Recording the horrors of 9/11
From our archives: Remembering 9/11/2001
The 9/11 terrorists did not discriminate based on race, creed, gender or social standing. The victims came from all walks of life. This reality is reflected in the photographs from that day: the horrors of the destruction and the human toll were captured on both film and digital images. Author David Friend is equally egalitarian in his selection of photographs, and the stories of the people who shot the images, in his captivating book, Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11.
Friend, a veteran photographer and Vanity Fair's editor of creative development, chronicles the events of September 11 and its aftermath through the eyes and camera lenses of both professional and amateur photographers. The photos in the book are gripping. Equally compelling are the tales behind them. For example, there is the account of a gallery owner who laced up his Rollerblades and used a $200 camcorder to shoot footage of the smoking World Trade Center towers. A computer programmer fastened a video camera to his bicycle handlebars, aimed it behind him and recorded scenes of one tower collapsing as he sped away. A commuter shot video through the windows of a subway train as it rumbled across the Manhattan Bridge.
Some of the stories and images are more personal. There is the seasoned photojournalist who shot pictures from her powerboat, praying all the while because the scene was more disturbing than the armed conflicts she covered in Bosnia and South Africa. Or the artist who stood on her roof and shot a portrait of the placid face of her neighbor's 16-month-old son, with the damaged towers serving as a backdrop.
There have been millions of words written about the tragedy of September 11, but Friend makes a strong argument that the images tell the real story. Photographs, that September and thereafter, Friend writes, have helped to shape our understanding of the week's events, and have helped us mourn, connect, communicate and respond. There were many heroes the victims, their families, the rescuers. Friend makes a convincing case that the photographers were also heroes in their own way. They risked, and in some cases lost, their lives, to preserve history. There were thousands among us, Friend writers, who had the poise and wherewithal to pick up a camera so that the world might witness and respond.
John T. Slania is a journalism professor at Loyola University in Chicago.