September 11th: The Photo We’ll Remember Forever

Photo by Steve Ludlum. Taken from the front page of the New York Times Sep 12, 2001

Photo by Steve Ludlum. Taken from the front page of the New York Times Sep 12, 2001

On a gorgeous sunny day in September, Steve Ludlum, a freelance photographer was taking his morning stroll through Brooklyn when he saw a puff of smoke rising from the north World Trade Center.

The Uptown Chronicle reported that he instinctively ran home to grab his camera thinking that someone had bombed the tower. A construction worker at his apartment complex drove Ludlum to the Brooklyn Bridge in order to get the best view of the World Trade Center that was one fire. After snapping a few photos, the second plane came into view. Ludlum saw a fireball explode into his viewfinder as a plane crashed into the south tower. He knew that this photograph would make the front page of The New York Times the next day.

Ludlum was right. After waiting an hour at a CVS for his photos to develop he rushed to The New York Times to share his photograph with the world. Little did he know that his image would appear in hundreds of newspapers across the nation in the days to follow. In 2002, Ludlum received the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for this haunting image.

Ludlum himself is not a photojournalist. In fact, his passion is growing rare orchids in Brooklyn. (You can read more about his hobby in this New York Times article.) However, since he had a professional camera to take pictures of his plants, he was able to capture this compelling image. Proving that it is becoming easier for amateurs to produce award winning photographs.

When we think about 9/11, what comes to mind? For most of us it is the image of the great ball of fire that Ludlum captured. It looks so out of place compared to the crystal blue sky in the background that it almost looks unreal. This photograph has changed how we view history; it has become our representation of September 11. It is one of the best examples of a photo becoming our memory of a news event in the history of photojournalism.

The most interesting aspects of breaking news photos like this is that they are often shot by amateur photographers (as stated before) who happened to be in the right spot at the right time and had the right eye. This makes for photos that will surprise us like Ludlum’s. They may start in a one-hour photo lab in CVS, but the impacts of these images can be astonishing.

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