Behind the camera: Lyle Owerko
Where: Close to the WTC complex, New York City, America
Photo Summary: Seconds after United Airlines Flight 175 smashed into the South WTC Tower (2 WTC) at 9:03 AM.
Picture Taken: Minutes after 9:00 AM September 11, 2001
On September 11, 2001, Lyle Owerko was resting after a gruelling trip back from Africa. He was just unpacking his gear when he heard a huge explosion. Rushing from his apartment he looked up to see the North Tower of the WTC on fire. Minutes later another plane screamed overhead and crashed into the South WTC Tower. Owerko remembers that “when that second plane hit, I knew that the world changed. You could just feel it. I just knew that the camera I was holding in my hand contained lightning in a bottle.”
Taking the picture
After hearing the explosion he ran out of his Tribeca neighbourhood apartment chasing what he remembers as “the worst sound I’ve ever heard in my life.” Since he still hadn’t unpacked much, from his assignment in Africa, he had the cameras and lenses he was using from his trip. It was this 400-millimetre telephoto lens that he didn’t normally carry with him that allowed him to capture such powerful pictures. He spent some time in NYC after the attacks taking pictures which he then published together in a limited run book, of 2000 copies, called: And no birds sang
Born in and raised in Calgary, Canada, Owerko studied at the Pratt Institute and graduated from the Communication Arts program. Since then he has taken on many eclectic jobs from directing Robert Redford in a series of Sundance Channel commercials, to working for MTV and of course taking the TIME cover of the second plane hitting the WTC. That critically acclaimed image was later nominated as one of the 40 most important magazine covers in the last 40 years.
Since taking the now iconic image Owerko has spent years in Africa documenting Kenya’s Samburu warriors. In an interview, he contrasted his work by saying:
9/11 shattered my innocence and still does to this day. I have a hard time with those images, as my main goal as a creative has always been to dignify the human condition. On the other hand, Africa offers a way for me to console and reconcile my proximity to the cycle of life and death by using the camera to engage suffering and to raise the voices of the tiny and overlooked.
One of his latest projects is book he put together called The Boombox Project: The Machines, the Music, and the Urban Underground
which Spike Lee wrote a forward for.