Osama is Dead; Photos from a historic party at Ground Zero

On a gorgeous September day almost ten years ago, I had just started my morning as the editor-in-chief of an upstate newspaper when one of my reporters told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Five minutes later, he told me about the second one, and I knew everything was about to change. Every impulse in me in a reporter told me to drive the 300 miles and be in the thick of it, but I had to manage everything, including an afternoon edition, so I sent out someone else.

Now, I finally strapped on a camera and headed for Ground Zero, but I was met with a site of raucous celebration, not despair. Osama is dead; we even have the body so there won’t be Osama sighting for the next 50 years, and New Yorkers were in the mood to celebrate. Given that it was 1 a.m., most of the ones really ready to celebrate in public were the college kids who were ready to go anyway, which ensured the atmosphere would be of revelry, not contemplation, though we were among the graves of Osama victims.

But if any city is ready for an impromptu rally at 1 a.m., it’s this one. And I’m glad to call it my home.

UPDATE: I wasn’t there to do video, but here’s a quick one I took to just get a sense of the crowd. Also, my friends at B&H Photo asked how I did this technically, given that it was 1 a.m. under low and very tricky lighting. Images have very little editing as befits photojournalism, but I knew I’d have to capture action in near-darkness, so I brought my “night vision” set-up: Two Nikon D3s‘s with the Nikon 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, and Sigma 85mm f/1.4. Under sodium-vapor streetlights, white balance gets truly wacky, so I used Nikon Capture NX2 to process, as it has the best white balance control of any program I’ve used.

Otherwise, the main skills were things I learned in years as a newspaper photographer, such as how to politely elbow your way through a surging crowd and get where the action is.

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Students, including a girl on her 21st birthday, use street poles to show their patriotism.

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Revelers spray champagne onto the crowds below

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After spraying the crowd, he enjoys some of the champagne for himself

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Who knew New Yorkers had so many spare flags?

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And the crowd goes wild for the cameras

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A woman walks past a one-man candlelight vigil

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Nothing says pride like face paint

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The crowd chants for peace

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Marching past the 9/11 memorial

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Scaling Mount Patriotism…

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“Lady, do NOT go up there! You are wearing a DRESS!”

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City worker takes it in…

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Moments like these are more important than car hoods

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The only time I have ever seen a New Yorker happy to be stuck in traffic.

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The sign of the night…

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Let your colonial flag fly…

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Tossed toilet paper hangs above as the crowd surges

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Texting in the USA…

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I can’t get enough of these guys.

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Carried above the crowd

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Vigilant.

UPDATE: There’s a lot going on in the comments, some of it I find quite distasteful. Here’s my view as someone who was there, in it if not of it:

I would prefer Osama have come quietly, but, he didn’t. I don’t really trust these events to be related truthfully given the value of propaganda, but the whole “firing back and using a wife as a human shield” thing, if true, makes me pretty comfortable with their decision to fire back.

One thing I was VERY proud of. Nowhere in all of the NYC revelry that I saw in person or on the news was there the scarcest bit of anti-Muslim sentiment. A guy with an “I’m a Muslim, don’t panic” t-shirt was cheered everywhere he went. No one denigrated or desecrated Islam except for OBL himself. (Online and in some other parts of the country, yes, but that’s not what these celebrations were about)

What’s hard to understand if you weren’t there is that there’s a very simple reason for the atmosphere … it was 1 a.m. These were 90 percent college kids who decided to hook a left instead of heading to the bars. No hatred, no burning people in effigy, just good news meaning an excuse to hang from a light pole on a day where the cops would cheer you on for doing so. Does it really make sense to set a car on fire because your team won a basketball game? Sure, if you listen to your id.

I didn’t think it was the tone I would have wanted, but the more I see people give high-handed criticism of a bunch of people gathering in the streets just to sing songs and share a sense of glad togetherness, the more protective I feel.

I mean, dude. I saw a hippie go up to a military offer and say “Do you mind if I just … give you a hug?” And they hugged. I saw police officers laughing gleefully at people committing (victimless) crimes, yelling “just don’t get hurt!” And 400 people cheering on a Muslim guy waving an American flag I saw New Yorkers not caring about a traffic jam. No hatred, but a sense that we did something right, something we said we’d do, and brought him to justice. (And if the raid went down the way they said, it seemed to have been handled justly).

The atmosphere was joyous and inclusive. When someone shouted “Hooray for the troops!” everyone cheered, then chanted “Bring them home!” The chant merged into “End the wars!” and someone responded with their own chant: “Don’t get greedy!” Everyone laughed. This is how it felt. While the wars aren’t funny, while death isn’t funny, and while the people here took their convictions seriously, even when they opposed each others’, you laugh when anything happens that relaxes your tension just a little bit. You put 1,000 people together who are happy about anything, and it becomes a party.

Do you think none of the celebrations would have happened if he’d come along quietly? If the announcement was “We’ve got him!”

I think there would be countless debates later about what to do with the guy, but I think there would have been just as many people in the streets, and if so, then they weren’t really there cheering for death, and sanctimoniousness must be tempered.

We did the conga when Hitler died, but we also went out into Times Square and kissed nurses when Hirohito … didn’t die.

Personally, I am cheering one of the most successful, precise military actions in history. It would have been easy, but terrible and a disaster, to just send in a Predator and destroy the place. We finally made a series of right, difficult decisions after a series of incredibly competent intelligence gathering. I mean … incredible effective government decisions? Incredibly competent intelligence agencies? And it all worked together to absolutely minimize any impact on civilians? That’s a stopped clock worth cheering.

In short, Americans aren’t particularly obsessed with death — we’re absolutely obsessed with WINNING. And in asymmetric warfare, the events of May 1, whether he had come quietly or not, is as close to a win as we can possibly come.

Tracy Allyn Croysdale - Such a great day in what I hope is a new history. So glad you were able to document the celebration… and with such an incredible image, at that!

Kyle - These pictures are absolutely amazing.

Jennifer - Beautiful images! Great capture of such a historic event! Thanks for posting! P.S. – I want a D3S!

Joseph - Amazing coverage Ryan.

Julia Wade - Ryan these are incredible … what a piece of history you have captured! Amazing!!

Chris Davis Cina - Awesome job, Ryan. Just waking up and you managed to spend the night documenting and posting an emotional response to a horrifying day we all remember. The pictures are great. Thanks for sharing.

Dirk - We stand by you America! Great pics Ryan!

Doug Brenizer - Glad that the journalism side caught up with you…excellent capture of the mood and feel of the night..I am once again speechless and jealous. :)

Lee Smith UK - just wanted to say this after reading the comments:

i think it is really sad that people are celebrating a man’s death even if he was a terrorist. people are pushed to things they sometimes do not really want to do but feel they have no choice… until u are in this position you will NEVER understand! (that is not defending osama btw).

i do not even believe in god or the bible… but does the bible not say ‘DO NOT TREAT EVIL WITH EVIL’. Revenge only fuels the fire(s) even more!

and do you not feel that after the way our countries treat these other countries ie: using politics as excuses to gain resources, is just beyond belief… they (the governments) even think & believe we do not see through their lies!!!

come on people… u really need to wake up to the REAL WORLD!!!

nice pics btw Ryan, even if they are in bad taste. :)

wally zebco - 1000 young people cheering loudly out of a city of 7 million is hardly a fair sample what this country thinks.

fajas colombianas - Long live USA! now that he’s dead, others might exact a revenge much greater than this.

Deb Beaulieu - Wow. That is an incredibly amazing site to see:) Thank you for the documentation as this is a very historic moment for not only Americans and New Yorkers, but for people across the world.

not an american thank god - you americans are retarded , i cant wait till one of the other al queda extremists blows you all up
and im not saying they will blow you up for killing bin laden , im saying they will blow you up for acting like a bunch of turds

americans are tools MASSIVE tools even ( well not all americans but alot )
eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind and all that

Dave - Great pictures. Thanks for sharing.

asif - if this is the judgement for the AMERICAN THEN THEY HAVE TO MAKE JUDGMENT FOR THE INNOCENT PEOPLE WHO DIED DURING THE WAR

Peregrine John - I keep hoping that someone who wishes death and all sorts of horrors on their well-meaning political opponents tries to lecture me about how I should be somber and all about the death of Bin Laden, who actually killed actual people because he’s actually evil.

Because I haven’t had a good reason to punch someone in the face for a long time.

Kathy - Great pictures! Thanks for capturing this historic event.

Thomassabo - Americans may be more attacks by terrorist. So Please pay more attention to safety

The Thirty-Something Bride - Perhaps we can look at this as a celebration of the end of an era of terrorism, led by Bin Laden. Perhaps we can celebrate the return of some of our overseas soldiers. Perhaps we can celebrate the fact that this particular man can no longer murder innocents around the world.
Celebrating death is never a good thing, but consider the lives that this man’s death will save: that’s worth celebrating.

Amazing shots, regardless of how one might feel.

Nadia R. - you have got to be and pretty silly to believe he is dead.
are you guys telling me that after 10 years of chasing the guy , spending millions, creating another war, they just threw the body to the sea? HAHAHAHAHA
and by the way, you can just change the flag in the picture for another and…

PSGInfinity - @Shahzeb Bhatti:

Millions? You clown, you’re off by at least two orders of magnitude. Where are the mass graves? Oh, right, you must be referring to the ones *Saddam Hussein* created. Iraq’s official estimate of the Iraq Liberation dead stands at 108,000, the *vast majority* killed by Al Qaeda or the Saddamites.

While those *rare* cases of abuse need to be punished, nutjobs like you equally need to be called out for lying about what’s happening. And know the America actually *does* prosecute those cases unlike, say, your own people. That you want to punish former President Bush for trying to help your fellow muslims says much more about *you* than him.

Amanda Basteen - These are amazing Ryan. They sure do have a great reason to celebrate. Some of these comments crack me up. People are so stupid.

Anyway, the last photo is my favorite and really represents it all.

Amanda Basteen - Also, just want to add. To the people saying we are celebrating a man’s death, it is not a celebration of one man’s death, but a celebration over a victory in our war on terrorism. Sure, we still have a ways to go, but it is a step in the right direction and the safety of 1000’s or even millions. Figure it out.

Sonja Lee - Spot-on captions with brilliant photographs. Kudos on your skill and sensibility from a deeply moved San Franciscan.

Lana Cease - Excellent coverage Ryan. I’m really jealous, I would have loved to been you at that moment capturing history.

Cameron McCormick - Thank you for sharing these amazing images!

daniel stark - great coverage, ryan. thanks for giving us an inside look. great work.

rich - what an amazing moment to capture – great shots!!

Hannah - Plenty of people seem to think this is some kind of victory – it is no victory at all. Osama Bin Laden was not some kind of mastermind responsible for all of the Islamic extremists in the world. He was one man and little more than a symbol. How many civilians died at the hands of the US and UK armies pursuing this one man’s death? Nothing has been won here, the “War on Terror” (and let me just say that you can’t fight a literal war against an abstract concept and win) will go on, terrorism will still happen, and people will still die. People all over the world are still suffering, Western soldiers and their families as well as civilians who have no part in this stupid fucking “war”. These celebrations make me feel ill. Seeing videos of people chanting “USA! USA!” outside the White House is sickening. Vive l’impérialisme!

Harsh - Is Osama dead in real?

Jay Bird - Why commemorate this, when you’re killing hundreds in Lybia under the pretext of ‘restauring democracy’, but actually aiming at their oil? Same happened in Irak and Afghanistan … later there will be tears, when they decide to strike back. Foster hatred, harvest sorrow.

sskennel - The first photo in this set is an absolute classic. Well done.

imthiaz houseman - Great photojournalism. Thank you for sharing this special moment in history with us.

Alessio Andreani - Great pictures! thanks for sharing!

Becca - Beautiful, moving images. So glad you were there in the middle of it all to document it. You shoot from the heart and it shows. Thanks Ryan :)

Dennis Pike - I don’t necessarily think that Ryan’s blog comments is the proper venue to have a political debate. The photos, are gorgeous. I especially like the one man vigil, and the photo of the city worker. Well done, sir.

Lynn - darn good PJ work Ryan. way to think on your feet and go out on such short notice.

Ryan Brenizer - @Dennis: Let people debate. You know how much Google juice this is getting me? ;-)

brett maxwell - great set! and way to think on your feet to steal some off-camera flash from the crowd.

Sara Kelly Johns - When I read a post from a NYC FB friend who posted a picture of himself and his HS buddy Tom Foley, a first-responder fireman who died on 9/11, I cried. “We got him for you, Buddy.” There is fear of retaliation today along with a feeling justice was served. I was glad to read that the team that went in was ready to take him alive…but, Osama was a terrorist and was determined to not be taken alive. Thanks for the dramatic pictures, Ry.

Bryan Nazario - Awesome pictures!

Bec - AUS - This is certainly doing your blog massive favours, so let everyone comment in the fashions they want.
It’s not like you posted your personal views, and besides all that – the pictures are amazing, and I was in awe and also a tad jealous that I wasn’t there to capture them. Nice work!

Robb Duncan - Truely amazing images Ryan. I am honestly lost for words, wow.

acme - you are sick celebrating the death. no matter what man he was.
you are sick.

East European - Dear Americans,

When another 9/11 will come, the whole world will rejoice.
And you deserve it.

Kenneth Aston - Great captures Ryan!

Ryan Brenizer - Dear East European, you are a horrible person with a terrible sense of perspective.

Kendra - Am I the only one who thinks that comparing a one man’s death toll to the death toll of a government is ridiculous?

You could compare the deaths ordered, indirectly and/or directly, by Osama/Bush/Obama, but comparing Osama to the US is silly?

Especially because he was only alive for 50 something years? There has to be some kind of timeline or boundary for your claims. If you keep comparing the two blindly it does not make for a very convincing or valid argument.

Nobody is going to argue Dahmer killed more people than the state of Texas, but those are two different things & comparing them is useless for the same reason.

marianne - Thank you for your perspective. I was a little appalled to hear of people celebrating a person’s death. Similar celebrations took place on my college’s campus and it rather disturbed me. After having read your view of the happenings, however, I feel much better about the situation. It is nice to know that the celebrations were made more of drunken togetherness and less of actual hatred.

Your photos are amazing.

FuckOsama - People who are “sickened” by the celebration of his death are the exact people that are causing this country to go down hill. He killed THOUSANDS of us and we lost THOUSANDS trying to find him. If you didn’t feel like celebrating when he died then get the fuck out of America.

And HANNAH: your right, you can’t fight “terror.” However, for some reason it wouldn’t be cool with some people to say “the war on Muslim Terrorists” because thats “violating religious rights.” But in reality a war on MUSLIM TERRORISTS is what it is, and it’s also winnable. And You’re wrong about the fact that this doesnt mean anything. How can you say bringing down the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks isnt significant. Thats the biggest blow these fuckers have received and we have every right to cheer.

And East European, you’re another asshole i’d cheer at the death of. i knew 25 people who died that day. and many more who have sacrificed themselves in the war following that day. you really are a scumbag. i hope experience a slow painful death just to become osama’s sex slave in the fiery pits of hell. why dont you come to america first, get on ur hands and knees and beg to work next to some illegals.

Ron Burgondy - Ok great…Now let’s move on to more important topics – Why do all ppl that own iPhones think the BB is inferior when you can’t even type on one? I mean, you can’t be serious to think that you can type without a keypad? Oh, and how does an iPad become so famous when you can even view FLASH based sites. YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS PPL!

I’m inline to get the latest BB SO I CAN TYPE FAST AND ACTUALLY SPELL.

I did a test with my wife who’s an iPhone biggot (as most are – whatever…I’m mean seriously, whatever) and I typed the same two sentences 75% faster and more accurately. Check out the latest BB phones just announced and while you’re at it, pick up a Playbook so you can see how multi-tasking OS’s work folks. FAR superior. Ok, you Apple guys got me on the “more apps” but since only 5% are really on worthwile, who cares?

Seriously, how many fart apps does it take to make you guys happy? I’ll take less apps that are at least useful and fast any day.

necklace - Great images. I certainly feel the sense of happiness that comes with knowing that the world is free from this evil man. I think the celebrations were poor taste. But thank God for America!!!

Inatt: Ground zero, New York — En moderedaktörs vardag - […] dinglade från en lyktstolpe med en flaska champagne i handen. Inga konstigheter. De vekar ha vart bra stämning om man säger så. […]

Trevor - Hey Ryan, did you use fill flashes? If so which ones?

cs - Good news of course, but were the deaths of so many innocent Afghan and Pakistani civilians worth it? It was the meddling of foreign powers that created Al Qaeda in the first place. Maybe we can learn a lesson and stop being so imperialistic, but I guess not. Our politicians will carry on working in the interests of the rich and powerful.

Ryan Brenizer - No flash here.

goby fast photos » Blog Archive » Pictures of ground zero - […] Osama is Dead; Photos from a historic party at Ground Zero В» Ryan … May 2, 2011 … On a gorgeous September day almost ten years ago, I had just started my morning as the … […]

Raleigh Wedding Photographer - These photos are awesome. The first one is off the hook!

Bradford - These are incredible! My favorites are of the people climbing light poles… especially the first shot. Would have been awesome to be there for that moment.

Matt Lansing - Those are some amazing photographs. They capture the culture of America so well.