StellarImages Productions - News and Press
Channel 9 News story
LA Times story
MARK PHILLIPS, New York City
What He Didn't See
Photographer Mark Phillips
shies away from answering his phone. He won't tell people
where he lives. And though he shot what has become one of the
most widely published pictures of the day, he's afraid to
develop the rest of his film.
It's all because of The
Picture. The photo--the first frame of hundreds he shot that
Tuesday--shows a plume of black smoke rising from the towers
after the second plane hit. But there's something else. Just
above the buildings' roof line, people have noticed what seems
to be a face in the smoke. It's the visage of the devil, some
insist, complete with beard and horns. Or Osama bin Laden. Or
the collective scream of thousands of lost souls. Others swear
it's the face of God.
Phillips, who has been a
professional photographer for 23 years, says he didn't see the
image that day--he just bang, bang, bang shot photos on two
different cameras from the roof of his Brooklyn apartment and
transmitted the pictures immediately to Associated Press. The
picture editors didn't see anything either when they moved the
photos on the wire about a half-hour later. It wasn't until
people started calling in, asking if the photo was real, that
they noticed the face.
Then the phone calls and e-mail
started from people convinced that Phillips was the messenger
of the devil, or somehow chosen by God. There were those who
wanted to share their experiences of the day, or relate their
own religious revelations. There were skeptics who wanted to
discredit him, believers who wanted him to believe.
Phillips admits he was stunned when he finally saw the
face. But he knows as well as anyone who has idly picked out
images in the clouds that people who can discern the Virgin
Mary in the burn marks on a tortilla can as easily find
Armageddon in a column of smoke. "I'm not going to interpret
it," he says. "People see what they want to see, and it's up
to them to decide for themselves."
In the first week,
he received thousands of e-mails, and his Web site registered
2 million hits. He instructed his staff to tell anyone who
came to the office that he was not there, fearing fanatics or
pilgrims or those who just wanted to talk.
worst were the people who questioned his integrity, insisting
that he had manipulated the photographs. "First of all,
ethically, I would never doctor a photo," Phillips says. "I
have a 23-year reputation in this industry that I would never
throw away. Secondly, there simply wouldn't have been time to
Phillips has covered human tragedy before. In
1986, from the roadside at the Kennedy Space Center in
Florida, he captured the Challenger space shuttle explosion.
His perch was about three miles away from the space
shuttle--about the same distance as his apartment roof from
the World Trade Center. On Sept. 11, he was close enough for
singed scraps of stationery from the towers' offices to drift
across the harbor to his Brooklyn roof deck."
everyone else who witnessed the surreal events, Phillips must
deal with the shock, the grief of losing friends, and the
terrible task of explaining it all to his daughter, who is not
yet 3 years old. "I thought she was too young to understand.
But we were watching the news, and suddenly she covered her
eyes and said, 'Daddy, I can't see this.'"
just makes it worse. "I thought it was going to go away
because America's attention span is pretty short. But the way
people are putting a religious aspect on this, it's not going
to go away soon. It's a heavy burden to carry right now."
-- Maggie Farley