Right in the midst of spring break, York students (online journalism students to be specific) got the chance to have a Q & A with one of the cities most influential photographers Todd Maisel. He has been covering news for almost three decades. Maisel majored in journalism at NYU and worked as an editor for about seven years after that but later found that he wanted to do more on-the-scene reporting so he enrolled at Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts and studied photojournalism to perfect his skills behind the camera. For many years after that, it was hard for him to find a stable job as a photographer so he began to freelance hoping that someone would see his work.
It was in 1996 when Maisel got his big break. He entered a statewide competition for the Daily News, competing with the newspapers own photographers. He swept 14 awards that day, more than anyone in that room, more than any of the professional photographers with stable jobs. One man who wasn’t signed to anyone, who followed news via his police radio, drove to the scene of an incident to capture the true essence of a story through his pictures. That day he was recognized as skilled talent and gained a lot of momentum and publicity and finally established himself as a photographer. Throughout that time he was selling his photos to the Daily News but he said that the people worked there hated him, he said, “They couldn’t stand me because I swept up so many awards. Not even people who had been working there for years won as many awards as me.” He continued to do freelance for them till he asked for a permanent position as a photographer, Maisel told us that on many accounts they denied his request and that they would even forget to pay him for weeks at a time.
He made a bold move and told the editor off. He took matters into his own hands, and proved to them that their photographers could not compare to him not in quality or timeliness. And one day, with his police radio in hand, he rushed to a fire scene and captured dozens of pictures before any other photographer or reporter even reached the scene. He sold all the photos to another media organization and it was then when his ability as a photographer were seen. And sooner than later, he was offered a job at the Daily News
Maisel was always on top of stories and made sure he was on the scene covering events, crimes and stories locally but it was on September 11th 2001 when his limits were tested.
His first tragic incident was covering the world trade center attack. Todd told us his emotional story driving into the city and seeing the cloud of smoke from Canal Street. He then tuned into his police radio and heard that the Twin Towers were under attack so he left his car, grabbed his gear and ran to the scene. It was hen when he realized that this was unlike anything he ever covered before that his was bigger than him, bigger than anyone could handle. We were under attack but that day Maisel made it his mission to capture this horrific event through his lens. He told us that at that time he didn’t know how much danger he was in because he was so shocked that this was all real and that he was putting his life in danger for this. He told us all the things he saw, empty ambulances, smashed cars, body parts covered in debris but he didn’t stop he continued capturing everything he as experiences. He said,” I realized that I was not only covering it, I was a part of it, I could of died too.” He made it his mission to work alongside police and firemen to help fid survivors and he even ended up finding a firefighter under pounds of debris and saving his life.
In an online article for the New York Press Photographers Association where he serves as a national director, he told the public about his fight to stay alive while trying to capture history in the making. He said,
“The rest of the day was spent looking for survivors, lugging backboards into the wreckage. Fire trucks were smashed like pancakes. The building remains stood in almost artistic forms that only the devil could devise. I was clad in gloves and a helmet from Rescue 2, all of their members missing. I had helped empty tools from the beleaguered vehicle for rescuers to utilize. I later handed the helmet to a Rescue 2 firefighter who was not on duty at the time of the catastrophe. Shards of metal ripped my clothes, water up to my knees from broken water mains. I sought water in wrecked ambulances, brought some out to firefighters to clear their eyes and throats. I later ran into Uniform Fire Officers President Peter Gorman and broke down in his arms. I’ve seen terrible things, but I was overcome with emotions, as I’ve never felt before. The loss of so many great people has left us with a huge responsibility to tell their story and preserve their history. The lessons they taught us from their selfless acts that took their lives, will impact myself and most every other New Yorker for generations.”
That incident alone, Maisel said left him along with some other people he knows with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he says it was “traumatizing.” After being on the scene for hours he ran back to the Daily News office to submit his pictures. Fifteen of his pictures were used in the paper the next day. In a interview with Joel Johnson, Matt Buchanan and Scott Alexander, Maisel said,
‘I was always a street photographer. Fires, homicides—that was my thing. I would cover the inner city and the terrible things that went on. After 9/11 I was an embed in Iraq with the First Marine Expeditionary Force. The people I lost on 9/11 give me strength. I have their pictures on my dashboard. They ride into battle with me every day.”
After that day, Maisel made it his mission to always be on top of news coverage. He got the opportunity to cover Haiti where he would also put his morality of helping survivors by driving down to D.R to bring back water and gas. Not only was he capturing history but also he was helping the current situation at that. He also covered the recent Hurricane Sandy where he rode through depths of water and ruined his gear to get great candids.
One thing that Maisel said that really got to me was that, “I think it is my mission is to keep history alive.” He is a man of his words, as his photos grace the pages of the Daily News on a daily basis. He says he is in the process of writing a book so make sure to look out for that!