The photographer who captured some of the most heart-wrenching images of the September 11 terrorist attacks called on Americans to come together like they did that day as he revisited the scene to mark the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.
In pictures exclusively shared with DailyMail.com, Phil Penman returned to Ground Zero in New York City last month to photograph the very same streets and show how the city has recovered and moved on from that horrific day.
Penman recalled how the immense tragedy brought the city and country together and said he fears this unity has been lost over the last two decades.
‘Every photo from that day shows someone helping someone else, people with their arms around each other,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘The way the country and New York came together was amazing to watch.
‘If we look back we see how people worked together, how great tragedy brought a great coming together of people.’
Now, 20 years later, Penman said America needs to remember that unity and ‘bring back the togetherness of 9/11’: ‘It’s very important we don’t forget history for these very reasons.’
THEN: The view from West Broadway in Soho shows smoke billowing from the Twin Towers after they were struck by airplanes in 2001. NOW: The view from the same spot shows One World Trade Center towering over the city
THEN: Survivors covered in dust help each other away from the World Trade Center, walking through Park Row which is littered in documents and papers blown from offices in the towers. NOW: Cars drive along the road at Park Row
THEN: From the corner of West Broadway and Canal Street, pedestrians stare up at the sky as smoke rises from the North and South Towers. NOW: One World Trade Center is seen above the tops of buildings at the corner of West Broadway and Canal Street
THEN: The moment the South Tower collapses is seen from Broadway while the burning North Tower is still standing. NOW: Sky fills the space where the Twin Towers once stood, while the new One World Trade Center rises to the right. The spire of St. Paul’s chapel rises into the sky 20 years apart
Photographer Phil Penman (pictured) returned to Ground Zero in New York City in 2021 to photograph the very same streets and areas where he captured some of the most harrowing images of September 11 2001
Penman was in New York on September 11 2001 when he learned that a plane had flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
The photographer, who had moved to the US from Dorset, England, just one year earlier, rushed to Lower Manhattan with his camera.
The pictures he captured over the next few hours sent shockwaves around the world and continue to serve as some of the most harrowing reminders of what was the darkest day in American history.
Smoke is seen pouring out of the gaping holes in the Twin Towers where the planes struck the skyscrapers.
Plumes of debris billow into the air as the towers collapse, claiming the lives of those still inside.
In the streets of the city, dust and rubble blankets cars, sidewalks and roads, while shocked first responders and New Yorkers clamor to help strangers escape the disaster zone.
Two decades on, Penman retraced his footsteps from that horrific day in 2001 and captured the city in 2021, showing the areas in and around Ground Zero both then and now.
Photos show how One World Trade Center – dubbed the Freedom Tower – rose from the rubble, transforming the city’s skyline and symbolizing the nation’s rebirth and resilience after the tragedy.
As well as the tower – which is now the tallest building in the US – the new World Trade Center complex includes four smaller skyscrapers and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, along with the adjacent Oculus – a train station, plaza and shopping mall designed with the inspiration of a dove taking flight.
The sky previously filled by the Twin Towers remains poignantly vacant in the images, as the ground once occupied by the towers has instead been transformed into memorial pools engraved with the names of victims.
New Yorkers with buggies are now seen strolling past Fulton Street subway station, in the same spot that office workers covered head to toe in dust were seen walking away from the towers after surviving the attacks.
Where documents blown out of the offices once carpeted the streets, young people now ride their bikes and pedestrians in COVID-19 face masks stroll along sidewalks against the backdrop of the Oculus.
THEN: Plumes of debris and dust billows into the air as the South Tower collapses on the morning of September 11 2001. Dark smoke pours from the North Tower while St. Paul’s chapel stands in the foreground
NOW: St. Paul’s chapel still stands on Broadway in front of the spot where the World Trade Center stood. A poster on a lamppost shows a woman in a face mask – a reminder of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
THEN: From Park Row, smoke is seen pouring out of the Twin Towers after hijackers flew planes into the buildings. NOW: 3 World Trade Center is now seen standing to the left of where the Twin Towers once stood. The skyscraper is part of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center
THEN: Joseph Kelly (left), Srinath Jinadasa (center), and George Sleigh (right) walk past Fulton Street subway station away from the World Trade Center after the first Tower had fallen. NOW: A man and woman push buggies past Fulton Street subway street set against the backdrop of the Oculus – a train station, plaza and shopping mall whose design is inspired by a dove taking flight
THEN: New Yorkers run from a cloud of dust and debris on Park Row just after the first World Trade Center tower had fallen. NOW: The edge of One World Trade Center can be seen on a clear day from Park Row
Penman told DailyMail.com he has visited the area around Ground Zero roughly every five years over the last two decades.
‘I’ve been going back and forth for the last 20 years seeing the progression of certain areas and how they have moved forward like the World Trade Center and the Oculus,’ he said.
‘Then there’s other areas where nothing has really changed at all.’
Penman pointed to the J&R music store on Park Row that he ran inside for safety as the south tower collapsed before his eyes.
The iconic store was one of the first retailers in the area to reopen after 9/11. It closed for good in 2014 after 43 years of business.
‘The store shut down after 9/11 and the space is still empty,’ he said.
‘There’s also small things like road development. I was trying to match the roads and lampposts to my original photos and in some areas you see progress, while in some blocks it seems there has been construction going on in the same spot for the last 20 years.’
Penman said he enjoys going to see some of the ‘beautiful’ structures there now but he finds some areas too painful a reminder of the events of 2001.
‘I think the Oculus is beautiful and one of the most innovative buildings. I go there a lot,’ said Penman.
‘But it took me a long time to go to the memorial. I couldn’t go for many years.’
THEN: Survivors Joanne Capestro (left) and a friend are covered in thick dust as they walk along Park Row away from the World Trade Center after the first tower collapsed
NOW: At the very same spot on Park Row 20 years later, a bus is seen driving along the road while 1 World Trade Center and 3 World Trade Center are seen in the background
THEN: Two police officers covered in dust walk through the debris and reams of documents in the road on the corner of Vesey Street and Broadway by St. Paul’s chapel after the first tower had fallen
NOW: New Yorkers ride bicycles over a zebra crossing on the corner of Vesey Street and Broadway by St. Paul’s chapel – some wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19
THEN: Smoke rises into the air and dust covers the road and an FDNY fire truck on Fulton Street after the South Tower collapsed. NOW: The Oculus stands in the foreground of the new One World Trade Center on Fulton Street
When someone gave him some tickets to go to the museum, he said he lasted 30 minutes then had to leave.
He added: ‘The memorial is strange as it’s become a tourist attraction so it’s strange to be there and see people take selfies. For those of us who were there, that’s difficult to see.’
The transformation of the skyline is something that Penman feels doesn’t have the same impact as the one on the day before 9/11.
‘To me, it’s not the New York I remember. When I first came here, there was this awesome-looking skyline,’ he said.
‘To me it doesn’t have that same grab but for the kids growing up here now this is their skyline to what that one was to us.’
But the biggest change, believes Penman, is not the skyline but the sense of unity that arose out of such tragedy.
‘The first thing I saw when the [South] Tower collapsed was people who had survived coming toward me,’ he said.
‘No one was on their own – everyone was helping each other and had their arms around each other.
‘I saw first responders and church pastors putting people’s legs in splints, people carrying people, while police officers were giving us bottles of water to clean our faces.’
He recalled one moment later in the day when he went up to a coffee stand to get some water and went to pay the vendor. ‘The guy went ‘don’t be stupid have it’,’ he said.
THEN: Thick dust and debris including reams of papers and documents from the office buildings in the Twin Towers covers the roads on Dey Street and Broadway after the first tower collapsed
NOW: New Yorkers stroll past construction work on the corner of Dey Street and Broadway with the Oculus in the background
THEN: A huge cloud of dust and debris billows into the air on the corner on Broadway following the South Tower’s collapse while first responders gather on the scene. NOW: Vehicles and cyclists drive along Broadway on a clear day in the city
THEN: New Yorkers going about their days on September 11 2001 stop on Park Row and stare up at the sky in shock and horror after the World Trade Center Twin Towers were attacked by terrorists
NOW: Along the same spot in Park Row scaffolding is erected on buildings along the sidewalk, cars are parked by the side of the road and pedestrians cross the street
THEN: Two men are seen walking through John Street covering their mouths as the air is filled with thick dust and debris following the collapse of the South Tower
NOW: A man and woman in fitness gear walk past a sandwich shop along John Street close to the World Trade Center
THEN: First responders and New Yorkers help injured survivors following the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001
THEN: The North Tower of the World Trade Center burns after Flight 11 crashed into the building between the 93rd and 99th floors
THEN: A survivor covered in dust is seen inside the J&R music store on Park Row after people rook refuge in the store when the South Tower collapsed
THEN: Photographer Phil Penman captures the man covered in dust next to men in suits and shoppers who had been going about their day
In the days, weeks and months that followed, there were vigils everywhere where people came together to pray together and look after each other, he said.
Penman said he feels the country is now no longer like this and the sense of togetherness which came out of the nation’s darkest hours have been lost.
‘The city could have gone to hell after that day with looting and unrest but it didn’t,’ he said.
‘And the city has been through a lot since then with the crash and the blackouts but it wasn’t like that then either.
‘So last year to walk down Fifth Avenue and see it boarded up because it was open season on stores and looting was a very sad statement on society right now after the pandemic.’
Penman added: ‘It’s not just the city but the nation as well – the whole country is divided right now.’
Instead of moving forward from that day, Penman said he feels the US has ‘gone backwards’.
‘Politically we are more divided than ever which is hard to imagine as 9/11 happened after the Gore-Bush election but it has managed to get worse than that,’ he said.
The photographer said he hopes that the 20th anniversary will help Americans remember how they came together in tragedy and find a way to return to this.
‘I hope that people can come back together and realize there aren’t two sides and there’s common ground in the middle,’ he said.
‘It doesn’t have to be one or the other, nothing is black and white.’
Despite these concerns, Penman said he has hope after seeing New York coming back to life and getting busier again after the pandemic.
‘This is still a fantastic city with wonderful people in it,’ he said.
‘It’s a city where the best in the best come to try to fulfil their dreams – and it’s only going to get better.’
THEN: Penman captured some of the most heart-wrenching images of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in NYC
THEN: A first responder runs and survivors cover their faces with makeshift masks to try to protect themselves from the dust as Lower Manhattan is covered in thick ash and debris
THEN: Survivors covered head to toe in dust and debris help each other to safety. Penman said Americans came together amid the tragedy that day to help one another
THEN: Dark flames and thick smoke pour from the Twin Towers after they were both hit by hijacked planes on 9/11
THEN: A Mercedes-Benz is covered in dust and debris including a woman’s handbag while papers cover the sidewalk and road on the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway following the fall of the first World Trade Center tower