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