The student blog for Drake University first year seminar entitled Visual Politics

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Zac Stevens
            This iconic photograph represents one of the most important days in my generation’s life and the history of America so far. This was taken on the morning of September 11, 2001, the day that the most powerful nation in the world was attacked. The events on this day left the United States in a state of panic, fear, and confusion, which is also conveyed by this picture. The picture was taken after one of the twin towers was hit with an airplane and right as the second airplane came in to sight by the public. This was such a significant point in time because at first people were not sure if it was a terrorist attack on the United States or if it was just an accident but right when the second plane came into the picture and started to make its way towards the city it was clear that this was not an accident; it was a nightmare.
            The photo contains aesthetic familiarity, civic performance, and emotional scenarios to connect with the public and make it an iconic photograph. A main factor that iconic photos must have is they have to relate to the reader, to an extent while, and also be able to catch the reader’s eye by usually something astonishing or unusual. This photo obviously has the unusual and eye-grabbing part that you do not see every day with having one building damaged with smoke coming out and another a plane headed towards. Now you have to see how this would relate to someone on a personal level. Most people in the United States have been on an airplane and experienced a flight, so the aspect of the airplane being in the sky people can relate too. Also the tall skyscrapers people can relate to because most everyone has also seen tall buildings. But when you put the two together with one of the buildings on fire is where you get the eye catching iconic photograph. The photo allows people to connect with it just enough for them to relate to it but then it blows it out of fathomable proportion and makes it something that people have never experienced; thus making it iconic.
            September 11th was covered by nearly every media source possible so not only were there iconic photographs but also memorable and many videos of it. These videos and clips of the horror were seen by many hundreds of millions around the world and were so prominent that when anyone speaks of this day most people can visualize what happened. This photograph also does the same; people can imagine the plane going into the second unharmed building and then both building collapsing. When people see this image the image doesn’t stand still in their minds, it makes them unconsciously stream the video of what happened next and the horror that followed. It goes beyond just looking at it and not getting anything out of it, it digs deep and takes out a stream of what went next and creates a visual in your mind. This makes the photo not just a stand still but it makes it living and once a photo with this meaning becomes real it creates emotion.
            As stated by Robert Hariman and John Louis Lecaites in the book No Caption Needed, “Iconic photographs concentrate and direct emotion. They are described as being especially emotional images”(36). The image we have here is about as emotional you can get. Not only have hundreds of people died, but also a few thousand more are about to. It is all right in front of our eyes with this picture. And what can we do? Nothing. We cannot help anyone in the plane or in the building. This causes pain and saddening emotion within us because we feel powerless which in a way makes us feel guilty because all we can do it imagine all of the bad things about to happen to those people. The emotions make this photo iconic because they hit the viewer on a very deep level and access your emotions and not just make you see the image but also feel it in a physical way. It also goes beyond just you, it brings up conversation for days, weeks, and years to come whether they are talking about the image or grieving over it. Iconic images not only bring up conversation within your self but they are so powerful that they are usually expresses with other people, and September 11th and this moment in particular certainly was one of those times. This iconic photograph represents a terrible tragedy to the US in my generation, which changed the way that the nation did many things; it changed the security culture that we all live in. This iconic photograph will always have a great deal of meaning because of all of the different components it has to add to the depth of the meaning and impact it had.

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