Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words

Gabby Hollowell

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In the events of September 11, 2001, every picture taken that day is worth a million words, emotions, and may even leave us speechless. 

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of listening to David Handschuh speak and share his photos with a room full of students at Ohio University. Handschuh was one of the first photographers on the scene during 9/11. One thing he mentioned that really resonated with me was that when there is a tragedy and everyone runs from it, journalists run to it.

A number of journalists lost their lives to cover 9/11. Fortunately Handschuh was only temporarily injured. It takes so much bravery to be a journalist, let alone a photojournalist. There are heavy topics out there to cover, and we usually follow suit of “if it bleeds, it leads.” Of course with photojournalism, we have to think twice about publishing a graphic image; even if it tells the whole story. Editors during the 9/11 attacks had to be careful about publishing sensitive photos after one of the nation's biggest tragedies.

Photojournalists are so crucial to the field of journalism because their photos reveal truth. They reveal emotions you may not be able to feel by simply reading text. Integrating a personal example… I experienced a tragedy at my high school in 2012 when a classmate opened fire in our cafeteria and killed three of my other classmates. Although I’m thankful there were no photographers inside the school, they were able to capture the emotions on our faces, our embraces, and how our community came together during such a difficult time. These photos still resonate with me and my hometown nearly five years later, although sometimes I wish they weren't exposed to the public.

Students being comforted by their parents as they left the scene of Chardon High School on February 27, 2012

I wanted to get away from the scene of my high school as quickly as possible, and I commend the courage of the journalists who rushed to cover the events that day. 

Handschuh said about himself on the day of 9/11, “I’m just a guy who took pictures who was too scared to go away.” He taught me that as a journalist, I have to be brave. 

Handschuh gave a very inspirational, emotional speech about what he experienced on 9/11. This was the first story I’ve ever personally heard from a source who was actually there. Like every story with a tragic ending, he started with how beautiful of a day it was in NYC. After the first tower was hit, everyone thought a plane accidentally ran into it. He described firetrucks going to the scene and he described it as, "They were in their own hearse going to their own funeral." Handschuh was tossed half a block as the second tower collapsed. He was buried under piles of rubble and rescued by firemen. What's amazing is that during those tragic events, Handschuh lost his phone and classes, but managed to be carrying two cameras with 90 frames of photos.

Following Handschuh's story, he presented a slideshow with photos. It was nothing less than a tear-jerker, and extremely hard to watch (the sad music in the background didn't help the fact that I was trying to hold back tears). It left the audience speechless that no one could process questions quickly enough when he asked for them.

One of Handschuh's most famous photos

My main takeaway from Handschuh’s presentation was that we have a job as journalists to allow ourselves to feel emotions. “If you pay witness to anything good and bad in this job and you are not affected by it, you should consider changing professions,” Handschuh said. “It is a double-edged sword. To tell the great stories, you have to open yourself up and allow yourself to feel what your subjects are, then you have a right to share that with your readers.” 

With the rise of digital media, photojournalism is a crucial component to journalism and will remain to be one of the most powerful aspects of any story. However, we always need to make ethical decisions about whether or not they should be published.

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