Tragedy after the photo ‘Ash woman’ on 9/11

The photo “Ash Woman” by photojournalist Stan Honda reflects the tragedy and death of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.

Stan Honda, an American photojournalist, said that throughout his career, he rarely found out who appeared in the photo he took. The urgency as well as the pressure of deadlines to submit photos do not allow reporters to stop talking to the person being photographed, especially when working on a disaster such as the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. This is often not possible or unsafe.

But the 9/11 photo Honda took for the French news agency AFP is different. After the terrorist group crashed two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City in fear of the collapse of the twin towers, Honda took a photo of the woman covered in ashes. The photo later became one of the iconic images of the tragedy.

“It was the only frame I took of her as people took shelter in the lobby of a building to avoid the huge cloud of dust and debris that enveloped the area after the first tower collapsed,” Honda said.

Marcy Borders is covered in ash while sheltering in an office building, after one of the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York collapsed on September 11, 2001.  Photo: AFP.

Marcy Borders is covered in ash while sheltering in an office building, after one of the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York collapsed on September 11, 2001. Photo: AFP.

The woman was wearing a business attire, the dust had obscured the color of her clothes and boots, and the necklace reflected the hall lights. Her arms are outstretched as if gesturing towards the photographer.

The photo has a yellow tint and this is not intentional. He set the camera to take in sunlight, and the artificial light in the house created an extra layer of pale yellow. Later that day, in the rush to submit the photos, he did not correct the colors. When the photo appeared in the news, he noticed that the colors seemed to convey a sense of doom, fear.

After taking the photo, Honda saw the “ash woman” being carried up the stairs by others, presumably to a safer place. He thought he would never see her again. But since then, he always wondered who that person was.

On the day the AFP photojournalist called Honda to report that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center, they both thought it was just a small private jet. He took the subway to the scene but was half an hour later than usual, possibly due to the emergency in Lower Manhattan at the time.

When he arrived, he found hundreds of people standing staring at the twin towers, a few blocks away. The top floors of both towers are on fire. At that time, he did not know that the second plane hit the other tower, so he was very confused.

Honda took a few pictures of the crowd and the towers, then moved towards them for more. He went south and could see huge crowds running north, away from the buildings. Sirens wailed as emergency vehicles poured into the area.

When approaching the towers to take pictures, Honda heard a loud noise like a train, then thick clouds of smoke. The first tower has collapsed. He was just a few blocks from the World Trade Center and recorded the two towers gradually turning to ashes.

Smoke billowed between the buildings around him, and everyone seemed to be sinking among the clouds. Then the sky was as dark as night, denser smoke covered everywhere, limiting visibility.

He walked towards a nearby office building, where a policeman was leading people inside. He went with this group of people to escape the smoke.

Many people stood in the lobby, looking shocked and panicked. About a minute later, a woman entered, covered in dust. He instinctively took a picture of her and then ran out again. Streets, buildings, cars, and even people were completely covered in light gray dust.

He continued to photograph the scene, capturing images of people helping each other and trying to get out of the area. A bus stops to let people get on the bus without collecting money. A man in a business suit walks through the rubble, still holding a briefcase. It was his second photograph in common use since that day.

In early March 2002, an AFP editor in his Washington D.C. office called Honda to say they had found the woman in the photo. She is Marcy Borders.

The Borders family saw this image as it was featured in various newspapers, magazines and websites around the world. They found the phone number for the AFP office in Washington and confirmed the woman’s identity with an editor.

“I’m working in my office in New York City and am amazed that we now know who the woman in the photo is. I’d love to meet her,” he said.

Michel Moutot, head of the AFP New York office, made an appointment to meet Borders at her apartment in Bayonne, New Jersey on March 8, 2002. Honda couldn’t believe it when he actually saw the person he photographed on that historic day, and at the same time was relieved that she was fine.

“There was so much death and devastation that day, so it was exhilarating to hear a survivor’s story,” he said.

Borders’ life was difficult, until she got a job at Bank of America with offices in one of the two towers. Her life seems to be getting better. Then it all changed on 9/11.

Borders worked on the 81st floor and managed to get out before the building collapsed. The attack left an obsession with her. She was so frightened by the sound of planes, so afraid of tall buildings that she vowed never to return to Lower Manhattan.

“I met her again in a TV interview, but we didn’t keep in touch. Over the years, I’ve seen the media interview her on 9/11. I took hundreds of pictures. On that day, but Borders’ photo is the most published in various publications every year on September 11th. The picture reminds me of how chaotic that day was. I’m surprised I wasn’t injured,” Honda said. said.

Borders was one of thousands of survivors of the World Trade Center after 9/11. She died in August 2015 of stomach cancer.

Huyen Le (Follow Al Jazeera)

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