Newhouse Military Photojournalism Program Graduate Reflects on His Photos from Ground Zero

by: Mike York

Preston Keres, a graduate from the S.I. Newhouse Public School of Communications Military Photojournalism Program, woke up on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 expecting a normal work week. As a Petty Officer 1st Class in the US Navy, Keres worked as a military journalist and communications professional. He worked on “All Hands” magazine, a Navy flagship magazine, that published stories, historical information, letters from commanding officers, and pictures documenting naval missions. After turning on the TV, he and fellow Seaman Jim Watson witnessed the 9/11 attacks like most people did, through the breaking news that streamed from Manhattan, Washington DC and Pennsylvania.  Their workweek was going to be anything but normal.

The USS Comfort would be dispatched in response to the attacks and arrived at Pier 92 on the west side of Manhattan on September 14, 2001 with hundreds of Navy medical personnel and medical civilians on board. “Our mission was solely to go up there and document and tell the story about the Navy’s response,” says Keres. The National Guard had cleared the area of any media presence. He and Watson arrived in uniform. “Because we were in uniform, we were able to get in and not have any issues in that sense,” he said. Keres says he and Watson seemed to be the only still photographers on site.

We recently sat down with Keres, and learned about his experience looking through his lens and he shared some of his photos from ground zero.  The following photos were all taken by him and the captions are directly his thoughts as well. You can view more on his Facebook.

USS Comfort
USS Comfort left Baltimore in response to the attacks of 9/11 and arrived at Pier 92 on the west side of Manhattan roughly 8:30-9:00 pm om September 14 2001. with hundred of Navy medical and civilian medical personnel provided humanitarian relief effort for those affected both physically and mentally during their rescue effort on the wreckage. They treated injuries like broken bones, lacerations and respiratory problems. The ship stayed for approximately a three weeks and provided hundreds metal health consultants, tens of thousands of meals and washed thousands of pounds of laundry while on mission. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Keres)
Firemen in rubble with flag.
This is a photo that really expresses exactly what I thought I should be doing. When I have a fireman sitting there right at the top, it shows this isn’t just some small little pile of dust. You see that firemen up there, and do you realize those are giant I-Beams that he’s walking on? It’s not just like your house fell down, this was massive. When you walk up to it, there’s one giant hole going in. It shows in the intricate details of the smoldering, smoking dusty towers and papers all over the place.
Crumbling building
This photo was only two blocks away. But it was like a ghost town. Not even the residents were there, it was complete isolation and destruction. I’ll never forget an abandoned baby carriage at battery park, you can just envision exactly what Momma was thinking while walking her baby, and everything hits the fan. She grabs baby and takes off leaving the stroller and heads off run and not knowing where she’s going. It was just insane. The stuff that’s going through your brain out there, and just the magnitude and how small everyone looked when you actually backed away to see.
Firemen in front of building looking eerie.
That’s the towers behind. You can see it sort of like the shape of those towers that they had at the bottom of the tower, that was like a cathedral. It had a cathedral column feel.
Riley the rescue dog being lifted over giant gap.
I spoke about this one earlier in regard to the fundraising and wide spread publicity that Riley the rescue dog received. A few years later the owner of Riley let me know that he had passed and that all these photos really made a huge difference in not only their families, but the overall effort to help bring attention to rescue dogs. That kind of stuff is what made me feel this has a purpose.
Firemen climbing ladder
Wild. Isn’t it it’s like they’d climbed down into caverns. And to me it was just insane the effort the rescue crews were doing to find as many people as they could
Rescuers with hundreds of buckets.
They’re bringing a bucket at a time, fill it up and pull it all back out and dump it. Just lines of buckets all around ground zero was this. I didn’t know how else to really show it, showing the heroes trying.