If you were unfortunate enough to remain glued to the television
set on September 11, and the days immediately following, the image
of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center, and the
collapse of the towers, was burned into your brain.
There are two reasons that those images will always been with
The first reason is the most obvious - what was captured on the
video was horrible beyond all imagining, and therefore it is unlikely
you will ever be able to forget it;
The second reason is slightly less obvious - the video clip was
replayed, over such a long period of time, that it became, in effect,
a still image which you had time to study, think about, consider
on many levels, and permanently absorb.
You would think that, in this video age, moving images would have
far more impact than "old fashioned" still photography, what we
have always called photojournalism. But the truth is that still
images often have far more impact than moving images for the simple
reason that we normally have far more time to look at them.
Critics and students of photography have often commented in the
past several years upon the fact that, in this video age, it is
getting harder and harder to satisfactorily capture in a still image
what is going on in a moving scene. In his book, My War Gone
By, I Miss It So, Anthony Loyd, a former British military officer
who went to the Balkans and Chechnya as a journalist, writes this
about the difficulty of taking still photographs of combat:
"The photographs I had taken that day were useless. Take away
the sound, motion and atmosphere from a scene of fighting, transpose
an image on to a two-dimensional surface, and you have to have something
really special to communicate even a trace of the madness you have
witnessed." Loyd then notes that having actually witnessed what
he had photographed, he knew what reality lay behind his photos.
"Friends there knew it. They were all wise enough to know what might
lie behind a fuzzy shot of a soldier running. But people who had
never been to war? Their understanding of combat was the Hollywood
However, Loyd writes, still photography can, when it is very very
good, leave "all the other mediums of reportage so far behind as
to make them almost irrelevant: a single punch to the consciousness
that will not go away until you close your eyes or look at something
There are such strong images of the WTC disaster: they were taken
by photojournalist James Nachtwey, perhaps the best living photographer
of war and disaster.
If you are able to look at more images of the horror, the you
should go to Time
Magazine's "Shattered" Photoessay to see a collection
of Nacthwey's photos.
This group of photographs, almost all of which are studies of
the ruin or clean up, may well be with you longer than that recurring
- Look at the opening image, taken through a shattered window,
and consider the enormity of the disaster;
- Consider the next, with the cloud of the explosion rolling
up behind the cross on the church roof - and think about how many
people would twist this horror into a religious conflict;
- Look at image No. 2, which says far more than the proverbial
"thousand words" about the humanity of a single individual being
overwhelmed by this catastrophe;
- Think about the line of firemen in image 7, who are voluntarily,
as individuals, and together, trudging onto the debris, risking
their lives with every step they take;
- In image No. 9 we see the disaster's impact on individuals,
but we also see far more than that - look at the bottle of Evian
water, so prominent on the right of the photo - does this photo
say something about American affluence, and does that make you
think about some of the underlying issues connected to this horror?
- In photo No. 10 - what does the firemen on right see? Do you
really want to know what he is looking at? Does he?
- And finally, in photo 11, consider the juxtaposition of the
poster and the crushed police car - what seemed so vitally important
only moments before the planes struck the tower now seems virtually
I have singled out these particular photos - all in the portfolio
are truly memorable - because I cannot look at these without thinking
long and hard about far more than what is in them. Each of these
photos could be the basis for a book about the disaster. Each, has
frozen a single moment in time, and in doing so has told us more
than the multiple minutes captured on video ever will.
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