Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where were you?

Flight 175 approaches the south tower on 9/11. AP Photo
Every generation has a "Where Were You" event, the sort of event where everyone asks, "Where were you when X happened?" It will be hard for most of us to forget where we were or what we were doing on Sept. 11, 2001, no matter how inconsequential it may be.

I was working as the only photographer at the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, a small, 6-day a week paper in northwestern Minnesota. My work day started at 6:45 a.m. (as usual, and yes, it hurt!) processing film from the previous day's assignments. As the editor/page designer and other reporters started to filter into the newsroom, I was sitting at my computer scanning negatives for that day's paper. I was the only person in the newsroom without a direct view of the lone television in the room.

By chance, I turned around to ask the editor a question right when CNN broke through their regular coverage with the image of the World Trade Center's north tower burning. "A plane hit the World Trade Center," I said as I watched the coverage.

After rapidly scanning the rest of my photos I continued to watch the coverage as United Airlines Flight 175 struck the south tower and as American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. Before United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania I was on the phone with the Associated Press bureau chief in Minneapolis asking to get pictures from the wire (we didn't subscribe to the AP Photostream at the Journal. Too expensive.), which all newspapers in Minnesota were given, whether they were subscribers or not. The Journal, being one of the few afternoon papers left in the state, had the story and photos on A1 about the terrorist attacks in the Sept. 11 paper.

The driver of a delivery truck that nearly hit a school makes a call. Sept. 11, 2001.
After the paper was out, I drove through the city, seeking people watching the coverage of the attacks and reacting. While I found those photos, I also found a photo of a school food service delivery driver who forgot to set his parking brake, causing his truck to roll down a hill and nearly hit the school. It would have certainly been a front page photo had it not been for the terrorist attacks. Oh well!

I still have a CD in my personal archive of all the photographs I pulled from the wire or shot for about 4 days after 9/11. It was interesting pulling that CD out this week to take a look at them. That CD will always help me remember the day our society changed. I am privileged to work in an industry that chronicles history in real time, both the good and the bad.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The photographers of 9/11

The final image shot by Bill Biggart, SIPA Press phototographer killed on 9/11.
News organizations are going crazy this week preparing coverage as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches. 9/11 was arguably the most covered major event in history: a horrible, long duration event in cities with the most journalists per capita in the country.

Thanks to those men and women who went into harms way to document an important moment in American history we have images and video to remember what happened that sunny day nearly 10 years ago. Some, like Bill Biggart, didn't come home.

Biggart was killed when the south tower fell on him as he was taking pictures. His equipment was recovered a few days later. The image above was the last one he shot, moments before the south tower collapsed.

Photographer Thomas E. Franklin produced the video below to not just commemorate the attacks and those that died in them, but the journalists that risked their lives to bring back iconic images of an event that shouldn't be forgotten.

It's a must watch for anyone who has an interest in becoming a photojournalist. It's a must watch for anyone who is curious about what photojournalists do. It's a must watch for people like me who sometimes question whether what we are doing is right. The photographers in the video, professionals and amateurs alike, all share a curiosity about what happens in the world around them and a desire to tell that story in pictures. It's worth the 12 minutes. It might be worth 24.