"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
October 15, 2006
Spoke with Carmen Taylor, my gregarious host of the Arkansas leg of this ongoing book tour.
On 9/11, Carmen, a tourist on her first trip to New York City, was waiting in line to board the State Island Ferry for a tour of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. A couple standing in front of her mentioned that their nephew worked in the north Trade Center tower. "Just as she points up there," Carmen recalled, the upper floors of the building seemed to erupt in light and smoke "like sparklers." The first plane, which they could not see because of their position south of the buildings, had just collided with the north tower. "We thought it was an internal explosion, [as if] a Xerox machine went off or something. None of the people in my group thought [it was] anything [serious]."
To occupy her time and her mind while the other tourists spoke among themselves, Carmen took out her digital camera and focused on the buildings around her. Soon, she spotted a plane, which she took to be some kind of military aircraft. She turned her lens toward it and caught the plane at the very instant it entered the south tower.
"Nobody's ever going to believe this," she kept repeating under her breath. Immediately, she felt she had shot something historic and that she needed to share her sequence of images with friends back home in Arkansas. So she approached people in the street, hoping to find someone who might help her upload her photos onto the Web. A complete stranger, Doug Haluza, offered her his office computer. "We were lucky enough to get a phone and an Internet conection," she recalled. Within 15 to 20 minutes of the second plane's attack, she e-mailed her series of images--the plane's approach, the plane suspended a split-second before impact, the resulting fireball--to her favorite morning television program, "40/29" on KHOG-TV, the local ABC/Hearst affiliate near her home in northwest Arkansas.
The news team at KHOG, after asking Carmen numerous questions to confirm the authenticity of the photographs, decided to air her tail-view shot of the aircraft, left wing cocked skyward, the instant before it disappeared into the south tower's facade. Throughout the day, requests from media organizations and wire services would come in from across the country--to the TV station, to her New York hotel room, to her home phone in Arkansas, where her husband, Lynn handled the inquiries. Many of the callers wanted exclusive rights to publish or to "represent" Carmen's pictures. "We're just down-home rural people," he averred. After hours of fielding calls, Lynn hired an attorney to assess the offers and the rights issues. He deferred to his wife, respecting her admonition: "Just don't profit off this."
After Carmen answered what she described as overly "pushy" calls from one newsweekly and one upstart picture agency, she chose to partner with the Associated Press, which promised to syndicate her work in a dignified manner. AP sealed the deal by dispatching a man on a bicycle who, she remembered, arrived at her hotel and asked her to scrawl out her consent, in long-hand, on a stray piece of paper.
Carmen's image would appear on television and on Web sites, and in newspapers and magazines around the world. Over the next two or three years, she would visit Arkansas schools and stand before civic groups, showing her photos and explaining what she had witnessed. But she would soon become disgruntled when listeners seemed disinterested in the events of 9/11. New York, al-Qaeda, urban terror attacks--these topics seemed irrelevant to many of her neighbors living relatively secure lives on the Oklahoma border. "I've spoken to a 20-year-old recently," she noted, "who said, 'What is Ground Zero?'" In response to attitudes like these, she decided to organize and curate an exhibition of pictures about September 11 and its aftermath by two dozen amateur and professional photgraphers. Her show, "Five Years From Ground Zero," opened last month at the University of Arkansas in her hometown of Fort Smith.
Carmen Taylor is now hoping to raise funds to travel the exhibition to other learning institutions in smaller towns so as to inform less-informed Americans about what she calls "the truth of the events."