It’s not every day a picture that can be described as iconic makes it’s way to our front page. But it is an even rarer occasion that we have the wherewithal to dissect what it is that makes photogs so great. I just ran into this on nytimes.com. Read on.
A Bloody Face in the Blast, and the Man Who Helped Her
By The New York Times
It has instantly become the iconic image of Wednesday evening’s steam pipe explosion: the shocked face of a woman covered in debris, her salmon lipstick and nail polish matching the color of the muck on her neck. The man holding her hand and carrying her beige pocketbook in the Reuters photograph, a scene captured by Brendan McDermid, is Kieran Beer, the editor-in-chief of Fortent Inform, a news and legal data service for financial institutions.
He is looking away.
This morning, the picture appeared in The New York Times, The Daily News and The New York Post, where it took up a full page, along with several other papers, many as far away as Canada. Mr. Beer agreed to share his thoughts with readers of The Times. Below is his account.
It’s almost 3 p.m. and I’m still avoiding press calls â€“ ABC, “Inside Edition” and The New York Post. Instead, I’ve been focused on getting my staff back to work. Our offices at 99 Park are in the hot zone and we have a real-time financial news service to feed. And, it’s easier for me to focus on work than all this activity around the explosion yesterday.
The New York Times got through because my wife handed me the phone thinking it was our friend Dahlia. The woman from The Times apologized for not being Dahlia and suggested that since I, as a journalist, was uncomfortable “being news,” maybe I’d would be willing to write about it. “You know, this is the iconic photo of the day,” she said.
I look pretty distressed in the photo. I was, but mostly about the photo being taken. I understood the photographer was doing his job, but I really didn’t want be part of the story. There was a mob of people with cell phone cameras, but I’m sure this one was taken by the guy with the tripod. He took two, moving the camera twice to keep it a respectful distance in front of us. I knew immediately that the photo would be dramatic and was likely to get picked up by newspapers. That’s why I’m looking away from the camera. I felt I should stay with that woman, but I didn’t want to be in the picture.
My being there with her at that moment began with me standing at the corner of 41st and Lexington on my way to mail a letter to my son at camp. I’d run into Lynn, a reporter who had worked with me at The Bond Buyer (a daily newspaper that covers municipal finance, including infrastructure projects!). She’d told me she was expecting a baby boy in December and we were talking about the unique pleasures around having sons. Suddenly, I saw the back of a city bus moving down Lexington convulse, rise up and smack down again on the pavement. I thought the back of the bus was falling off and then there was an explosion and, after an instant, dust and steam rising from the street. When we spoke an hour later, Lynn told me it was the look on my face that got her moving up 41st to Park so quickly. Unlike me, she did not look back.
I started to run after her, but turned around after about 20 feet to look at the rising wave of dust and water. Suddenly, large and small rocks were falling from the sky. Covering my head with my hands I made it half way up the street where three people were standing in the doorway of a check-cashing place. I pushed in and they followed. Then the deluge of rain created by steam came, throwing rocks against the windows. We all stepped back from the door.
Everybody was pretty shaken and started to debate what had just happened. I thought it might be a bomb, but somebody argued that it wasn’t loud enough. A man behind the glass enclosure at the check cashing place was on the phone and said it was a Con Ed transformer explosion. Everybody wanted to go keep going further from Lexington, but the roar of the falling steam, mud and rocks was frightening. The woman in the picture, bleeding and caked in mud appeared at the door and I let her in. A rock shattered the glass pane as we tried to close it behind her. I tried to get her to sit down and she asked for towels or something to wipe her face so that she could see. A woman behind the glass got some paper towels and slid them to me under the opening for transactions.
A man came to the door shouting that we had to keep moving. All of us, except the two behind the glass partitions, just started to move toward the doors. The steam and rocks were still falling, but the rocks were visibly smaller. I was worried about the woman, and protested that it would be tough for her to go far. But since everyone was going, I told her I’d carry her purse and help her.
As she walked she told me she had just had hip surgery and was worried that her stitches had been ripped open. I just kept listening to her, nodding. The only thing I could think to do for her was to listen, let her lean on me and hold her hand tightly. At Park and 41st she sat down on some steps and tried to make a call on the mud-caked phone I fished out of her purse. A man, who in the papers today was identified as a physician’s assistant, stood over her looking for the source of bleeding and asked if she wanted a neck brace, which she refused saying she’d had back surgery at some point and that the brace would be worse than nothing.
Several police officers were radioing for an ambulance and after a few minutes it became clear she would have to get to Madison and 42nd, where the ambulances were. A policewoman joined us, and the three of us began to walk to 42nd and then toward Madison. The woman was sure now that her stitches had opened. And then there were all those cell phones and cameras, including the man with the tripod.
The physician’s assistant arrived with a chair with wheels to take her to the ambulance. I asked if she wanted me to go to the ambulance with, but she said no and I put her purse on her lap. She looked at me and seemed suddenly concerned. “Where do you live?” she asked. “Brooklyn,” and then I waved good-bye to her.
As I’ve told all the journalists who have called, I don’t know the name of the woman. It just didn’t seem important at the time. What seemed important was staying close to her, letting her know that somebody cared and getting her help. Like everybody else, I certainly hope she is O.K.
And, now I guess I should return some of those calls from the press. The New York Post wants to test my clothes for contaminants, and the guy from “Inside Edition” asked my wife, who was screening calls for me, if I’d already cut a deal with “GMA” or “The Today Show.”