On September 11, Peter Foley was riding his bicycle near the West Side Highway in Manhattan when his cell phone rang with the terrible news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Not yet realizing the scale of the disaster, but following his instincts as a photographer, Foley immediately set off for the place we now know as Ground Zero, stopping off at his studio on the way to pick up some film. He arrived just after the second tower fell and spent the next six hours at the disaster site documenting relief efforts as all around him fires blazed, gas tanks and manhole covers blew up and chaos reigned.
Foley, whose photographs feature largely in this issue says, “On one level, I am appreciative of the time I got to document it, and if any one of my photographs has been of value to anyone, that’s great…I got to interact with all those firemen and document their suffering and be part of the whole experience so that future generations can see that there are real consequences of hatred.” The year before, Foley had spent three months documenting life in the Firehouse of Engine 54, Ladder 4 located on 48th Street and 8th Avenue, which lost 15 men.
“Most people don’t have time to reflect on whether what they’re doing is something of value, but firefighters know that what they are doing matters, and that gives them a confidence, a serenity that other people don’t have. They know they are part of something good,” Foley says. He particularly fondly recalls Michael Brennan, “the sweetest, funniest guy who loved the camera and was always mugging for it.” Before he left the firehouse — as a thank you for their hospitality and graciousness — Foley took head shots of all the firefighters.
Ironically, following September 11, Foley was given an assignment by Newsweek to go back to the firehouse. He met Lieutenant Jackson walking out with a poster of those missing from the firehouse that was to be placed at the entrance.
“Hey Peter, your pictures came in handy,” he said. Foley’s pictures were used in a memorial to the dead firefighters. ♦