I don’t have a perfect recollection of Sept. 11, 2001. I remember being in my gifted and talented class in the morning, then suddenly being whisked upstairs to my regular third-grade classroom. We sat down in front of the boxy classroom TV and watched enormous orange flames erupt out of two tall gray buildings.
Some details don’t make perfect sense. I was in Hawaii, which is six hours behind the east coast, which means that by the time school started for me at 8 a.m., it would’ve been 2 p.m. in New York – but I remember (perhaps incorrectly) going to that gifted and talented class before being told about the news.
I woke up later than I had anticipated last Sunday – I wanted to be at the Public Gardens at 5:30 a.m., when volunteers started to plant flags, with the rising sun silhouetting the workers and illuminating the red, white, and blue field. I woke up at seven, though, and hurried to get ready in time for the wreath laying ceremony.
As I reached the Public Gardens, I heard bagpipes playing, and I followed the music towards a group of military and police officers in full uniform, carrying various flags and marching towards a small crowd clustered around the new Sept. 11 memorial. I took some pictures of them marching and followed them towards the memorial, slipping into the crowd. I wasn’t the first photographer there; the TV news cameras had already set up, and the newspaper photographers wandered around, identification lanyard around their neck, looking official.
At first, I felt awkward photographing the Sept. 11 memorial ceremonies. Not because of the other photographers – I don’t mind shooting around photographers that are probably better than me – but because it felt strange to happily capture something that was supposed to be so somber.
After taking some photos, though, I realized that it was okay. That I wasn’t being disrespectful. I realized that through photography, I was memorializing Sept. 11 and paying respect to the victims in my own way. Neither my family nor I have a direct connection to the victims of that tragic, horrible morning (that I know of), except the connection that all of us are American citizens. Through my photos, I tried to capture what Sept. 11 meant, not only to myself, but to others; I tried to capture the moments that encapsulated the essense of the memorial.
My personal favorite photos are one of a mother explaining to her daughter what the newly-planted flags represent, and one of a (different) mother’s hand, clutching a tissue and resting it on her son’s – who was probably about twelve – comforting him as they searched for a certain name on the memorial. I say favorite not because the photographs bring me a particular pleasure, but because they are the ones that most succeeded in capturing the day. Those are the ones that show my remembrance, the ones that show my own memorial to Sept. 11.