By CAROL JOHNSON
Five photographers who captured the devastation of terrorist attacks on September 11 told the stories behind their images during a panel discussion, "Capturing History: Photojournalists and 9/11," sponsored by the Library's Prints and Photographs Division (P&P) on June 20.
Madison Council members Thomas and Katherine Martin provided the funding for the Library to purchase more than 100 digital photographic prints documenting the attacks on the World Trade Center. The panel discussion in the Library's Mumford Room was held to bring the new acquisition to the attention of Library staff and the public.
The panel's photographers included one amateur and four professionals: Daryl Donley, a Falls Church, Va., resident who captured the Pentagon in flames while on his way to work in Washington, D.C.; Bolivar Arellano, G. N. Miller, and Steven Hirsch, all from the New York Post; and Susan Watts from the New York Daily News.
Jeremy Adamson, P&P chief, moderated the discussion. "Images may be eloquent and be worth a thousand words, but it is important for us to hear what the creators have to say," he said. "Artists and photographers are often left out of the verbal and textual environments that surround their work." Adamson stressed that, without photography, no one would have known precisely what it was like at the scene of the terrorists' attacks.
Donley, the assistant director of operations for the National Symphony Orchestra, was the first photographer to show slides of his work. On the morning of September 11, he was driving past the Pentagon on his way to work. He heard a low-flying plane and saw it crash into the Pentagon. Once he realized what had happened and regained his composure, Donley remembered that he had his camera with him. His first reaction was that he could not photograph the scene, but then he thought he must. He managed to pull to the side of the highway jammed with rush-hour traffic, stop, get out of his car, and use his camera with a zoom lens to capture the Pentagon in flames, within about three minutes of the attack.
Bolivar Arellano was the next photographer to take the podium. It was through his gallery in New York's East Village that the Library acquired extensive photographic documentation of the attack on the World Trade Center. Arellano, originally from Ecuador, has been a photographer for more than 30 years. He documented civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, among other events. Arellano was the only photographer to shoot an image of the second World Trade tower after the first tower came down. He was standing across the street from tower number two at the time it collapsed. As the building crumbled, Arellano was thrown four feet in the air. His leg was injured, but he continued to photograph. He took the last known picture of a group of 13 firemen before they lost their lives on a rescue mission at the World Trade Center.
New York Post photographer Steven Hirsch saw the devastation from the roof of his apartment building. He bicycled down to Ground Zero and became a witness to one of the most traumatic events of his life. By the time he arrived, both of the buildings had already collapsed and it was difficult to move around because of the debris.
Gary Miller worked as a New York City corrections officer at Riker's Island and as a detective for the New York City Police Department before becoming a professional photographer. Miller said he was hesitant to take photographs at Ground Zero until he remembered his days of working in law enforcement. He compared his former job of drawing a gun to protect himself from criminals to shooting photographs. He explained that he created his image titled "Resurrection Within" in response to the statement he heard after the attack, to the effect that "There's no life at the Trade Center; everyone's dead. There's no life after the Trade Center." Miller said, "But there is life after the Trade Center. There's growth."
Susan Watts was covering a primary election on the Upper East Side for the New York Daily News at the time the plane hit the first trade center tower. She arrived at the World Trade Center five minutes after the second plane hit and ran for her life as the second building fell. She lost several pieces of her camera equipment and cannot remember taking some of her pictures, she said.
Adamson asked the panel, "What does it take to be a news photographer? Do you like action? Danger? Are you capable of dealing with stress? Do you like the grit?"
Although Arellano had risked his life on several occasions in Central and South America while taking photographs of war, he said he was not prepared for September 11. But, his profession is to take pictures, he said, and when something happens he has to be at the scene.
Hirsch said he fell in love with newspaper photography as a child and loves the excitement of not knowing what is going to happen from one day to the next. Miller said he enjoys seeing his photographs developed–capturing history.
Amateur photographer Donley had his work published in Life magazine. Adamson asked how he brought his work to the media's attention. Donley said he contacted a friend who works for Gannett who in turn introduced him to Life's photo editor.
Adamson questioned the photographers about their automatic response to events and whether they had a moment's hesitation before rushing to the center of disaster. Watts replied that she has never had a moment when she could not take a picture. "You have to remove yourself emotionally from the situation because you see such horrible things," she said. "You provide a public service. You have a responsibility to your readers."
Carol Johnson is a curator of photography in the Prints and Photographs Division.