Photographers' Blog

The tornadoes March

By Harrison McClary

1,000 miles

March came roaring in with deadly storms leaving a trail of destruction across the mid-western states. I was covering a Rick Santorum campaign stop when picture editor Bob Strong called to ask if I could head over to Crossville, Tennessee to cover an area hit by the tornadoes the following morning.

I arrived on the scene to find the access road closed. I looked at my GPS and saw a small road that appeared to parallel the main road, so I turned on it and followed until trees blocked the road. I could easily see where the destroyed homes were, so I got out to walk. I climbed over, and crawled under fallen trees and foraged through the mountainous countryside until finally getting to the bottom of the valley. Once there I discovered the road was washed out.

Not long after getting back to my car they re-opened the main road and I headed into the damaged area, photographed the destruction and transmitted from my car.

The following morning editor Mike Fiala called to ask if I could head down to New Market Alabama to cover more tornado damage. As I covered the storms I kept an eye to the skies and an ear on the local news radio as severe thunderstorms were constantly in the area. In my search for a dry place to transmit from I stopped at a local church, the Locust Grove Baptist Church. They were kind enough to not only let me borrow an office but to also use their WiFi network. Once I was through transmitting the pictures Bob determined that my best course of action was to head back to Nashville, not Chattanooga as we had originally discussed.

Saturday morning started with another call from Mike, this time tornadoes had devastated several towns in eastern Kentucky. I grabbed my gear and an overnight bag and hit the road to London, KY. I got on the scene around 4:30pm EST. I was stopped by a National Guardsman who checked with a KY Highway Patrol officer, who happened to be the local media liaison officer. He cleared me for all access to any areas I wanted to cover. He also told me how to find the hardest hit areas. I headed into the first area where a family had died in a trailer. The destruction of the trailer was total, strewn over an area several football fields in size.

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.