“A picture paints a thousand words” is an often-used cliché that holds much truth. By itself, without human explanation, a photo or a painting can connote time and place. They can also elicit feelings of warmth, coolness, despair, dread or even pure joy. They can even set a mood. As compared with paintings, photographs can do it all in a split second. At least in today’s world.
Once the mainstay of well-heeled photographers with lots of equipment and access to dark rooms, high quality photographs are now commonplace among the masses thanks to the innovation of Steve Jobs. Multi-megapixel images litter the internet. Newer versions of the iPhone present advances in digital photography that professionals would have found hard to match twenty years ago. However, finding high-resolution photos from that era to use in today’s print projects presents a challenge.
Seeking Perfection among Limitations
When I set out to write UNDAUNTED – to capture the spirit of Baseline’s associates before, during, and after 9/11 – I knew many images would be available to help me support the narrative. However, they couldn’t be just any shot. They had to add those proverbial one thousand words in order to paint a picture – to give meaning to adjacent words. They also had to elicit emotion or offer reflection. Working with a publisher added further challenges. Koehler Books placed a limit (25) on how many photos I could utilize within the book. Further, minimum requirements of pixilation came into play. For example, if a photo was less than one megabyte in size, or if its dimensions were not 300 by 300 pixels, the likelihood of a good representation of that image within the pages of the book was diminished. If I loved such a photo, I would be forced with a decision to either exclude the image or accept a very small photo on a page. Choosing which photos to use became a real challenge in producing UNDAUNTED.
The images to be evaluated for inclusion fell into three camps: personal, public, and awe-inspiring. Personal photos were those taken of the staff by the staff, and offered the best view into the Baseline culture. Sadly, these were often the most challenging as they were of the low-quality vintage. No one’s fault – just a sign of the photographer’s technological times.
Public photos were those of public places or public events. For example, to locate high quality images of the original, and subsequently rebuilt, World Trade Center required a subscription service. I found Getty’s iStock collection to be a very cost-effective solution. Awe-inspiring photos were those of incredible clarity, capturing Baseline associates in the midst of their gravest hour. I had been aware of Simon and Jyoti’s famous photo escaping from Ground Zero moments before our building came crashing down. (See photo at top of blog.) However, I had no idea who the photographer was. And, during the many interviews I conducted for the book, I became aware of another surreal image – that of Rob Rothman trying to outrun the debris cloud that stemmed from the same building’s collapse. Rothman had descended the stairs alongside Simon Chen and Jyoti Dave Vyas moments before each photo was taken. Those two photographs became the focus of an earnest photo search which began in 2018. I wanted them for the pages of UNDAUNTED.
Locating the Awe-inspiring Photographs
Soon after the events of 9/11, in a photo exhibition in the East Village of Manhattan, Simon was presented with a paper copy of that famous photograph depicting he, Jyoti, and a police officer by the name of Ramon Suarez. Sadly, Officer Suarez died that day – going back into the building to save others. Simon wasn’t told the artist’s name, but he learned it was a NY Post photograph. That gave me a head start. When the photograph was used in a 2018 Post article highlighting Suarez’s daughter’s decision to also join the NYPD and honor her father, I quickly wrote to the paper. I now had proof the Post had that photo, and I could specifically reference it. The Post’s VP of IP Licensing informed me that the rights to the photo were owned by freelance photographer Brigitte Stelzer, and I was provided her website URL (http://brifoto.com/ABOUT.html). From there I was able to email her, thank her for her work, and secure a license to use the photo in my book and on my website. Brigitte recently shared with me that she had been hired by the Post on 9/11 to follow mayoral candidate Mark Green to the polling station that morning. It was the democratic primary that day for mayor of NYC. When the first plane hit Tower One of the WTC, Brigitte was immediately directed downtown. She never imagined the horror she would subsequently witness and capture. She suffered a badly injured toe as she eventually fled the scene.
During my many interviews with Baseline staffers, Jonathan Weinberg, our VP of Technology, shared that he was aware of another photo – showing Rob Rothman in a furious retreat from the collapsing building and the enveloping debris cloud. Rob was our manager of Quality Assurance. My subsequent chat with Rob bore this out, and he shared a low-res image. It was an incredible depiction. Of course, having the image was not sufficient to place it in my book. While it certainly depicted Rothman, the photo wasn’t his to offer me, nor was it of sufficient size for proper resolution.
As part of my investigation, I put long-time friend Augie Jennewein on the case. Augie is a professional photographer in St. Louis. He was able to locate the name of the photographer – Doug Kanter. Then, using Google image searches along with the name of Kanter, I was able to locate the photograph’s placement in various publications – mostly across Europe soon after 9/11. In each case, the credit was given to AFP (Agence French-Presse). I then chased down AFP in Paris who told me Getty Images is their licensed distributor. In turn, Getty shared that it was one of their higher-end “editorial” photos. Despite its heady price, I licensed the photo for UNDAUNTED. In a stroke of irony, Brigitte Stelzer, who photographed Simon and Jyoti, recently alerted me to the fact that she, too, is pictured in Rothman’s incredible “escape” photo. She appears in the background (wearing a pink shirt in the photo immediately above) running frantically to cross Broadway. She does not remember where her toe was injured that day.
As Koehler Books and I published UNDAUNTED on September 11, 2021, I was confident that I had properly balanced my needs to convey the right photographic messages with the physical limitations of quantity and quality.
The all-encompassing story of Baseline Financial Services is portrayed in the book UNDAUNTED which was published by Koehler Books on September 11, 2021 — the 20th Anniversary of 9/11.