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Home Sought for Largest Collection of 9/11 Images


It started out as a call for footage of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. It turned into the largest collection of pictures, interviews, and videos of America's national tragedy, held on the hard drives of a computer belonging to a company that no longer exists. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports the man who owns the archive wants it to go to a good home -- for a price.

They are the images of disaster... The scenes of destruction…
Moments of misery and despair…
All captured by the lenses of professional and amateur camera people around the city of New York.

Every image you see, every frame of video marked by time code, sits on the hard drive of one computer.

The story of these images begins on September 11, 2001, with Steve Rosenbaum's production company, Camera Planet, on the ground in Manhattan. Six cameras rolled as the events unfolded.

"We started to edit a film from these six photographers, said Mr. Rosenbaum, ”and each one who had come back that day or the following day had done these long sit down interviews where we said, ‘Where were you, what did you see, what did you feel?’ As we edited together this film of these voices, and these faces, somebody in my office, I don't remember who it was, sat and looked at a rough cut and said, This is terrible.’ I said, ‘Yeah it's really disturbing,’ and they said, ‘No, it's a bad film.’ And they said, ‘It doesn't look like New York.’ “

So Rosenbaum put an ad out in the New York newspaper The Village Voice, looking for images or footage from that day.

"The next day the phone started ringing, and people said, 'Thank you so much. I just want to tell my story.' And from that moment on, and for the weeks after, we just had a stream of people coming through the door saying, ‘Here's the footage I have, here's my story.’ And then we had the voice of New York."

A lot has happened since the ad first went out. Rosenbaum's documentary is done, and so is Camera Planet. His production company fell on hard times in a city where television feature work was hard to come by in the months following 9/11.

But he was left with a unique and extensive collection of one of the most recorded events in history. More than 500 hours of footage and thousands of images of the terrorist attacks on New York City. It is the largest collection of footage Jan Ramirez has seen in her work as curator with the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation.

"The synchronous ability to capture these multiple perspectives from the street, from apartment towers, from helicopters, from the mountains of New Jersey, from Brooklyn Heights -- is extremely important to, I think, understanding how this event seared into the international consciousness,” she told us. “So having the ability to draw on an archive that is really preserving the compilation of these democratic perspectives in a sense is extremely important."

Owning the archive hasn't been easy. Rosenbaum became a de facto gatekeeper for the steady stream of requests that continue to keep coming in from companies around the world looking for footage.

"If I'm the gatekeeper, part of the reason I'm going public about the archive and the need for a home is because I don't want to be. And nor do I think I have the scholarly expertise, nor is it appropriate for one individual to make those judgments. In a perfect world, there would be a group of scholars and experts who would become the voice, the spirit, and the brains of this archive."

The archive is now on the market. Rosenbaum hopes to sell it to pay off Camera Planet's debt to the bank. He's talking with several organizations, including two television networks and the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, where Jan Ramirez is already collecting other items for a museum still on the drawing board.

"Ideally, it should be held, I think, by a public institution that is committed to public education and public access,” says Ramirez. “Certainly because of the topic that it is going to document I think it would be a potentially wonderful muscle tissue to add to the World Trade Center Memorial."

The permanent memorial at the World Trade Center site is scheduled for completion by September of 2009. A memorial that will include the remnants of the tragedy, both physical and digital, collected by New Yorkers.