It's been 10 years since an event in New York rocked the world in which I grow up. I don't mean the world in a physical sense, though it did affect vast parts of this planet — but my personal world where I live as an American.
Just like many news outlets, the Missourian prepared an extensive look at the ten year anniversary of September 11. The newspaper had a variety of coverage, from clips from ten years ago, stories of how the events changed individual lives such as Muslims in Columbia and also the stories of five members of Task Force 1, a rescue team that went to ground zero just days after the attacks.
I was assigned to photograph these portraits of the men who were involved in the Task Force 1 group that went to ground zero ten years ago. I struggled with the concept for the images — I didn't want anything cliche, such as American flags or overt symbolism that would seem cheesy. I just wanted the portraits to be beautiful and, most of all, to reflect a feeling and a somber, regal mood.
As I was setting up a two-light set-up in the studio, I used Melissa Klauda as my test model for the lights. Accidentally, I had tilted the hairlight so that it was directed at the camera too prominently, so that it caused a weird, erie light, like a flare in the picture. And then it hit me — that was my "prop."
I used flare as my "prop" in this shoot because I feel like the light evokes a feeling. It sends a message of godliness, remembrance and the future. I think the godly aspect of the light pays homage to those who died, but it also hints at the hope of a positive future for our country in our actions as a reaction to what happened that day. Perhaps I'm putting a lot of meaning into a little bit of light, but if nothing else, I hope it provides a serene yet dramatic mood to the photographs.
I don't know how I can bring myself to write about the ten year anniversary of September 11. I was 11 when it happened, and I didn't realize until I read some of the pieces that have come out this week how little I have read about the actual day. For some reason, I've become desensitized to the images of what happened that day, but reading the words of these Task Force 1 workers and what they had to go through that day was heartbreaking. I think when you're young, it's hard to grasp destruction and the repercussions of it. And especially as a Midwesterner, I felt like New York was a faraway land. But reading new material and re-reading the actual description of what happened brings a whole new perspective of the situation and instills even more patriotism in myself, which I did not think was possible.
Especially after going abroad, dealing with the actions of my country after September 11 has been tough. I had to explain over and over to Europeans why I was so happy Osama bin Laden was dead, why my country thought it was OK to impose democracy on other nations, why Americans were so damn patriotic and why we were at war. Obviously I have the answer to none of these questions, but looking back at an event that has not only shaped my country's future, but also my own, it's somewhat easier to come to terms with what America to me has become. Although the supposed portrait of evil to my 11-year old self is dead and ten years have passed, the attacks on America on September 11 are still all too real and the fear has not subsided. But after reflecting on what has happened since then, I hope that my country and countrymen can still hold our unique, unequaled and sometimes ridiculous patriotism and continue to allow our nation to prosper and grow, learning from our reactions to the attacks and perfecting our behaviors in a way that allows all Americans to live freely and pursue happiness.
These photos were used in a print layout designed by Josh Barone, an online ebook designed by LeeAnn Elias with extensive 9/11 coverage and also as portraits for some compelling audio from interviews by Abbey Sussell, who also wrote a story.