I Should Have Shot That: Suzanne Plunkett’s Idle Catastrophe

06.25.12 Marina Galperina

ANIMAL’s original series asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week Reuters photographer Suzanne Plunkett recalls what she saw at the Chelsea Piers on 9/11.

It was the evening of September 11, 2001. I got a phone call from my editor at the AP pulling me away from Ground Zero and reassigning me to Chelsea Piers where an emergency triage center had been set up and volunteer doctors and nurses were reported to be taking in the wounded. Like most people who were downtown that day, I was exhausted, emotional, and covered in dust.

Outside the makeshift hospital, I remember walking in a daze through a sea of parked ambulances that had travelled from as far away as Vermont and New Hampshire but now seemingly had nowhere to go. As I entered, I expected to see chaos and prepared myself for traumatic scenes. Instead, I saw a cavernous room filled with idle doctors and nurses and a few workers breathing from oxygen masks to clear their lungs from the sinister dust which now filled the city.

As one of the doctors offered to look at a cut I had gotten earlier in the day, it dawned on me that there were not enough wounded survivors to justify this outpouring of aid. I wish I had taken a photograph of these doctors. It was a scene which told its own story and conveyed the impact of the attacks. Here was a roomful of highly-qualified medics in the middle of a huge catastrophe, robbed of their purpose.

I still don’t know why I didn’t shoot the scene. Perhaps, looking back, I was in a state of shock from the experience of running away from the collapsing towers earlier in the day.

Suzanne Plunkett is a London-based Reuters photographer. I Should Have Shot That! series is illustrated by James Noel Smith.

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