Picture Tells More Than a Thousand Words

A large framed photo on a white wall shows the lower Manhattan skyline on the morning of 9/11 before the Twin Towers before the attacks.
Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, Gift of David Monderer, Installation Photo by Jin Lee.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, photographer David Monderer set out to capture the grand New York City skyline from the recently opened pedestrian walkway on the Manhattan Bridge. Carrying a medium format camera and tripod, he left his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and headed for a downtown subway, unaware that his opportunity to photograph the Twin Towers was waning.

When he emerged from the subway, Monderer found a brilliant blue sky – a pristine background to accentuate the towers’ elegance and symmetry. He began to cross the bridge toward Brooklyn and set up his tripod and camera, using an opening in the walkway’s fence for an unimpeded view of the skyline.

At approximately 8:30 a.m., he focused the lens and clicked down on the camera’s shutter. The photographs would be some of the last to be taken of the Twin Towers.

Monderer packed up his equipment and began his return to Manhattan when he heard a loud crash. American Airlines Flight 11 had struck the upper floors of the North Tower, tearing into its north facade as smoke billowed from the gash into the otherwise clear sky. The time was 8:46 a.m. Less than two hours later, the towers had collapsed.

In the series, the Brooklyn Bridge stands in the foreground but the Twin Towers dominate the frame. The last photo Monderer took of the unscathed skyline is now on display in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Each day, thousands of visitors bear witness to a vast collection of photos and artifacts that preserve the history of 9/11. Just as the day began, visitors begin their path through the museum at Monderer’s photograph to observe and reflect on the moment before the world changed.

While much of lower Manhattan has been rebuilt and pieces of the World Trade Center exist only as relics of the past, Monderer’s photograph brings the Twin Towers back into view, and with them, a comforting reminder of those who brought them to life.

By Joseph Rizza, 9/11 Memorial Volunteer Docent

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