‘I Was in Disbelief’: Photojournalist Velvet McNeil Tells Story of 9/11 Experience in Photo Exhibits

Special to NABJ

Velvet McNeil took a few days off from her job at The Detroit News in September 2001 to travel to her hometown of New York for her older sister’s wedding. After an extended weekend of celebrating with family and friends she prepared to return home on Tuesday, Sept. 11. That didn’t happen. She woke up just in time to see live coverage of the second plane fly into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

McNeil quickly decided to head to Lower Manhattan and document the tragedy with her film camera. She was shaken by what she saw at the site where her grandmother used to work and where she would visit her as a child.
“I was in disbelief. I could see the bottom of the tower just sticking up,” McNeil said. “The air was so thick. And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my God!’ I couldn’t believe it! Even though I witnessed it on television, when I got down to that space, I was still in disbelief of what actually happened.”

Photo by Velvet S. McNeil

Photo by Aesha S. McNeil

The images she took capture the chaotic, dust-covered scene during the immediate aftermath of the attack. They show the shock of people walking through the ruins of an unimaginable major attack on U.S. soil. They show regular people assisting first responders as best they could, even if passing out water and coffee to the exhausted workers. They also capture the humanity of victims through their personal items scattered on the streets, covered in toxic ash.

There’s a striking image of a heavily damaged, ash-covered car with colorful flowers visible through the broken back window. There’s a photo of Diane Sawyer reporting for ABC News, her shoes covered in the light gray ash. And there’s one of Donald Trump strolling through Ground Zero.
Two dozen of McNeil’s 9/11 images were in a one-day photo exhibit in New York on Saturday, Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attack. The event, “Blocks Away: A Memorial to 9/11,” was held from 1-7 p.m. at Planthouse, 55 West 28th St., New York, NY 10001.
Two of McNeil’s images are featured in a separate exhibit of 9/11 work from several artists that opened a day earlier. The show, “WE RISE: 20 Years After 9/11,” is at One Art Space, 23 Warren St., New York, NY 10007. The exhibit runs through Sept. 16.

McNeil’s Personal Statement:

Blocks Away: A Memorial to 9/11

“As a Black visual journalist it was rare to see others that looked like me covering the story of my lifetime on 9/11. I was in NYC on vacation from my job at The Detroit News, scheduled to fly home that morning, when I woke up to the second plane hitting the tower at full speed. I knew I needed to tell the story so I ran toward the danger. It was a natural reaction. I wanted to document the experience through the lens of a Black woman and native New Yorker. I spent days covering the tragedy from blocks away, taking time to capture images using my knowledge of the arts. I wanted to honor the people and the city of New York by spending days making pictures that documented what was going on. Through the lens of my camera, I was able to create a visual memorial.”

Special to NABJ Velvet McNeil took a few days off from her job at The Detroit News in September 2001 to travel to her hometown of […]Read MoreFeedzy

Special to NABJ

Velvet McNeil took a few days off from her job at The Detroit News in September 2001 to travel to her hometown of New York for her older sister’s wedding. After an extended weekend of celebrating with family and friends she prepared to return home on Tuesday, Sept. 11. That didn’t happen. She woke up just in time to see live coverage of the second plane fly into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

McNeil quickly decided to head to Lower Manhattan and document the tragedy with her film camera. She was shaken by what she saw at the site where her grandmother used to work and where she would visit her as a child.
“I was in disbelief. I could see the bottom of the tower just sticking up,” McNeil said. “The air was so thick. And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my God!’ I couldn’t believe it! Even though I witnessed it on television, when I got down to that space, I was still in disbelief of what actually happened.”

Photo by Velvet S. McNeil

Photo by Aesha S. McNeil

The images she took capture the chaotic, dust-covered scene during the immediate aftermath of the attack. They show the shock of people walking through the ruins of an unimaginable major attack on U.S. soil. They show regular people assisting first responders as best they could, even if passing out water and coffee to the exhausted workers. They also capture the humanity of victims through their personal items scattered on the streets, covered in toxic ash.

There’s a striking image of a heavily damaged, ash-covered car with colorful flowers visible through the broken back window. There’s a photo of Diane Sawyer reporting for ABC News, her shoes covered in the light gray ash. And there’s one of Donald Trump strolling through Ground Zero.
Two dozen of McNeil’s 9/11 images were in a one-day photo exhibit in New York on Saturday, Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attack. The event, “Blocks Away: A Memorial to 9/11,” was held from 1-7 p.m. at Planthouse, 55 West 28th St., New York, NY 10001.
Two of McNeil’s images are featured in a separate exhibit of 9/11 work from several artists that opened a day earlier. The show, “WE RISE: 20 Years After 9/11,” is at One Art Space, 23 Warren St., New York, NY 10007. The exhibit runs through Sept. 16.

McNeil’s Personal Statement:

Blocks Away: A Memorial to 9/11

“As a Black visual journalist it was rare to see others that looked like me covering the story of my lifetime on 9/11. I was in NYC on vacation from my job at The Detroit News, scheduled to fly home that morning, when I woke up to the second plane hitting the tower at full speed. I knew I needed to tell the story so I ran toward the danger. It was a natural reaction. I wanted to document the experience through the lens of a Black woman and native New Yorker. I spent days covering the tragedy from blocks away, taking time to capture images using my knowledge of the arts. I wanted to honor the people and the city of New York by spending days making pictures that documented what was going on. Through the lens of my camera, I was able to create a visual memorial.”

Share:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Table of Contents

On Key

Related Posts

info@awesomechuck.com

© All Rights Reserved 2021