Jonathan Woods' Minnesota roots run deep. His great-grandfather worked as a lumberjack near Grand Rapids, Minn., nearly a century ago. His mom, Marie Woods, taught fourth grade for nearly 40 years in St. Michael-Albertville schools, and his father, Henry Woods, is a retired Maple Grove accountant.
But this story isn't about his roots. It's about what he did 1,765 feet above ground zero on the southern tip of Manhattan. Woods, a photo editor at Time magazine, walked into the weekly pitch meeting 13 months ago with a wacky idea.
He wanted to shoot a 360-degree, panoramic photograph from the top of the new World Trade Center — the tallest building in the western hemisphere — that rose from the 9/11 rubble.
"My boss looked at me and said, 'Good luck, come back when you get permission.' "
A jillion e-mails, countless meetings with iron workers and Port Authority honchos and months of planning later, he was on an elevator heading up one-third of a mile.
Sort of. There was still a 405-foot ladder ascending from where the observation deck will hover on the 102nd floor. That's as high as the public will be allowed. With a safety harness attached, Woods began to climb.
"Left hand, right hand. Left foot, right foot. My arms were baked when we got to the platform 15 feet shy of the tiptop of the spire."
Using a 13-foot jib and high-tech gear, they shot a 14.5-gigabyte interactive photo. It took five hours. You can explore neighborhood details at time.com/world-trade-center or hold on to your seat for the six-minute video — tinyurl.com/lu7htnt — for which he commissioned a helicopter to shoot the shooters.
Woods said he wasn't scared up there. His only anxiety was fretting that the photo wouldn't work out well. The photo is on the cover on Time this week. So much for the worrying.
It doesn't hurt that he worked as a rock climbing instructor while attending Marquette University and picked up his emergency medical technician's certifications to work for three years as a volunteer firefighter in Plano, Ky.
That was all prompted when he arrived at a car wreck as a spot news photographer before the cops showed up, feeling helpless he couldn't offer aid. His cover shot bubbled up from covering the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
"Growing up in Minnesota, 9/11 was a different experience for us Midwesterners," he said. "We're removed from the Big Apple and the hustle and bustle. Being there on the 10th anniversary, it became really palpable and real to me for the first time. I literally had tears streaming down my face with my camera, looking at these people who lost everything that mattered to them and so much more."