If you are 30 or older, you know what you were doing on September 11, 2001 when you heard about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers, followed by the Pentagon and flight 77 in Pennsylvania. And on this 20th anniversary, I am keenly aware that the horror of that day is just as real on year 20 as were each of the 19 years before. However, there is something about “decade” anniversaries. Reaching my 60th birthday was certainly more eye opening than my 59th. We won’t even talk about what my 70th was like.
As I struggle with my emotions on this day, I’m comforted by several images. The image of the eagle with a rainbow in the background was taken a couple of weeks after 9/11. We were on a cruise to Alaska with several family members. While in the Alaska rain forest (yes, Alaska has a rain forest) we were on a small zodiac boat with a guide. It was raining and I was doing my best to protect my camera while also having it ready to capture any eagles. We had already seen several when we entered a cove. An eagle was sitting majestically at the peak of a tree. Another eagle flew by, grabbed a fish from the water and took it over to the shore to enjoy its lunch. I glanced over my shoulder to see if the eagle I first saw was still in the tree. There was the rainbow in the background. I remember thinking, “If I get one image this entire trip, let it be this one”.
I later titled this image American Spirit. After returning home we created limited edition prints of this and donated the sales from them to White Knoll Middle School which was raising funds to buy a firetruck for New York City. They raised $353,114 for this worthy cause.
I also created note cards with this image. In February of 2003 we were scheduled to photograph former First Lady Barbara Bush. As you can imagine, security was very tight at the event that she would be speaking. Metal detectors and of course stern faced secret service agents. After setting up my background, lights and camera I walked over to an agent and told him I was ready for him to check my equipment. With a smile he said, “You’ve done this before haven’t you”?
After being sure that all was safe and proper, I noticed a lady coming into the room and I asked if she was an agent too. He replied that she was Mrs. Bush’s aid. I asked her to come over and presented her with a gift box that contained a set of the note cards along with a letter telling the story behind the image. I asked her to see that Mrs. Bush received this later as a gift from us. About 10 days later in the mail came this beautiful hand written note from Mrs. Bush. It has become one of our most cherished possessions. We have been blessed to photograph many famous people I but never ask for an autograph. For Mrs. Bush to have taken time to send us this little message shows class. I like to think that the three years she spent as a teenager at a boarding school in Charleston, South Carolina helped instill a bit of southern charm in the future First Lady.
My favorite artist is Peter Max. I’ve always admired his unique style with heavy brush strokes and bold colors. He was to art in the1960’s as The Beatles were to music. Following 9/11 Max did paintings of the 356 firefighters that died that day and presented the painting to their families.
Max is German-American, born in Berlin. He also collaborated with Lee Iaccoca in raising money for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and has many paintings that depict the American theme. While we are on cruises, I enjoy going to the art auction. They always have some Peter Max work. In October 2019 I was able to procure one of Max’s Flag With Heart. This series of his flag paintings always contain a heart which is meant to represent his deep appreciation of his adopted nation.
So here I sit with a heavy heart, watching the tributes and images on TV while glancing at the note and painting. I recall that in the months following 9/11 we were not so concentrated on being classified as Red States and Blue States. We were all Red, White and Blue. We have become divided in so many ways over the last few years. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another tragedy to bring us together as one nation.