Note: I wrote this piece in the summer of 2002. I wrote it, but the story is Ed Whitehead’s. I knew Ed when he worked for Galyan’s, a big sporting goods chain based here in Indiana that was gobbled up by Dick’s a few years ago.
Ed was in Lower Manhattan on September 11. He was an amateur photographer; remember, this was a time before everyone had a camera/phone in his or her pocket. Ed had a camera, some lenses, and 40 rolls of film–and nothing to do but record what he experienced.
A year later, Ed was chief marketing office at Galyan’s. He decided he wanted to make a book of his photos and sell them in the stores to raise money for the Twin Towers Fund. He had the clout and he had the goods–and so we did the book. I hope it made a lot of money. It was designed by Pat Prather and our friends at Dean Johnson Design. I wrote the text.
But it was Ed’s story.
Ed didn’t stay in Indianapolis for long. He moved on to Land’s End in Wisconsin. He died of cancer a couple of years ago. I’m sorry I didn’t know him better.
I’ll post a little more of this in the days to come. Ed had some interesting experiences in the days after September 11. I think it’s a story worth retelling.
On Monday, September 10, the world was perfect.
Not really perfect. But there were parts of my world that seemed perfect that afternoon, a clear and beautiful day I spent on the beach in Amagansett with my best friends James and Robert, along with Robert’s wife Mary and their four-year-old twins, Sophia and Griffin. The beach was uncrowded, the summer people having long since let the Hamptons to resume their lives as bankers and brokers and publishing executives. It was idyllic. With camera in hand, I began to document the day for us to remember in those years ahead when our memories will have faded.
There was also a not-so-perfect part of my word at the time: earlier in the year, my sister had been in a near-fatal automobile accident and had been in a coma for several months. I had come home to take care of her and was splitting my time between her house in South Carolina and my apartment in Greenwich Village. My apartment’s bedroom window looked south down Sixth Avenue, perfectly framing the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
I enjoyed living in the Village. Although I’d actually been born in Washington, D.C., and had grown up in Advance, North Carolina–a peaceful town near Winston-Salem–I’d live in big cities for most of my adult life. I’d worked in Manhattan and London and Southern California, and I enjoyed the lifestyle. I loved the pace of city life: the restaurants and the music and the sounds of the streets.
That day at the beach, I felt as if these were the best pictures I’d ever taken. The twins were innocent and beautiful, and they knew and trusted me, so they were entirely at ease, unguarded for the camera. It felt like a natural extension of my mind’s eye. The world was turning as it should.
Less than eighteen hours later, the world would suddenly seem to stop turning for one awful moment, and then for another, and then start spinning wildly in the opposite direction. My camera would become not an extension of me, but an emotional reservoir that allowed me to capture some of the madness, the terror, and the indestructible and indomitable spirit of people coming to grips with a world that was suddenly, utterly, irrevocably changed.
Truly, I did not understand until very late in my photographic odyssey just how much emotion I’d allowed to imprint itself on the film in my camera–but not on my heart. When I put down the camera, I found, to my great surprise, that the lenses through which I’d viewed the world had only delayed my emotional response: it was all inside me, and I was overcome. My life had changed right along with everyone else’s.
It is difficult for me to know how to talk about September 11 and the weeks that followed. It seems somehow inappropriate to suggest that I was fortunate to be there in Lower Manhattan, with cameras and lenses and forty rolls of film and nothing to do but walk the streets and take pictures.
But in a way, I do feel tremendously fortunate to have been able to document things few others saw, and to do so not as a trained photojournalist, but as an amateur. Sometimes, it’s not the posed portraits or the well-framed landscapes that inspire and move you, but the snapshots of average people at extraordinary moments. In this way, the photos of the remarkable events and people I encountered in the aftermath of September 11 are not much different from the photos of Sophia and Griffin. The circumstances were very nearly opposite. But perfect souls shine through.