9/11 – Covering an Unhappy Anniversary

September 11, 2007 | By Chris Hondros | News

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I wasn’t sure where exactly to go this morning. The memorial ceremony itself was held adjacent to Ground Zero, but only a handful of photographers are let in down there. So I walked in a circle for a few hours, back and forth between Broadway at the famous St. Paul’s Chapel that survived 9/11, and the plaza on the edge of Ground Zero where tourists come to peek through the fence and photograph themselves next to history.

9/11 was of course a quintessential American tragedy, and we continue to commemorate the day in American ways. A street musician blew sonorous tunes on some sort of traditional African horn, then gave out Christian tracts to those who would stop to listen. A large gang of conspiracy theorists, complete with custom T-shirts, alleged that the attacks were commissioned by the US government. A woman bowed her head next to a sign that appealed for world peace. Three young women that were identical triplets donned costumes and began a work of performing art. Cops shouted for people to move along when they lingered in a lane of traffic.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Booming in the background while I walked around and photographed was the sounds from the memorial ceremony itself, especially the annual rite of reading all the names of those who died from the terrorist attacks. I’ve photographed this unhappy anniversary a few times before, and the names recitative still hasn’t lost it’s power; the sheer enormity of the list is more clear when you hear the names over course of four hours, sometimes seeming like it will go on forever. The names were read over a background of music, much of it Bach: the D minor partita for violin, one of the flute sonatas, others. Somehow Bach is perfectly appropriate in times of crisis across the centuries; those simple scales and chords speak to the implicit emotional truths of our lives, truths that words cannot tell.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

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