fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

September 11:
The Tenth Anniversary

A Story of Hope from Behind the Lens

Introduction by Ainsley Rogers | Photography by Romona Robbins

The tenth anniversary of September 11 weighed heavy on the hearts of Americans across the nation. No one, however, stared this memory in the face more than the New Yorkers committed to rebuilding their city and their lives after such a devastating tragedy. Upon our arrival at Ground Zero, it was obvious the throngs of people, there to pay tribute to the fallen and the survivors, were surrounded by emotion. Flags of red, white and blue, lining the streets and hanging from buildings, seemed almost mournful as they snapped in the gentle breeze. Protestors of all types filled the streets: some were there to create controversy and to question the events that had occurred on 9/11 ten years before; still others were there for a different cause entirely. They created a stark contrast to those gathered with heads bowed in quiet memory of those who were lost in the attacks. But above all the chanting, tears, and voices, an impromptu a cappella rendition of “I Surrender All,” sung together by strangers, filled the air and placed hope in the hearts of many.

Award-winning photographer Romona Robbins was there to capture the emotion that permeated the day from behind her camera lens. A photographer often sees details that otherwise go unnoticed by the average passerby. It was with this eye that Robbins was able to encapsulate the emotion, grief, healing, and hope that defined the tenth anniversary of September 11. Below is VIE’s exclusive Q&A with Robbins.

September 11; memorial
Mourners tied ribbons of remembrance to the fence at St. Paul’s Chapel on the 10th anniversary
of September 11.

VIE: First things first. How did you personally interpret the mood of New York City on this tenth anniversary of September 11?

Robbins: That day in particular was appropriately somber. Ironically, for seven days that we were there, there was not a cloud in the sky. On September 11, however, there was no sunshine; it was windy and chilly. It was as if all the souls lost in that tragedy were present to remind us of what happened that day ten years ago. The energy of the entire city seemed mournful.

VIE: The memory of what happened is such a sensitive one to New Yorkers. How were you equipped to cover the tenth anniversary and talk to people affected by the event?

September 11; memorial
Approaching Ground Zero, in the Financial District.

Robbins: I couldn’t actually say that I was emotionally prepared. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at Ground Zero. I remember telling the cabbie to take us to Ground Zero, and he said, “I’ll take you as close as I can get you. But you can hardly walk down there right now.” Most of the people had the attitude of being survivors and yet there were others trapped in that moment a decade ago. Security was tight because of bomb threats. People were practicing their rights of free speech and religion. It was somewhat emotionally overwhelming.

VIE: Which of these people’s story stood out the most?

Robbins: There were so many stories to hear that day. Some of the policemen we talked to were survivors, and when I asked how they felt about not being invited by the President to attend the official memorial, one responded, “Honestly, I’d just rather be at home with my family that day. Because I can.”

September 11; memorial
Survivor John Hamm with his son and brother Steve.

John Hamm’s story of escape was also heroic and powerful. His company was located on the eighty-seventh floor of the first tower to be hit. He was able to describe the whiplash effect of being inside the building when the plane crashed into it. John carried a woman down eighty-seven flights of stairs to safety and when they reached the bottom, a firefighter, using a penlight, found an escape route for them. But his joy the day we met him was contagious; he was so grateful for the life he had. He was with his eleven-year-old son, who would have been a year old at the time of the attack. And he wouldn’t stop smiling.

John’s brother’s story was even more profound. Steve Hamm wasn’t in either of the towers but he had five family members that were. At first, all were presumed dead. But, one by one, they each came home to him that night. Each and every one of them had a unique story, yet they all shared one experience that day: they survived.

September 11; memorial
Flags printed with the names of those lost on 9/11 filled Battery Park in memory.

VIE: How did talking with these people about their experiences feel?

Robbins: There were moments that were hard to take in. When dealing with grief, you have to be so delicate. You have to be respectful of people and their journey. To see a full-grown man in uniform crying broke my heart. I could not bring myself to steal him from his moment to snap a photo. Images like this were all over the city, but they weren’t for anyone else to take.

VIE: From the people and scenes you photographed on September 11, 2011, what is the story behind the tenth anniversary?

Robbins: I certainly feel that the tenth anniversary was a story of hope and strength. In my mind, America is a powerful nation that was once deemed untouchable. That day (9/11) destroyed or touched the lives of millions, whether it was with lives lost, through economic fallout, or in connection to our freedoms in general; and the repercussions continue to be felt. Maybe we aren’t invincible like I thought we were, but that experience definitely taught us how to come together, to rebuild our spirit, and to make ourselves stronger, and that will make us more resilient. This is what I witnessed on the anniversary of that day.

September 11; memorial; policeman
Symbols of patriotism were seen on every corner.

VIE: Is that why the skyline shot you captured of the Twin Towers Tribute in Light is so dear to you?

Robbins: Yes, but I wasn’t expecting that. I had read over the years that the city had discussed ceasing the light tribute due to various factors. Someone mentioned that it cost several million dollars to run it for just a few hours. This was probably the last time those lights would illuminate the New York skyline, so I wasn’t going to miss it. We had been walking for ten hours that day covering the tenth anniversary, and when we finally managed to get across the Brooklyn Bridge to make the shot happen down by the river, that skyline was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. What struck me in that moment was how the clouds that had hung ominously in the sky all day were trapping the beams of light and creating a protective blanket over the city. To me, that blanket of light is so symbolic. It represents the lives that were lost and that will live on in our hearts forever.


Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine - The Art & Design Issue November 2021
VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail