, the city mourned. Gone were all the usual sounds: honking cars, air traffic above, earsplitting construction noise, arguments and shouting from street vendors and offended passersby. In that deafening quiet, I — like many New Yorkers — was startled and reminded of the trauma by each rumble, hiss and screech of subway trains speeding on the tracks above.