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.