Before there was Facebook or Twitter or Instagram…long before everyone had a phone that was also a camera, Bill Biggart knew what it was like to look at life through a lens. He was doing it before it became the thing to do. Bill’s work took him all over the world in his career as a photojournalist, but that day 13 years ago found him home in New York.
When the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a taxi driver passing by him on the street alerted him to the news. He quickly ran home to get two film cameras and one digital camera and walked towards the Twin Towers, snapping pictures as he went. His passion for the people affected by the historical events he covered is evident in his work. He seemed to capture an odd beauty of regular people in irregular circumstances, as in his photos of the people of Northern Ireland struggling for independence in the 1980’s. He was there when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and once again his lens focuses on the people, their faces full of excitement and expectation.
But it was his work from that September day in 2001that most of us would know. If you’ve seen any pictures from 9/11/01, you’ve seen a Bill Biggart picture. Once again, many of them are of people: the stunned and weary firefighters and shell-shocked office workers who escaped from the towers. A friend and fellow photographer said of him: “One thing Bill taught me was that sometimes the picture is behind you, in the faces of people watching.”
And so it was this passion for the real story as told on the faces of those on the scene, that led him to get as close as he could to where things were happening. Shortly after the South Tower fell (the first to go down), Bill’s wife Wendy called him on his cell phone. He told her not to worry and that he would meet her at his studio 20 minutes later. He reassured her saying, “I’m safe. I’m with the firemen.”
By now you’ve probably guessed that Bill never made it to his studio to meet his wife. He continued taking pictures of the aftermath of the South Tower’s collapse…right up until 10:28 am when the North Tower fell. In fact, his last shot, pictured below, was time-stamped at 10:28:24. Only seconds after he took it, Bill Biggart perished. His camera and press passes where found in the debris four days later. He was the only professional photographer to be killed covering the September 11th terrorist attacks.
His wife Wendy said, “With a press pass around his neck and a camera bag over his shoulder, in the middle of a cross fire – Bill was in heaven.” In his 54 years of life, Bill saw the world and translated what he saw through the lens of a camera. He left the world more than just some really poignant pictures of historical events, however. His life and work leave the rest of us with the idea that people can do what they were born to do. His is an example of a life lived with passion and intention, doing what he loved to do…and he did it until his last breath.