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
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
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
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"?
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
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.