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Opposite views from opposite sides of the pond

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No matter where you turn in the media, there are a LOT of people offering up a 9/11-related post this week. Here’s mine …

“Beauty,” Margaret Hungerford once suggested, “is in the eyes of the beholder.” I suspect the same could be said for icons … which is how I feel about my disagreement with Britain’s Jonathan Jones over a photo taken that day by photographer Thomas Hoepker, an image that, according to Jones, “is becoming one of the iconic photos of 9/11.”

I disagree.

“It is now established as one of the defining photographs of that day,” Jones writes. “With the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Centre’s destruction approaching, the Observer Review republished it this August as the 9/11 photograph.”

You can see the photo in question, and read Jones’ complete post HERE. I’ve read it more than once, as well as the spirited discussion launched by the post. And I find myself agreeing with a number of the commenters who stated that, for all its supposed importance, for all its iconic status, this was the first time we had even seen the photo. In the foreground, a group of New Yorkers sit chatting in the sun in a park in Brooklyn – apparently unmoved by the huge column of smoke rising from Manhattan, just across the water, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Some have embraced the idea of their apparent nonchelance, and not just on the other side of the Atlantic … Jones’ post includes a quote from the New York Times’ Frank Rich, who suggested “The young people in Mr. Hoepker’s photo aren’t necessarilly callous. They’re just American.”

But you know what? So were the people who show up in some of MY iconic photos of that day … especially the firefighters … there has always been a special place in my heart and my prayers for firefighters, as there should be in the hearts and prayers of us all … those rushing into the towers of the World Trade Center, and up the stairwells, even as the WTC rumbled and fell … FDNY Chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge who remained in the lobby of the north tower, offering aid and prayers until he was killed in the tower’s collapse … and those who found a way to pursue their simple, daily routine of raising the American flag, even in this setting of terrible carnage.

Anyway, ten years later, those remain among the iconic images of that terrible day … at least for this beholder.

There's a saying around here, something like, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could!" That's me. I'm a 'dang Yankee from back-east' who settled in the Lone Star State after some extended stays in the eastern U.S., and New Mexico. I worked as an archaeologist for a few years before dusting off my second major in English, and embarking on a 25-year career in journalism. Since then, I've embraced the dark side of the force, and now work in PR for a community college in Midland, Texas.

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3 Responses to “Opposite views from opposite sides of the pond”

  1. If I had ever seen this “iconic,” “controversial” photo then I’d completely forgotten about it, which gives some indication of the impression it must have made on me.

    Five people, across the water, watching something terrible, and talking about it. What exactly should they have been doing instead? Running about with their hands in the air? (Maybe they had been doing that all day, and decided to take a break for five minutes, when the photographer came along.) This picture says more about the people who consider it to be so “iconic” than it does about those actually depicted within it.

    Jonathan Jones’s post almost reads like a parody of the pompous intellectual, straining mightily to project powerful meaning on one split second of time. Everyone be on your guard and act “appropriately;” a photographer might take your picture, and ten years later someone will write a portentous essay about it.

  2. Ricky, thanks for the input. I think you hit the nail right on the head with your observations.

    My disagreement with Jones, by the way, is not just over what may or may not be THE definitive image of 9/11. I find myself disagreeing, as well, with his view of us all, as he defines all of us – on both sides of the pond – from his interpretation of those shown in the photo … I believe we are better than that.

  3. Jeff — I agree completely with both you and Ricky. Capturing a millisecond, mid-syllable, of young people talking is not enough to label them as insensitive. It is easy to gather the emements of that picture (sunny day; bicycle casually leaning; blue water) and stir them up into apathy soup. Bollocks.

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