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American Morning

Changed in a Moment: Interview of Photographer Richard Drew

Aired October 11, 2001 - 10:40   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The pictures from September 11 are powerful testimony to the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

"Associated Press" photographer Richard Drew took many of the photographs that have filled the nation's newspapers, and he joins us this morning to talk about some of those images he captured.

Welcome, good to have you with us.


ZAHN: What I would like for you to do is talk through some of the pictures that we have with us here today on hand.

DREW: This photograph is one that I took probably before I thought I was going to die. It was one of a series of nine pictures of the second tower collapsing. I was about 1 1/2 blocks away, and I was being ushered out of the area by police, and they said, you have to move, you have to move, everybody has to move. We thought they were trying to clear the area for ambulances.

ZAHN: In retrospect, don't you feel like an idiot that you didn't move?

DREW: No, I don't.

ZAHN: You don't?

DREW: I felt that I had to show this and photograph this. It was one of nine frames because I took those nine frames and then said I have to get out of here.

ZAHN: Then you ran like crazy.

DREW: I ran into Stuverson Ice Cream (ph). I ran right into the lobby of Stuverson and all the kids were being evacuated right out.

ZAHN: Let's look at the second picture. We see people fleeing the collapsing towers in this one. I think this is the image that's seared into all New Yorker's minds. Is this before the collapse or after?

DREW: This is after the collapse of the first tower and before the collapse of the second tower. It was sort of like trying to photograph a volcanic eruption. All this soot and ash, it was like a gray snow, just this choking gray snow. It was really hard to really breathe and everything else. It was really terrible trying to work with something like that.

ZAHN: Let's fast forward to the next image. You see these images and you can almost smell that horrible smell, that kind of defining smell of the city right now.

DREW: It's still there, too. It's amazing that a month later that's still on fire.

ZAHN: What is this?

DREW: This is when the first building collapsed. I was on the northwest corner of the World Financial Center.

ZAHN: For people who don't know the geography down there, you're 1 1/2 blocks...

DREW: I'm about a block or so away from this place. This is South Tower, and down in the bottom left corner is the facade of the hotel there. I think it was the Marriott Hotel. I heard this rumbling, rumbling, and I just instinctively brought my camera around and started to photograph this debris coming down. I thought it was part of the facade, and I've covered many building collapses and things, so you just instinctively take pictures of what's going on.

ZAHN: You were very lucky you were not killed.

DREW: I count my lucky stars every day.

ZAHN: We're going to roll through a couple more images to talk about what you captured.

This is horrible, horrible.

DREW: When I talk about the snow part, this is in a building I think from where your cameras were set up on that very same day, on the roof top. And I went up there and looked down, and I saw this ash, this white snow; it was like snow in the summertime to see this area and to know that those buildings fell down, 4,815 people all in one time. It wasn't just the building falling; its all those people being lost at one time.

ZAHN: But you weren't processing that.

DREW: Not until after.

This is the first tower coming down. There is a series of pictures of this. I think this picture here ran as a full page in a Japanese newspaper, and then I think our bureau chief in Tokyo sent me a letter saying this is the first time the Japanese have ever run a picture that big in any newspaper, and he'd been with "the AP" 30 or 40 years.

ZAHN: Here you see the firefighters going. DREW: This is where a firefighter saw me and took the mask off his face and shoved it on my face and you have to breathe this oxygen. I'll never forget the sound of all their Scott packs, their air packs, that were running out of air. They were all beeping and beeping. There were these rows and rows of these Scott packs going off, yet this firemen who was trying to gasp for his own breath gave his oxygen to me.

ZAHN: You hear stories like that. It's amazing.

In closing...

DREW: That's why they are New York's Bravest.

ZAHN: Yes, they certainly are.

DREW: We didn't show the picture that you took that was seen in so many newspapers across the country, people jumping out of the tower -- out of respect for the families, of course, who are ending the 30- day mourning period.

DREW: Thank you.

ZAHN: But a lot of newspapers justify the running of those shots saying that is what happened that day. In retrospect, how do you feel about taking those pictures?

DREW: I look at it in that there are images that we have seen in our newspapers -- we've seen "AP" photographer's Nick Ut's picture of the little girl running from the napalm in Vietnam, we've seen "AP" photographer Eddie Adams's picture of the Saigon police chief executing the man on the street; then we see "the AP" photographer John Filo's picture of the girl bending over the fallen student at Kent State. Those are all images that we all thought we didn't want to see, and there was controversy about them all, but it's part of the story. You have to tell the story. You can't just turn your head and stop. I don't think I captured this man's death; I think I captured part of his life.

ZAHN: Have you processed what it is you have seen?

DREW: It was hard to do at first. It took two days, and then it finally hit home. I talked about this a couple of times. I didn't want to go back to ground zero on the third day. I wanted to go somewhere else.

ZAHN: I don't blame you.

DREW: I went to this armory where the families were going, to seek out their loved ones and all. And my cell phone rang, and it was my 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Sophie, and she said, Daddy, I just want to tell you that I love you.

At that time, I said there are a lot of other people that are not going to hear that from their 3 1/2 year old anymore or any of their children for that matter. I called my office and said I have to go home. They graciously said of course. That's when it really got to me. I was home for a couple of days, being with my family, and it was really important.

To a certain extent, I think we're all trying to understand what is we've seen, what it is we've smelled.

ZAHN: Well, your pictures were extremely powerful.

DREW: For the first time in a month, I had to go back and photograph there, from an area in an elevated position, and it was really something to see that; I was observer instead of a participant this time.

ZAHN: Almost makes your heart stop.

Richard Drew, thanks for sharing your story with us this morning.

DREW: Thank you, Paula.