Thomas Franklin 



Thomas L. Franklin, Record Staff Photographer (Bergen County, New Jersey)

  Thomas Franklin has worked as a staff photographer with The Bergen Record, in Hackensack, NJ, since 1993. He has shot assignments in the Philippines, Peru, Mexico, and Europe, and has covered presidents, two World Series, Stanley Cup finals, and visits by the Dalai Lama and the Pope. Earlier, he freelanced for The Associated Press, The New York Times, USA TODAY, and People Magazine, among others. A 1988 graduate of Purchase College, he began his career at the North Jersey Herald & News, first as a photographer, then as photo editor.



Sept. 11, not a photograph, changed my life

For the rest of our lives, we will recall where we were and what we were doing. Previous generations talked about Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated, as the day they will never forget. Now we have Sept. 11, 2001.

That day, I was at Ground Zero, and I photographed three firefighters raising a flag amid the smoking rubble. It was 5:01 p.m.

This was a photo that just happened, in a brief moment. I recognized it, shot it the best I could, and moved on, continuing to shoot the devastation. I did note the similarity to Joe Rosenthal's World War II photograph of the Iwo Jima flag-raising and was certainly aware of the symbolism of what these firefighters were doing, but in no way did I have time to analyze it. The events of that day were far more important, and in my mind, always will be.

Obviously, this photograph has opened doors for me. It's been made into a U.S. postage stamp and resulted in an Oval Office visit with the president. But the picture is not about Tom Franklin; it's about thousands of people who died in the most horrible way imaginable, many of them while trying to save others. It's also about the thousands of people who have reached out to tell me how much my picture has meant to them, and how it helped them deal with the pain and anguish of 9/11.

For a photojournalist, what could be greater than to know that something you did while doing your job actually helped people? Journalists strive for this all the time, but how often do we actually see it happen?

I see it happen every day, everywhere I go, because this photo seems to be everywhere, even after all these months. It has raised many hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities.

And then there are the unauthorized uses. I have quite a collection of items on which the photo appears - carved pumpkins, Christmas ornaments, miniature statues, key chains, paintings, tattoos, humidors, clocks, watches, light switches, snow globes, and leather jackets.

The picture has been honored with a score of awards from press and photojournalism organizations. It's been quite a ride.

I have never been busier. Today, I am juggling my daily assignments for The Record, teaching a photojournalism class at my alma mater, Purchase College in New York, and handling numerous interview requests for the anniversary of Sept. 11.

But when I think back to that day, the photograph is not what comes to mind. Key moments are etched in my brain above all others:

The chill I felt that morning as I rode down in The Record's glass-enclosed elevator and saw the burning north tower.

The despair, when I realized I'd lost all my last shots of the World Trade Center still standing as two towers; they disappeared when a police officer in Jersey City jostled me and jarred my digital camera.

The stunned disbelief, as the first and then the second tower collapsed before my eyes.

The fear, as a tugboat ferried me across the Hudson River toward a burning Manhattan skyline I no longer recognized.

The anguish, as I walked amid devastation so vast and wide that I still can't comprehend it.

I remember crying many times that day, especially at the moment when I remembered that my older brother, Stephen, commuted every morning by PATH train beneath the trade center and might be among the victims. Fortunately, he survived.

The question I am asked most often is, "How has all this fame and attention changed your life"?

It hasn't.

Sept. 11 changed my life, not my photograph.

The answer is honest. Sept. 11 has had a profound effect on how I view life, and my job. Priorities are evaluated daily. I never pass up an opportunity to hug my wife and son, and I remind myself constantly that nothing can be taken for granted.

I now approach the most basic of tasks with renewed appreciation and wonder because, as we all learned Sept. 11, everything can change in an instant. I cherish what I have, and I am thankful for how fortunate I was at the end of that horrible day - safe, secure, and able to return home to my family, unlike so many others.



About the Photo