As a writer and cultural historian, I am an obsessive collector of images, ancient and modern. My Mac contains a database of well over 10,000 images. I am fascinated by photos of historical value and iconic cultural significance. Matthew Brady [1822-1896], famed recorder of the Civil War, is a favorite. Ed Kashi, [1957-Present], is an American photojournalist, filmmaker and educator dedicated to documenting the social and political issues that define our times. Kashi possesses a sensitive eye and an intimate relationship to his subjects. Brady and Kashi share an impeccable dedication to technical excellence as well as artist’s eyes. There is another mysterious, indispensible, variable binding the two photographers, across the centuries-good taste.
My current favorite photographic image is tasteless, poorly edited, lacks artist value, and may be a fake. However, it is an iconic image that will shape a story of biblical proportions, destined to endure for millennium. It is a photo of bin Laden watchinh himself on TV.
The Trojan Horse, The Battle of Thermopolis and The Slaying of Goliath and The Destruction of the World Trade Center are events that live in human collective memory . No matter how we may deplore Osama bin Laden, he exists in the minds of many as a hero of mythological proportions. To others he is Dracula and the Antichrist.
Bin Laden is, and will always be, an archetype. As understood from the Greek and Latin, according to the American Heritage Dictionary Online, “... archetypum, means ,from Greek, archi- + tupos, model or stamp.” Elvis Presley became The King. Vogue Magazine referred to the wife of French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, as the “Jackie Kennedy of France”. Even today, CNN refers to Anwar al-Awlaki as the “Osama bin Laden of the Internet”. Presley, Kennedy and Osama are all archetypes, models of a first type.
Heroes with integrity, live in our memory. Heroes who are ultimately deified and whose memory we treasure, all share a common characteristic - integrity. Jesus had integrity. Lincoln had Integrity. Osama, the man once believed to be hiding in a cave in the wilds of Afghanistan is not a hero. Cowering in a smarmy lair, influencing others to die for his ideals, he is a coward. The photograph or video still shows bin Laden watching himself on tapes in his tasteless compound without a modicum of style. His environment did not display even the taste and élan of Count Dracula’s castle.
As the myth of 9-11 is told, the real heroes will emerge - the passengers on United Airlines - Flight 93. Led by Todd Beamer, they no doubt saved the White House or Capital building in the heart of our nation. Of this there is no photo.