by Robyn Gillam

David Gruggen’s photography studio is located at 326 James St. North. Most of the time his window displays feature family portraits or his striking aerial views of Hamilton, but this September a remarkable exhibit commemorating 9/11 featured the photographer as well as his subject. He explained how he happened to be there for this historic event.

David first became interested in photography in the Seventies as a teenager in Westdale. After studying at Mohawk College, he pursued a career as a TV cameraman, as well as a freelance photographer, working in journalism and advertising.  Over the years David has documented major events and important political figures, as well as the changing shape of Hamilton in a remarkable series of aerial photographs. At the turn of the millennium, he was working a lot of special events like product launches and fashion shoots.

The commission to cover a Marc Jacobs fashion show was nothing out of the ordinary, except that it was in New York City. David had never been there before and looked forward to experiencing the excitement first hand.  The morning after the shoot wrapped up on September 10, while breakfasting in a diner, he heard the World Trade Center was on fire and rushed outside. David’s pictures show what he saw on the street some 3 km away from Ground Zero, including crowds of people watching the structures burn. There is an image of a huge debris cloud which he only later realized showed the collapse of one of the towers, as well as pictures of crowds fleeing the debris. The many images of first responders like firemen and paramedics remind us what an important role they played in this emergency situation, but especially how vital they have been in helping us deal with Covid. As the official photographer for Hamilton Fire Department and Emergency services, David doesn’t need reminding.

Caught up in this momentous event, David contacted CHCH and did a telephone interview, but forgot to get in touch with his family. Luckily, his son heard the interview at school so knew he was safe. He had become part of the story. David didn’t get back home until the end of the week, driving up from Buffalo in the middle of the night.

9/11 was twenty years ago, but, as David Gruggen’s pictures show, it was an event in which ordinary people, like us, rather than politicians, military commanders or celebrities, played a leading role. In fact, that’s what history is – the deeds and events that unfold in our lives over time and that we ourselves shape directly by our own actions. These pictures are valuable in helping us understand that.

We make our own history, both in and out of our neighbourhood. We contribute to it when we record our own lives online, in words or images, and collectively like in the pages of this newsletter. You can also learn more about the history of our community at the Workers’ Art and Historical Centre on Stuart Street and in the archives at the Hamilton Public Library on York Boulevard. These sites are once again open to the public as well as being available on line. The author wishes to thank David Gruggen for sharing his experiences and making his amazing images of them available.