Monday, 12 September 2011

Turning point

I was not there. I did not witness, first-hand, the chilling scenes. Did not taste the acrid sting of smoke and all things man-made turned to powder. Did not photograph the heart-rending plight of those that jumped to their death rather than face the inferno. Did not record for posterity, all the permutations and combinations of grief, heroism, despair and brotherhood.

And yet I felt it. Like twin daggers to the heart.

I called New York my home for nearly a decade and returned to my native Britain, for family reasons, more than two years before the attacks on the World Trade Centre. Nonetheless, it felt personal, as though a loved one had been assaulted.

None of my closest friends were killed when the towers collapsed, though many were photographing the unfolding chaos in the immediate vicinity. A very few, who were closest had only their quick thinking and the assistance of those around them to thank for their escape. But I had no reason to cry with grief and so, I did not.

But I felt it all the same. The shock, the disbelief, the anguish, the powerlessness, the sympathy for all those so terribly and directly affected. The dreadful certainty that so much would change, everywhere. And the inevitability that it would not, and probably could not, be for the better.

Often, when asked "Where were you when.....?" my answer would be, "I was there, right there as it happened, this is what I saw." That is the privilege, the burden and maybe to a certain extent, the addiction of what we as photographers do. We see it ourselves, know for sure, because we are there.

Not on September 11th 2001. That day I was in London, photographing a footballer. That day I saw it all second-hand, part of the global television and media audience. I read about it, heard pundits opine and even spoke to colleagues who saw it themselves in the vain hope that if only I got a clearer understanding I would be somehow objective about it.

The events of September 11th 2001 left their mark on me by osmosis. A thousand news clips deluged me for days, weeks, until the gradient had been equalised. As much unsettling imagery and knowledge within me as surrounding me.

There are so few fulcrums on which the whole world turns. I did not witness this pivotal moment. Do not know for certain, did not see for myself.

And yet I felt it. And feel it still.

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