Painful Memories

Visitors to the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site next to Ground Zero

Anniversaries, funerals, and memorial services have always given me mixed feelings. I completely understand the need for a nation to gather on a historic day to reflect on lives cut short by hate, but on the purely personal level, memorializing is not something I relish.

It has something to do with asking to feel the turmoil, pain and anxiety again. Reflecting on days of great tragedy become days of great tragedy again, something that makes me want to run and hide on an emotional level. But I have done so all week, reading many reflections, viewing many photos and listening to many recollections on NPR.

It’s necessary to feel the pain again, to feel the anger again, I just don’t like it. A part of me feels like we’re letting the terrorists invade our psyche again. It’s the same feeling that many athletes and boxers understand: Never show the opponent that you are hurt. Don’t let them see your pain. Make them think everything is okay.

I’ll be glad when we can put the anniversary behind us and go back to “normal” lives. Of course, in hindsight, that’s what we tried to do as a nation 10 years ago.

Looking Back: The Aurora News Blog on 9/11

Crowd in Los Angeles clamors for news hours after the terror attacks of 9/11

Below is what I wrote for the Aurora Photos News Blog.

The phone rang, jarring my wife and I from our sleep. Dawn was just creeping under our bedroom shade, but the feeling of dread had already enveloped the room before I grabbed the handset. I had no idea why the phone was ringing, but I did know that the likelihood of the other person bearing good news was nearly nonexistent.

“Turn on the TV” my brother in Rhode Island hollered into the phone. “Quick!”

I hung up and scrambled across the house to turn on the television without waking our five-year-old son. The phone began to ring again. I managed to catch a glimpse of Tower One on fire while grabbing the handset fully expecting to hear my brother’s frantic voice again. But this time it was Martha Bardach, TIME magazine’s West Coast Photo Editor, asking that I get to downtown Los Angeles as soon as possible. No one knew where other attacks might occur, she said, but one rumor had it that a plane was heading for Los Angeles.

I made it to LA and began photographing as people assembled on the streets, talking on their cell phones, looking skyward with a sense of disbelief. The plane, thankfully, never materialized and people started to make their way home only hours after arriving for work. By this time it was being reported that the U.S. had been attacked by terrorists, yet LA had not directly been hit. I ventured across the city to the Federal Building near UCLA and found that the FBI were guarding the facility with assault rifles while listening intently to earpieces. At a nearby newsstand, a growing number of people were gathering. I stopped and began photographing as Angelenos (or were we all Americans at that point, I remember wondering), desperate for news and information, scrambled for position and thrust their money at the clerk in attempts to claim a copy of the LA Time’s extra edition published only hours after the terrorist attacks. “TERROR ATTACK” screamed the headline.

Hours later, I was sent by TIME to document citizens lining up at a Red Cross facility to donate blood for the victims and then onto a large, non denominational prayer service where tears flowed, heads bowed and prayers went out to victims and their families.

I then drove home to my wife and son who were safe and healthy. I cried along with my wife that night, knowing that the world had changed fifteen hours earlier when I reached for the phone.

Security and the Right to Photograph

Added security of those entering the country. ©Todd Bigelow

Rather good timing for this refresher from the ACLU. Many of my students at Cal State University, Northridge and UCLA ask questions about where they can legally take photographs. My standard response is that if you are photographing from a public location and shooting images easily seen from such a location, then you’re good.

One result of 9/11 being explored by media during the week long lead-up to the 10 year anniversary is the added security in our society. Few will argue that added security is a good thing, but photographers and law enforcement have had many run ins over the decade since the terrorist attacks that clearly show a pattern of increasing harassment of photographers working within their constitutional right (you know, the 1st Amendment and all).

Give this link a look over. It’s a worthy refresher on the right to photograph in public: http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/know-your-rights-photographers

When you’re done with that, give NPR a listen as they have a frightening report about surveillance in the Mall of America that illustrates a drastic change in surveillance of Americans following 9/11. http://n.pr/plxOzO

9/11 Remembrance: Photographers & Editors Recall That Fateful Day

No doubt that this is a week of remembrances. Time and again in life we encounter markers that are placed in time that function as transitions. “Before the earthquake,” or “after Katrina” or, in this case, “after 9/11.” Sadly, most of us knew almost immediately that 9/11 would serve as a marker on the scale of Pearl Harbor, D-Day and Hiroshima.

Remembering and respecting solemn dates is woven into society’s fabric. It’s also good for teaching others, healing our souls and reminding ourselves of a terrible loss. With that in mind, and as you encounter various 9/11 remembrances, take a moment to stop by Aurora Photos for short blogs by photographers and editors who recall their feelings and actions on that day in history.

Aurora News Blog can be found here