Associated Press photographer Stuart Ramson, whose photo I chose to recreate a decade later, gave me an interesting backstory that I couldn’t include as part of our 9/11 before-and-after interactive. This is how he recounted his day for me.
A New Jersey-based photographer, Ramson was running errands the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when he heard the news of an incident at the World Trade Center. As soon as he confirmed the reports that the towers had been struck by planes, he rushed home to get his camera equipment.
He was assigned to rendezvous with a helicopter at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey for aerial photography and eventually to bring him into Manhattan. On the way to the airport, radio reports came in that the airspace over New York had been frozen. The AP confirmed that and sent him toward the Hudson River to get what photos he could.
Ramson initially drove to Jersey City but was directed away from the Hudson by National Guard troops. He then decided to head to Liberty State Park, hoping to find a clear view of downtown Manhattan. Law enforcement officials turned him away because the park had apparently become a triage area for casualties.
After studying a map and thinking about how he could best illustrate the story, he decided to head along the Hudson in search of a vantage point where he could place the Statue of Liberty in the foreground of the smoke and destruction in lower Manhattan; a symbolic photo instead of the hard-news photo that he obviously wasn’t going to get from New Jersey.
He came across a condominium complex that extended out into the river and drove down to the end of the main road. There, past a chain-link fence, was a dilapidated jetty that continued into the Hudson a few hundred yards more. He met a visiting German photographer who’d had the same idea and they both climbed through a hole in the fence and out onto the crumbling jetty.
Ramson admitted feeling much safer having an extra person present because there were times they had to do running jumps over gaping holes on the jetty and it wasn’t until they almost reached the end that he was able the place the Statue of Liberty where he wanted it to be in the frame.
He was then asked to try to get the first sunset shot of the city showing the dramatically changed skyline. Ultimately, he wound up back in Jersey City where he joined others gathered there in silence as they watched what normally would have been a picture-perfect sunset. He sent the AP his one photo from there.