Photographer Thomas Franklin spoke Friday to Warsaw Community Schools fifth-graders at the Performing Arts Center. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.
Photographer Thomas Franklin spoke Friday to Warsaw Community Schools fifth-graders at the Performing Arts Center. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.
Thomas Franklin drew on his experience as a photographer in order to shoot what was going on in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, he said during a speech to Warsaw Community Schools fifth-grade students Friday.

Franklin is an award-winning photographer, multimedia journalist, documentary filmmaker and college professor. He is best known for his iconic flag-raising image taken at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center immediately after the events of 9/11.

In 2001, Franklin said he was a photographer at a newspaper just across the Hudson River from New York City in New Jersey. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was in his office and preparing for a meeting on a project he was working on when an editor came in saying an airplane just hit the World Trade Center. Franklin went to his window and was able to see the World Trade Center. What he saw looked like no accident, Franklin said. He took his equipment and got as close as he could, taking pictures the rest of the day.

Franklin told the students if there’s something they’re passionate about, try and develop that passion. He said he was lucky because he knew he wanted to create. He had a curious and artistic part of himself and went on to study fine art photography.

He saw a photo in a magazine called “Drowning girl in Columbian Mudslide.” He was moved that the girl in the photograph was in such a calm state while she was dying and thought it was a powerful photograph. He decided he wanted to take photographs to tell stories. He said he had a strong desire to tell stories of others who were less fortunate than him or were in situations where they were in trouble.

Franklin said if there’s something you’re passionate about and you start putting hours in, it will lead to success. He said he didn’t know he was doing that during his career, but he was. He said when Sept. 11 happened, he was prepared, skilled and experienced.

For those who lived in the New York and New Jersey area, this was the event that changed their lives, Franklin said. He knows it changed lives across the country, but in his part of the country, it was personal.

Over 3,000 people were killed that day and the World Trade Center towers were destroyed.

“And it was like a day like no other. And my job was to go out and take pictures,” Franklin said.

The magnitude of what happened that day was enormous, Franklin said. “And for fifth-graders in Indiana, I hope you can appreciate how big of an event this was.”

The main challenge he faced as a photojournalist was how to handle his emotions while doing his job, he said.

He showed the fifth-graders a photo he took heading from New Jersey to Ground Zero. He remembers being very emotional and trying to prepare himself for what he saw when he got off the boat on the New York side.

“And what I saw was unlike anything I could describe for you with words,” Franklin said. There was wreckage and carnage from the towers falling, he couldn’t comprehend it.

“But my job was to put those feelings and emotions aside and take pictures and get those pictures back to my newspaper so they could run them in the newspaper and online the next day,” Franklin said.

He said a lot of people think that the World Trade Center is just two buildings, but it was actually seven.

He took a picture of building seven, which collapsed an hour after he took the photo.

“And that was significant because the rescue had to leave Ground Zero, stop the search and rescue because the building was going to collapse. They were in danger,” Franklin said.

That’s when Franklin’s picture of three firefighters raising the flag at Ground Zero happened. They took it as opportunity to raise the flag. It was not staged.

“It was just a moment they decided to do this. And I can only assume this because I have not asked them this, but they did it as a way of solidarity, of coming together, of unity,” Franklin said.

Franklin said he shot about 20-plus photographs of the firefighters raising the flag and the one that was chosen was one of the only good ones.

Franklin said it had similarities of another famous photograph of soliders raising the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II.

Franklin said his photograph was everywhere.

The photograph was featured on the United States Postal Service’s heroes' fundraising stamp and was chosen by President George W. Bush to do so. Proceeds from these stamps have generated over $10 million for victims of 9/11, Franklin said. He felt very good that his photo helped those in need.

The attention he garnered was a difficult challenge for him because he went from a photojournalist to someone people wanted to interview, noting it was a bittersweet thing.