10 Years After 9/11: The Importance of Photojournalism

"The Falling Man" by Richard Drew (Associated Press)

"The Falling Man" by Richard Drew (Associated Press)

Sunday will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 – that horrible day that marks the end of the World Trade Center, an attack on the Pentagon and heroic efforts of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 which crashed in an open field in Pennsylvania before finding its intended target. The terrorist attacks took place on American soils and within American airspace, but the aftermath rocked the world. In 2001, the internet was just reaching its stride, most news was still broadcasted or in print – even Facebook didn’t yet exist. Like many, I spent countless hours glued to the TV set, dumbfounded about what had been happening. Like millions of people worldwide, the twin towers was an icon. I couldn’t believe it was gone – I still can’t believe it. But now, a decade later, I am now just starting to realize what an important role Photojournalism held on that day. And I question where we’d be if it weren’t for Photojournalists.

Photojournalism takes a special breed of photographer. On the technical side, the photographer must be quick and efficient with their cameras. But the emotional side of the business is perhaps the most demanding, and the most haunting. I have written on the topic before, and my feelings haven’t changed. I don’t feel that many of us have the heart or the stomach to handle photojournalism. I have respect for any photojournalist and admire what they do. But an event like 9/11 is a true test of one’s will. How does someone continue to shoot without emotional attachment? And how does one curb such emotions in order to continue to shoot? I suspect that many world class photojournalists would humbly state that it is their job. They are a voice, rendering subjects that truly cannot be described in words. It’s an incredibly important role, and without photojournalism, we would likely be lost.

In the case of 9/11, there is one photographer who’s haunting image, The Falling Man (shown here), has become a symbol of that day. That photographer is Richard Drew, a photojournalist with the Associated Press. For those of us who weren’t there, in or around the World Trade Center during the attack, Drew’s photo quickly illustrates just how horrible conditions might have been inside the building. Like this man, hundreds of people were forced out of the building by flames, smoke or explosions. This man, and this photograph, has become a symbol for many representing that horrible day. As gruesome and as criticized as a photo like this might be, such a photo is necessary to demonstrate the horror and impact of the attacks. Such a photo says: “This really happened. This is not a dream.”

"Ground Zero Spirit" by Thomas E. Franklin (The Bergen Record)

"Ground Zero Spirit" by Thomas E. Franklin (The Bergen Record)

Not all photos surrounding that day were gruesome. In the evening of the same day the towers fell, while rescue efforts continued, firefighters demonstrated national pride and spirit by raising The American flag on a fallen pole. The event was captured by Thomas E. Franklin in a photo titled Ground Zero Spirit, and it too became a symbol of the day – this time in a more positive note. The photo became a motivator and inspiration for millions, and thousands of support went to New York City to help in recovery efforts. But the photo goes beyond inspiration. It is a photographic documentation of heroes from that day: The Firefighters. Ground Zero Spirit immortalized these heroes, and it stands as a symbol for the thousands of other heroes of that day and the many days to come.

I use 9/11 and the works of Richard Drew and Thomas E. Franklin as an examples, because this is an event that shook all of us. But there are countless of cases where a story just cannot be a story without the efforts and works of a skilled photojournalist. World events, especially, benefit from photojournalism. Without Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic photo, V-J in Times Square, the end of World War II would simply be an anticlimactic headline. If Cecil W. Stoughton hadn’t captured the iconic photograph of President Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn into office  – on a plane, no less – just hours after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, would we really appreciate the weight of the moment? For that matter, Stoughton’s photo also helped to iconize the former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy – still wearing the blood stained pink suit in the photograph – as it demonstrated her strength and reserve in the wake of her husband’s death. All of these moments have gone down in history, but could have easily been forgotten if it weren’t for photojournalists.

As I’ve said before, I don’t feel confident that I could bear the pressures of photojournalism. But that makes me respect the occupation more. The job has an important and necessary role in modern society. And to that end, when we remember those who have fallen and the heroes that rose out of the September 11th attacks in 2001, don’t forget to think of photojournalists that helped us truly understand and respect that day. For without them, the events of such a day could be forgotten. Or worse, the heroes would not receive the honor and recognition that they deserve. And what would be more horrible than forgetting such an event or its heroes?


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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