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Entries in world trade center (2)


We Remember Ten Years Ago: 9/11/2001

By NYIP Director Chuck DeLaney - On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, I was the NYIP staff member closest to the Twin Towers. There was a roaring noise, and then the shadow of American Airlines Flight 11, hijacked shortly after leaving Boston’s Logan Airport, darkened the schoolyard at P.S. 234 where I was standing just three short blocks north of the Trade Center. A split second later, the doomed Flight 11 plowed into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. That moment, and the hours that followed, began a challenging time the country, the world, and for our NYIP staff and faculty.

I was in the schoolyard because it was my daughter’s third day of kindergarten. It’s a story for another time, but my family was fine although we were out of our home for over a month. Fortunately, no members of our staff or their families were hurt in the attack. Our receptionist’s mother, who worked at a large corporation headquartered in the Trade Center which lost over 100 employees, didn't go in to work that day. The son of one of our registrar staff spent the day driving injured and ash-covered people to the nearest hospital.

Collectively in the days that followed, the entire New York region worked through the shock of the attack. Transportation was disrupted. Downtown resembled a war zone. Subways skipped stops near the Trade Center. Impromptu memorials sprang up around the city, particularly at firehouses. People who lived near the World Trade Center site were forced to leave their homes for weeks. Since NYIP teaches by distance education, the Anthrax threat that followed on the heels of the 9/11 attacks became a very serious problem. Some students expressed concern about receiving packages from the School, and some of our staff voiced concern about the incoming mail. I personally felt the danger of Anthrax contamination was low, but in order to allay the concerns we took some specific steps. We sent out letters to all students explaining that all our packages and correspondence were prepared by our staff in our offices and warehouse and taken by us directly to the post office. To handle incoming mail, I and another staff member who volunteered for the task put on surgical masks, rubber gloves, and scrutinized each piece of mail in the most remote corner of our office. We surrounded ourselves with various protective washes, a fire extinguisher, and other safety paraphernalia. My feeling was that if it would make the NYIP staff feel safer, I’d open the mail wearing a clown suit.

I’m very proud of the way our staff and faculty kept focused on our mission in the weeks and months after the attacks. Perhaps even more interesting was the seriousness of purpose that we observed in students – many applied themselves to their coursework with a new level of determination. This didn’t surprise me because great tragedy often inspires people to express themselves through their creativity. 

As I stood at the back of the PS 234 schoolyard and looked at the angry, fire-orange hole near the top of 1 World Trade Center seconds after Flight 11 struck it, it was apparent this was an historic event, even before the subsequent horror of the remainder of that bright blue, crisp autumn morning.

David Handschuh, then a photographer for the Daily News, drove to the World Trade Center as soon as he heard the first news on the police radio frequencies. He made some remarkable photographs before he was seriously injured as the first tower collapsed. A few years ago, I had a conversation with David about his recollection of that day - and the health, trauma, and stress that working photographers and journalists face. It’s well worth a listen - click here for the podcast. And click here to see more of David’s ongoing coverage of 9/11 and subsequent memorial events. 

Sid Birns’s Remarkable Self-Assignment

By Chuck DeLaney - NYIP Graduate Sid Birns, who attended NYIP’s residential school back in the 1940s, contacted us last week with a very interesting story.  It involves a self-assignment that he gave himself back in the early 1970s. 

Let’s start at the beginning.  Sid grew up in New York City and decided to study art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.  A friend showed introduced him to the traditional darkroom, and when Sid saw that first print start to come up in the developing tray, he – like so many other photographers of many generations – was hooked.  Photography became his calling.  “My first camera was a 39-cent Univex A,” he recalled.  As for so many others of his generation, World War II intervened, but when Sid returned to New York City, he attended NYIP on the G.I. Bill.  After that, he started working for Acme Newspictures, which became part of United Press International (UPI).  For many years, UPI was the principal photo competitor of the Associated Press photo service.  Sid recalls that his first motorcycle ride was on the back of a courier’s motorcycle bringing film from a photographer at a baseball game back to the office for processing. 

Of his time as a UPI photographer, Sid says carefully, “This was not a job for me.  This was a love thing.  Every day, I couldn’t wait to get back on the job.”  But Sid, having the kind of mind that he does, liked challenges, and he gave himself one: Photographing the Twin Towers, which were rising over Lower Manhattan.  Over the next few decades, Sid photographed the World Trade Center over and over again.  Only this spring, did he decide to assemble those photographs into a self-published book: Gone…but not forgotten. [link to blurb site] As Sid writes in the introduction to his book, “Photographing the Twin Towers began as a personal challenge.  I wanted to see how many different ways I could turn two plain buildings with no distinctive features into something beyond their straight lines.”

Sid would take breaking news assignments that required the photographer to go into the air with a helicopter pilot and then persuade the pilot to take a turn around the Towers on the way home.  “Everyone was taking straight snapshots of the Towers and it drove me crazy.  I wanted to see what I could do with those buildings.”  If a news story took him downtown on the subway, he’d make time to walk the streets that bounded the Trade Center plaza, looking for new angles, different lighting, or different weather. 

Sid taught for a time, and he’d challenge his students, “Do you ever look up?  Do you ever look sideways?”  Sid practiced what he preached. 

On 9/11/2001, Sid was in Canada, and turned on the television, at first thinking he was watching a movie.  As he realized that this was real, his first instinct was to grab a 35mm SLR and start taking pictures of the story unfolding on the screen.  “All my life I’ve followed the news and been there for the big story, but this time I was here and that was there.  This time, I was nowhere near it and couldn’t do anything about it.”

Sid’s daughter helped him assemble the book and plan the layout. He proudly explains that she’s a former jet pilot instructor for the Air Force so the technical things come naturally to her.  “She had the ways and means to put it together,” he observes. 

Sid didn’t publish this book to get rich.  Rather, he explains, “The primary thing for me was to get this out there for its historical value, a thing for people to see – the Twin Towers from all angles.”  He’s sending a copy to the Library of Congress.

Although he’s retired from UPI, Sid still submits work to local papers in Quebec and Florida since he divides his time between the two locations.  “The camera never left me.  To this day that’s true,” he notes.  And, he has another book already planned that will feature other photo stories he’s taken over the years, beginning with his 1952 coverage of Manhattan’s Feast of San Gennaro that’s held every fall in Little Italy.

Sid Birns is a born storyteller and we salute our graduate and wish him well with his future endeavors.

To preview and purchase his book, Gone...but not forgotten, click here.