Monday, May 2, 2011

NY Firefighters Gather for News of Bin Laden

Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Via The New York Times Lens Blog

Firefighters Gather for News of Bin Laden


Michael Appleton managed to bridge a decade in a single photograph on Sunday night

His perfectly distilled picture showed the firefighters of Ladder Company 4 — which lost seven men on 9/11 — perched together on their aerial ladder, watching a news bulletin in Times Square declaring that Osama bin Laden was dead. Though their backs were to the camera, the men’s body language spoke eloquently, beginning with Firefighter Stassi’s obvious exultation. “Each individual has his own reaction,” Mr. Appleton said. “One is celebrating. Others are about to embrace. They’re tight. They’re close.

“It’s like the weight is off their shoulders, perched up there, enjoying each other’s company, shoulder to shoulder. And it was over very quickly.”

Like most of the best news photographs, Mr. Appleton’s composition was the product of pure luck and the experience — and the sharp eyes — to know what to do when such good fortune comes along. Asked by The Times to get himself to Times Square for President Obama’s announcement on Sunday, Mr. Appleton found a somewhat mellow mood at about 10:30 p.m., as news of the killing was not yet generally known. As the president began to speak, however, the crowd grew larger and more attentive.

“There was a crescendo when the Fire Department showed up,” he said.

Ladder Company 4 — the “Pride of Midtown,” together with Engine Company 54 and Battalion 9 — parked its rig in the middle of Broadway. Mr. Appleton tried to get aboard the truck to photograph the appreciatively cheering crowd. But lots of other onlookers had the same idea until the firefighters chased them off before seating themselves on the ladder.

“They were starting to line up,” Mr. Appleton said. “I looked across street at Bubba Gump’s and I could see there was a second-floor window that would give me the vantage I needed. I envisioned the photo before I went up.”

It took a moment to persuade the manager. In that time, Mr. Appleton feared this precious confluence would simply evaporate. Instead, by the time he positioned himself in the restaurant’s window, there were more firefighters side by side on the ladder. Then it was a matter of waiting for the illuminated zipper across Broadway to display the full message.

Mr. Appleton, 33, has been engaged with this story since it began, when he was assigned by The Daily News to cover St. Vincent’s Hospital and wound up instead with extraordinary pictures of the towers’ collapse.

“My career really started on 9/11,” he said by telephone on Monday, after covering the mayor’s news conference on no sleep whatsoever. “It was my baptism by fire.”

Related: Then and Now: VJ-Day and the death of Osama bin Laden

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