By Jeff Hodges
On the night of September 10, 2001, I was shooting the Marc Jacobs Spring Collection at Pier 54. Actually, I was shooting the celebrity arrivals, and when that was finished, I walked to the end of the pier to shoot some video of the Twin Towers. Although the client only needed a shot or two, I became entranced with those bright, shining monuments to Western hubris, zooming and panning and tilting like there was no tomorrow.
Which, of course, there wasn’t.
The next morning, I was at a fashion show in Bryant Park when the police threw us out. Sixth Avenue had become a surreal, apocalyptic landscape with people praying and crying on the sidewalk, cars creeping or roaring up the street, and long lines at every phone booth. I watched the second tower crumble and understood for the first time how something completely incomprehensible can seem like a hallucination.
The next day I teamed with a producer from German television and we went from hospital to hospital searching for victims. There were no victims, but there were scores of people holding pieces of paper with photographs and biographies of those who were missing. They talked about their loved ones as if they could turn up any minute. Meanwhile, the doctors were lined up in scrubs waiting for the ambulances that never came.
We stopped for coffee, and while we were waiting in line a construction worker accosted a gentleman in a turban: “I hope you’re happy now, you terrorist bastard!” he snarled.
“He’s a Sikh,” I said. “I don’t care what he is,” the guy yelled. “They’re all the same.”
We drove to Queens to shoot in a mosque that had received a bomb threat. Our Israeli soundman turned his shirt inside out so its Hebraic logo couldn’t be seen. I was determined to show everyone that not all Americans had a knee-jerk animosity toward Islam after what had happened. I tousled the hair of the children and was attentive and comforting to the mothers. Several times, between interviews, the soundman turned to me and said something in his thick accent that I couldn’t make out. Finally, he put down his microphone and grabbed my shirtfront. “Stop touching the women!” he hissed into my ear.
We went to the Javits Center to shoot the construction workers that had come to help with the gruesome work of excavating the ruin. They were three-deep on the sidewalk; we drove completely around the building, shooting the grim men in hardhats and overalls armed with picks and shovels. At one point I turned to my producer and said, “These racist, sexist, homophobic guys you see here are the ones that clean up the big messes, build the infrastructure, and fight all our wars. These are America’s heroes.”
Every night the Village went to sleep with the smell of death and awoke to the pall of smoke that never seemed to dissipate. The posters of the missing hung everywhere, as ubiquitous memorials to those who would never escape the Pile, as the ruin came to be called. We had to show ID to return to our homes if we traveled north of 14th Street, and further downtown the streets were governed by a strict semblance of martial law. It seemed that New Yorkers had never been kinder or more considerate of each other than we were in those first shell-shocked days when we were refugees in our own city.
After two weeks I heard a taxi horn—loud and irritable—for the first time since the attacks. A sweet sound to my ears—it meant that maybe we were starting to find our way back home again.