Ignorant, Offensive or Over-Sensitive?

Ignorant, Offensive or Over-Sensitive?

I live just a few miles outside of New York City, so when 911 happened, my world was rocked harder than most in the world. After getting my daily dose of hate mail this week about taking pictures at the 911 Memorial at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, I thought I'd write about it.

Liberty State Park has floods of professional and amateur photographers there every day taking photographs of the 911 Memorial for every reason under the sun. Some for personal use, some for selling to stock footage and news channels, or others like me who photograph people around that area. The area surrounding the memorial has an old train station, a lot of greenery, and a great view of the NYC skyline and waterfront. 

The first time I ever photographed there, it was for a bride of mine who's father was a police officer that died on 911 saving the lives of many. It was so meaningful for her to take pictures there with her husband and I was happy to do it. Since then, I've taken many brides there to be photographed because I find it meaningful in a positive way, not a disrespectful one, because of my first interaction with it. There is also a reception hall at the end of the park, so this is the practice of many photographers working there.

NJ Wedding Photographer Vanessa Joy

However, after having people send me hate mail about my "offensive" photographs I began to wonder what the truth was. I was taught from the daughter of a 911 victim that those photographs are anything but offensive, but others were telling me the opposite. Am I just ignorant to the possibility of offending others by photographing at a Memorial that thousands of people photograph every week? Should photographers care if their photographs are offensive to those who aren't paying clients? Or are the offended being over-sensitive, and from the looks of a quick Google Image Search have a lot to be over-sensitive about (and a lot more hate emails to write)?

There are so many beautiful memorials around the world, like The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, that professionals and amateurs photograph every day. Is shooting there equally as offensive to some? What stance should we take when our clients want to photograph at memorials? Is it just a personal conviction that should influence our choice to photograph at these places, or a public one? 

Play nice.

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38 Comments

Previous comments

Someone will always find something controversial about the work of the photographer, and for some, photography is just a business for others it is an expression of art. Not everyone is willing to push the bubble of expression, and there is nothing wrong with that, the fear of losing potential customers may be a necessity for survival. I am thankful for those who do, for without them, artistry would have suffered and we would be doing head shots rather then what we see today. I like what you said, "do what feels right to you."

Those who have found taking pictures at the memorial have lost the concept of not allowing terrorism to control our destiny. Your photo's symbolize in a deeper sense we can overcome violence by showing a place of beauty. If it is wrong for you to take photo's at this site, then it would be logical to conclude it was wrong to rebuild and turn the ashes of tragedy into the beauty of a new structure (and I know there are those who believe the site should have stood empty).
It is the bride and groom who find meaning in where they have their photo's taken, their wedding performed, the day, etc., not public opinion. It is their day and their moment, the photographer is just an instrument used to record the moment. Your work is awesome, thanks for sharing it with us

You logic is ridiculous. "It is their day and their moment", but that place was built for other day, other moments, other people and other purpose. The photographer is not "just an instrument". He is a human with brains and will.

If we attach your logic to memorial sites, image how much is off limits...Gettysburg, much of Washington D.C., Taj Mahal, and more.

Daniel Pryce's picture

Edit: Couldn't delete original comment, but just think of the appropriateness of it. Is it a good idea to commercially exploit a memorial dedicated to the 2,000+ people murdered on 9/11.

The real issue is if the attitude of the people is appropriate for the place-which is a memorial for dead people. It doesn't matter how artistically perfect are the photos. We should learn that not always our pleasure is the most important thing.

Daniel Elias's picture

The real issue is people who don't like the fact that the pictures are being taken forcing their views down someone else's throat.

Daniel Elias's picture

As a photographer and a firefighter who worked for four days at the World Trade Center site, I'll offer my opinion as well. Photographers take photographs for various reasons. None of them are wrong. It is creative expression. People have all kinds of reasons for choosing sites to photograph and be photographed. The one thing that the September 11 Attacks ought to have embedded in our minds and souls is that this Country is about freedom. The terrorists could not take that away from us. People who choose to use email as a way to "express" their emotions should not, and will not take that freedom away from you, no us. I chose not to take a camera when I went there to work, but others did. I cannot judge them for that, and at times I wish I had. There are a few pictures of me, in among those pictures. One, in particular, shows me in Jersey City with the smoke from the WTC in the background. I occasionally use that picture as an avatar... Proudly. As long as we are respectful with the history that we document, we should not feel pressured to document it as someone else sees fit. Oh, and by the way, I have seen more than a few people taking selfies at "Ground Zero." Are these hate mailers sending them emails as well? Probably not. I'm on your side.