Ira Block – 9/11: Faces of Hope

Ira Block

Faces of Hope

Thousands of survivors have walked the difficult path of recovery since the September 11, 2001 bombings of the World Trade Center.

And although I began documenting this horrific event shortly after the attacks, focusing on the people who emerged from the burning twin towers alive proved to be not only a daunting, but also a highly emotional task. Previously, I shot a story on the efforts to rebuild the downtown area and I also photographed the Twin Towers of Light on the six month anniversary of the attacks, but this was a different challenge.

I started by photographing the personal objects that were carried out of the towers and also the items that were salvaged during the clean-up process from the rubble. A pair of men’s loafers worn during the escape from a crumbling tower, a framed family picture carried by a woman whose thoughts were of surviving for her children, a crushed fireman’s helmet discovered buried under debris, all speak of the personal experiences that keep the memory of history vivid and fresh, even as the immediacy of tragedy fades.

Taking these pictures was a very emotional experience for me, knowing that some of the items I was shooting belonged to people who had perished. I had access to Hangar 17 at Kennedy International Airport, where some of the large pieces of the Twin Towers were being stored. Photographing what were once the two tallest buildings in the world, now reduced to fragments of metal was unnerving. I began to realize that documenting personal items and pieces of the Towers was not giving me the mood I wanted to achieve. It was too somber, too devastating. Ten years after the tragedy, my goal was to focus on the positive. To achieve this, I shifted my perspective to the living.

If these photos have a mission, it if this: to capture the images of the survivors, those who have moved forward anchored by faith, fortitude or family and those who still struggle with a healing process that remains painful, drawn out and elusive. Each has a story to tell.

Following the 10 year anniversary of the attacks, these photos were exhibited at Fotocare in New York City.




Ira Block is an internationally renowned photojournalist, teacher, and workshop leader who has produced over 30 stories for the National Geographic Magazine and its affiliates N.G. Traveler and Adventure.

He began his career as a newspaper photographer, earning numerous press club awards. As an expert in lighting, Ira is sought after for assignments ranging from shooting ancient artifacts in Greece to photographing dinosaur fossils in the Gobi desert and documenting Moche mummies in Peru. His momentous coffee table book “Saving America’s Treasures” was a collaborative effort among the Clinton White House, National Geographic Society, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Ira’s unique vision and outstanding lighting skills have made him the “go to photographer” for complex assignments.

He taught the first creative, digital photography class at the School for Visual Arts in New York City and is frequently called upon to review and critique the latest digital cameras and lenses. He works closely with National Geographic Expeditions lecturing and teaching photography around the world. Ira has also taught workshops in Bangkok and Maine, Abu Dhabi and San Diego, Boston, Seattle and New York City.

In addition to his editorial work Ira shoots commercial and corporate images, portraits, promotional materials and advertising for leading institutions. He also produces corporate digital webcast videos. His photographic exhibit “Faces of Hope”, portraits of survivors and images of objects retrieved from the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy, are part of the permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

His most recent story in the October National Geographic “Earth Before the Ice”, investigates a prehistoric global warming. Ira lives in New York City with his wife and is a frequent blogger on the latest digital camera equipment and gear, lighting techniques, and creative vision in photography.


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Ira Block


24 Responses to “Ira Block – 9/11: Faces of Hope”

  • New Yorkers exchanging their stories of where they were and what they experienced in the hours surrounding the attack on the WTC is an interesting phenomena that emerged from 9/11 and continues to a much lesser extent to this day. I always got the impression that outsiders, those who experienced the events on television, didn’t want to hear about it, certainly not after the initial shock had worn off. Yet New Yorkers, the most cynical people who normally would not sit through anything of the sort, are as interested in listening to the stories of others as they are in telling their own. It was practically a rite for many months after the events. This exchange of stories is still not uncommon. New acquaintances eventually get around to the telling.

    Mr. Block has captured something of that phenomena in this essay. But strangely enough, he doesn’t share his story. Was it really nothing more than a photo op? Of course it was much, much more than a photo op? Is Mr. Block using photography, telling other people’s stories to avoid coming to terms with his own? Not everyone was into the exchanging of stories phenomena I described above. My daughter, for example, went to school across the East River in Cobble Hill and witnessed everything from immediately after the first plane hit through the collapse of the first tower. For over a year she adamantly denied she had seen anything. Then one day she told me that psychological counselors had been to the school and talked to everyone about what they’d seen. I said something to the effect that she must not have had anything to say since she hadn’t seen anything. I got the fifth grader you’re an idiot dad look and something along the lines of “Duh, dad, I saw everything.”

    Anyway, so there I go, sharing the experience. Actually, that little incident spurred me to write it all down. Here, also, are a few pictures I took with a throwaway camera. I was just a photo hobbyist back then.

    Anyway, thanks Mr. Block and thanks to your subjects for sharing. You’re project is, I think, important and very well realized.

  • GO IRA !!!!!
    Biggest hug
    Congratulations once again!

  • Terrible day which led to untold horrors.

  • Thank you, Ira Block. Thank you, David. Thank you, Burn staff.
    All three are class acts.

  • How appropriate, and well done.
    At the end, I wanted to see more.
    Probably a good way to finish.
    My flag is flying today.

  • I got up this morning without the date even registering. The house was cold, I was home alone, the sun bright and beautiful just as it was on that day, so I headed to Abby’s Home Cooking for an excellent.

    Then I came home, and opened this.

    Suddenly, I knew what day it was. Suddenly, my mind and spirit was put right back where it should be on this date, every 9/11 for the remainder of my life.

    Thank you.

    And thank you, too, MW, for sharing your experience and your throw away camera pictures.

    As for me, in those moments when I was not glued to the TV, what I did on that date was to take a cat about to die from fatty liver syndrome to the vet (this morning when I awoke, she was asleep beside my head) and at one point drove to a certain spot about 30 miles from here where I sat and watched spawned-out salmon die.

  • great photography but I struggle to see the actual life of these persons beyond the portraits and the still-lifes shown here. Maybe it’s due to the “entomologist” approach of the author (no distracting background, perfect lights, large format), maybe it’s due to the same expression in most of the survivors portraits (a distant glance -looking back to that day- a quiet painful dignity, a sort of amplified knowledge…). “These are they who came out of the great tribulation”, literally: but being a survivor is enough to encompass one’s life? What if the guy who found again his wedding ring got divorced six months ago?

  • what bobby dylan tried to say is that we still dont “know” who really “did it”….do we?

  • plz watch the above….you’re about to waste your time anyway so there’s another chance/way to do it…and dont be so scared,…
    u might find “something positive” to hang on to…or not…you choose…although choices been made already…
    and plz plz do not accuse me for determinism be4 u watch it all…
    love peace and hugs…
    (remember im on your side;)
    aight? sho nuff!!!



    (From today’s news): this is the lessons we learned almost 12 years later…
    Hmmm it seems that history repeats itself, is it history or is it ourselves???
    Why nothing changed ( towards the better )?
    Still finding refuge in aggression … Another war is coming…
    Ill end up believing that there’s no more “secure” job is War Photographer..0% unemployment ..
    It smells gun powder in the air.. One more already designed WAR is coming… They are “preparing” us again same old school style ( weapons of mass destruction )
    This world is vicious? Are we vicious ourselves or is it ONLY our “leaders”?
    We need to decide.. Are we gonna sit back on our couch and watch another war through CNN?
    Hmmmm….. Being a war photog seems such a secure job after all and that’s sad ( to say at least )


    MITT ROMNEY , a pro Vietnam supporter
    ( watch slideshow above )… Vote for him if you need a war earlier than SCHEDHULED ….!!!!???
    As they say: why wait for tomorrow if you can start the War today? If that’s the case the Mitt is “our” man for the “job”

  • POWERful….
    no words needed…..
    to all….

  • Breaking News:

    They killed 4 American ambassadors in Libya… Obama live on TV/ NPR… JOURNALISTS asking him WHO did it and if this is a beginning of the BIG war.. He had no answer.. although I have a terrible suspicion who’s behind it…So we are on orange alert today.. Airports.. Ports … Everywhere ….
    First time i heard Obama admits on NPR he has “no idea” who killed the 4 government American employees .. Now combine this with Netanyahu’s “rush” for attack and it all blends together.. Unfortunately :(
    So I’m asking myself (you)
    Does HISTORY repeats itself out of our pure IGNORANCE / poor school education/ propaganda? or is it “deeper” and more complicated than that?
    Plz someone figure this out before we have more victims all around the world…
    People need to take over.. Enough with LEADERS and SAVIOURS..
    We need to act, our only weapon to awaken people is ART!
    Let’s use it… Stop being a merely paid “fly on the wall”
    Get involved .. Don’t let your leaders push the buttons of fear and nuke our kids..
    I personally have no kids, I might die tomorrow , who cares, but to all of you that have children,
    plz plz be cautious when choosing/ electing your/our LEADERS

    “don’t follow LEADERS, watch the Parking Meters…”
    Bobby Dylan

  • @ IRA: Yes, focus in positive, I really like portraits that you’ve made. I think that every portrait must be aside a short text from the person about how he escaped or how he managed to go on with life. That’s important, to look and read for a couple of minutes personal stories, then look again at the picture. Photography is about that…

    @ PANOS:
    Thanks for the link, love it the same as “Loose Change” movie. Can’t believe what I saw some years ago in that documentary. Don’t have the answer of your questions… but it might be like “1984” or “Animal Farm” by Orwell. Sad like that…
    Remember that an italian guy called Niccolò Machiavello also wrote some interesting stuff in… 1519!!
    We can’t tame THE beast :-(

    Stay safe in the camper, drive safely, the journey is the reward.

  • Without the context I find them pretty dull as images (14 is ok I guess), but I guess that the story they are attached to is very important, especially for Americans. I realize of course that saying anything negative about ANY aspect of this event, even a belated photo essay, is akin to turning up at a Klan rally in a Farrakhan suit, but nonetheless I find this kind of work uninteresting no matter what the event it is attached to.

  • Life in NYC can stil be dangerous…
    Different kind of violence but still violence..
    Look what happenned to this photog here:


    “…Who killed the kennedys?
    When after all
    It was you and me
    Let me please introduce myself…”

    The Rolling Stones

  • Beautifully put. The world was changed forever after 9/11.

  • Image 12 stopped my in my tracks.

  • I find the objects more powerful than the portraits. They say more than a portrait could. I would be interested to know how this was installed in the gallery… In pairs, say, the man next to his shoes… I think that could be a really powerful presentation. The keyboard image, for me, is haunting and lasting… What a representation of a 21st century tragedy…

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