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A new photo exhibition at the Queensborough Community College (QCC) Art Gallery, titled “A Tribute: 2001-2021” by a university alumnus and former first responder, commemorates the 20th anniversary of the 11 terrorist attacks. September.
The haunting exhibit features over 80 photos of Ground Zero taken by retired FDNY forensic photographer Chris Landano, a former QCC student.
The impressions of tangled steel beams as well as toxic, smoldering debris at Ground Zero show a scene that can only be compared to a war zone. Landano’s footage captured the worst of humanity and depicts the heroic rescue, recovery and cleanup mission of first responders following the attack on the Twin Towers.
The then 23-year-old firefighter had worked for the FDNY forensic photo unit for nine months and was near the Brooklyn Bridge when the horrific events of 9/11 unfolded before his eyes.
He remembers talking to his supervisor, who told him to get as close to the World Trade Center as possible – and to pray.
Landano was on the Brooklyn Bridge when the first tower collapsed, and he finally found his way to Church Street in downtown Manhattan.
âIt was a whole different world with all the dust,â Landano said.
His mission was to reach the command post in the lobby of the North Tower and join his supervisor and colleagues.
âThey were in the lobby taking pictures,â Chris said. âThey barely made it when the buildings collapsed, but that was my mission. My mission was to get to the lobby, which never happened.
Even though he had a bag full of cameras and movies with him, Landano didn’t take any photos of the horror that unfolded.
âI helped people here and there, wherever I could,â Landano recalls. âI was on the job, just trying to move some debris. I was almost everywhere like everyone else. I felt a bit out of place because I am a photographer and a first responder. I am assigned to the photo unit, but I did not take a single photo that day.
Landano, who grew up in Queens, studied photography at QCC. He took hundreds, if not thousands, of photos at Ground Zero between September 12, 2001 and May 2002.
âI photographed on the ground, from the air, even from the rooftops,â he said, adding that he took photos of a 54-story building as he sat on the ledge.
Landano even captured the scale of the destruction from a NASA helicopter, which was fitted with a thermal imager trying to locate the bodies under the mountains of debris.
âI was on the rooftops all around. So I had a good 360 degree view of the site. I remember, sometimes, until October, when they were lifting the steel and a puff of smoke was coming out of it. So he was still smoking a month later, âhe said.
Landano retired from the FDNY in March 2021 and is one of the many first responders suffering from 9/11-related illnesses.
He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had half of his thyroid removed last March due to exposure to toxic dust from Ground Zero.
âBut I’m lucky,â Landano said. âThere are hundreds of firefighters who are sick now. There are hundreds of firefighters dying. I know guys that’s been there for a day or two, and they’re sick, or they’re dead. So I enjoy life.
And that he does. He invented Trakbelt 360, a utility belt that rotates tool pouches and holsters around the waist for safety, comfort and versatility. He noted that NBC chose their product for one of their invention shows.
He also started a consulting business helping inventors and entrepreneurs bring their products to market. His entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t leave much time for photography these days.
âIt’s crazy,â Landano said. âWhen I met my wife, I was passionate about cameras and photography. Then I invented this product, and it took charge of my life.
Firefighters are still a part of his life and he planned to spend September 11 at his old Springfield fire station.
âI like firefighters. I like people. I like the limbs, the people with whom I fought, with whom I bled, you know â, the 43-said a year. “I will still be at my fire station as long as it is under my control.”
Assembly member David Weprin said the exhibit showed recovery to be a mission with real meaning, which Landano captured through his lens.
âThe good thing about it is the way everyone came together,â Weprin said. âThe positive of humanity came together and everyone was a little nicer to everyone. And it really changed us and our lives forever.
Queensborough Community College President Dr Christine Mangino said telling the stories and experiences of 9/11 to the younger generation was essential and art exhibits, memorials and vigils kept the memories alive living.
âAs someone who grew up in the 9/11 generation, it’s such a formative part of my experience as a New Yorker,â said Dr. Mangino. âIt is meaningful and important to commemorate September 11 every year and never forget the action of that day, both tragic and horrific. I don’t think we’ll ever be the same again.
The installation is complemented by an exhibition curated by students of archival photographs and images of 9/11 artifacts. Permanent collection of the Memorial & Museum, and will run until October 10.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, visitors are encouraged to contact the QCC Art Gallery office at 718-631-6396 to make an appointment.
For more information visit artgallery.qcc.cuny.edu.