I was a photojournalist in my neighborhood of Brooklyn when the planes struck. I had to get into Manhattan quickly and figured the best way was to ride in with the firemen from my area. But as off-duty firemen hopped on in addition to the normal crew, there wasn’t enough room on the truck. I got in my car figuring I could follow the firetruck but this too was impossible. Finally, I got a ride over to Manhattan in an ambulance that was heading over from a local hospital, as thousands were crossing the opposite way into Brooklyn to escape the chaos.
At this point the buildings had collapsed, and I began photographing near the site. I was pushed away by police near 7 World Trade, a burning building next to the Twin Towers that later collapsed. My assignment brought me uptown to St. Vincent’s hospital to cover the care of survivors. Hundreds were on the closed avenue waiting to donate blood for the injured, but no one came. It was eerily quiet, and looking south, there was only dust.
I spent the rest of the day in lower Manhattan going from firehouse to firehouse to hear word of the companies. Despondent firemen, redeployed from other firehouses to these Manhattan sites, repeated over and over, that they had no word from their colleagues. I learned the next day that at the firehouse where I attempted to get a ride in their truck, none had returned. They all perished. In all 343 NYC firefighters died in the attack on the World Trade Center.
I started working as a freelance photojournalist in 1981. I was hooked on pursuing that career after photographing in Poland during the first Solidarity uprising. Early on, I began to work frequently with Newsweek magazine, which eventually led to a contract as a Contributing Photographer, which I maintained for 10 years. In the course of my work I’ve travelled around the world for Newsweek as well as for other major publications and nonprofit organizations. Perhaps the most satisfying of my assignments was to cover the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. I covered everything from U.S presidential elections to famine in Sudan.
Starting the the late 1980s, I started photographing and writing books for children and have published a dozen titles. In 2003, I made a feature-length documentary called “Gotham Fish Tales” about the marvelous and mostly unheralded fishery of New York City. The story is told through a winning set of intrepid anglers of all stripes, mirroring the diversity and energy of what one would expect from New Yorkers. The film was well received by film festivals and ran for two years on the Sundance Channel.
For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I completed a documentary “CHIEF,” which will air on WNET in prime time and have a special screening at the Museum of the City of New York on Sept. 11, 2021. I am the co-director with my colleague Harvey Wang. The film is about Bill Feehan, who I knew, the oldest and highest ranking firefighter to die on 9/11. He was a remarkable man and the film is testimony to that.
I came to tour guiding in New York City from a lifelong interest in the history and ways of the city. The other piece of this is my background as a photojournalist and author, where my task and mission and pleasure is to tell stories. Whether in images, words or film, that is what I like to do best.