Nine Eleven

The story behind the image

Ricoh GR1, Fujifilm press 800 colour negative film, 28mm lens, unknown aperture & shutter speed

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…”Everyone remembers what they were doing the moment they heard John F Kennedy had been assassinated”

This is something I remember my mum mentioning on a number of occasions when I was a child.  In my lifetime I think I can recall only a couple of events that have influenced me in the same way.  One such incident was the death of Princess Diana in 1997.  I remember very well spending the day lazing around in bed with my girlfriend listening to prerecorded loops of melancholy chillout music being broadcast by BBC Radio 1 as a change from their normal Sunday schedule.  The ethereal music was laced intermittently with the sombre tones of a succession of mournful news readers heralding the latest updates on the story.   “Diana, Princess of Wales has died in a car crash in Paris…” started each report as I recall.  In fact, I think I’ve still got a tape recording of the broadcast somewhere.  It was a great selection of tunes that I remember thinking must have been hurriedly put together that morning by Pete Tong from a selection of Ibiza chillout compilation CDs in his collection.

That day was certainly a big day for people in the UK.   Somehow though, I feel that it pales a little into insignificance compared to the events of September 11th 2001, not least because on that day the event was captured graphically on film.

Many photojournalists will remember quite readily where they were on September 11th because, like myself, a fair few of them had just spent the week at Visa Pour L’Image in Perpignan in the south of France, a gathering that offers those of us photographers who travel a lot for work the one opportunity in the year to meet up and swap stories over a few glasses of rosé and a perusal of the years best photojournalistic offerings.   The festival ends on a Sunday night and the majority of people return to their prospective homes on the Monday and Tuesday flights.  911 happened on Tuesday morning, at which point getting home by plane became quite a task for a fair few of the remaining photographers.  Indeed, for the likes of James Nachtwey, who made the Monday flight back to his hometown of New York, Tuesday morning must have seemed like a million miles away from the frivolities of the previous week’s parties and press conferences.

Strangely enough, that year I was very late in trying to book my flights to France and consequently was unable to secure a seat on a plane travelling directly to Perpignan.  In the end, myself, my agent Erin and Sophie, picture editor of The Independent on Sunday, managed to procure flights together to Barcelona with a hire car to drive us over the border into France and on to the festival.  On that fateful Tuesday we were on the road back to Barcelona airport to connect with our flight back to the UK.  The photo was taken with my Ricoh GR1 compact camera at the boarding gate for our plane (visible in the background), the lounge deserted since everyone bar myself was already on board.

This photo didn’t see the light of day until many months after the event.  Obviously, for a news story of the magnitude of 911, publications were after news pictures of the event, the majority of non-New York photos commonly showing the horrified faces of people huddled around TVs in high street shop windows around the world.  This is a quiet picture that had no real place in any news story at the time.

For me, the thing I appreciate most about the image is the fact that it spells out in very plain terms the reality that, for most people, 911 was a TV event, something that I feel is a hugely important aspect of the events of that day and its consequences.  The broadcasting of that archetypal newsreel revealed the incredible power inherent within the psychology of trauma and its use in coersion, factors which the continual looping of the crash footage on TV on the day aided and influenced in a monumental way.

If you like this picture then let it serve as a reminder to you to think about carrying a camera with you at all times.  If you are wondering what a good every-day-carry camera is then may I suggest the Ricoh GR3, which is one of the digital successors to the film camera I shot this picture with.  It’s an extremely compact, fully manual camera that produces great image quality.  Many of my professional contemporaries back in the UK use a Ricoh on a regular basis.  They are especially usefully if you like keeping a candid photo journal of your life, something Abbie Trayler Smith has been doing for a number of years now using a Ricoh.  Hopefully one day you’ll all have the opportunity to see a public edit of her amazing set of  intimate scrap books which document her life on the road as a photojournalist, currently residing in the ‘to do’ pile at her house in Wales.


On Monday I’m off to Mombassa, Kenya to shoot the latest Human Planet story for the urban program.  On the same day, Abbie will be flying to the extreme north of Norway to spend 2 weeks with Sami reindeer herders for the arctic program.  We’ll both be posting blogs, so keep your eye out for our weekly updates.

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Interested in more stories behind the image? … Click HERE


8 Responses to “Nine Eleven”

  1. indonesia lombok says:

    lombok yang indah, layak dijadikan alternatif Bali

  2. R B says:

    This is the best blog I have ever read thank you!

  3. rp says:

    Nice site!

  4. kello1 says:

    I remember being in Brooklyn, NY. on that fateful morning. I was trying to catch up on a bit of news before resting after working the night before.

    As the saying goes: memories don’t leave like people do, they always stay with you.

    I will always remember the emotions, disbelief and shock that I experienced. May those who have perished, never be forgotten and may they rest in peace.

  5. Adam - South Africa says:

    When we look back we think of 911 as a contained event involving 4 planes. My most vivid recollection is listening on the radio on the way home from a meeting, and hearing that there were still 30 planes unaccounted for and the threats to London and other international cities. I had no idea where it was going to end, and whether we would be in WW3 by that evening. An all-out war centred on the middle east means no oil – no oil = no transportation = no food in supermarkets = anarchy = Mad Max (movie) scenario.

  6. Eric says:

    Just about two years ago I was traveling on the path train from Jersey City to Manhattan and we arrived at the “pit” and it was very surrel for me but one of the things that I still remember was the art project were the port I think asked kids that had lost loved ones to share in picture form what they were feeling. I have to tell you that will be with me for a very long time. I trully felt the pain in those drawings.

  7. Sacha says:

    I was at the top of Mount Rinjani in Lombok during 911. I remember during the journey back to the coast our bemo driver told us about “two planes flying into the twin towers”!! We didn’t believe him until we arrived in Bali a few days later. The news was constantly on the TV in all the bars and they were playing the footage over and over again. We were astonished. Little did we know that where we went out drinking that night, the Sari Club, would be the target of the “Bali Bombings” in 2002.

  8. says:

    To day is the 9/11 anniversary.The images, the sounds, the feelings of that tragic morning are still so fresh in my mind. i was walking to my showroom as the first tower crashed in front of me, the lives lost touched our hearts, our family and friends. My showroom is only a few blocks away and the aftermath was almost surreal. To day I pray for the lost ones.

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