Just a quick time lapse update to the project.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger Disaster, one of the Days The Earth Stood Still. As a result I thought I would post my personal recollection of the disaster that will be included in the final DTESS project book.
Rest in Peace brave souls.
How do humans perceive death? As we grow older we begin to understand, usually through experience, the process of death and the causes and rational behind it. But when you are five years old none of these experiences yet exist. No explanations can cover the enormity of the situation. The only way to begin to understand the shocking finality of it is to see it played out in front of your eyes. The more privileged children of society, and I mean first world children here, are usually fairly well shielded from death for most of the first 10 years of their lives, certainly death on a sudden, horrific scale. Many second and third world children i’m sure are subjected to much more horrific scenes of death during Civil wars or famine in those countries we first world people so easily overlook. But mainly being born a first world child shields you from such horrors.
Until something big happens.
Throughout time there have been few occasions where something so monumental has occurred that there is no escape from it’s impact on day to day life, no shield from its horror. For those of us born in the late 1970’s or early 80’s the destruction of the Space shuttle Challenger surely stands out as just such a moment.
I was five years old. I don’t remember much about being five years old to be truthful. I remember playing football in the hallway of my parents house, or chasing a ballon around the lounge but little else that i can distinguish between being three, four, five or even eight. But I remember those days following the disastrous launch. I have no idea why the event had such an impact on me or why it still does to this day.
Did I understand that seven people had just lost their lives? Could I comprehend the point at which the bubbling mass of smoke and flame that was propelling that beautiful feat of engineering spacewards became the splintered pieces of a dream, sinking slowly to the warm blue ocean below instead of striking out across the blue of our atmosphere?
I have no idea.
What i do know is that like many people the Challenger event is not defined in my memories by the details. Not by the 73 second flight time, nor by the collection of pieces or number of days the recovery effort lasted. The whole momentous event is defined purely and simply by that ghostly, strangely symmetrical trail of smoke that punctured the pure blue sky that January day.
I didn’t need to be told what it meant. Some part of me just knew, even at that young age, that for that crew on that day there was no coming back.
For years I have been convinced that all of this played out live on television in my parents lounge, that i had seen it happening as it happened but i now know that this could not have been. Very few stations carried the live coverage, there is no way i could have been sat in front of the television watching the event unfold. What is telling though is the time of the disaster. 11:39am E.S.T. 4:39pm UK time. Newsround time, BBC headlines at 6pm time. This I believe is why I could attach such gravitas to the situation.
It seems likely that by the time the news channels in England started showing the recorded footage of the explosion i would have been jolted out of my regular daytime routine by my parents desire to watch the breaking news. It’s likely my dinner would have been upset, a big deal if your five, it’s likely my parents would have stood in awe in front of the TV and watched the footage. This more than the actual event would probably have ingrained in my mind the recollections of the event and its importance as a memory. This ability to disrupt a regular family, on a sleepy island 3000 miles from the events location coupled with the searing image of Challengers final, haunting signature is why January the 28th 1986 will forever stand in my mind as the day i ceased to be a carefree, immortal child surrounded by carefree immortal people and became a human being. A singular entity moving forward as part of the circle of life.
The failure of NASA to continue the Teacher in Space program after the Challenger disaster is a terrible shame, but at least for me, though the program may only have given one painful lesson, it is a lesson that continues to define each and every step of my life.
I doubt I am alone.
Originally posted 16-8-2010 An excerpt from the text of the book that will accompany these series of images.
I remember it like it was yesterday, or today. It was 1999 and I was on a plane with my parents high above the eastern seaboard on our way to what would probably be our last big family vacation together. It was daylight and the captain came over the PA to inform us that outside the windows to the right was New York City. Luckily my mum had a window seat so we all took it in turns to have a look as we passed by. When my turn came i gazed out to see the whole of Manhattan island stretched out below me like a living map. My mum pointed out Central Park and my eyes drifted left, past the Empire State building and landed squarely on these two grey towers glinting in the midday sun. Even against the climbing skyline these two buildings stood out, seemingly reaching out towards the aircraft like some sort of outstretched hand acknowledging our presence. I had no idea what they were but the image, though fleeting, still sits to this day just behind my eyelids ready for instant recall. We went on to Florida and a great holiday at the Disney parks but I couldn’t get the image out of my mind. On our return i used every spare Internet time i could find to research those incredible buildings that i had now come to know as the World Trade Centre. I found pictures from every angle. The lower Manhattan skyline taken from Jersey City and the Hudson, views south from the Empire State building observation deck, photos from the plaza, the people there dwarfed by the mirrored, incomprehensible masses of steel and aluminum and of course countless images of the city from tower twos observation platform. It’s not an exaggeration to say i fell in love with those two towers. More so for what they represented than their visual appeal. The brashness and attitude, the “let’s be the greatest” ethos of both the City and America got to me deep inside and they attracted me, pulling me towards them from that very first moment. I read about Windows On The World and promised myself i would one day choose that spot to both do business and more personally to make a marriage proposal to whichever woman made me feel the way about them as I did about those two buildings. My lifestyle at that point did not allow me to just up and travel to NY when i wished and so my burgeoning obsession sat back in secret as everyday life continued. By 2001 I was in a relationship which was rapidly getting serious and as we spoke of our first trip away together there was just one place i wanted to go. Luckily we both agreed that New York was a shared goal and as things tend to when you’re relatively young and not that great with money, we set a date a few months in the future to plan for our trip. In mid-august of 2001 my parents spent four days in the City and as expected came back with many photos from their trip. Pouring through their images from the observation deck of 2 and hearing their stories of the mall and the lobby and the incredible views afforded by the shear height of those towers, my interest reached manic level. I knew that soon i would get to experience these things for myself, that I’d be able to stand atop a concrete floor a 1/4 mile in the air and look up as someone else flew above me. In my mind i guess it was kind of like i was completing a circle, fulfilling some sort of personal challenge that started in the most innocuous way. For some reason, cliched as it my be, it just felt right.
Three weeks later I sit in stunned silence on the floor of my girlfriends house as Tower one burns before me on the television. It’s just after lunch and 10 minutes before i had been out in her field with the horses doing the usual daily tasks. Now I was watching someone liquidate my dream. At that point information was sketchy. no one knew the size of the plane, the cause or the likely long term damage. What i did know was that there was now no way i would be eating at Windows On The World any time soon. A few minutes later the second tower was hit and the realisation started to set in. I didn’t move from my spot for hours. I watched the replays and the reports from the Pentagon and news of the crash in Pennsylvania, I watched WTC 2 fall, I watched people, some maybe just like my parents, trapped or falling. I saw a cloud of dust like nothing i had could ever have imagined engulf that section of Lower Manhattan i had seen from all those thousands of feet above. And then i watched the sickening sight of the white and black spire atop wtc 1 slowly drop as my dreams and the lives of so many innocent people were extinguished in mere seconds. At some point i must have driven home, though I don’t remember when, and sat again transfixed in front of my parents tv with them until probably six the next morning. I saw the same 10 minutes or less of video footage hundreds of times but the shock never once dulled nor did the realisation of the situation sink in. So many people lost so much that day that saying I lost anything too seems so very wrong. I’ve lost more in the years since, family, good friends, but never a dream and perhaps the hardest part of it all is the realisation that dreams too can die. As i get older, this realisation maybe hurts the most.
I tend to render test fairly often as it runs happily in the background and so end up with a pile of test images that when put together show a little of the process of the creation of an image. Every now and again i’ll post these up to showcase progress..