Bill Biggart: The Hero Photographer Who Died Capturing 9/11

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September 11, 2001, was a sunny Tuesday morning. Invoice Biggart and his spouse Wendy Doremus have been strolling their canines in downtown Manhattan. At about 8:45 a.m., the couple seen clouds of gray smoke forming in opposition to the clear blue New York Metropolis skyline. A passing taxi driver knowledgeable the couple that an airplane had crashed into the World Commerce Heart.

Biggart, a seasoned press photographer, lower the serene stroll brief and rapidly returned to his Union Sq. condominium. He gathered his Canon D30, two Canon EOS-1Ns, a Domke digital camera bag, and 6 rolls of Fuji Sensia 35mm slide movie.

The $3,000, 3.1-megapixel prosumer D30 had simply been launched in 2000 and was Biggart’s first DSLR. His EOS-1N 35mm SLRs have been among the many final skilled movie cameras that Canon would make however Biggart had been turning out essential information photographs with them because the mid-1990s (and taking pictures normally because the 1970s).

Biggart started his two-mile, twenty-block trek towards the destruction from which everybody round him was fleeing. He shot movie and digital photographs, cameras swinging from his shoulders, as he approached the unfolding scene.

For years, Biggart denounced coloration after which digital images, working solely in B&W 35mm. Ultimately, he noticed that the information was going digital so he took up the brand new expertise and switched to paint movie to match.

At 9:03 a.m., whereas nonetheless en route, Biggart noticed a industrial airplane slamming into the South Tower. He lifted the D30 to his eye. Seemingly along with his 80-200mm lens, he captured a superb orange and crimson fireball exploding out of the second tower.

With a press cross round his neck and a digital camera bag over his shoulder, in the course of a crossfire – Invoice was in heaven. —Wendy Doremus

Invoice Biggart had moved to New York Metropolis within the early 1970s when the World Commerce Heart opened. He witnessed its building and now he watched because the South Tower burned like a torch.

This was the second when the identical poignant thought crossed the minds of all Individuals who have been tuned into tv information that day. Two airplane crashes in the identical spot, on the identical day — this couldn’t have been an accident. However Biggart knew that no matter was occurring, it wanted to be photographed.

Biggart drew nearer and nearer till his pictures of the towers have been close to absolutely vertical. Emergency rescue employees and even different photojournalists cautioned that he was getting too shut. At 9:59 a.m., Biggart captured the South Tower disintegrating because it got here crashing down, blanketing him and his Canons in mud and particles. Shrugging it off, he continued to shoot, taking a number of frames of the North Tower nonetheless standing, amidst the stays of the South. Then he started documenting the efforts of rescue employees, ignoring the smoking North Tower.

Being that the D30 was a crop sensor physique which multiplied the size of the lenses mounted to it, Biggart appears to have primarily used digital for lengthy pictures such because the towers themselves and movie for nearer/wider pictures akin to folks. He appears to have lined the whole lot earlier than him with all three our bodies although, most likely utilizing a 50mm and two zoom lenses. Mainly, he shot with the whole lot he had obtainable, in each manner he may.

Biggart photographed rescue employees and victims coated in grey-brown mud. Yellow reflective stripes of firefighters’ clothes and crimson emergency lights pierce foggy scenes of dysfunction. A well-clad man striding by a subject of strewn workplace papers, fractured drywall, and miscellaneous pulverized materials. Folks with ashen faces gasping for air by soiled towels. Strangers serving to strangers. Arms round shoulders. Coughing. Crying.

Most of Biggart’s pictures have been, in fact, thoughtfully composed and thoroughly timed. Others, I’d argue, look like made extra frantically, yielding proof that even this hard-nosed, road-worn information vet had been shaken.

Then Biggart’s flip-phone rang. It was his spouse, Wendy.

“I’m secure, I’m with the firemen,” he comforted her.

Invoice stated that he would meet Wendy at his studio in about twenty minutes. At this level, we are able to speculate that Biggart concluded that the peak of the motion was over and that he wanted to course of his movie and dump his playing cards in prep for the quick media launch of the photographs.

However the twenty minutes during which Biggart deliberate to satisfy his spouse handed. He was nonetheless taking pictures.

Biggart appears to have been in quest of the hero shot to wrap with. The intrepid photographer started snapping some huge pictures of the demolished South Tower, presumably along with his again in direction of the North Tower.

Bolivar Arellano, a shooter for the New York Put up who was additionally protecting the horrible occasion, witnessed colleague Invoice Biggart on the scene. Arellano acknowledged that Biggart was nearer to the towers than some other photographer, and actually, nearer than many firefighters.

Invoice Biggart was vocal about his love for New York Metropolis. He usually commented that it was the best metropolis on earth. And his dedication to the town was evident with each shutter cycle that Tuesday morning.

At 10:28:22 am, the weakened help lastly gave out beneath the affect zone of the North Tower, and the large construction started imploding.

At 10:28:24 Invoice Biggart took a gorgeous photograph of the ruins of the South Tower and the still-standing base of the North Tower. The scene was a tapestry of repetitive industrial strains fractured and softened by mud and smoke. The picture is almost colorless and muted, solemn and grim because the day.

Invoice was most likely nonetheless trying by the viewfinder of his Canon D30 when 500,000 tons of glass, concrete, and metal instantly got here crashing down on him at 120 miles per hour.

Wendy waited on the studio. And waited. She spent determined however hopeful days looking overwhelmed hospitals for her husband. Fellow photographers shared their accounts of the place they final noticed Biggart.

4 days after the tragedy, rescue crews have been lastly in a position to take away Biggart’s physique from beneath the dense rubble that when comprised the World Commerce Heart. Biggart was the one skilled photographer who lined 9/11 and didn’t make it out alive. However his photographs have been probably probably the most private.

©2002 Johnny Martyr
©2002 Johnny Martyr

A buddy and colleague, photographer Chip East was tasked with recovering any photographs from Biggart’s belongings. The lens parts had been sheared off or blasted out of all three Canon our bodies. The movie compartment doorways had been ripped off each EOS-1N movie our bodies, exposing two full rolls inside them to reveal gentle and erasing Biggart’s final movie pictures. The metallic cassettes holding the opposite 4 rolls of movie had been badly deformed which additionally admitted gentle, scarring many photographs with gentle leaks.

Of the approximate 144 doable movie photographs Biggart could have taken, solely a handful survived. The compact flash card throughout the D30, nonetheless, was cradled safely contained in the digital camera’s magnesium alloy physique. When Chip East first inserted the cardboard into his reader, nothing occurred. He rebooted his pc and miraculously, the cardboard fired up and yielded its valuable contents; 154 full information, with correct timestamps.

Biggart’s remaining {photograph}, the one taken at 10:28:24 capturing the stays of the South Tower, was featured in numerous publications and exhibited on the Worldwide Heart of Pictures in New York Metropolis, then on the Nationwide Museum of American Historical past in 2002. Invoice Biggart’s tools and belongings have been additionally on show there and in 2008 on the Newseum in Washington DC.

Biggart’s 35mm movie photographs are principally broken by gentle and warmth. They’re discolored and have giant, chaotic blotches, which, themselves are bodily imprints of the destruction of the Twin Towers. Right this moment, the movie photographs exist as a form of forensic art work, expressing an extremely distinctive and significant account of the catastrophe.

As a younger images pupil, I used to be lucky sufficient to catch a glimpse of Invoice Biggart’s work and private results throughout one in every of his posthumous displays. I took my photographs on Kodak BW400CN with my Pentax Okay1000 and 40-80mm lens. I lately dug these photographs out of my archive for this text on the 19th anniversary of the September 11th assaults.

I’ll always remember.


You’ll be able to see Invoice’s photographs of 9/11 and his B&W 35mm photograph essays on his web site.


In regards to the writer: Johnny Martyr is an East Coast movie photographer. The opinions expressed on this article are solely these of the writer. After an adventurous 20 yr photographic journey, he now shoots solely on B&W 35mm movie that he painstakingly hand-processes and digitizes. Selecting to work with solely a choose few purchasers each year, Martyr’s uncommonly personalised course of ensures unsurpassed high quality in addition to fashionable, pure & timeless imagery that may endure for many years. You will discover extra of his work on his web site, Flickr, Fb, and Instagram.


Picture credit: Pictures by Johnny Martyr. Please contact Martyr to be used.

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