Story of ‘Faces of Ground Zero’ FDNY Portrait in Museum’s Collection

Story of ‘Faces of Ground Zero’ FDNY Portrait in Museum’s Collection

Firefighter Jason Cascone. Photo by Joe McNally, Gift of Joe McNally through the generous support of PhotoShelter, Inc. and Allen Murabayashi.

In the fall of 2001, FDNY firefighter Jason Cascone, dressed in his bunker gear, arrived at a lower Manhattan studio rented by acclaimed Life magazine photographer Joe McNally. Cascone was the subject of a compelling life-size 9-by-4 foot portrait shot by McNally with a unique giant Polaroid camera.

The photo, which McNally donated to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, is part of a series called "Faces of Ground Zero," which McNally conceived in the emotional weeks following 9/11. In the photo, Cascone confronts the lens with an unflinching gaze, gripping various rescue tools. His boots and lower pant legs reveal the dust from his recent posting on the “pile,” where he had been searching for missing first responders at ground zero.

McNally said that his subjects in the series – mostly everyday New Yorkers who were pulled into the heart of this tragedy – demanded the use of the one-of-a-kind large-scale camera because "they truly were – and are – larger than life."

Cascone had just completed his fire department training on Monday, September 10, 2001. Tuesday morning was to be his first day of work as a probationary firefighter assigned to Ladder 9-Engine 33. When the planes crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center that morning, Cascone had not yet reported for duty, arriving downtown immediately after both buildings had collapsed. He remembers riding on a bus heading to the WTC with a chaplain who was “giving absolution to everyone.” On that day, nine members of Cascone’s company were killed.  

Cascone later reflected that the timing of his first day on the job only solidified his resolve to be a New York City firefighter and dedicate his life to keeping the public safe. For the past 14 years, he has done just that, rising through departmental ranks.  Several days before 2015 concluded, the FDNY promoted Cascone to the rank of Battalion Chief.

Through this portrait of determined young professionalism, the 9/11 Memorial Museum acknowledges Cascone for his extraordinary service as well as 61 other accomplished members of the department promoted along with him. The Museum thanks McNally for his generous donation of Cascone’s portrait.

 By Jan Seidler Ramirez, 9/11 Memorial Chief Curator, Vice President of Collections