Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros13.11. « Que fait l'image ? De l'inte...IV/ Communication visuelle : Inte...Attacks on the United States: Ind...

1. « Que fait l'image ? De l'intericonicité aux États-Unis » / “What do Pictures Do? Intericonicity in the United States”
IV/ Communication visuelle : Intericonicité et socialisation des images

Attacks on the United States: Index, Icons and Intericonicity in Photojournalism



Bien que les attentats meurtriers soient plutôt rares sur le sol américain, les photographies de presse suggèrent une similitude entre les différentes attaques perpétrées aux États-Unis, même si chacune garde un caractère unique. À travers l’analyse de photographies de presse dont l’objectif premier est d’informer les lecteurs américains des attentats les plus meurtriers depuis la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale, cet article étudiera la couverture médiatique des attentats d’Oklahoma City (1995), des tours du World Trade Center (2001) et du célèbre marathon de Boston (2013) pour démontrer que la presse semble être encline à condenser visuellement les événements en seulement quelques « images-types » (Chéroux 19-24). Ensuite, on identifiera les photographies des attentats les plus fréquemment diffusées et que la presse a eu tendance à transformer en icônes, et l’on expliquera comment cette dernière s’est servie de l’intericonicité pour rapidement rendre accessible aux lecteurs un message photographique idéologiquement chargé. Ainsi l’on pourra se demander dans quelle mesure l’intericonicité semble construire le rapport au monde du sujet dans un jeu de références complexes et riches.

photojournalisme, attentat d’Oklahoma City, 11 septembre 2001, attentats du marathon de Boston, intericonicité

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1On September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded at the corner of Wall and Broad, shattering windows throughout the financial district, killing 38 people and wounding hundreds more. The Wall Street bombing of 1920 remained the worst act of terrorism in American history until 75 years later, on April 19, 1995 (Gage 1). On that sunny spring day in Oklahoma City, a truck parked in a drop-off zone under the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building’s daycare center. At exactly 9:02 am, the truck exploded, blowing off the entire front facade of the building, damaging other buildings several blocks away, killing 168 and injuring almost 700. Sadly, this attack was yet again surpassed. On the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked four airplanes from Boston’s Logan Airport. Two of the planes were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. and the Pennsylvania crash. The U.S.’s confidence was again shaken when two bombs detonated as runners were coming across the finish line of the 2013 edition of the Boston Marathon on April 15. Three people were killed and over 250 were injured. Together, the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11 and the Boston Bombings are the deadliest terrorist attacks in the United States, implemented with the deliberate intent to harm the civilian population.

2These events were massively covered by the press, television and more recently on Internet. What photographs were selected by the press to be widely circulated? Why do certain photographs continue to illustrate these events over time (no matter how shortly after the initial event), while others never get shown or even disappear from circulation? In these specific cases, was there a visual sense of déjà vu, and, if there was, what contributed to it and what was the purpose, if any? Notwithstanding the wide coverage and photographic documentation, it will be demonstrated that only a few photographs of the events are repeatedly seen before identifying those specific ones that have become an index or an icon of the event itself. Through the analysis of primarily three of the most widely circulated photographs of the three different attacks, this article will then illustrate the recurrence of the Pietà motif and analyse its function within these three specific cases of news photography.

1. From document to index or icon

3“Photography as a medium is characterized by two powerful and potentially contradictory qualities: its apparent ability to capture a particular moment and its tendency to transcend the moment.” (Griffin 139). News photographs serve both as documents and symbols.

  • 1 In discussing “contacts,” Mr. Economopoulos is referring to photographic contact sheets, thus figur (...)

4Since the 1930s, photojournalists have been dispatched around the world and today they often find themselves shoulder to shoulder with citizen journalists as they document exceptional and newsworthy events with the aim of recording and bearing witness to history so as to inform the public visually of what words alone cannot describe. News photographers see their role as being the eyes of those not there: in the words of photojournalist Aris Economopoulos, “My job is to document news and explain what’s happening in contacts”1 (Franklin). Hariman and Lucaites remind us that “you cannot take a photograph of the past,” implying that the photographs taken at the time of the event provide the only visual documentation (“Hands and Feet” 131). However, the photographer’s noble role of providing a truthful account of history ignores the social/cultural circumstances surrounding the photograph and the subjectivity of the photographer (Clarke 145, 146). In the case of the photojournalist, it also ignores the process of selection and organization into a hierarchy that is necessary prior to publication and distribution. The news photographs thus document history, all the while providing a subjective perspective.

  • 2 Clément Chéroux explains, “A similar phenomena [to that observed on the television] of visual repet (...)
  • 3 His study indicates that the majority of the photographs of 9/11 on the front page of newspapers (7 (...)

5Despite the number of photographers and the abundance of photographs taken, news outlets tend to publish only a few of the same images to illustrate newsworthy events2. Different reasons could explain this phenomenon of visual condensation. In his book Diplopie: l’image photographique à l’ère des médias globalisés, Clément Chéroux claims that globalization and the concentration of the media are responsible for this phenomenon. He points out that over the past two decades, media analysts have observed that more and more regularly newspapers publish the same images on the same day (14, 34, 44-46, 48)3. However, other observers of the media indicate that this reliance on just a few images to depict an event is not necessarily new. Michael Griffin in “The Great War Photographs: Constructing Myths of History and Photojournalism” provides the case of the Civil War photographic collections in which the descriptive body of over thousands of photographs “remains buried in archives while a tiny selection of the photographs are reproduced over and over again” (136). Another reason is linked to memory; it is easier to remember historical events through images than words (Kobre 18-19). Hans-Michael Koetzle writes, “the conventional photographic image […] is alone in having the power to take root in our minds and engender something akin to a memory” (7). Or, in the words of Hariman and Lucaites, photographs serve as visual “aides-memoires” (“Hands and Feet” 131). In the specific case of iconic images, Hariman and Lucaites affirm they “are accessible, undemanding images suited to mass-mediated collective memory. Visual commonplaces […] that have been used to construct a community’s sense of the past” (No Caption Needed 2). These iconic photographs become “key sign posts” in the collective memory of past historical events (“Hands and Feet” 132).

6An analysis of the photographs of the immediate aftermath of the three recent attacks on the United States indicates that this visual condensation holds true. The Oklahoma City Bombing was condensed into only three photo-categories illustrating the destruction caused by the bombing: the “pit” (aerial or ground level photographs with a tight frame focusing uniquely on the destruction of the building); the human consequences; and the rescue workers. In the case of 9/11, according to Clément Chéroux’s study of the front pages of September 11th and 12th, six categories were particularly privileged by the American newspapers: the explosion and the fireball emanating from the first tower, the cloud of smoke, ground zero and the airplane just before striking the second tower, scenes of panic in Lower Manhattan and people running from the killer cloud, and finally the American flag (19-29). The Boston Marathon photographs focused heavily on the consequences of the explosion on the runners and the spectators present at the event. Bloodshed and victims were central to the reporting as many very horrific photographs were taken that day. Despite the variety of images published, yet again a handful of images were selected and repeatedly published in newspapers and shown on television and Internet. Four specific photographic themes stood out: the scene, the victims and their rescuers, and the survivors.

7What stands out from the observation of the photo-categories of each of these events is that the photographs fall into a traditional narrative schema of the long-gone, famous photo-essays from the golden age of newsmagazines such as Life. Photojournalists today still apply the technique of the photo-script as Winslow Townson’s telling of his Boston Bombing photograph of the crying runner illustrates:

I arrived near the bombing scene already knowing the kind of picture I needed to look for [...]. I knew those extremely experienced photographers we [at the Boston Globe] had at the finish line were going to take the responsibility for the pictures in and around the blast sites (the scene, the injured, the rescuers, and the responders) […]. My plan was to locate the spot where runners who had finished […] were meeting with their loved ones. Surviving the incident was now part of the story. The problem now was where to find that one storytelling picture [...]. There was some luck involved [in getting the picture of the unidentified crying runner leaving the scene] but I also believe that my thought process on approaching this tragedy got me pictures on this day […]. With over 25 years of experience as a photojournalist, this approach has become second nature. (Townson)

  • 4 “The three major newsmagazines—Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report—publish thousands of s (...)

8Thus, despite the distinct circumstances surrounding each separate terrorist attack, each one became associated with photo-categories that became visual, temporal markers condensing the tragedies around easily recognizable narratives of the scene, the victims, the rescue, the response, etc. Nevertheless, instead of aligning multiple photographs in a sequential manner to visually tell a story in the manner of the photo-essays of the famous newsmagazines such as Life, today’s newspapers and magazines, primarily for economic reasons, rely on only one or two photographs to represent the event, which may eventually become metaphor or icon of the event itself4.

  • 5 Charles Sanders Peirce used the semiotic terms “indexical sign,” “iconic sign,” and “symbolic sign” (...)
  • 6 In their book devoted to the study of iconic photographs, Hariman and Lucaites define icons as “eas (...)
  • 7 The caption for the April 20, 1995 cover of the Daily Oklahoman reads: “A fire fighter carries a ch (...)

9In addition to the tendency towards visual condensation of news events, the evolution of news photographs from mere document bearing witness to history into index5 or icon6 relies partly on the photograph’s composition. Such photographs tend to minimize the referentiality of the photograph as document. This may be seen in the primary photographs emanating from the immediate aftermath of the catastrophes caused by the three attacks. From a formal perspective, the frequent use of the tight focus or cropping reduces any background information and decontextualizes victims. The Oklahoma City Bombing photograph by Charles Porter remains quite ambiguous or, on the contrary, straightforward: a fireman is doing his duty to save people, in this case a baby. The image published the following days in newspapers, on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines and found on Internet today, has been cropped to a portrait orientation from the original landscape format, which included far more background as well as two officers kneeling in front of Chris Fields, the fireman. Shannon Stapleton’s 9/11 photograph of rescuers evacuating the second tower has been cropped to provide a medium shot and no background other than the white cloud of smoke and dust about ready to engulf the rescuers. This image is more frequently mediatized than a very similar photograph taken by James Nachtwey at almost the same moment. Unlike Stapleton’s, the latter includes planters covered in ash and debris in the foreground, a civilian on the right, a few officers in the background next to a discernible building. In the same manner, few images from Boston make visual reference to the marathon. Additionally, the use of generic captions—“a victim,” “a child injured in the explosion,” or “an injured man” 7—reinforces the anonymity and facilitates the identification process for the reader. This visual/textual discourse distances itself from reference to a specific person, allowing it to universalize the discussion of the casualties resulting from the explosions.

10Michael Griffin explains,

…certain types of photographs, especially those that emphasize dramatic aesthetic form but lack specific historical detail, most readily lend themselves to this abstraction process. Such metaphoric pictures are precisely the images that become most widely celebrated and are most likely to receive Pulitzer Prizes […] and become the models that elite photojournalists strive to emulate (140).

  • 8 Two photographers, Lester LaRue and Charles Porter IV, standing 3 feet apart, shot virtually the ex (...)
  • 9 For examples claiming iconic status of Father Mychal Judge, see “The Day of 1,000 Iconic Photos.” I (...)
  • 10 In an analysis of 522 front page covers published on April 16 and indexed on Newseum’s website, no (...)

11Charles Porter’s photograph of the Oklahoma City Bombing received the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for Spot News Photography and remains one of the few photographs circulating today to illustrate the event8. While the photograph illustrating the exploding Twin Towers billowing with smoke is undeniably the iconic image of 9/11, Father Mychal Judge is the metaphoric victim9. In 2014, The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombing, and several of the photographs we have looked at were part of it. Among the photographs of the victims, Jeff Bauman’s remains one of the most circulated photos and has frequently been referred to as iconic10.

12Claude Cookman reminds us that, since photography’s invention,

photojournalists have recorded events, big and small, and portrayed people, important and ordinary. While their immediate objective may be the next morning’s front page, many hope their images transcend the ephemeral nature of a newspaper or magazine to form a visual record of their era. (4)

13Hence, the events of Oklahoma, 9/11 and Boston became symbolized through only a few photographs, some of which have been considered icons.

2. From pathos to resilience: recycling the Pietà

14As photographic icons, their symbolic significance transcends the documental referentiality of the event to contain easily recognized universal concepts. Photography’s ability to go beyond the here and now also involves a connection to enduring cultural narratives, to memory and to history. This discourse is facilitated through photojournalism’s use of intericonicity. In the case of the three attacks, not only were several visual themes recurrent, but all three attacks were also marked visually by their version of recycling of one of the most famous subjects in iconography, the Pietà.

15In American photojournalism, frequent cultural references to the Virgin Mary and Jesus in the form of the Madonna and the Pietà are not a new phenomenon. The Madonna, Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, prevails in early American humanist reform photography such as in J. Riis’s “Italian Mother and her baby in Jersey street” (1890), Lewis Hine’s “Madonna in the Tenement” (1905) and “The Italian Madonna” (1905), and later in Dorothea Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother”, taken in 1936 during the Great Depression. However, references to the Pietà, Virgin Mary cradling the lifeless body of an adult Jesus draped on her lap, emerge in American photojournalism covering tragic circumstances such as natural disaster, conflict and war, or uprisings. In conveying understanding, the photographs estheticize human suffering, grief and death. Several instances of modern documentary photography Pietàs come to mind. Eugene Smith’s photograph taken in 1971 of Tomoko Eumura has been called “the Pietà of modern photography” (Morris 275). John Filo’s Pulitzer prize-winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio, bewailing the body of Jeffrey Miller shot by the Ohio National Guard during an anti-Vietnam protest at Kent State, condenses the grief, outrage and frustration felt at the time over the Vietnam War in a recycled appropriation of the Pietà. In 2010, James Nachtwey included the picture of a boy suffering from tuberculosis in a Cambodian hospital in his exhibit Struggle to Live: the Fight against TB, and even published a book entitled Pietas in 2013 in homage to victims of violence around the world.

16The Pietà re-emerges in contemporary photojournalism as a classic figure of grief: Charles Porter’s photograph of the fireman Chris Fields holding Baylee Almon following the Oklahoma City Bombing; Shannon Stapleton’s photograph of Father Mychal Judge being brought out of the falling debris from the implosion of the first tower; and Charles Krupa’s photograph of Jeff Bauman being run to get immediate medical attention. Each one of these images is a visual citation to or a variation of the Pietà.

17Analysis of the introduction of the Pietà theme into the journalistic coverage of domestic terrorist attacks reveals a shift in form and meaning. The intericonicity of masterpieces and photojournalistic documents reconfigures the past and compels it to conform to present configuration (Zelizer 99). Charles Porter’s photograph of the fireman and baby immediately evokes the Pietà by the form: the single figure gently holds the inert body in the fold of his left arm and serenely gazes downward to contemplate the child’s face—exactly as the Virgin Mary holds Jesus. Time seems to have slowed down or stopped; there is no sign of movement in the image. The child’s wounds allude to the wounds of Jesus from the crucifixion. The pyramidal structure formed by Mary’s head and the body of Jesus, the body position and gaze are mirrored identically. The Mother is grieving over the death of her son; the fireman bemoans the loss of the innocent child. Formally, Porter’s photograph evokes the same emotional pull caused by death and sacrifice, and elicits an emotional response from the viewer. It is a visual plea for pity, for the child didn’t sacrifice itself; it was unwillingly taken and had no sins to be atoned for.

18This appeal to pathos not only causes an audience to respond emotionally but it also heightens moral awareness in its denunciation of an immoral act of violence. Porter’s photograph posits an “imagined community” around those who condemn such acts and those who commit them (Benedict Anderson). “The photograph,” explains John Taylor, “was acceptable because a sign of public service joined with a sign of the death of innocence, and the two signs together stood as a silent, emotive rebuttal of the ‘twisted logic’ of terrorists who do not baulk at killing children” (Taylor 92-93). The transposition of the female figure by a male civil servant provides a reassuring vision of the government helping citizens in tragedy. It is an example of the lauding of the firefighters that will reach its acme in 9/11 mythology.

19In the photograph of 9/11 attacks by Shannon Stapleton, news audiences are confronted with a variation of the Pietà. The transposition requires a bit of imagination on the behalf of the viewers: the photograph repeats the pyramidal structure, yet five, male Mary figures with downcast looks envelope the inanimate body of the first official casualty: victim 0001. The centrality draws attention to the limp body as if the victim were slumbering. The warmth of Mary’s lap welcoming Jesus’s body has become a steel office chair on which he is carried away from the wall of smoke and dust that had engulfed them. On the assumption that the visual quotation may have been lost for some viewers, The Philadelphia Weekly brought it to attention by naming this photograph the “American Pietà” (Prigge).

20The photograph’s religious dimension is heightened when we learn the victim is Father Mychal Judge, the New York City Fire Department Chaplain, and that he was fatally hit in the back of the head just after administering last rites to a stricken fireman in the second tower. “The Judge’s bodily self-sacrifice was perhaps bound to be figured in the shape of Christ”, Rudy Tapia adds in her book American Pietàs (1).

  • 11 From left to right: Christian Wagh, a veteran firefighter; Bill Cosgrove, a police lieutenant; Zach (...)

21The merging of Christian iconology with the sacrificial victim at the focal center of the picture did not just lend an excessive spirituality to the scene, it fused a political mission through religious undertones. The five men (two firemen, a New York City Office of Emergency employee and a citizen)11 are clearly united in their action and impart a visual rhetoric for immediate government action that is promptly put into place and to which citizens should give consent. The government’s intentions to retaliate were upheld by a contemporary Manifest Destiny rhetoric for the launching of the War on Terror. In his State of the Union address on September 20, 2001, George W. Bush informs Americans “In our grief and anger we have found our Mission”. Such photos of the real world illustrate how news photographs are insidious in their ability to mask power relations. The photograph of Father Mychal Judge provides a reassuring image of social order and authority of State amongst the immediate chaos of the moment. Photographs like this one naturalize the modelling of citizenship behavior. The news photographs of the attacks on the United States exemplify ideology at work; or, in the words of Hariman and Lucaites, “artfully manufactured sentiments ranging from patriotism to grief are used to justify state action” (No Caption Needed 2).

22In the case of Charles Krupa’s photograph of the Boston Bombing, despite the distancing from the original Pietà, the formal relationship is established through the evolution in the recent transpositions of the Pietà from Porter’s faithful rendition in the Oklahoma City Bombing to the 9/11 version. One Mary became 5 and now 3. Mary’s lap became a chair and now a wheelchair. This final photograph pushes the Pietà revision one step further—the victim’s body is no longer inert and lifeless.

23Wherein the formal composition of Krupa’s photograph lacks resemblance to the classic depiction of the Pietà, the emotional content draws upon Michelangelo’s intent to move from traditional interpretations of the Lamentation of Christ—a popular theme since the 14th century in Northern European art, focusing on the portrayal of suffering and pain of Mary and Jesus—and to bring spiritual meaning to the surface through a far more serene portrayal. Undeterred by the urgency and trauma of the situation, looks of calm, restraint and determination are on their faces. Rather than pity however, the viewer is asked to reflect on the calm resignation—not resignation in death (and spiritual salvation), but in the will to live. Jeff Bauman has survived the ordeal and Charles Krupa offers a photographic expression of “triumph in the struggle against suffering” (Friswell).

  • 12 See Tim Rohan. “Beyond the Finish Line.” New York Times. 7 July 2013, and accompanying slide show “ (...)
  • 13 See Jeff Bauman. “My Iconic Nightmare: How I Became the Face of the Boston Bombing.” Salon. 15 Apri (...)

24Jeff Bauman’s resignation fits into a national discourse of resilience that was initiated in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and which was reinforced through subsequent narratives that transformed Bauman from the anonymous “injured man” into an individual person. Later, photo-essays provided his name, personal story, and followed his struggle with recovery and healing12. We follow his healing process to the fitting of his artificial limbs, his re-education and his learning how to walk again. Through his exploits, he became a mascot of hope and strength as he opened the Boston Red Sox game with the ceremonial first pitch. Americans can follow his example of not being broken by terrorists, but made “Stronger”. From bombing victim to national hero for helping the authorities track down the alleged suspects, he became a symbol of a national tragedy as well as national recovery. His personal battle to overcome a traumatic event is transformed into a national symbol of resilience13.

25This re-inscription of an iconic photograph by a second image is not unique (Hariman and Lucaites No Caption Needed 187). The public trauma inscribed in the Vietnam iconic photograph “Accidental Napalm” (1972) by Nick Ut of the girl running was transformed into a unique personal (hi)story, particularly in the photograph taken in 1995 of her and her infant by Joe McNally—what Hariman and Lucaites call “a visual sequel […] that supplies a Hollywood ending for the story” (No Caption Needed 184). Injury is still present but dealt with at an individual level. In much the same manner Kim has to bear the scars on her body, Jeff Bauman has to bear his artificial legs. In the case of the napalm photo, Hariman and Lucaites state that “a record of immoral state action has become a history of private lives. Questions of collective responsibility—and of justice—have been displaced by questions of individual healing” (No Caption Needed 187). The attention shift from public to private trauma invokes a context of “individual or family responsibility” that contains dissent directed toward the social/political order. Kim’s recovery and maternity substitute for the Napalm girl’s “public” cry of pain; the effect is to foreclose acts of dissent that would question state accountability (Hariman and Lucaites No Caption Needed 187). In the case of Bauman, the attention shift precludes any questioning of state negligence and lack of ability to eradicate terrorism despite the surveillance state set up as part of the United States’ War on Terror. In Jeff Bauman’s follow-up stories and photographs (which are numerous), his personal struggle with recovery embodies the post-9/11 ideals of resistance and strength. His transformation from victim to national hero provides the metaphoric discourse for the nation itself which, like Bauman’s happy ending (he walks again thanks to artificial legs, gets married and has his first child), is back to normal.

26In these three domestic terrorist attacks covering the span of almost twenty years, the intericonicity with the Pietà reconfigures the past and compels it to conform to the present (Zelizer 99). The journalistic coverage of domestic terrorist attacks reveals a shift in form and meaning beyond just the immediately accessible message of grief. In the Oklahoma City Bombing, the government provided maternal comfort and unity around the condemning of immoral violence. The heightened religious undertones of 9/11 echoed a 21st-century Manifest Destiny in guise of a War on Terror. Individual strength and resilience were again called upon not only to emphasize that an environment of normality had been restored but to maintain the U.S.’s image of super power as the government immediately took action to protect its citizens in a situation of proven weakness and vulnerability.

3. Grounding the meaning through intericonic images

27With such continual repetitions, recycling, and intericonicity, one has to wonder if there is a specific photojournalistic intent to repeat historic visual memories. In an interview, Charles Porter recounts his taking of his shot of the fireman:

The next frame I took was of the fireman holding this infant. I didn’t know I had taken this picture. “Oh man, I framed that one great!” No, it was just automatic: put the camera up, look, take a picture. And that was really all it was. It was just kinda autopilot […] (Newseum 1996 Spot News).

28Shannon Stappleton said “[the photograph of Father Mychal Judge] has been called the modern-day Pietà […]. I didn’t really know what it was. So I looked it up. And […] I did see a resemblance” (Mehler Paperny). This could illustrate the extent of “the imprint of the education common to all media protagonists in leading positions in the visual field, who have learnt to accord legitimacy and value only to expressivity justified by reference to masterpieces of painting” (Gunthert). Notwithstanding these denials, the Pietà was not the only case of intericonicity in the photographic coverage of the attacks on the United States. Other instances of intericonicity helped ground the messages already prominent in previous photographs and in the political discourses of the moment.

  • 14 Firefighter Dan McWilliams from Ladder 157 spotted a flag and flagpole from a nearby yacht and beca (...)

29One of the most widely published images in the direct aftermath of 9/11 was the “Raising the Flag at Ground Zero” by Thomas E. Franklin14. His photograph is a direct citation to the World War II iconic image “Old Glory Goes up on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima” by Joe Rosenthal (1945). Franklin acknowledged in taking the picture of “Raising the Flag at Ground Zero” the recognition that history was repeating itself before his eyes and the importance of capturing it photographically. Franklin recalled: “As soon as I shot it, I realized the similarity to the famous image of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima” (qtd. in Hariman and Lucaites No Caption Needed 131).

30Even if photojournalists are not consciously permeating their photographs with easily recognized cultural or historical references, they are indeed present and augment the photographs’ meaning. Similar to the photograph of Father Mychal Judge, “Raising of the Flag at Ground Zero” reflects a democratic solidarity as public employees embody patriotism, resolve and civic virtue, necessary to triumph over disaster. The link to World War II through the recycling of the iconic image of Iwo Jima injects battle imagery into a non-combat situation in which the battle is fought by public employees (and not soldiers—yet) as well as citizens.

31Both the World War II original and the 9/11 versions served the same function: to signal a turning point and instil in Americans the optimism and courage necessary to move forward and to cope with the defeat the country had been dealt. Rosenthal admits he actively searched for a “flag going up” as a visual “marker that meant, turn in the battle” (Newseum “Pulitzer Prize Photograph”). Fulton confirms that the photograph imparted just that message: “People believed in the spirit [“Old Glory Goes up on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima”] conveyed and were cheered by its sense of victory over adversity. It had an immediate, overwhelming impact on the nation” (qtd. in Griffin 144). The link between then and now conveys the message that the United States will once again be victorious. This visual discourse resonates equally with the photographic coverage of Jeff Bauman’s resilience; all are icons embodying the country’s refusal to fall into self-pity and its will to affirm patriotic citizenship and democratic solidarity.


32News photographs are thus influential on public opinion by making “some beliefs and actions more intelligible, probable, and appealing, and others less so” (Hariman and Lucaites No Caption Needed 8). In the case of the 3 most recent attacks on the United States, intericonicity provides comfort for traumatic events. It makes certain messages immediately accessible to a large audience. Intericonicity plays a role in forging ideology in specific cultural, social and political contexts. By providing emotional approbation for Washington D.C.’s reprisal against those deemed terrorists and capable of inflicting such inhumane grief upon its valiant people through pathos and intericonicity, the government’s actions are rendered legitimate. In this case, intericonicity in photojournalism is a source of a visual cultural heritage both past and contemporary shared by U.S. citizens, which reinforces the imagined community united against terror.

Haut de page


Critical Analyses

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. (Rev. ed). NY: Verso, 1991. Print.

Chéroux, Clément. Diplopie. L’image photographique à l’ère des médias globalisés : essai sur le 11 septembre 2001. Paris : Le Point du Jour, 2009. Print.

Clarke, Graham. The Photograph. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

Gage, Beverly. The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Friswell, Richard. “The Pietà: Universal and Renewable Symbol of Shared Humanity.” Web blog post. Artes Magazine. 19 March 2012. Web. 24 April 2014.

Griffin, Michael. “The Great War Photographs: Constructing Myths of History and Photojournalism.” Picturing the Past: Media, History and Photography. Eds. Bonnie Brennen and Hanno Hardt. Chicago: Illinois UP, 1999: 122-157. Print.

Gunthert, André. “Les icônes du photojournalisme, ou la narration visuelle inavouable.” Web blog post. Culture visuelle. 25 January 2013. Web. 1 May 2014.

Hariman, Robert and John Louis Lucaites. No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2007. Print.

Hariman, Robert and John Louis Lucaites. “Hands and Feet: Photojournalism, the Fragmented Body Politic and Collective Memory.” Journalism and Memory. Eds. Barbie Zelizer and Keren Teneboim-Weinblatt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014: 131-147. Print.

Kobre, Keneth. “Editing for Intimacy.” Visual Communication Quarterly 6 (1999): 18-19. Print.

Koetzle, Hans-Michael. 50 Photo Icons: The Story behind the Pictures. Cologne: Taschen, 2014. Print.

Morris, John G. Get the Picture: A Personal History of Photojournalism. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2002. Print.

Tapia, Ruby C. American Pietas: Visions of Race, Death and the Maternal. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2011. Print.

Taylor, John. Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War. New York: New York UP, 1998. Print.

Zelizer, Barbie. “From the Image of Record to the Image of Memory: Holocaust Photography, Then and Now.” Picturing the Past: Media, History and Photography. Eds. Bonnie Brennen and Hanno Hardt. Chicago: Illinois UP, 1999: 98-121. Print.

Primary sources (press articles)

Bauman, Jeff. “My Iconic Nightmare: How I Became the Face of the Boston Bombing.” Salon. 15 April 2014. Web. 1 May 2014.

Blackman, Jeremy. “Anger Mounts over Rolling Stone Cover Featuring Boston Bombing Suspect.” Concord Monitor. 18 July 2013.

“The Day of 1000 Iconic Photos.” Iconic Photos. Web Blog Post. 4 September 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

“The Face of Terror.” Time. 1 May 1995. Cover. Print.

Franklin, Thomas E. “Witness to History: Photographers of 9/11.” YouTube video. 30 August 2011. Web. 2 May 2014.

Haner, Josh. “A Marathon Survivor Starts Over.” New York Times. 7 July 2013. Web. 2 May 2014.

Hansen, Lauren. “What Happened to the Victims in these 3 Iconic Boston Marathon Bombing Photos?” The Week. 18 April 2013. Web. 2 May 2014.

“Iconic Photos of 911.” The Daily Beast. 11 September 2013. Web. 2 May 2014.

Krupa, Charles and Michelle R. Smith. “AP Photos: 4 Heroes of the Boston Marathon Bombing.” AP The Big Story. 14 April 2014. Web. 26 September 2014.

Lovering, Daniel. “Man who Lost Legs to Boston Marathon Bomb Meets Obama, Writes Memoir.” Reuters. 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 April 2015.

Mehler Paperny, Anna. “For 5 Men Tragedy Remains over photo of 9/11’s first Casualty.” The Globe and Mail. 1 September 2011. Web. 3 May 2014.

“Morning of Terror: City Struggles with Shock of Deadly Bombing.” Daily Oklahoman. 20 April 1995. Print.

“Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995.” Newsweek. 1 May 1995. Cover. Print.

“Pulitzer Prize Photograph: Iwo Jima Flag Raising.” Newseum. Web. 24 April 2014.

Prigge, Matt. “Upward Christian Soldier.” Philadelphia Weekly. 3 May 2006. Web. 24 April 2014.

Rohan, Tim and Josh Haner. “Beyond the Finish Line.” New York Times. 7 July 2013. Web. 2 May 2014.

Stapleton, Shannon. “9/11: Father Mychal is Carried from the Rubble of the World Trade Center on the Morning of September 11, 2001.” Shannon Stapleton Photojournalist. Web. 28 April 2014.

Townson, Winslow. “Boston Marathon Bombing: I arrived near the Bombing Scene Already Knowing the Kind of Picture I needed to Look for…” SportsShooter. 9 May 2013. Web. 29 April 2014.

“The 1996 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Spot News Photography.” Pulitzer. Web. 2 May 2014.

“1996 Spot New, Charles Porter.” Newseum. Web. 28 April 2014.

“9/11: Iconic Images.” Reuters. Web. 2 May 2014.

Haut de page


1 In discussing “contacts,” Mr. Economopoulos is referring to photographic contact sheets, thus figuratively referring to photographs. (Author’s note)

2 Clément Chéroux explains, “A similar phenomena [to that observed on the television] of visual repetition is also perceptible in the American press. The day after the [9/11] attacks, the newspaper reader, who went to the newsstand and paid a little attention to the images, immediately became aware that the same photographs appeared on the cover of the majority of the daily papers.” (Chéroux 17. Translation by author.)

3 His study indicates that the majority of the photographs of 9/11 on the front page of newspapers (72%) were from the Associated Press (Chéroux 48), thus pointing out that the vision of 9/11 was principally that of the AP. Ben Bagdikian (The Media Monopoly, 1983) as well as Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman (Manufacturing Consent, 1988) also worried about the concentration of the media.

4 “The three major newsmagazines—Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report—publish thousands of single images a year and on important stories may devote three or four photographs, but they rarely practice the long-form photo-essay”, explains Claude Cookman. “American magazine editors show little interest in photo stories” (190). It could thus be assumed that newspapers would be even less inclined to devote space to multiple photographs of a single news event. For this reason, newspaper and magazine editors search for the photograph that best represents the event and photographers strive for the metaphoric picture much like the iconic photograph “Accidental Napalm” by Nick Ut, which is a widely recognized representation of the Vietnam War and symbol of the immorality of the United States’ involvement. (See in the same issue Anne Lesme, “Avatars de Napalm Girl, June 8, 1972 (Nick Ut) : Variations autour d’une icône de la Guerre du Vietnam”.)

5 Charles Sanders Peirce used the semiotic terms “indexical sign,” “iconic sign,” and “symbolic sign” to designate specific relations between the signifier (word/image) and the thing signified. He defined the indexical sign as one that bore a real relation to its object. The photograph is indexical in that it testifies to the moment the camera was in presence with its subject. The iconic sign indicates those circumstances in which the signifier resembles the signified. A portrait may be considered iconic in that it resembles the person pictured. The symbolic sign, however, bears no relation between the signifier and the signified other than that which has been imposed by convention. For the purposes of this article, Peirce’s notion of index will be retained to indicate those photographs that have became a sort of visual surrogate for the event itself. However, Hariman and Lucaites definition of icon (see note 6 below) corresponds more closely to the use of the word within the press itself when referring to indexical photographs that have in addition benefited from a large recognition and circulation.

6 In their book devoted to the study of iconic photographs, Hariman and Lucaites define icons as “easily recognized by many people of varied backgrounds. They are objects of veneration and other complex emotional responses. They are reproduced widely and placed prominently in both public and private settings, and they are used to orient the individual within a context of collective identity, obligation and power. They come to represent large swathes of historical experience, and they acquire their own histories of appropriation and commentary” (No Caption Needed 2).

7 The caption for the April 20, 1995 cover of the Daily Oklahoman reads: “A fire fighter carries a child injured in the explosion in downtown Oklahoma City on Wednesday.” The Reuters caption indicates: “New York workers evacuating victim.” The Associated Press caption reads: “Medical responders run an injured man past the finish line the 2013 Boston Marathon after an explosion in Boston on Monday.”

8 Two photographers, Lester LaRue and Charles Porter IV, standing 3 feet apart, shot virtually the exact same photograph. Lester LaRue, using his company’s camera, sold the rights to Newsweek. Charles Porter IV sold his photo to Time magazine. Distraught by the vision of her deceased infant published on the cover of national newsmagazines and elsewhere, the mother denounced the commercialization of the death of her child. This resulted in LaRue’s company claiming legal rights to his photograph and taking LaRue’s version out of circulation. The other version taken by Porter ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for Spot News Photography.

9 For examples claiming iconic status of Father Mychal Judge, see “The Day of 1,000 Iconic Photos.” Iconic Photos. 4 September 2011; “Iconic Photos of 911.” The Daily Beast. 11 September 2013; and “9/11: Iconic Images” Reuters.

10 In an analysis of 522 front page covers published on April 16 and indexed on Newseum’s website, no matter the size, 50 were of David L. Ryan’s shot of an unidentified victim being wheelchaired out of the scene and 24 were of a similar shot of Jeff Bauman taken by Charles Krupa. Even though Ryan’s photo of the man in the wheelchair was published twice as many times as Krupa’s, the image of Jeff Bauman became the emblematic photograph of the bombings’ victims. Through the example of the photograph of Jeff Bauman, it is also interesting to point out that it was the press itself that almost immediately identified the photograph as “iconic” (see for example: “Iconic Images from the Boston Marathon Bombings.” MSN News. 17 April 2013, and Hansen, Lauren. “What Happened to the Victims in these 3 Iconic Boston Marathon Bombing Photos?” The Week. 18 April 2013).

11 From left to right: Christian Wagh, a veteran firefighter; Bill Cosgrove, a police lieutenant; Zachary Vause, a rookie firefighter; Kevin Allen from New York City Office of Emergency Management; and John Maguire, a nearby corporate employee of Goldman Sachs (Mehler Paperny).

12 See Tim Rohan. “Beyond the Finish Line.” New York Times. 7 July 2013, and accompanying slide show “A Marathon Survivor Starts Over” by Josh Haner. See also Bauman’s book, Stronger, published on April 8, 2014.

13 See Jeff Bauman. “My Iconic Nightmare: How I Became the Face of the Boston Bombing.” Salon. 15 April 2014; Daniel Lovering. “Man who lost legs to Boston Marathon bomb meets Obama, writes memoir.” Reuteurs. 30 January 2014; or even Jeremy Blackman. “Anger Mounts over Rolling Stone Cover Featuring Boston Bombing Suspect.” Concord Monitor. 18 July 2013. (See bibliography)

14 Firefighter Dan McWilliams from Ladder 157 spotted a flag and flagpole from a nearby yacht and became inspired to move the flag and flagpole to West Street where rescue crews were desperately working. Thomas E. Franklin, staff photographer of the New Jersey Record, snapped the shot that was then published on September 12 in The Record. It immediately was reprinted in newspapers and magazines, flashed on TV screens around the world. It has since then received many prizes, including being nominated as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News photography in 2002.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Jane BAYLY, « Attacks on the United States: Index, Icons and Intericonicity in Photojournalism »E-rea [En ligne], 13.1 | 2015, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2015, consulté le 24 juin 2021. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page



Université de Nantes
Jane Bayly, Maître de conférences en études nord-américaines à l’Université de Nantes et membre du CRINI (EA 1162), est l’auteure d’une thèse portant sur le magazine Life et le nationalisme américain, porté à son paroxysme dans les pages du newsmagazine entre 1944 et 1950. Depuis, elle a publié plusieurs articles relatifs à la photographie et la culture américaine. Elle s’intéresse particulièrement au photojournalisme et à la photographie documentaire dans la (dé)construction identitaire nationale.

Haut de page
  • Logo Laboratoire d’Études et de Recherche sur le Monde Anglophone
  • DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search