The Amazing Odyssey of Evan Fairbanks

One thing I have always been fascinated by is the way major historical events have millions of smaller ripples and repercussions on individual people’s lives. Here’s an example. America’s involvement in World War II caused my grandfather to enlist in the Navy. He was stationed at Quonset, Rhode Island and the family remained after the war. And thus my father met my mother. A strange if horrible equation is unavoidable: No Adolf Hitler, no Trav S.D.

I was one of those million of bits of flotsam in the months after September 11, it seemed. I worked at the New-York Historical Society.  On September 13, the controversial decision was to made to collect artifacts from the disaster while they would still be available, and to make an effort to interpret the events for the public. There was a shake-up at the institution, many employees quitting in protest, and when the churning stopped I was suddenly Director of Public Relations. The next few years (2002-2004) saw a series of dozens of exhibitions, lectures, panels and other initiatives related to September 11. My job was to promote them. (Some of the chief people behind the iniative are now working at the new Ground Zero museum).

One day, early on in this process, I learned we would be meeting with this photogapher who had been at the World Trade Center on September 11, and had taken some of the most astounding video of the event. The most astounding aspect to me, however, was that the photographer turned out to be my friend Evan Fairbanks.

I met Evan through my producing friends at Surf Reality. He’d generously taken many amazing publicity photos for us, including this:

(Folks in the photo: Scott Stiffler, Judith George, Loren Kidd, David Jeness, moi, Gilda Konrad. Taken in 1998).

And this, for my production of House of Trash at HERE Arts Center in 2000:

This was taken in the old Piano Store, by the way. In 1999, Evan had even directed a play of mine at Surf Reality. (He also took the picture of Robert Pinnock eating frogs in my book No Applause)

But we hadn’t seen each other in many months by late 2001, so it was a shocker and a jolt when he came back into my life in this new way. By now, I’ve totally internalized his story, I heard him tell it (and watched his video) so many times, so I hope he doesn’t mind if I recount it here from memory. There certainly is copious record of Evan telling it himself online — so many clips it’s hard to pick one to link to. At any rate, Evan had a video gig at Trinity Church that morning. He was shooting around the pedestrian bridge when he heard the noise — and then (as he and all good photographers are wont to do) headed for the action. I have a copy of the original raw footage sans audio (the original was lost in a hasty dub). For the next 45 minutes or so you are with Evan in compressed/ real time as he approaches the base of the towers, shoots falling debris, captures images of a bunch of scared looking firemen heading into the towers, witnesses the second plane hit the South Tower from directly below, flees around the corner, is nabbed by some cops, is interred for a time INSIDE the World Trade Center by Port Authority cops and FBI, exits the center escorted by a cop, sees the South Tower fall from across the street, and dives under an SUV before the image is engulfed in darkness.

I don’t know if the full video is available for public consumption anywhere, but certainly sections are. Here’s Evan talking you through it on the History Channel:


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