Robert Cumins’s story begins like so many others. He was running late that morning at his home in Verona, NJ. Right after leaving his home, Cumins was stopped at a traffic light and went to turn on his car radio, which normally would have already been on. During the traffic report, he heard something about smoke and a tower, but didn’t think much of it. Yet the light stayed red for two and a half minutes, and in those extra moments, he heard the words “World Trade Center” for the first time.
Robert A. Cumins, World Trade Center, September 11th, 2001, chromogenic print, 2001. Estimate: $1,500 to $2,500.
From his home, the clear view extended approximately 15 miles straight towards Manhattan. A professional photographer and news junkie all his life, Cumins made that split second decision to turn the car around and return home, to both the TV and his camera. Seeing smoke from the first tower, “I grabbed the camera, grabbed the lens, some film and ran down two flights of stairs,” Cumins recounts. Suddenly, he saw a plane flying south of Manhattan. Like so many, Cumins still did not realize the direction the plane was heading, and said, “I figure[d] I’d take a picture of the plane juxtaposed against the skyline of the city.” By 10:23am that morning, Cumins was in his lab, processing the film. He knew he had shots of the “fireball,” but had completely forgotten that he had witnessed the second airplane just before. Cumins’s memorable photograph will be at auction on October 19th in Swann’s Fine Photographs and Select Photobooks sale. On the ninth anniversary of September 11, 2001, we remember.