It’s been 20 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Two decades after photojournalist David Turnley documented the attacks in New York City, he’s releasing a series of his never-before-seen photographs from that day.
“It was just the beginning of using the internet… I didn’t have a digital camera. Now in the age of the internet and social media, I selected what I thought were the most humane and representative photographs of what I witnessed.” -David Turnley
Listen: Photographer David Turnley 20 years after covering the 9/11 attacks
David Turnley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist and associate professor at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design. He says on that day, he was living in the West Village in New York City just blocks from the World Trade Center.
“That morning at about 8:45, I was in the shower and heard what sounded like a train when it stops, a monumental sound I had never heard before,” he remembers. “It was strange but I got dressed and went downstairs and that’s when I saw it.”
The second plane hit when he got to the sidewalk outside, and that’s when he says he understood the attack was not an accident. “I’d been in war zones all over the world… I’d been in severe and intense war zones. I wasn’t eager to see what I knew awaited me… but nevertheless abiding by my professional responsibility I got about three blocks in front of the towers when I saw a police blockade.”
He says he remembers how the firemen and first responders around him were in a state of shock and desperation because they couldn’t find anyone to save.
“I told the police ‘We have to get over to the (Hudson) river…’ They didn’t move. I got outside… and it was very eerily quiet and then the next thing that was so present was the gray snow… the dust from the debris.”
Turnley says outside of his photographs, he’s never tried to describe that day because it’s impossible to describe seeing a 110-story building collapse within seconds. “To my right, the Statue of Liberty was still standing and to my left was this almost nuclear cloud of smoke. I made my way over to the first building and on my way the second building fell,” he says.
By sharing his unreleased photographs 20 years later, Turnley says he hopes to pay tribute to the people who lost their lives and the people who risked their lives to help.
“It was just the beginning of using the internet… I didn’t have a digital camera. Now in the age of the internet and social media, I selected what I thought were the most humane and representative photographs of what I witnessed,” he says.