dear photographer stephen crowley

11 Sep

for the past few days coco’s been feeling like butt.  and said butt-feelingness couldn’t have come at a worse time as work and life seem to be more demanding than a lohan child.  finally calling ‘uncle’ (UNCLE!), i had to jump off life’s treadmill and try to get myself well again.  which meant staying home on a saturday night and falling asleep at an hour even a 6-year old would scoff at.

but before i travelled to sleepyland, i started thinking about 10 years ago.  and since I’m already predisposed to excessive sentimentality, anniversaries are a big deal in la vida coco.  sadly, though, today marks a craptastic moment in so many people’s lives. and like a really bad tattoo inked in a back alley by a guy known as hepatitis henry, 9/11 is something that we all wish we could somehow wash away.  but alas, September 11, 2001 is part of our collective memory, and we all have a story to tell.  and i would like to tell mine through a letter i wrote last night.


“A DAY OF TERROR: THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT; Driven Underground, Administration and Congressional Officials Stay on the Job,” new york times, september 12, 2001 

september 10, 2011

dear stephen crowley,

nine years and 364 days ago, you shot a picture of a handful of people evacuating the white house. that image landed me on page A5 of the NY Times on Sept 12, 2001. you might find it amusing that i wasn’t actually a white house employee (as a hard-core democrat, i found my mistaken identity hilarious!). i actually worked for a global health non-profit around the corner. right before you shot this photograph, i was en-route to a press conference about a new vaccine when we were met by men with machine guns who shouted at us to clear the area.  and to this day i still wonder where you were when you took this shot as i didn’t see you nor your camera among all the chaos.

on the night of september 11, 2001, we were “strongly urged” by our work to show up at the office the next day. around noon on september 12, i begrudgingly drove past the pentagon and that gaping hole, still smoking from the plane’s impact, to my office two blocks from the white house. with the sounds of jets flying overhead and the sight of surface to air missiles on 14th street, that was the most surreal commute of my life. my coworkers and i  just wanted to be at home with our loved ones. however, upon discovering our picture in our company’s copy of the NY Times, a strange, but welcomed laughter gripped us that afternoon.

i am the woman in the far right of the shot (behind the suited man). i was 27 at the time. right before you shot this, i said to my colleague (the pretty ethiopian woman in the cute dress suit next to me), “i don’t think it’s a great idea to be so close to the white house right now”. the hours after that picture was taken were some of the scariest of my life. but fear transitioned into challenge over the months that were to follow. my fiance at the time was a flight instructor in maryland. due to the no-fly zone around DC, he was grounded for months. we lived off one income (and a meager, non-profit one at that) for quite some time. we had just moved back from the middle east nine months before with hopes that he would be able to join a small regional airline. 9/11 dashed those dreams for years. i continued my work as a young international public health professional, traveling throughout the world during those unsettling times. but where there was darkness, there was also light. i saw how 9/11 prompted our leaders to look closer at the world and some of its greatest challenges. i believe that the massive response to HIV/AIDS in Africa in the years after Sept 11 was, in part, inspired by this event and our new world view.

ten years on, i now live in los angeles. i still work in international public health…now for a pediatric aids organization. i spend my free time doing theatre, writing a blog and soaking in the sun (with sunblock, of course). my fiance at the time and i are no longer together, but he finally made it to a regional airline and is hoping to join one of the ‘big airlines’ soon…and i’m very happy for him.  i think that day taught me to feel more, love more, live more, play more.  i am very much looking forward to the next ten years…maybe finding my mister right, starting a family, and seeing where my writing takes me.

thank you for doing what you do. that picture will always remind me to live each day to its fullest. and for that, i’m extremely grateful.

warm regards,




5 Responses to “dear photographer stephen crowley”

  1. Erica Brauer September 12, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    That was really lovely coco. Did you realize it was that in your face. I’m glad you are ok and proud of your positivity.

  2. Stephen Crowley September 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    Dear Colleen,

    Wonderful to hear from you.

    So hard to believe ten years have gone by since that awful day. I ran into The New York Times bureau at 17th and I st., grabbed my gear and started walking toward the White House ( a rare day when I didn’t have a bicycle in the office). I was still trying to sort out what was going on when I saw a large group of people moving at a pretty quick clip through Lafayette Park. I stopped and made a few frames of the group you were in and walked to the Ellipse after you swept past. 

    White House staffers- a few I  knew from my year covering the campaign- were standing under a tree looking confused and lost. No evacuation plan. No one in charge. The whole city seemed so vulnerable.

    Eventually I made it over to the Pentagon. And that’s where I was yesterday. Never gets any easier.

    But a few pictures are nowhere near as important as the work you do. So, where did you land during your travels? What foreign affairs writers do you like, trust, respect?

    Thanks for reaching out. It’s odd but I never forget the people in my photographs. Nice to know at least one of the souls I snatched is doing well.

    Cheers, Steve

  3. Nancy dubuque September 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Good job and I do remember the picture and your right people should always remember that day. Live life like it is your last day. Do hope you do find Mr right (george) and keep witting.

    • coco September 12, 2012 at 12:34 am #

      from your lips to god’s/george clooney’s ears!!!


  1. “if things were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth finding.” « livin la vida coco - September 11, 2012

    […] that’s A-okay to feel and be normal today (well, as normal as i’m capable of being). and in my quest to be okay with normal last year, i set out to find out an answer to a question that…and like the little boy in the movie, i finally got my answer. may we all keep asking the questions […]

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