Photographers' Blog

Their scars, our scars

May 1, 2011

I’m on a plane from Los Angeles to JFK. About an hour before we touch down, the word goes out that the U.S. military has found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. I land, make a few frames at baggage claim of people watching television while I wait for my bag. Then it’s talk my way to the front of a very long taxi line and make my way to Times Square and the site of the former World Trade Center towers, which many now refer to as Ground Zero. I notice an air of celebration.

People are cheering, waving American flags. There is quite a bit of media. I wonder what this must look like to the rest of the world, here we are celebrating the killing of a man. True, he came to represent the war against terror in the United States, but it seemed to be a celebration of death, at a place that had come to symbolize the death of many at the hands of extremists. Remembering the scenes of some burning American flags and cheering after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the outrage it caused, I make pictures of the scene. This is a historic milestone in a war that had begun nearly ten years earlier, and this is a turning point in the psyche of America.

Less than 24 hours later, I’m behind a barricade at the Met Gala, an event that is on par with some of the more high profile celebrity events in the United States. It’s sort of an Oscars for the East Coast, with a high level of star participation. But it’s a grueling parade of celebrities, all walking past a long line of photographers. There is Beyonce in a dress that rendered her nearly unable to walk up the stairs, there are Tom and Gisele, there is Rhianna, and there is the last minute arrival of Madonna.

The next night I’m at an event that was focused on preventing teen pregnancy, with the highlight of the event being a private concert by Aretha Franklin. Moments later Franklin walks onto state, living up to her legend. It was truly an honor to hear her perform live. I make pictures and listen, knowing that I am truly in the presence of greatness.

Three days later and I’m on a plane to St. Louis. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had blown up a levee in Cairo, Illinois after an unusually high level of rainfall had swollen the Mississippi River and its tributaries to record levels. I start in some farm towns in Missouri, downstream from Cairo, where the river levels had caused the flooding of a few small communities, and some communities north and south of downtown Memphis.

Osama Bin Laden is dead – prove it

When news broke that Osama Bin Laden was dead, the Reuters Global Pictures Desk in Singapore could think of only one thing: We have to see the picture of the dead body. The world needed a genuine photo to confirm that the elusive Islamic militant leader was dead. We also knew that the first news agency to publish a picture of his dead body would lead the way on this historic story. Sending out a fake picture could be very embarrassing.

A few hours later a picture was circulating on the Internet. It appeared to be Osama Bin Laden’s bloodied face in a video transmitted by a TV station in Pakistan. But was it really Bin Laden?

Some media claimed that the source of the picture was the U.S. military, but editors on the Global Pictures Desk found inconsistencies in the image that made them suspicious. There was odd pixelation and blurring on his face, which was also darker in some areas. The picture also looked familiar. After a quick search of our pictures archive, we found that the bottom of Bin Laden’s face was similar to a picture of the al Qaeda leader speaking at a news conference in 1998. After overlaying the 1998 photo with the picture of the dead Bin Laden we had a perfect match. The mouth, ear and beard were identical. It was a fake and the desk did not transmit it.

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