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|| News Item: Posted 2001-09-28

"As I looked through the viewfinder I realized I was getting more and more depressed and angry."
By Rick Rickman

This week is the first time in a very long time that I have questioned my value a photographer. I shoot sports as part of what I do but I really don't feel sports has much value to the world and the pursuit of sports photography is pretty superficial.

In the grand scheme of things, if Jose Canseco surges ahead in the home run race, it really doesn't affect anyone's life much.

Many of you know that I write a column here for Sports Shooter semi-regularly and what I talk about in that column is the business of photography. I must admit that on Tuesday I felt like a total failure. I was here on the West Coast, glued in front of my television, as the horror of what has happened unfolded before me.

At 9:00 AM that morning I was pacing back and forth across the family room of our home listening to every detail and wondering what I should do. I called my dear friend Martha Bardach at TIME and asked her if there was anything she had in mind that might need coverage. She seemed a little at a loss as well but was very busy and had to get back to the issue at hand. I told her that I would head toward LA and be ready if anything occurred here as the morning progressed. I threw my gear into the car and headed for the downtown LA.

PBS had a running account of things as they progress and I was listening intently. I got to LAX and they were closing it down and evacuating. Traffic was restricted and so I headed in on foot. I shot some pictures of the empty airport. As I looked through the viewfinder I realized I was getting more and more depressed and angry.

I went into downtown and the streets were almost empty. I shot some images but that little bell that goes off in your head that so often tells you that you're on to something wasn't ringing. I went to Santa Monica pier area and decided just to wait for disaster to fall. Fortunately, disaster never fell here in California however, there was enough of that to go round in New York and Washington DC.

My father was a veteran of both World War II and Korea. He rarely spoke of his experiences in either war however there were times when something spurred some long suppressed memory and he would say that someone had to show the Japanese, Germans, you just couldn't kill everyone in sight and think it was OK.

As a boy I never really understood what it was he was getting at when he spoke like that. I was a child of the Vietnam War and I remember that horror and decade of conflict. It still was never clear to me what dad meant.

While I was sitting on the bench overlooking the ocean watching the watchman of a guy next to me and seeing the World Trade Center Towers collapse with all those innocent people in them it became totally clear what he was talking about.

I hadn't spoken with my father in a long time before that morning. We aren't exactly on the best of terms as a father and son. However, I placed a call to him and surprisingly got a hold of him. There were some really awkward moments but finally I told him I just wanted to call and see if he was watching all this. He said he was and he had hoped that I hadn't been in New York City.

I told him that I finally knew what he had been talking about when he spoke of WWII. There was a long pause on his end and he said I know you do. I just hope you don't have to learn the rest of the lessons in the same way I did.

I became more and more depressed as Tuesday wore on and I found myself questioning why I had ever become a photographer. I kept running the scenarios of continuing in medical school through my mind. I finally realized what it was that was bothering me then and still is bothering me now.

In all my discussions of the business of photography, I'm not sure that I've ever said to all of you that what this business of photography is really all about is taking pictures. It's our job to create pictures that make people feel something. I say it now because if I haven't said it before it's an oversight that I should apologize for. I think it's important for all of us to remember that what we create in pictures is the most important thing we do.

It became clear to me as I drove my car back south on the 405 freeway towards Orange County that I had failed miserably as a photographer on Tuesday September 11th. Thousands of people had died, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. Not only that but, I'd failed miserably at what I believe I do best. I'm still haunted by both those issues. I'm feeling like I have to make up for both those failings and I don't quite know what to do.

All I can say at this moment is I hope all of you are well and have been spared personal loss from this event. Be well and safe and we'll speak again later. Thanks for your indulgence.

(Rick Rickman is a freelance photographer based in Southern California.)

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