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Remembering 9/11

September 11, 2012 /


I have to admit, it always seems trivial to go into work each year on 9/11.  As I sit in the studio today, doing what I love, it causes me to think and reflect. How could taking pictures feel at all relevant on a day like today?

No matter how much time passes, each year on this day, I can’t help but sit and think about that day – and more vividly, the night before.

It was 9/10/01, just before that fateful morning. I was walking through the World Trade Center plaza on my way home from work at about 8PM. The sky was dark and I remember stopping in my tracks, amazed by the towers. It was incredibly strange, since I walked through the plaza every single day. I stopped and sat at the fountain for a minute to take it all in. I remember really vividly thinking how massive and magical the towers were. They looked like a million little lights. It occurred to me that each light represented hundreds—maybe thousands– of people inside the building.

Just the next morning on 9/11, I missed my bus and was running late for an “important” meeting. I still can’t help but think that missing that bus may have saved my life. As 

I arrived in lower Manhattan about several stops north of my usual bus stop, detoured by what we thought was a building fire in World Trade center. So like a hard-working drone, I started speed-walking (in high heels!) to get to work. I simply did not realize the magnitude of what was happening.

From that point, I will spare the details. Natalie was there, too and has another horrific account of the day.

“For me it was an entirely different day. Working in 4 World Financial Center, just across the street, I was already at my desk when the first plane hit.  My office line when dead and I lost a call.  I remember everyone running to the large window on the 31st floor overlooking the trade center.   We weren’t sure if a helicopter hit, or if it was a fire. Everyone was confused.  We were heading out of the building as the 2nd plane hit people.  I too will spare the details, but I didn’t make it home until Wednesday afternoon. I was just grateful I made it home.” ~ Natalie

All of us, no matter where we lived or where we were, have an individual story about what happened next. Those memories are forever burned our minds and may never go away. We reluctantly heal, but we do not forget.

In the days and weeks that followed 9/11, I remember seeing all those hopeless plywood walls all around our downtown area, with faded missing persons’ pictures desperately stapled to them. As the weeks and months passed, the papers weathered and wrinkled, but the faces on them did not. It occurred to me, those faces were the tiny lights of the many windows I had seen the night before. On these faded pieces of paper were mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, servicemen and servicewomen, happy faces, hopeful faces, beautiful faces.

Last year, one of those faces entered my home. My neighbor Lynn approached me to help her with a project she was struggling with for some time. She lost her identical twin sister, Elaine Cillo, that day. I was honored when she asked me to help her create her image archive for the 9/11 Museum. As I arranged her sisters’ images in a collage, I felt as if I was holding sacred, irreplaceable artifacts in my hands. They were little moments of Elaine’s life that were immortalized in pictures. I cannot fully describe the feeling, but it was akin to holding a legacy in the palm of your hand. She was one of the many lights in that window. Seeing her images, seeing her bright cheery eyes, her full life — it changed me.

So, as I sit in the studio on a day like today and ponder the relevance of what Natalie and I do for a living, I realize that THIS is the relevance. Pictures are important to people. We are responsible for creating visual legacies. We strive to create images, day in and day out, that not just show what people look like, but to show what their LIVES look like.  THIS is why we come to work – on a day like today –and every day.

All of us have a story of where we were, what we saw, what we felt and who we lost on 9/11. 

We don’t want to relive the day – but rather revisit the lives that were lost; lives that meant something to someone. And for Natalie and I, we like to do this through pictures.

On this day of healing and remembrance, please feel free to share your thoughts and words.

Wishing you peace and love,

Cate and Natalie

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