Sandy-damaged 9/11 photos combine pivotal New York events

Story highlights

  • Firefighter's negatives from 9/11 ground zero damaged by Superstorm Sandy's flooding
  • Family member developed negatives; firefighter found them "haunting in their own respect"
  • Images are now on display in Manhattan in an exhibit the curator describes as "arresting"

After the September 11 attacks, a New York firefighter took a series of photographs capturing the destruction. Eleven years later, Superstorm Sandy damaged the photographs as they sat in the basement of his Queens home.

Partially destroyed, the photographs encapsulate two traumatic events burned in the minds of New Yorkers. The firefighter, Michael Redpath, now has his photos on display in an installation called "Residual Images" in Manhattan.

Redpath, a 15-year veteran of the city fire department, was off duty September 11, 2001, and was called in that afternoon. One of hundreds of emergency responders, he was stunned by what he found upon arriving at ground zero.

"It was like a nuclear winter. It was very quiet. Everything was covered with fine white dust. It looked like a black-and-white photograph," Redpath said.

Redpath had brought his camera, and recognizing the magnitude of the attacks, he began snapping shots of the wreckage.

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"I was just trying to convey the scale, which is almost impossible to do," he said.

Having studied photography, some images jumped out at Redpath over the months he spent at ground zero. He was most struck by the efforts of police officers, firemen, iron workers and crane operators, he said.

Redpath developed some of the photos and stored the negatives in a box in the basement of his home in the Rockaways section of Queens. Redpath initially considered showing the photographs for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But a decade later, he just wasn't ready.

Last year, when Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast, Redpath's home, including the basement housing his 9/11 pictures, suffered extensive flood damage. Redpath likened it to losing family photos.

A family member later scanned the negatives and gave them to Redpath as a gift. They were altered but not ruined.

"It was almost like a whole other layer, destruction on destruction. The new images were haunting in their own respect," Redpath said

The New York Times' Niko Koppel curated the show with the OSMOS Address, an exhibition space. The show is on display at Manhattan's First Street Green through Tuesday, the anniversary of Sandy hitting New York, described the photographs as "arresting."

The outdoor exhibit is situated between two buildings and features more than 100 of Redpath's images projected onto two large screens in 15-minute increments.

One image shows piles of rubble and collapsed iron, and Sandy's murky floodwater added what appear to be superimposed black clouds. Another photo of a firefighter standing, back to the camera, before the World Trade Center rubble at ground zero has scratches and water damage that give the picture a smoky, three-dimensional feel.

On Sunday, passersby stopped to take a look, some briefly, while others sat for longer spells, mesmerized as they were reminded of the tragedies.

"It is very powerful. The juxtaposition of the two gets really interesting," said a neighborhood woman.

Said another man who walked cautiously toward the projections, "It brings up bad memories."

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